Recap – Persons Unknown 1.2 “The Edge”

If you missed last week’s premier of Persons Unknown, check out my review here.

This week’s episode, “The Edge,” begins on the interior of one of the empty hotel rooms. The blinds rise mechanically as the camera zooms out to the town square. Cut to the hotel lobby where Joe is lying face-down on the bar. Moira (who is evidently a surgeon, too) is removing the biometric implant embedded in Joe’s leg. Without anesthetic, and witha lot of screaming, Moira successfully removes the implants from all of the Captives (does this moniker work for everyone?). With the devices removed, Joe and McNair try to test the border of the town. With Joe tied to a rope so he can be pulled back from any possible danger, Joe walks past the point he previously collapsed. While he marks out the extending border, Janet takes a private second to reread her fortune, “Kill your neighbor and you will be free.” The prospect of having to do the unthinkable, spooks Janet so she makes a break for it. She runs past McNair and Joe until she frozen in her tracks by some kind of invisible fence. Moreover, this fence seems to be burning her flesh. She falls.

Later, Janet soothes her burned face with cool water in her room’s sink. She looks up to the black orb in her room and pleads for information on her daughter, Megan, but receives no response other than a little zoom from the camera. During her plea, Joe had entered the doorway. He notes that the door he had broken down was now repaired, as was Janet’s dresser. Not understanding how or why these items were fixed, Janet wonders if their captor’s goal is just to make them all crazy.

The Captives dine over more Chinese food as they discuss the invisible fence. Sergeant McNair identifies it as a weapon the U.S. military had used in Iraq: an ADS — Active Denial System. The ADS is a gun that shoots energy across an area that excites whatever molecules cross it. Essentially, the ADS microwaves people that try to breech its borders. Charlie suggests they are being held for ransom, while Bill offers that perhaps they are on some sick reality show. Tori knows why she is there: her father is trying to punish her for….something. He’s the Ambassador to Italy and former head of the CIA, and she has done some “things” that would deserve such a punishment. The reasons why they are being held is of less importance to Charlie and Bill, however, than getting out. They want to interrogate the Night Manager, as they believe he is clearly aligned with their kidnappers. McNair disagrees, as does Joe who suggests that they figure out with what they are exactly dealing. They need to investigate the town, its borders, its shops. They agree to split into groups and each take a quadrant of the town. McNair tells them to look for basement and maps anything else out of the ordinary. They will meet back in the hotel in two hours. Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, Renbe speaks on the phone with a policeman friend. He wants to know why they aren’t investigating Janet’s disappearance as a kidnapping even with the incriminating surveillance video of her abduction. That’s jsut the way it is, according to the cop. Renbe’s editor comes over as he ends his call and demands he drop the kidnapping story and produce a “Steaming pile of sleaze” on her desk in the morning.

Back in the town, McNair tests the ADS’ location by slowly pushing his hands into the fence’s searing heat to find the town’s border. Charlie and Bill hang out in the hotel to wait for the Night Manager. Fortunately, they find a bottle of cognac, pour some drinks, and salute to success and freedom. Tori and Moira check out the women’s clothing shop. When Tori asks how she knew about the implants and how to remove them, Moira replies that although she is a psychiatrist, she did a rotation in an emergency room as a med student. Never missing an opportunity to get some new clothes (or to fill out a ridiculous stereotype), Tori starts searching the store’s racks for a new dress. She insists that Moira get some new clothes too. Tori finds a dress and disrobes. Moira is a bit mortified that the cameras, and their captors, are watching, but Tori doesn’t care. She shakes what her mama gave her right to the camera (you know, because she’s a blond party girl!). Is Moira a bit turned on by Tori’s display? It sure seems like it. Meanwhile, Joe and Janet stand on one of the hotel’s balconies and survey the perimeter. They notice that there is nothing but trees for miles around. Janet says, yes there are trees, but there also “pain guns, and God knows what else.” Joe responds, “God has nothing to do with this place.” Joe’s bit of dramatic evangelism catches Janet off-guard; she didn’t take Joe for a “believer.” He is, but he insists he’s not going to wait for divine intervention to get them out.

