‘Charlie Jade’ recap: ‘Ouroboros’

Charlie told me once, everybody breaks. But he never did. Not once. – Karl Lubinsky

And so the story of Charlie Jade, a story one half-hour in the future, comes to a close. A bittersweet ending for sure – there was a lot of story left to tell – but a satisfying end to twenty hours of mystery and intrigue. But before we get started breaking it down, I’m going to suggest you go back and watch it again. Trust me when I tell you: even if you think you followed the episode, you didn’t. In fact, if you think you got it the first time through, you *really* didn’t. Go watch again. I’ll wait.

There you go. Now, you should be ready for this discussion. At least I hope it all made more sense the second time through. If not, you may want to try out the episode commentary at Charliejade.net. In particular, did you notice at the halfway mark that time was bent back on itself? Every moment with Charlie takes place after he’s entered linkspace, trying to remember what it is he is supposed to do. Scenes without Charlie occur before that, in the reference frame of the other players.

Let’s dig in.

The Key to Blues’ Heart

Charlie finds himself in Blues’ bed, but he’s distracted and detached. Is it a dream? Why is he lying awake, listening to a faucet’s drip? What are the sounds just at the periphery of hearing? Blues wakes and tells him she’s real and starts kissing him. He rolls her over and finds himself in bed with 01 Boxer instead.

At the reflecting pool in the morning, Charlie and Blues discuss his future in Cape Town. He’s always been a PI, but is free to be anything he wants now even, he jokes, a surfer. Whatever he does, Blues knows he’ll be getting evicted from his apartment soon and gives him a copy of her key. He reacts with blank confusion; in Alpha, nothing like that would ever happen.

Charlie tells Blues he’s been having strange dreams and feels as though he’s forgetting something. And the first hint that something is truly amiss with Charlie’s mind is a vision of 01 in the surf. Nothing like his visions on the past, and nothing like a nightmare, seeing and hearing 01 during the daytime signals something new.

Blues follows Charlie’s gaze, but sees something even more enigmatic and disturbing than 01 in the surf (and really, by this point, we know it’s got to be something pretty big to out-weird 01.) Charlie breaks from his vision of 01 and sees the same strange light formation, then tells Blues to believe her eyes, kisses her, and dives into the reflecting pool. He shifts to Alpha and recovers in an alley. The Vexcor link countdown comes to its end and the Alpha third of the link is turned on.

Charlie shifts – outside his own control this time – to somewhere *else*. The disembodied voice of 01 asks if he’s “still looking for a way out” and Charlie wonders where he is as the teaser ends.

It’s clear even by this point that something unusual, even by the standards of Charlie Jade, is happening in this episode. Director Pierre Gill took the script that was being written on the fly and married it with stunning, disorienting visuals to give us a peek into a place that can’t be described. Linkspace has a few precedents in fiction – Asimov’s death and rebirth of hyper-light jumps, the wormhole on ST:DS9, even the infinite improbabilities generated by Adams’ Heart of Gold to name but a few – and each of them describe something similar. But Gill, and Robert Wertheimer in post-production, put together the best, in my opinion.

The Link’s up in Alphaverse

Something – and I am still not clear what – has happened to spook everyone at Vexcor’s Betaverse home office. Trading in Vexcor has been suspended and everyone has abandoned ship. Out at the link facility, Urding, Skuldeman, and Verdandi are all alone. They can’t connect with anyone in Cape Town and don’t know whether they’re aware what’s going on. Of course, “there’s water spots in the desert; CNN knows” what’s going on.

Charlie’s still in linkspace, talking to Karl and trying to figure out what he’s forgotten. He jumps back to Karl’s apartment with Karl, Blues, and Reena. Throughout the remainder of the episode, the action cuts in and out of different settings – the tree of knowledge on the open plain being a primary location in Charlie’s mental construct of linkspace – and dialog crosses those physical boundaries. Here, Reena tells Charlie near the tree that the link will next go online in Gamma; back in the apartment she finishes her thought.

Charlie tells Karl they’ve got to go to the facility, but Reena sends Karl to Vexcor tower to get fail safe codes from Julius Galt. At the tree, Charlie gives Karl a gun. The situation is so dire, Karl actually takes it.

Charlie wakes in a dried out lake bed with Reena over him, holding the device she got from Blues last week. She asks him if “he had any idea then what [she] was going to do.” Time is jumbled for Charlie, and he’s trying to piece his thoughts together into a comprehensible narrative. But he can’t. He has too many holes in his memory.

On the road to the link facility, Charlie tells Blues and Reena they’re going to attack on two fronts. He’ll be shifting to Gamma while the women try to gain access to the Beta site. He and Reena have a conversation in linkspace where she laments she’ll never see her home again. The world she’s helping him save is like hell to her and she’ll never go home again.

They arrive at the site and Blues plays like Annie Oakley and shoots out the cameras and blows the lock off the gate. Charlie shifts to Gamma and Reena knocks Blues out and ditches her in her trunk.

We’re not in Kansas, but we’re not in Oz yet either, Toto

When we return, Charlie comes to in somewhere new again. This time it’s indoors, and this time he’s not alone. 01’s waiting for him, sitting in a chair like a throne as Charlie wakes in a pool of water. 01 tells him he finds it funny Charlie’s first view of Gamma will be a “big old ugly building” and lights his cigar. Charlie finishes shifting to Gamma and heads to the facility.

Karl gets to the Vexcor offices and hunts around for a bit until he finds Julius in the boardroom where he confronts him about Elliot Krogg’s memo, the ethics of Vexcor, and Julius’ culpability. He wants to know how Julius could ignore Krogg’s memo, but Julius explains that businesses exist only to expand, not to act as moral agents.

