EPISODE REVIEW: Survivors: “Episode Two” (Season 1, Episode 2)

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I don’t really think BBC-A has a hit on their hands here. Despite them plugging the heck out of this show, I sense no buzz, I hear no chatter, I feel no furor like I did with shows like “Life on Mars” or even “Primeval.” What little I hear out of the UK is not particularly critical, but not particularly impressed either, and that lack of an impression roughly dovetails with my own.

As you may recall, my review of the premier wasn’t exactly glowing. While there was some good stuff to be found in there, the episode was overblown, overlong, and basically kind of dull. The good news is that episode two - cleverly entitled “Episode Two” - is better. The name is actually cleverer than it would seem at first because - get this - this is the *Second* episode of the series! Now, I’m not sure if that’s by accident or design, mind you, but that’s exactly the sort of amazingly clever kind of thing they’re doing here: showing us the second story and telling us it’s the second story, and once it’s all said and done, the impression that we’re left with is that there’s a whole bunch of stories here and, yup, this was the second one! How clever is that?

Which is, of course, my belabored and insulting way of pointing out that there are really *no* clever ideas here, it’s all just a bunch of stuff that happens. Even still, better than the debut:

PLAY BY PLAY

It’s shortly after the apocalypse. Our heroes have set up shop in what looks to be a small manor house in the country, and they’re foraging for food in town. While in a grocery store, they find a dead body strung up and wearing a sign that says “Looter.” Everyone freaks out and starts to run, but then a guy named Dexter shows up like he’s the lord Humongus or something, and blithely claims he owns everything. Since he’s got a rifle, our heroes leave.

(NOTE TO ENGLAND: Your stringent anti-gun control laws mean that law abiding citizens will be at a disadvantage in a post apocalyptic world! We hope this show has helped you realize it, and that you’ll change your repressive stance on this subject. Conversely, when the apocalypse comes, America will still have the largest fleet of heavily-armed pickup trucks in the world, and thus we shall rule the world while you guys are getting indiscriminately killed over bottles of water at the English equivalent of the Hoggly Woggly. Think about it.)

They go home and decide to break up into forage parties that’ll take the scrounging-for-cans-of-sardines thing a bit more seriously. Meanwhile, the pretty doctor lady decides not to tell anyone that she’s a doctor. Psycho Killer agrees not to share her secret.

Suburban Mom thinks she saw the guy who took her son to the hospital with Dexter’s crew, so she and Psycho Killer head to town, and basically honk their horn until he shows up. They just want to talk, but he puts a gun to Suburban Mom’s head and scares the crap out of her, so her bad plan goes badly. Whoda’ thunk it.

Greg, meanwhile, has been sent to a supermarket restocking warehouse, where he runs in to a horrible, and kind of dim, human being named “Sarah.” She’s been rescued, she says, by the warehouse manager, a guy named Bob, who takes care of her in exchange for sex. (With her) Bob’s gone and broken his leg and gotten an infection, and Sarah’s spent the whole night doing nothing to help him, and she’s all out of ideas. Greg reluctantly agrees to help her, frees Bob, sets his leg, splints it, and then checks out the Physicians Desk Reference at a bookstore to find out what meds to give him. Sarah talks Greg in to staying the night, and tries to seduce him, but Greg refuses since he doesn’t want to be like Bob.

The next morning, Sarah says Bob’s gonna’ die, and she wants Greg to stay with her, but Greg refuses.

Rich Idiot and Muslim Boy inadvertently kill a candy shop owner while foraging for food. Rich Idiot feels really badly about this, and breaks down crying while catching chickens.

Suburban Mom gets to worrying bout Greg, so she goes to find him. Psycho Killer gets to worrying about Suburban Mom, so he follows her. This is a good thing, as Dexter’s crew has discovered the warehouse, and are moving in. Suburban Mom shows up right before they get there, and when they arrive, a fight breaks out with Dexter again putting a rifle right up to Greg’s forehead. (Seriously - has he got bad eyes, or what? It’s a freakin’ rifle. Does he not realize it’s got some range on it? Then again, he’s English. English folks take to firearms like French folks take to Victory: They know nothing about it) Psycho Killer shows up and saves the day, and our Heroes, having done nothing particularly heroic leave. They take Sarah with them because she lies and says Bob is dead. Back at the manor home, Muslim Boy offers her an omelet, now that they have chickens.

