Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cult: Season 1, Episode 1: You're Next

We open with an interview of Billy Grim, a cult leader who provides “connection” to his “family”.

Cut to a man and a woman in a car, at night, driving to Myers Wood. She believes the place they’re going belongs to Billy – and that he has her sister and her sister’s son. And apparently the last victim said “well hey, these things just snap right off” they’re very very clear about the wording. The continue to be dramatic – because Billy wants her out there that night since she left the cult (more ominous music!)

They arrive and get out, she recognising a car from the cult compound. Inside the dark building there are clippings of her, Kelly a police detective, escaping the cult. She closely examines one of the walls covered in scrawl – and sees a face, there’s someone trapped in the walls. Yelling at her partner to cover her, she rips the plaster away, pulling him free. It’s Meadow’s husband, Douglas  - her sister’s husband. She desperately asks him where her sister and nephew, Andy, are. He says “well hey, these things just snap right off” then dies.

Cut out to the credits. Yes, everything we just watched was a television programme. But one fan in a café (Nate) who is studying the show with waay to many notes tells his friend, Miriam, that he’s found something; she gasps that he’s “unlocked the next level”.  He leaves hurriedly.

At the film set, boss man Gary Fisher is approached by Skye, the super eager new researcher who has been surfing the net on some of the fan sights and found ones that actually try to hide. She describes them as having a special connection to the show and some of them seem kind of… scared. He dismisses her because, well, she is being several kinds of ridiculous.

Hah, Skye, welcome to fandom. If you aren’t afraid, you will be!

Move on to Jeff, a frustrated reporter who seems upset that his editor cut his piece on parking conspiracies (uh-huh) when Nate, the spooky fan and Jeff’s brother, calls him. He’s freaking out, which Jeff isn’t very impressed by, but agrees to meet him in a diner. They have a nice info-dumping conversation about how their parents are dead, Jeff being a semi-parent afterwards and how Jeff isn’t impressed with what Nate’s life, oh and I think Jeff has just come out of a relationship, I think. Info dump aside, he’s made contact with “them” last night and now they’re after him. Jeff assumes drugs – which is apparently a past issue with Nate. No, it’s not drugs it’s a TV show – but it goes beyond that. Amazingly enough, Jeff isn’t that impressed by this. Nor by Nate panicking when a red car appears – the same car from in the show that Kelly recognised.

Jeff refuses to listen to Nate, having dealt with his obsessions before and Nate tells him that if anything happens to him, find Miriam and he gives Jeff some glasses with red and blue lenses.

Cut to Skye and she’s working late- well, she’s obsessing over the fan websites she’s found. I know the feeling, sometimes you google your favourite show and 10 minutes later you’re cowering in the corner, staring at your computer in horror gasping “whyyy… bu- whyyyyyy?”

Jeff watches an advert for Cult at the petrol station and gets a staticy calls from Nate, trying to warn him, between the static we hear “hey these things just snap right off” then he disconnects. He doesn’t answer his phone when Jeff rings back

He goes to Nate’s house to check on him and finds a chair saturated in blood, Cult is on the television with Billy looking out.

Cut to later with him explaining things to the police and Detective Sakelik where he spills a lot of his journalist knowledge of crime scenes and is questioned about his relationship with his brother. And they find drugs – Jeff says Nate’s been clear for over year, perhaps not. He tries to convince them it’s about the odd things Nate discovered but the police think it’s more likely to be a disgruntled drug dealer. The television is still on, showing a recording of Cult

On the TV, Kelly is in the Cult grounds talking to Billy about her missing sister and nephew and he tells her she’s been warned about harassing him. She accuses one of his cult members, Joey, who will do anything Billy says – Billy turns around and points out Kelly used to be the same. She demands Joey returns her family but Billy says he has a lot of followers out there – pointing to followers working on the internet – and even he doesn’t know how many. Billy turns up the creepy and gives her a set of red and blue glasses, saying they could be handy. Watching the TV, Jeff pulls the glasses Nate gave him out of his pocket. The credits role, and show the programme’s creator – Steven Rae.

At the studio a man from the network talks to boss man Gary Fisher to try and get access to Steven who is something of an artistic recluse; he wants to meddle with the show to make it more marketable but Gary doesn’t think Steven will want anything to do with him. All of this is watched by frowney researcher Skye who also watches as Jeff is lead in, purporting to be the Post and writing a piece about the show. He tries to get to see Steven Rae but before he gets any further he’s quickly rumbled as an EX-Washington Post reporter. He protests about his brogther to try and stop him being evicted but they give him his marching orders – but not before he runs into the actor who plays Billy – and sees the red car his brother was afraid of.

