Friday, November 1, 2013

The Tomorrow People, Season 1, Episode 4: Kill or be Killed

We open with what looks like another delinquent Paranormal, using his powers to steal. He races away from the cops with a bag stuffed with loot and, when cornered, teleports out of the car.

Home to a group of small children who grab at his bag – full of food. His fosterfather is drinking in the other room; the teen steals food and his foster father spends their foster money on booze. The father throws his dinner to the floor and tells the boy, John (flashback? – Yes this is young John) to clean it up as a lesson. While doing so, he picks up a knife and is tempted to stab the man – but that pesky no-kill element of being Paranormal kicks in. He drops the knife and the man hits him. But is interrupted by a knock at the door – it’s Jedikiah

To the present day and John is trying to teach Stephen more about his powers – this particular means unlearning what Jedikiah teaches because his way is both too intellectually abstract and designed to restrict Paranormals to the most simplistic, brutal application (this would go a long way to explain why the Tomorrow People can usually bring down Ultra agents when outnumbered 2:1).  Cara thinks John is a bit harsh when it comes to training but it pales next to what John went through.

Back home. Stephen’s mother has questions, worried questions, since Stephen has bruises, she hasn’t seen Astrid around in a while and he hasn’t been going to the film club he’s apparently part of. So what is he doing after school if his usual activities are not happening and she’s found an employee badge from Jedikiah’s company. Given the givens, I think “working for my uncle” is probably the best answer here. Mother does not trust Jedikiah. Because she’s no fool – but Stephen wants to learn about his father and lies about it being perfectly safe.  So she wants Stephen to invite Jedikiah to dinner.


Meanwhile at the Hideout, John is tracking news of big explosions in cities heading east, the next one is them. Cara and John recognise this as being caused by someone called “McCrane” who is coming back. Exposition fail, guys!

At Ultra, Jedikia is also tracking Killian McCrane, when Stephen arrives calling Jedikiah “Uncle Jed” which Jed doesn’t like much (it is unprofessional – and may give people the impression Jedikiah won’t kill him for funsies). Jedikiah has no desire to handhold Stephen’s mother – and wants Stephen to learn about mass murdering bomber, McCrane, who is somehow able to kill despite being a Paranormal (and former Ultra Agent).

Jedikiah gets into his van and turns the key – Stephen notices the bottom of the car catching on fire and quickly teleports in, grabs Jedikiah and teleports out just before the car exploded. Saving Jedikiah’s life.


I’d teleport – I’d teleport to get me some marshmallows!

Back at the Hideout, John also wonders why Jedikiah isn’t a smouldering corpse right now. Stephen isn’t a killer (you have an interesting definition of killer there – and I’m not being sarcastic: ethically, we can debate whether wilfully choosing not to prevent a death you can easily stop comes somewhere on the scale of murder). Cara fills Stephen in on McCrane, he didn’t make himself a killer, Ultra experimented on him as part of Project Annex to weaponise Paranormals. Most subjects who had their “Prime Barrier” brain removed died – and McCrane was left with his “brain fried.” Stephen wants to be a big damn hero and bring in Killian McCrane for Ultra and earn his uncle’s respect for more spying opportunities (despite the fact his uncle would have to be drunk not to realise Stephen’s a spy). John is not happy with that idea, because it’s silly. But Cara puts it down to the complicated and difficult time John had while working for Ultra which he can’t talk about.

Switch to John beating a punching back and a flashback of Jedikiah effectively buying him from his foster father. Cara tries to talk to him about McCrane, who was once his friend, but John brushes it off as “Ultra’s problem”.

Speaking of Ultra, Stephen uses him saving Jedikiah’s life to push his uncle into letting him capture McCrane, much to the annoyance of his keeper/partner/supervisor Darcy, since she’s responsible for Stephen (Stephen got his last keeper killed).

