Monday, August 30, 2010

'Persons Unknown's Series Finale Really Didn't Make Anything Known...

NBC aired the final two episodes of its summer "event," Persons Unknown over the weekend, showing that although promos promised we would know exactly what was going on by the end of the thirteen, they really were still setting it up for a potential second season. Unfortunately for them, by this past weekend, most viewers had already checked out.

But not this one.

For those who never watched, the basic premise of the show was that seven different people from different parts of the world/life were abducted and all ended up in a deserted hotel in ghost town in the middle of nowhere. There was much speculation on who took them and why, but we very quickly learn that most of the seven don't matter much. It is Janet (Daisy Betts) who we should care about. Not only was she taken from a playground while her young daughter played on the monkey bars-- so, you know, added stakes being that she's a mother, but also apparently whoever took her "likes" her best, too. Also, apparently she's the only one who's really being looked for back home. At least, that's what the show would allow you to believe since we only see her family (an ex-husband-- Gerald Kyd-- to be exact) try to look into the mysterious disappearance.

The pilot intrigued me, and as the first few episodes evolved, and we got to see the characters' flaws and weaknesses, I began to see a pattern. All of the people taken, from the narcissistic daughter of an Ambassador to a man who killed his own wife to a woman who was a patient in a mental institution, exhibited one very common trait: they're all trapped in their own everyday lives in a way that makes them down on themselves. So naturally they have to end up physically and literally trapped to realize that, right?

It was familiar, and it was not entirely uncomfortable.

A few years ago I produced a short film called "Expendable," which basically forced a few strangers into a very similar situation. Sitting in a waiting room, masked men with shotguns come through, and in seeking shelter and safety, they pile into an unfinished back room. The masked men basically tell them they need to sacrifice someone; someone has to come out and face them, and the others can go free. In actuality it turns out to be an exercise designed by a somewhat radical, somewhat alternative therapist trying to get one of his suicidal patients to realize life is worth living. When she breaks down at the end and pleads for her life, he clicks on the lights and walks in, revealing all of the others in the room with her to be actors he has hired.

For a brief time, I thought the town in Persons Unknown was a similar form of therapy.

Unfortunately, I could not have been more wrong. As the season ran on, things just got weirder and more "conspiracy theory" as we finally did meet the Madame Director who is running the whole program. We never find out exactly why they do what they do or how they've even managed to watch so many of these people for so long. We never really even find out what they want these people for once they establish which of them will be right for "the program." But in the finale episode, we do learn that six of the seven managed to pass the first level of their testing, even though the whole time we were told only one person would pass, and in order to do so, he or she would have to be the last (wo)man standing.

So those answers we were promised were instead just replaced with a few more questions about whether or not Madame Director and her plant Joe (Jason Wiles) in the system were lying to the others the whole time about how you truly advance or if maybe there are some things that are even above their clearance. For the briefest moment when Janet manages to escape and be reunited with her mother and daughter, we see that her mother has known the Madame Director-- and the program-- for years, maybe even in a "making a deal with the devil" sort of way to give over her child. But we don't really know how or why or even-- still-- what makes Janet so damn special!

Hell, we don't even know how Blackham (Sean O'Bryan) knew Charlie (Alan Ruck)'s wife's name!

One of the things that was pretty cool was how the program broke its usual rule when selecting candidates by taking Janet's ex-husband and dropping him into the program, starting in that deserted hotel in that ghost town, at level one, of course. It was, apparently, the only way to shut him up. But seeing him come face to face with two of the participants that he knew to be with his ex-wife when she was first taken would make for an extremely interesting and abnormal situation within that test group. Unfortunately, we'll just never get to see it.

The series finale of Persons Unknown ends almost exactly where it begins. Janet and the other five she thought she escaped with all wake up back in the hotel. Only when they take the elevator downstairs to walk out into the center of town-- presumably to scream and curse the closed circuit cameras-- they find themselves in the middle of a harsh storm, in the middle of the ocean. Yes, folks, Persons Unknown is on a boat. They have graduated to level two; the show has devolved to terrible, terrible CGI; and the scripts have rebooted. Once again those characters are trapped just as much as they were in episode one. Maybe even more so.

There was a lot of backlash in May when LOST ended and fans were split about how the long-running, fan favorite series ended. Needless to say, the viewers of Persons Unknown-- when they were there-- were nowhere near as rabid. I, along with Stephen King, may be the only viewer(s) who was still watching when it came to its ridiculous, ridiculous end. But I was still pretty pissed by the slap in the face with which they left me. At least LOST answered the big questions! At least LOST wrapped up its character arcs, even if it felt a bit rushed and/or expositional in the final moments. Could you imagine if LOST's final moments was Oceanic 815 crashing back on the island because they were all stuck in some sort of time warp or something??

1 comment:

Closerb4 said...

Well I'm with you an much of what you had to say. I think there would've been enough material for at least a second season, with both a town and a boat, and enough pissed off recurring characters to shake up that ruling class. First, Flash Forward disappears after a wavery and inconsistent season, yet ending with such a great story, then Happy Town mimicked its wishy-washy quality but kept my interest. Why do all these good to great shows have to leave. I don't believe a lot of shows do amazingly well their first season, particularly when there is as little advertising going on as happened (or didn't happen) here.