In San Francisco, Janet’s mother, Eleanor, seeks out her granddaughter, Megan. It seems Megan has been playing with Eleanor’s puzzle, but she’ll never be able to solve it because there are pieces missing. Further, Eleanor insists that she and Megan need to have a talk later about Megan touching other people’s property, which is clearly forbidden in Eleanor’s house. At the hotel, the Captives convene to discuss anything they discovered on their reconnaissance mission. Is there an off switch for the ADS? If not, is there a Plan B? Charlie still wants to get information out of the Night Manager, who appears out of nowhere to let the group know that dinner will be served in an hour. Bill asks where dinner will be, and revolts when he is told it will be Chinese once again. Tori decides she is going to take a shower, as does Janet. Janet asks if Joe will be going to dinner. When he answers in the affirmative, she smiles and leaves for her room. Joe’s eyes follow Janet’s departure, which does not go unnoticed by both Moira, and the ever-watchful eye of the security camera.

After Tori’s shower, she enters her room and finds a large jar on her bureau. Inside, there is a chrysallis, and a copy of the fortune from her cookie: “You soon will win some high prize or award.” There is a knock on her door. It is Moira, clad in some new clothes. Tori remarks that Moira looks amazing, to which Moira blushes and returns the favor. Moira sees the jar, and identifies the chrysallis as that of the Painted Lady Butterfly. Wondering how a psychyatrist knows so much about butterflies (Moira likes to read about different things, she says), Tori suspects Moira of putting the jar in her room. “Why would I?” Moira wonders. Tori agrees it doesn’t make sense, but she still doesn’t want the butterfly, so she picks up the jar and moves to smash it. Moira stops her and asks for the jar (and its entrapped metaphor). She will keep it in her room.

Downstairs, Bill and Charlie visit the Night Manager. They enter his office and close the door behind them. Cut to Janet in her room. Now out of her shower, she finds a gun on her dresser with a new fortune. “Kill Joe and you will go free.” She contemplates the gun, but sees something sticking out of the book the gun is laid upon. She pulls out some pictures of her daughter and cries. Her moment is cut short, however, by the screams of someone screaming for help in the town square below. The cries for help are from the Night Manager, now bruised and beaten, being led at shotgun-point by Charlie and Bill. Everyone runs out of the hotel to see the commotion. Bill and Charlie insist that the Night Manager works for their captors. Their plan is to push him through the ADS, believing the kidnappers won’t want to harm the Night Manager and turn off the weapon. The Captives can then rush out after him. McNair and Janet, however, are able to disarm Charlie and Bill. The Captives argue about the Night Manager’s possible involvement in the plot when the man makes a break for the edge of town. Charlie rushes after him, and indeed, the Night Manager make sit through the fence without harm. Charlie is not so lucky. He hits the fence and begins to burn. Janet moves to pull him out of harm’s way, and is burned again.

Back in the hotel, Bill mocks McNair and Joe for being totally wrong about the Night Manager. The two men are a bit chastened, but Joe aks McNair, what are they supposed to do? Torutre the Night Manager? McNair answers of course not, and besides, torture never works (take that, Jack Bauer!). They need to stay sharp and be aware of what is going on around them at all times. Tori lays down in her bed and flashes back to an argument she had with her father at a party. She tells him that she knows the truth about him and that is going to pay. She then screams to the gathered guests that “he is a really nice man if you don’tget to know him,” before being led off my Marines. There is knock at her door; it’s Moira. Tori says she feels hungover, but hasn’t had anything to drink. Moira, the psychiatrist, says she might have depression, but that she has something to cheer Tori up. Moira reveals the jar. The butterfly has emerged from its chrysalis. They are going to release the butterfly, and hopefully, it well set the two fo them free as well.