Bob is not dead, however, and it appears Dexter’s crew kill him, though that’s not entirely clear.

Meanwhile, in the lab beneath London, a looter gets in to the parking garage, so the doctors call out security to apparently kill him, but again, that’s not entirely clear.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Compactness helps this show. Rolling it back from feature length to a standard show length goes a long way towards covering up the fact that there really isn’t a lot of story going on here. Basically they run around looting for food, and run in to another group that’s running around looting for food. People yell a lot, a gun is waved around a good deal by a guy who pretty clearly just gets off on waving a gun around, and has little intention of using it, and at the end of the day, nothing much really happens.

Well, Bob, the garage looter, and a random candy store owner are all killed, but that wasn’t really the main thrust of the episode. Only the Candy Store guy has any real repercussions, and those would appear to be mostly resolved after the catching-chickens-and-crying scene. “What’s that you say, Jean Luc? You killed 40,000 people while you were possessed by the Borg? Well, rolling around in the mud will make it all better!”

The chicken scene should have been really powerful, actually. It should have been really moving, but ultimately it did nothing. Rich Idiot’s performance was entirely on his sleeve, and just in case we couldn’t figure out what he’s grousing about, there’s a huge gratuitous “I killed him” in the middle of the sobs. Gah. It’s not like I want shows to leave things dangling, of course, but I seriously don’t think that was the kind of thing I really needed to have spelled out for me. I mean, the only way to telegraph things worse would be to have someone show up every few scenes and say “I’m sad because of the deaths of seven billion people a few weeks back. Is anyone else sad because of the deaths of seven billion people a few weeks back? Because I am sad, as I previously exposited. Should anyone wish to be reminded of the cause of my sadness, I’ll be in the now-entirely-non-functional bathroom, contemplating the deaths of seven billion people and my attendant sadness.”

Am I overstating things? Hell yeah, but you kind of have to overstate things on a show this slow.

Now, I don’t dislike ‘Slow.’ Slow is good. Slow allows a resonance that normal whiz-bang plotting doesn’t. Silences and poignancy and moral heft, and odd tensions. ‘Slow’ does not equal ‘dull,’ however, and I feel like this show has mistaken the two. Take, for instance, when Suburban Mom has a gun to her head. It’s a very powerful performance. If you’ve never had a weapon pulled on you, it drives home how scary that must be, and if you ever have had a gun pulled on you (I have. A couple times.), it drives home how really really scary that is. Unfortunately, it’s awash in a sea of ‘meh’, and it loses everything it has going for it.

At this moment, the only interesting characters are Greg - who’s got a strange drive that implies a backstory and a situation in which the end of the world was a benefit to him, personally - and Psycho Killer, who legitimately seems to be trying to re-invent himself as the protector of this little clan. That’s kind of neat - the notion that a Psycho Killer is handy to have on the payroll in times like these - and I hope they develop it a bit more later on. In fact, I suspect there may be some parallelism between these two: Greg has a very strong moral code, and Psycho Killer has none, but I suspect their backstories are largely the same. The notion that these two guys are stepping up and using their skills to do their part while the Pretty Doctor Lady essentially refuses to do so *could* be interesting, but it isn’t.

It’s a little unclear if Sarah is telling the truth about Bob or not. I think we’re supposed to believe she is, but if that’s the case, then she’s even less interesting than she immediately appeared. My initial take on it was that she’s lying: that she seduced Bob to get what she wanted, then accused him of…well, I’m not sure if it’s rape or merely prostitution….once she tries to seduce Greg. That makes things kind of interesting, but if she’s telling the truth, then it doesn’t. Either way, she’ll be a divisive influence on our main cast, I think. I doubt she’s a long-term character. She seems to spell “Shannon” er, excuse me, “Expendable.”

The Lost gag is actually apt. Some people are comparing this show to Lost. I don’t see it myself. Lost was immediately arresting, this is not. If this is Lost, it’s Lost without the mystery or the flashbacks, though really Flashbacks would have been a better way to deal with the Plague.

And that’s about it, really. I’ll keep watching, but I’m not terribly impressed. What do you folks think of it? Sound off in the comments.

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