Before he can leave, he’s grabbed by Skye and taken aside, she asks about his brother disappearing. He says all his brothers calls and texts have been deleted but she knows that’s easier said than done and retrieves them – he has a lot of recent call history and texts from someone called Meadow (that would be Kelly’s sister on the show).  They begin with “don’t do this, you don’t know what they’ll do to you,” before repeating “where are you” over and over. He tells Skye that he’s all his brother has and if he doesn’t try to find him no-one will

She takes him to the Fandom-aim, a bar where fans go to watch their favourite shows, especially Cult. She takes him to the backroom where hardcore fans are scanning computer monitors looking for clues and connections to hidden messages in the show. On one of the clue boards they find a picture of Nate with Miriam – and Nate is dressed like Billy Grimm. Ominous music plays (it’s called cosplay, guys, it’s not scar- it’s rarely scary). The picture has Miriam’s name on the back and Jeff remembers Nate told him to talk to her (she’s dressed as Meadow). With this new info, Skye starts googling some Cult LARP sites

Cult is on TV and we see Kelley demanding to know where her sister is from Joey, Billy’s follower who supposedly took her. She promises to protect Joey from Billy. He cries and falls to pieces and finally talks about the storage shed in Myers woods – she says they weren’t there but he angrily rebuts that she didn’t see, she needs to see beyond what’s in front of you. He says he doesn’t want Billy mad at him – and shoots himself in the head.

Skye finishes her research and they both head off – yes, she’s going with him. Yes she needs a hobby.  We get Skye’s past – her father was a reporter investigating union corruption and disappeared without a trace

They arrive at an isolated house where the roleplay takes place and it looks just like a scene from the show – when people start running out the door screaming and driving off. Jess and Skye enter, warily. Inside is Miriam, tearful and panicky. She says they’ll be coming after her next and then she says “well hey, these things just snap right off”. And shoots herself in the head.

In comes Detective Selkirk and the police to give the grieving, traumatised victims her angry, fed-up eyes which may be her only expression. Turns out Miriam’s husband claims Miriam never watched TV – Jeff says she’s lying and Skye assumes he watches too. Then we learn Selkirk’s beef – he was a reported for the Post who was fired for lying in a story (he should go into politics) and 6 cops went to prison for it – Jeff counters that those cops are STILL in gaol even after his story was exposed because they’re dirty. She takes his lies as a reason not to believe him and leaves (hey, easy proof – Miriam photographed cosplaying – she cosplays a show she doesn’t watch?), allowing Jeff and Skye to have their goodbyes

Jeff goes to his brother’s house and watches some more Cult (I wouldn’t!).  He skips through several scenes, Billy talking, Heather and her child being kidnapped by people in the red car, the scene of Joey telling Kelly she “didn’t really see” and a new scene where Kelly returns, with her partner, to the storage locker. She puts on her 3D glasses and sees the Cult symbol (a series of squares inside each other) on the wall, in the middle square is a latch for a door hidden on the rough wall, only visible through the glasses. Behind the door is a box with a DVD with an M in a circle written on it, taped to the box – and inside the box is Andy, her nephew.

Jeff stops the show and searches Nate’s desk again, finding a picture of them as children – and his note book, filled with cryptic notes, charts, pictures and more. And two pages stuck together which, when prised apart, reveal a DVD with an M in a circle on it.

Back on set, Kelley and her partner are lifting a body out of a giant barrel and Kelly declares it isn’t Billy – he likes boxes not barrels but her partner says it’s still their case. The network guy is talking on his phone looking at the huge crowd of enthusiastic fans (including one creepy woman giving everyone creepy eyes) and expressing how huge the show would be if he could meddle with it. And Skye gets a call from Jeff asking to meet.

Meanwhile at a real crime scene, Detective Selkirk has a body in a dumpster, died from massive blood loss but not here. She considers Nate’s apartment – because the blood on the chair wasn’t Nate’s. Oh and the victim is wearing a shirt with the Cult symbol on it. She’s still suspicious about Jeff

Jeff shows Skye the DVD and asks her what it does on the show – she says Kelly puts it in her computer and it co-opts everything, sending all her personal information to Billy’s people. Jeff puts the DVD in his computer – uh, bad idea. How about a library?  The DVD flashes a series of incomprehensible images with red and green coming through. Jeff puts on the 3D glasses and sees blanks spaces like a hangman game. He fills them in “hey these things just snap right off”. Skye questions whether he wants to do that (me too!) but he presses enter and the computer connects to the net. A series of Cult images appear on the screen – and his phone rings.

The caller is Nate , it’s staticy and he tells Jeff he should never have put the disc in the computer . Nate tells Jeff not to try and find him, to walk away – then is cut off.

On the computer Jeff’s driving license comes up, his name, date of birth, his email, his IP, his social security number – and Billy saying “you’re next.”

At the crime scene Detective Skelkirk gets in her car and drives away – and we see the Cult symbol tattooed on her arm.

The Network Boss man is walking home when Creepy Eyed fan and her friends kidnap him – into the red car. One of the symbols from Nate’s book – a lopsided cube – dangling from the rear-view mirror.

Ok I’m very very intrigued. It seems odd, original and pretty creepy and so far devoid of the inevitable CW love triangle (this cannot last). And it’s creepy. Did I mention it’s creepy?

I think the motives of the characters are shaky. Why is Skye invested in this complete stranger’s brother (and no, I’m not buying missing father as a reason)? Why is she this weirded out by fandom? Why is Jef, a man who the very day before was doubting whether Nate was still clean, so quick to reject a perfectly mundane explanation of angry drug dealers as to why his brother disappeared?

I’m also vaguely amused how so much of the basics of fandom is regarded as so very very weird and new and odd.

It has some potential for racial inclusion with both Skye and Detective Skelkirk, but it depends where these characters go, whether we get more inclusions and how they act on how this ends up.

Yes, definitely intrigued.