In San Francisco, Renbe meets with his cop friend in a bar. The cop gives the reporter a file on Janet, telling Renbe that she has been through the wringer: her ex-husband left her while she was pregnant. Renbe thanks his friend for the info and leaves the bar. Outside, he is met by Mr. Reddick, who demands the file from the reporter. Renbe asks if he works for Janet’s mother, Eleanor. Reddick smirks and replies, “Questions like that will be the death of you,” before hitting Renbe with the butt of his gun and knocking him out. The Captives convene for dinner. Janet sees the butterfly jar and asks where it came from. Tori responds it was just left for her. Moira wonders if anyone else had something just let for them, but Janet replies in the negative. Just then, there is a crash and an explosion. Lightning has struck outside near the edge of town. McNair posits that the ADS device has been destroyed by the lightning; this might be their chance to escape. Charlie runs out of the restaurant to make a break for it, but they need a plan. Bill says he’ll hotwire the Chinese delivery van (hey, he’s a car salesman!), and Moira will create a diversion. She runs into the kitchen, and begins screaming and turning over tables. Bill gets the van started. Tori runs back in to get Moira, and with her gathered, the group starts for the town’s edge. They stop to grab Charlie and make off down the road. They successfully pass where the ADS was, and believe they are safe.

Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, Renbe shows up at his editor’s (Kat, played by Lola Glaudini) apartment. She tells him it is late, but they embrace and share a long kiss. He tells her that he is no longer pursuing the disappearance story — it’s a dead end (ba-dum cha!). The Captives continue through the woods. Joe and McNair chat, with McNair continuing to call Joe “sir.” Joe insits it’s just “Joe.” “Old habits die hard,” McNair responds. He introduces himself as Graham McNair. Charlie swears that even if it takes the rest of his life, he will stop at nothing to exact revenge from their captors. Janet agrees, but stops, seeing a bright light ahead. Bill begins to slow down, thinking it is help, but Janet insists on not stopping. She steps on the gas as they hurtle toward the light. They are consumed by the light. When it disappears, they are still on the road, but heading back into town. They see a “Welcome Back” sign. A man with an umbrella steps into the road in front of the hotel. It is the Night Manager, no worse for wear. He welcomes the Captives back, who wearily, defeated, exit the van and enter the hotel. “It should be a beautiful day tomorrow!” the Night Manager chipperly says.

The next morning, the Captives each take a moment to gather themselves. McNair begins the first of this five daily Muslim prayers. Charlie reads form the Bible. Tori and Moira take the butterfly out to the edge of town. They release it, but it gets fried in the now-repaired ADS fence. Tori stalks off, pursued by Moira. Moira apologizes for their metaphor…er…butterfly being killed. She then admits that she has been lying to Tori, as well. She is not a psychiatrist, but rather a psych patient in a mental ward in Ohio. She has truth issues, obviously, and apologizes again to Tori. The party girl wants none of it, and she runs off. Janet sits in her room, looking at the pictures of Megan. She is interrupted by the phone ringing. She picks up, and although there is a lot of interference, she can hear Megan on the other end of the line. She tries to find out where Megan is, but Megan can’t hear her question. Janet then hears her mother’s voice. Eleanor tells Megan that she isn’t supposed to pick up the phone by herself (clearly, Eleanor’s house was called at the same time), and hangs up the phone. Janet grabs the gun and leaves her room.

There is a knock on Joe’s door. When he opens it, Janet rushes in with the gun drawn and pointed at Joe’s face. She shows him the fortune she received. Joe pleads for his life, that they will figure out a way to leave. “Is this what you want?!?!” Janet screams, glancing up at the black orb. As other Captives are shown, gunshots ring out. Cut back to Joe’s face, looking stunned. The security camera feed showing Janet is now distorted — Janet has shot the camera repeatedly. Staring, defiantly, into the lens she says, “We are not a bunch of rats in a maze. I am done with your games. If anything happens to my daughter, you’ll wish you killed me on Day 1.” With that, she storms out of Joe’s room. Joe rushes off after her. The room is empty. The damaged security camera rises up into the season, and a new, undamaged black orb slide into its place.

