Sunday, March 9, 2014

The After, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

A woman, Gigi, wakes from the rapid and disturbing flashes of a nightmare to the much happier sound of her husband and daughter on the phone, wishing her good morning and good luck. She’s apparently an actress getting ready for an audition (she’s not very good. She’s really really not), packing her essentials like the script – and a gun, but leaving her phone behind in the hotel room.

At the audition the gun turns out to be a water pistol. But she doesn’t get the role – she’s considered too sexy, too young and to have too strong an accent (she’s French). Instead they offer her the role of the daughter - a role as a drug addicted prostitute, naked and tied up which the guy leading the audition calls “so French”.

Uh-huh, cut to outside and her throwing the script in a bin. Alas, we did not see the righteous groin kicking he so obviously deserved, but I like to imagine it happened off camera. She goes to a big building that seems to have a lot of police presence – and ends up stuck in a dark lift with one of said police (Officer Muñoz), an older woman, a man who occasionally sounds Irish (McCormick), occasionally sounds English and always sounds awful (and he has a strange need to swear every 2 seconds. I think I’m leaning towards Irish) and a clown.

I think whatever the nightmare was that opened this episode, it’s nothing compared with being stuck in a lift with a clown.

After being stuck for 10 seconds, they resort to prying at doors. Getting them open they’re lowered out into a deserted parking garage – deserted and dark with a car alarm blaring away. The exits are all blocked. 2 more people come down the stairs – and the door closes and locks behind them.

They try to force the gate but it doesn’t work – and the one man they see just looks at them and walks away. Unable to get out they head to the car with the incessant alarm to at least cut the annoying noise – it’s Muñoz’s police car, the boot is open. A man runs at them from between the cars and Muñoz screams “stop” and shoots him. Ok…

While everyone’s focusing that way, another man appears behind Gigi and grabs her and holds her at gun point. Lots of shouting follows. Officer Muñoz recognises the man who she calls “Dee”, he’s an escaped prisoner, an accused murderer, but he protests his innocence. The guy from the stairs, Wade, speaks up probably to introduce him to the audience as much as anything, apparently he’s a lawyer, quite why that makes him a hostage negotiator I do not know. After a stand off he keeps his gun but pushes Gigi away to the group, again protesting his innocence. The man who was shot is apparently a prisoner who escaped with Dee, but there’s not much they can do for him.

And while discussing the tense stand off with guns and whether to try and get medical help, it’s revealed that all the other doors from the stairwell were locked when Wade and the woman (Tammy) came down to the parking garage. But then the next drama happens – the old woman (Francis) has wandered off to the lift and collapsed, barely conscious; they search in her bad and find a packet of sugar in her handbag and decide that she must be diabetic with low blood sugar so pour it on her tongue. Thankfully, they’re right and she comes round. In all the drama, Dee has scarpered.

They find him trying and failing to force the gate and we get another round of gun pointing when another alarm starts up – Muñoz assumes it’s the fire alarm. They struggle with the gate again (clown guy whining). They lift it enough with a jack for people to squeeze out – starting with Dee who runs off (reminding everyone how innocent he is). Gigi gets out next – but the jack collapses behind her (hurting her ankle) leaving her to go get help.

She leaves the garage and finds a huge crowd of people milling around, confused and panicky and traffic completely deadlocked. She desperately tries to get help, but everyone is busy and worried. She asks a policeman what happened and he says no-one knows “who’s effected or how widespread it is” before she can ask for clarification, there’s a series of loud bangs, everyone ducks.

She learns the power’s down, the city is gridlocked and they’ve had no communication since… yesterday? Either they’ve lost time or the writers are drunk. Since Gigi seems as confused as me, I’ll go with lost time. Again, no clarification because this time two helicopters crash into each other in mid-air. The crash and explosion causes more chaos and panic. People run and Gigi trips – falling under the crowd that runs over her.

She’s pulled free and eventually wakes up to see the same scene of panic and chaos – a huge crowd of people running around in fear, with the extra poignancy of kids crying for their parents. After running around, lost, she bribes a security guy to let her go up to her room (upstairs in the hotel has been blocked off). When she finds the power being off cutting off the electric lock, she decides to take extreme measures and uses her prop gun to force the security guard upstairs (and amusingly recites the lines from the part she was auditioning for).

She finds her phone – and showing that she’s got some excellent sense to survive, she loads up her suitcase from the minibar. She goes back downstairs and the valet who she was kind to sees her and rushes to get her on a bus to the airport which has flights leaving still.

In the parking garage everyone’s still trapped and randomly dropping the word “fuck” for no apparent reason. Sick of waiting, Muñoz breaks into a car and steals another jack to force the gate open – just as more bangs shake the building. And Gigi arrives – she’s decided to skip the bus, looking kind of rough. She tells them everything is completely out of control – when a firetruck/ambulance (are they the same vehicle in America?) reverses down the ramp… driven by D.