They go in – Stephen told to stay down and stay silent. The humans carry guns (my word, guns do exist in this organisation!) and Darcy has a hi-tech stun gun. They go in and Darcy and Stephen quickly get separated from the humans – and Darcy thrown across the room by telekinesis. McCrane observantly notices that Stephen isn’t John; apparently they have unfinished business. Stephen tries to use Darcy’s stun gun, but McCrane is faster and knocks Stephen about a bit before Darcy grabs him and they teleport out. Stephen’s all happy that Darcy saved him, she’s clear that she saved herself.

Jedikiah finally says something I agree with – puppy-dog eagerness doesn’t replace training, skill and experience and just because Stephen wants to take down McCrane doesn’t mean he can. Jedikiah also agrees to go to dinner with Stephen’s mother. When Stephen leaves, he wants the security footage watched – he wants to know if McCrane was really targeting Jedikiah. Checking the footage he sees it was all a distraction so McCrane could access John’s records

Back to the Hideout and Stephen wants John to elaborate on McCrane. After the Annex debacle was shut down, John was the one, as the person closest to McCrane, who was sent to hunt McCrane down, possibly leading to McCrane thinking John betrayed him. Since McCrane nearly killed Stephen, Cara demands John help stop him, or she will.

First a flashback with John’s harsh training fighting the older and bigger, McCrane and Jedikiah encouraging John to give into his anger and aggression and become a killer – using speeches similar to the one he used on Stephen. He seems to have a script.

Stephen and John go investigating and John reveals some hints of his past at Ultra – and how he was happy at first since regular meals were quite a novelty and how he holds back on the whole aggressive thing because he’s trying to uphold Stephen’s father’s vision. They check out the warehouse they found him in and find it is next to a concert hall for the youth orchestra – his next likely target.

And McCrane attacks – taking down Stephen easily. He and John have a few passes which is actually really well done since both teleport so much that you can’t see much more than them teleport manoeuvring. He’s come looking for John because he wanted to know why Ultra’s “golden boy” would stop hunting him and leave Ultra; and if John is a fugitive as well, why can’t he join McCrane? Oh yes, that mass murdering thing. Pesky habit.

He vanishes but not before pointing to the 6 bombs set to go off and cause all kinds of mayhem. To stop them they have to cut the black wire on all 6 simultaneously (John knows this by looking across the room, I assume McCrane is very unimaginative with his explosives). Which means Stephen cutting one – and John using ultra-cool-teleportation to be in 5 places at once to cut the others. He does it but it wipes him out.

After a reunion at the hideout and Stephen rushes to his late dinner, John has another flashback to trying to go home to his foster father – and then using his powers to defend  himself against the man. Until he gets knocked down and the man keeps kicking him – stopped when we hear a gunshot; Jedikiah shot him. And the lesson that he never expose his powers to anyone else, only Jedikiah can accept them and more kill or be killed lessons.

At Awkward Family Dinner, annoying little brother wants to know where the name “Jedikiah” came from before being shooed away. Mother Marla comes right to the point – Stephen’s dad was fine before he went working for Jedikiah. Marla’s very intelligent gut tells her to cut Jedikiah out of Stephen’s life but she allows it because it’s a connection to Stephen’s dad. But she’s watching him – I’m sure that’s a threat that will truly bother him. Jedikiah takes the opportunity to ask Stephen to set up a meeting with John to help bring down McCrane.

Cara and Russel are not big fans of this idea; but John agrees. (Is anyone questioning how blatantly this ruins Stephen’s already inadequate pretence of being undercover?)  Why does he agree? He confesses to Cara that McCrane is the closest thing he’s ever had to a father.

John and Jedikiah meet in the Noodle Shop – Jedikiah blind folded (which is ridiculous – because Jedikiah can just ask Stephen and either having him tell the secret or be exposed as a spy. It’s like everyone knows Stephen’s a spy but are too polite to mention it like it’s some kind of embarrassing personal problem).

