I have mixed feelings about this episode. It’s the best of the season so far, I think. A compelling case can be made for “And Not a Drop to Drink”, as it opens the kimono on inter-dimensional travel, 01’s unique abilities, and the importance of water to the scheme of things. But tonight…it’s something else.
Then again, this is also the last episode under Writing Regime #1 (WR#1). Things you’re starting to understand? Things that you’re figuring out? Some of that’s just going to change next week and beyond. And trust me when I say it will get a hundred times better and cooler. It takes a few episodes until the second team – Alex Epstein, Denis McGrath, and Sean Carley – really takes off, but even in next week’s episode, “Betrayal”, you can see marked improvement. That slowness that was evident early in the season goes away fast as things ramp up quickly.
But that ramping starts tonight, even if it still looks like Charlie Jade is spinning his wheels.
Charlie heads to the Glass Door to confront 01 Boxer about another missing girl. If you want me to point at the one thing obviously wrong in these first eight episodes, it is this: this is the first time these incredibly charismatic actors have shared a scene. Jeffrey Pierce and Michael Filipowich command the screen in subtly different ways.
Pierce burns slow, with the taciturn stoicism of heroes of times gone by. John Wayne and Gary Cooper made careers out of these traits. Clint Eastwood honed them to a fine edge, where a squint spoke volumes. Pierce is at his best when he plays to that same strength. In stark contrast, Filipowich is a short fuse, a real-life Daffy Duck. His silences are more frequently broken by unexpected mania than a wry smile while his tightly coiled muscles bear the threat of sudden violence or passion. The closest comparable actor I can think of is Joe Pesci, though Katee Sackhoff shares similar traits of unpredictability.
Sadly, this is just a short scene, but we can expect more to come.
As Charlie’s been investigating 01, he’s found another in a string of missing persons. Karl convinces him to push forward, even when Charlie’s convinced this particular girl’s disappearance has nothing to do with 01. A quick money drop by pops leads to the boyfriend of daughter Aliah. Using the classic “enhanced coercive interrogation technique” of tossing a ball against the doofus’ head gets him to confess that Aliah ran away on her own and has taken up with a motivational guru.
Mancuso Keyes is a guru to the rich and fabulous, helping them take control of their lives. Helping them be what they choose to be. This catchphrase echoes Charlie’s military training and we see a series of flashbacks throughout the episode filling in more about that period in his life. It wasn’t the army and it wasn’t the police. Charlie Jade, enemy of all things Vex-Cor, used to be a Vex-Cor security officer.
In his first flashback, Charlie recalls an innocent training exercise. A squad, closing on a blockhouse, establishes position and flushes out the occupants with tear gas. As the occupants come out, weapons hot, the security personnel mow them down. When the exercise is done, the dead disappear, as though in some sort of training simulator. A behavioral specialist welcomes them as the sons and daughters of the Vex-Cor family.
In his second flashback, the setting is the same but Charlie now leads the squad. However the end result is quite different. These aren’t simulated people who exit the blockhouse. These are real people, armed but unable to defend themselves. How and why they were there is not explained, but knowing the rules of Alphaverse and the ways of Vex-Cor, we can surmise they were enemies of the company, given weapons in order to justify their summary executions.
When Karl tells Charlie that Keyes worked as a behavioral specialist for Vex-Cor security, he recalls the same, stirring speech as it was delivered after the fatal training exercise. The words have less meaning this time, unable to raise the proper devotion to mother company. Angry over the memory of his manipulation at Vex-Cor’s hands, he ups his pressure on Keyes.
Seeing that Keyes has advanced tech that can knock out a Vex-Cor bug, Charlie tries one last time to talk with Aliah. But she’s not listening. Keyes and Charlie talk alone and Keyes has one final insight for Charlie:
I’m a teacher. You know? It’s like horses. Before you can train them you have to break them. Yes. Like you were broken and reborn.
Charlie’s final flashback, on these words, is a gruesome scene of torture gone awry. No cute ball-on-the-head questioning occurred here. This was blood, and pain, and death. As is usually the case, Charlie himself was not the perpetrator of the violence. Here, he observed only the aftermath, but the impact of the scene is written in the lines of his face.
What? I mean, WHAT?
Essa tells 01 that Brion needs to see him; 01 tells her to make him come to the office. When he arrives, the two of them are hooked to some kind of machine. Brion, at death’s door is barely conscious for the procedure. Something is sucked out of 01 and injected into Brion. I’ll assume, in the absence of any other theories, that it’s just blood. There must be something special about 01’s blood, some life-giving properties. Whether these are general, or specific to Brion in his condition, I could not begin to guess.
When the procedure is complete, Brion is a new man – youthful, vigorous, energized. 01 is wearied, but appears to be alright. The price Brion pays is a small box containing possessions of 01’s mother. Theirs is a classic battle between father and son for the love of the boy’s mother. The hatred and contempt each holds for the other is palpable. The bounds that hold them together are now more patently visible. 01 can’t leave. He needs for his father to retain nothing of his mother’s.
Back in Beta, some of 01’s odd behavior now makes a little more sense. Broken and damaged, he holds onto his mother in the only way this child has figured out. He puts on her lipstick, dallies with her mirror, and tries in small ways to become his mother.
That’s only some of the time, of course. Mostly, he gets stoned and screws women in Beta. That’s what our world is for, I guess.
Not that any of that lasts for long, as Julius makes the call. He gets 01 to stay at the club for another 15 minutes, just long enough to die. Fortunately for 01, the assassin is incompetent. He kills 01’s companion and manages to hit 01 in the shoulder, but fails to kill his target before 01 hits the shower and the third tap on his way to Gamma.
While I imagine this security agent is not long for the world, things can’t be much sunnier for Ren and Julius, can they? With 01 alive, their lives are in his hands.
My favorite thing that happens when WR#2 takes over? Reena gets to suffer a bit less. Hey! I should be happy tonight. She’s recovering from her fall against Rosalie’s car, but no one’s trying to rape her, brainwash her, program her, or cut off her nose with giant, rusty scissors. In a nice place by the beach, she can finally let her guard down a little and try to rest in…what? Rosalie’s dying? Jesus!
With an infection rate of somewhere around 20%, South Africa is one of the most affected nations in the world. Calling it an epidemic there is no exaggeration, so it’s little wonder the creators of Charlie Jade would make it a plot point at some time. Sadly, it comes when Reena has her brief respite. Her time in the sun passes, as she must help her new friend shuffle off this mortal coil.
Even when she’s doing good, Reena can’t help but hurt people.
Those familiar with comics, and feminist commentary on comics, will be aware of the term “Women in Refrigerators”. When watching the first half of Charlie Jade, I frequently feel as though Reena’s suffering serves no real purpose and falls in that category. So for me, it’s nice to see Patricia McKenzie get something more to do this week than get smacked around. She does a nice job with the quiet scenes at Rosalie’s house. Imagine what she might do with actual plot developments.
Um, things are rough for Jasmine? Does anyone care right now? They gave her what, 45 seconds? Skip her, or give her something to do.
Things are heating up between Paula and Charlie. I think those kids are in for a…no. Not really. That’s another weird sidetrack.
In the end, I think this is the best or second best episode of the first eight. If you’ve made it to here, I can only conclude you’ve decided to ride the show all the way to the end and I salute you. you’ve made an excellent choice that will be rewarded in the weeks ahead.
I’m excited to let you know we’ll have our exclusive Pop Critics interview with Alex Epstein up this Wednesday. Be sure to come back for that so you can be ready for the changes to come starting with next week’s excellent episode.
What did everyone else think?