Muñoz is not amused by the stealing of emergency vehicles, but it does have the tools to rescue them. They pull up to the surface and are nearly blocked in by the huge crowds of milling people. As they pull out they hit a motorcyclist – he’s ok but eh then loses his shit and attacks the firetruck – which incites the crowd to do the same, just because.

D has enough of that and when his shotgun won’t make people back off he drives off, ramming cars and bikes out of his way. They arrive at the old woman’s house – very very expensive house – but her housekeeper isn’t answering the intercom because the power’s out. Lots of bickering follows until D breaks down the gates with the truck. Problem solved.

They reach the house and the old lady is clearly very very rich indeed. But there’s no water, no electricity and no phones and Wade ominously says he has connections in “the highest levels” who tell him a grand disaster like this was inevitable. The clown, David, finally removes his clown suit, and the woman with Wade, Tammy, goes skinny dipping for a deeply gratuitous nude scene while Wade and McCormick watch and suggest she’s a prostitute.

The camera focuses on her “888” tattoo on her shoulder. McCormick bothers her with his lecherous presence and she quotes Bible verses at him, apparently worried by the end of the world (when she’s clearly not interested he stops trying to charm her and calls her a “whore” of course he does).

In the kitchen Muñoz tries to convince Dee to react but Dee is still suspicious – with added knowledge of exactly how much Black people shouldn’t trust the police. Gigi tells them both about the time she lost which they also lost, no-one can explain it and Muñoz remarks the old lady has the same birthday as her – 7th March. Which is also Gigi’s birthday. And D’s. As is Wade’s and David’s and Tammy’s. Well possibly except McCormick because he doesn’t answer the question and is drunk and vile and adds some anti-gay attacks on David along with his misogyny at Tammy. He throws some more grief at Dee for being a murderer and he, again, protests his innocence including a sharp point on racism in the system when Tammy when she cannot understand the concept of an innocent man in prison. McCormick adds some racism to the mix.

Can someone please kill this character?

Dee smacks him a few times which I’ll take for now, before all the screaming to stop it starts. Gigi yells at them and cries at them for fighting while she’s worried sick about her family. Like every tense moment so far, it’s interrupted – this time by the sound of someone arriving.

It’s Graciela’s (Francis’s housekeeper) car and it’s full of gun carrying gang members, they drag out Graciela at gunpoint, she’s crying and apologising for leading them there. They want the safe number and one of them hits Francis when she says she doesn’t remember – and Dee appears and shoots him. He holds them off while they all run into the house and out the back door and into the garden and a copse of trees.

First Francis falls and Dee has to call someone to help her. Then McCormick is delayed by the booze he insists on taking. Then Gigi wants to go back to the house for her phone. Wade trips and badly hurts his leg – looks like a compound fracture. D, you might want to leave these people behind.

And something shadowy, fast moving and whispering ominously moves around them in the trees

Dee runs off into the trees, Gigi tries to stop him but I think he’s taken my advice. Except he can’t abandon them because he’s just too good. Instead he tells Gigi to wait for him. She waits for some time and she gets the ominous whispering thing moving around her. SO VERY TENSE! Then something shadowy and grey puts his hand on her shoulder…. And Dee appears and shoots it.

The… person? Is naked and covered in tattoos – including a circular dragon that McCormack has and the 888 that Tammy has. His skin is a blueish grey and when he opens his eyes the irises glow red and he has tiny horns on his forehead. It moves… strangely, saying something in a different language before scuttling away in a really unnatural fashion – no-one can move like that.

Everyone is now nicely traumatised.


I like the artistry of it – the imagery, the tension is all pretty well done. There’s a lot of mystery, of course, but also a really well maintained underlying fear (who expected the lift they crawled out of to suddenly move and kill one of them? I did!) and some really well shot scenes – like Gigi being trampled. There is an excellent theme of utter confusion and chaos.

So far there’s a lot of characters. There were also a lot of random events packed next to each other which weren’t needed all in one episode – Francis  with diabetic low sugar, random explosions before the helicopter crash, the helicopter crash and stampede itself, the mob attacking the fire truck. There’s a lot of random events but no connection beyond CHAOS. I suppose it does give the sense of chaos – which is did really well – but I couldn’t really find my feet in the pilot. But then, was I supposed to? Or was I just supposed to cling to Gigi as the one stable thing I knew among everything falling apart (which is what I did).

Most of the characters are pretty simplistic at the moment – so I’m hoping they develop into more. Except McCormick who just needs to die. Apparently Andrew Howard, who plays McCormick is Welsh. I am bemused as to what part of Wales he’s from which apparently left him with no exposure to other British Isles accents at all. Wade’s character is just trying too hard to be a lawyer. I think Muñoz is the only character except Gigi I’ve become particularly attached to – everything spiralling out of control but, as a cop, she knows she’s supposed to hold it together. I like her.

I also kind of think the show was written by a 10 year old who has discovered naughty words for the first time. Swearing doesn’t bother me even slightly, but it does feel ridiculous and kind of childish for everyone to repeatedly say fuck for no fucking reason.

Obviously there’s a lot of mystery – and it has managed to hook my curiosity.