Jedikiah scrapes up some reasons why John should help him (not doing very well) and eventually ends with McCrane will expose them – yeah, I’m still not buying that being revealed to the world will be devastating – especially not with Jedikiah’s organisation hunting them down. Jedikiah tries to play avuncular father figure but John won’t have it. The plan is for Ultra to find McCrane and then send John in with a 10 minute lead before Ultra send in the big guns. It’s not a particularly advanced plan and I’m still not sure why John is needed.

Cara’s not happy with John going since McCrane can kill and John can’t – but John still charges off because he’s a big damn hero. John tries to convince McCrane to run and never come back – but McCrane doesn’t want to live like John, hiding underground.

At Ultra they get confirmation that “both targets” are at the site and they send in a kill squad. Yes Stephen, Ultra is targeting John. WHY ARE YOU SURPRISED? It’s Ultra! The evil organisation is evil! Stephen desperately sends a mental message to John who isn’t doing very well against McCrane anyway. The gunmen arrive and the two paranormals run for cover (I’d just teleport out as soon as it arrived) but John decides that it’s between him and McCrane and teleports them both out to the woods

In the woods, McCrane knocks John down again and raises a rock – telling him he’ll always have the edge because he can kill and John can’t. And John pulls a gun and shoots him. John tells McCrane he left Ultra because they turned him into McCrane.

John buries McCrane (much easier with telekinesis) and tells Stephen to tell Jedikiah it’s over. Stephen pouts after Jedikiah that the evil organisation is evil, waaah. Jedikiah tries to spin turning a paranormal into a killer as “protecting the human race” and you’ve got to break a few eggs and all that

Stephen, evil organisation, wake up and smell the evil.

Back at the headquarters, Russell cheerleads for John and Cara frowns – not really buying the whole “I convinced him to go away”.

Stephen arrives for a big awkward speech to Cara that no teenaged boy would ever ever ever make about how impressive John is.

Stephen goes home to praise his mother for her epic lacing into Jedikiah and she says “there’s a lot of things you don’t know about me”. Is this supposed to be an ominous hint?

And John ambushes Jedikiah in his car to confront him about forcing him to kill – how he had sworn he would never kill again (not one more time? Just once? He’s right there?). He warns Jedikiah that they intend to start fighting him

One element that Tomorrow People has included, albeit clumsily and shallowly, is how most of the Paranormals involved in illegal shenanigans are pushed to it. Previously it was the child of a single mother stealing money to help pay for his medical bills due to them assuming he is mentally ill. Something Stephen’s own family struggles with. Now a young John stealing to try and feed his fellow fosters. There’s a challenge here to the extremity of poverty and how the system does not support those at the bottom of the ladder very well, especially with overlooked essentials like medical bills and lack of oversight to disadvantaged children. There’s considerably more ways this could be examined and further challenged.

It’s also, in part, carried out by looking at Cara’s back story. Cara isn’t poor – but she is driven from her life, again, by the system failing her

The system is presented as failing these kids. But I feel it’s rather shallow in doing so. It’s more a case of making sure the Paranormal isn’t seen as irredeemably evil who deserves to be killed/have their powers stripped than actually challenging the societal system. It feels more like a “oh poor badly done to character” than a “this is our system, it is broken and these are the people who suffer for it.” I hope we’re going to see this examined more because there’s some really powerful fodder here and they’ve already established a strong foundation; especially in this era of austerity and cuts.

The knotty problem of lying to his mother, it’s hard when he has to lie to her… oh wait, he doesn’t. How about this:

“Mum, I have super powers,” teleport across the kitchen. “I know, weird. Uncle Jed will kill you, little brother over there and me if I don’t obey. Yes it sucks – but at least you are aware now and won’t, for example, invite him for dinner.”

That works. And there’s a reason he can’t do this?

Also, I am very not happy with how Tomorrow’s World is treating disability – we had the extremely shallow treatment of Cara being “cured” of deafness. We had repeated conflating of Paranormal abilities with mental illness – and then Stephen getting tetchy about people being understanding about his non-existent mental illness. And now we have a “brain fried” psychopath massacring people.