In an echo of the second episode – the last time these two shared a scene – Karl this time asks Julius how he sleeps at night.

Karl asks for the fail safe codes and Julius tells him he’s been played. Karl pulls his gun and puts it to Julius’ head, but Julius knows it’s only a matter of hours before he ceases to exist with the rest of Beta. Karl gives him the gun and leaves. In his final scene, Julius breaks down before a vision of Essa, having finally realized his faith in the company was his undoing.

Reena finds the Norns and tells them to turn on the link. Whatever she has planned, it isn’t what Charlie planned.

In Gamma, Charlie stands at the control panel for the link and attempts to manage it when 01 comes up and starts beating him. Back in linkspace, 01 tells Charlie he has a choice. He’s the only one with a choice:

When this is all over, and it’s gonna be over soon, why don’t you ask him why. You’re the only one who can shift. Never did figure that out, did you? You know, my father had a file on you from way back. Wanna know how it ends?

01 locks the Gamma link online.

Reena tells the Norns about the conclusions of the Krogg memo and the Norns debate what to do. Reena tells them they’ve done all they needed to do. “One world’s going to end. It’s not going to be this one and it’s not going to be mine.” The destroyer of worlds has Alpha as her target, but 01 brings the Beta link online and locks it.

Reflections of Things Past

Karl arrives at the site and lets Blues out of the trunk before heading down to the link floor. There, they find Reena who has positioned herself in the link with the device from last week. It’s more than a recording device. It will reflect the link energy back on itself, destroying Alpha. But she can’t do it. The moral weight of killing everyone in Alpha just to save Beta and Gamma is too much for her. Karl talks her down. In linkspace, Reena tells Charlie it’s up to him now.

The Norns can’t shut the link down, but when Charlie shifts in, they realize there might be a way to save the verses.

In one of the most elegant pieces of exposition you’re likely to see this year, the Norns explain to Charlie how the link works, how he travels, and what he must do to save Beta. As they explain it – and colored through Charlie’s memory in linkspace – Charlie shifts locales, narrators switch between the Norns and Reena/Karl/Blues, and Charlie learns his fate. He remembers. (Note the voice as Charlie shifts back to his Betaverse loft saying, “this, we did not expect.” Remember this.)

Complex camera movements and complex blocking make a little ballet of what would normally be boring pipe. Truly a remarkable series of scenes.

Charlie hands Blues his key for her to hold and steps into the link and his destiny.

The Trial of Charlie Jade

Charlie comes to in pain, somewhere in linkspace. He spies three large blocks of ice – each representing one of the verses linked together. Somehow he must bring them together. This is the frame of reference his mind was able to cobble together for whatever was actually there. 01 goes to the control panel of the Alpha link and sees Charlie inside. He heads back into the link to do…something. Kill him, help him, hinder him. I’m still not sure what his plan was, neither am I sure 01 knew exactly what he was going to do.

Again, “this, we did not expect.”

Charlie shatters one of the blocks of ice and the three verses begin rapidly switching back and forth in a replay of the pilot. Then Charlie ends up bound and blindfolded, perched on a rock. 01 prosecutes while Essa judges. In reality, Charlie and 01 are engaged in a complex morality play. Charlie has evolved to the point where he can shift without the use of water, beyond even 01 and Bryon Boxer. Only he can link the three universes.

When he finally comes to grips with his own past and own failings as a man, everything switches. He and 01 end up back inside, with the ice blocks. 01 is tied and Charlie has the gun, but he isn’t going to kill 01; he’s going to join with him. He realizes that everyone has choices. 01 chose to let him live in Gamma. Charlie chooses to sacrifice himself for the verses. He asks 01 for his help. They hold hands, clenching a piece of ice over a gourd. As it melts, the link between the three verses is made permanent.

In Beta, Reena, Karl, and Blues see three passageways open where once there was one. The three universes are permanently and stably connected.

Karl and Reena head to Gamma where they know they must prepare for the inevitable invasion from Alpha. They’ll be ready to fight together. In Alpha, Jasmine sees the new vistas open to her, and everyone from her dying world in Gamma, but in Beta Blues can only see the great sacrifice made by the man she finally loved.

And finally in Verse: Unknown…the men in gray suits stand nearby 01 and Charlie in adjoining hospital beds. Blood flows between them and one of the gray men angrily says, “this, we did not expect.”

Neither did we.

Final Thoughts

There’s so much I could say about this show, but I think I’ll leave with this…of the 20 hour-long episodes, about five are awfully weak, five are adequate and meandering, five are solid, and five are superb. But even with that batting average, I consider the overall arc and the five superb hours so good that I have watched this whole series three or four times through now. I will continue to do so, because each time I am moved by the performances, the layers of story, and the hero’s journey from anti-hero to sacrificial lamb.

I’ve wondered before whether Robert Wertheimer had ever considered continuing his story in another medium, such as comics or novels. Having come to teh end again, I’m more sure than ever that the multiverse has a rich vein, ready to be mined. And there’s no reason to limit stories to Charlie Jade, either. Who wouldn’t be interested in stories of Bryon Boxer and his first experiments with shifting? Who wouldn’t want to read about the young 01 finding comfort in Gamma, away from the hustle and hatred in Alpha?

Hell, who wouldn’t want to read a straight up Blues Paddock true crime story with illegal aliens from Alphaverse?

I know I would. Almost enough to write *fan fiction*.

So, for the final time for this great little show, I ask: what did everyone else think?