Commentary

Miniseries (which Persons Unknownhas been billed) are an interesting beast. Whereas most viewers can determine after a couple episodes whether or not they like a new series, and whether or not to continue watching it, even with miniseries that a viewer finds major faults with, the chances of sticking around to see thw whole thing are good because there are a finite number of episodes. I find myself in that situation at the end of “The Edge.” Now, I still enjoy most of what is going on, but some glaring problems are beginning to seep in that if Persons Unknownwas a regular series, it would be in the category of “You get one more episode to impress me, or it’s over.” On the positive side, I think the concept is still pretty great. I like the idea of these very different people (although they are 6/7ths white) being brought together for an unknown reason. Further, the fact that in episode two they are still trying to get their bearings works for me; I don’t need answers yet. They are also doing some very smart and interesting things like the implant removal. This is a sign that these characters are smart and not just letting their situation dictate what they do. Motivated characters are (for the most part) good characters that I can be interested in. This ties in with a sense that their situation is some sort of game being played with them as the pawns. Yes, this has a certain Jacob/Man in Black form Lostfeel, but since the concept has been introduced from the beginning, as opposed to say the fifth season finale of a six season show, I support and am intrigued by it. What are they trying to win besides their freedom? It’s hard to say at this point, but with the introduction of a bit of Tori’s backstory, it could be that they could win some sort of redemption for a past transgression. Again, this could feel very Lost-ian, but I think it’s working so far.

Another positive is the fine acting that some of the performers are bringing to the series. First off, I think Daisy Betts (Janet) is a find. I know she’s done a couple things, but for most people (including me), she is an unknown. I was a bit worried that she’d be full of nothing but “give me back my baby!” angst, but her stare-down of the camera in the final scene of this episode was impressive. She is also playing the sadness, fear and possibly romantic notes of the show well. Similarly, although he hasn’t too much range to play, Chadwick Boseman (McNair) is doing a fine job. It’s not easy playing the steel-jawed Marine without seeming wooden, and he has avoided any of the typical military man cliches. Alan Ruck (Charlie) is giving a great performance very far removed from the roles for which he’s been known (Cameron in Ferris Beuller, the neurotic guy on the bus in Speed and Stuart on Spin City). I lvoe when comedic actors show they can play dramatic roles because usually once one is deemed a “funny guy” in Hollywood, that’s the only type of role that actor gets.

On the other hand, where the negatives come into play, is in some of the other performances. OK, really only one other performance, and two other characters. First, I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying Jason Wiles as Joe. Every line reading is just dreadful, and it pulls me quickly out of whatever tension is building. He’s almost laughable, and it’s a shame. True, some of the writing for him has been a bit suspect (“God has nothing to do with this place.”), but he’s doing nothing to alleviate matters. Oppositely, Kate Lang Johnson (Tori) and Tina Holmes (Moira) are two actresses that are being under-served by their characters. For Johnson, is it possible, please, to get a young, blond character that is smart? Somewhere? I mean, I know she’s a “party girl,” but you know what would have been great? If Tori actually knew what a chrysalis was. I mean, seriously. Tori is such a walking stereotype that it makes me angry that writers are still taking the easy way out and creating such a ridiculously unoriginal character in the first place. As far as Moira is concerned, I think Tina Holmes is giving a pretty decent performance, but I fear that the writing is failing her a bit. She has already claimed to be three different things, and has freaked out to create a diversion, performed surgery, and killed a butterfly. All the while, she may or may not be a lesbian. This character is schizophrenic, and I’m not talking about the fact she is a psych patient. I hope they can rein in her character and settle Moira down a bit soon.

The last negative, and really the largest one, is the nonsense going on in San Francisco. This plot is so underdeveloped, so superfluous, and so poorly acted (seriously, Eleanor is just dreadful), that I wish it could just be lifted form the series magically. Heck, I’m even willing to take a few more minutes of commercials to be rid of Renbe, Kat and Eleanor. Just terrible and so unnecessary.

OK, so that’s where I stand after episode two. I’m enjoying a bunch of the show (including the continued use of security camera footage, the little zooms, etc.), but some big chunks of it are starting to annoy. I’ll stick with it through the summer (because, really, what else is on?), so please leave your thoughts, questions and theories below. Be sure to check out TVOvermind for all of this summer’s breaking television news, and I’ll be back next week with another recap. Until then, I’m off to jump out of a Rambo movie.

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4 Comments

  1. Stevenjvu June 15, 2010
  2. annabelle June 15, 2010
  3. Chip_Lewis June 15, 2010
  4. Blindgator July 6, 2010

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