CC2K Staff Writer Big Ross brings you a special edition of the “Television Collision” to explain what The Event is (hint: a dumb TV show).
When ABC’s juggernaut Lost was entering its final season, network television executives could smell the blood in the water and scrambled to come up with a successor, the next big hit show that could come in and capture all those millions of Lost fans who would soon have no more Lost to watch. Previously there was Surface, Threshold, and Invasion. Later came Heroes, V, FlashForward, and The Event. Early on NBC was trying to create buzz around The Event by making it overly mysterious with their series of “What is The Event?” promos:
I never watched The Event (at first). The promos generated zero interest in me and only came off as an obvious, desperate attempt to attract viewers. Perhaps I was in the minority, because enough people tuned in that NBC ordered a full season for The Event last fall. My girlfriend has been watching the show since the premiere, and as I imagine often happens in relationships, I recently started watching it too. My reaction? The Event is an unrealistic, internally inconsistent, dumb television show. Yet as much as I dislike it, I almost can’t stop watching, if only to see what new asinine, moronic twists and turns the writers take it in. I’m going to address these criticisms, one-by-one, but first let me issue an obligatory spoiler alert. I will be revealing major plot points of this show.
SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT !!!
So the big mystery of just what the event is in The Event is revealed to be aliens. That’s right, aliens. What we’ve gotten with The 4400, Invasion, V, Skyline, Battle: Los Angeles, and the upcoming Steven Spielberg-produced Falling Skies (just to name a few recent entries), NBC is giving us with The Event. Aliens have shown up on Earth, and Surprise! [cough]sarcasm[cough] they have plans to invade and take over. The aliens, who follow the Kryptonian (look just like us) mold rather than Alien, Predator, The Thing, etc. morphology, are led by Sophia (Laura Innes). While Sophia has insisted on peaceful interactions/negotiations with humans, her son Thomas (Clifton Collins Jr.) is of the “kill or be killed” mentality. Obviously, this conflict is likely to lead to a War of the Worlds, rather than Close Encounters of the Third Kind type of confrontation.
Where do things go wrong with this show? Granted, I’ve only watched the last 3 or 4 episodes, but even so I can retort, where don’t they?
The Most Incompetent Display of Military/Law Enforcement in Action
Look, I don’t know if the writers are intentionally trying to make the government and military out to be a bunch of barely competent ignoramuses, but that’s what they seem to do, week after week. To wit, in one episode Thomas is intent on stealing enriched uranium fuel rods to power a requisite MacGuffin piece of alien tech. Sophia warns the President (Blair Underwood), who promptly orders the rods moved, as they are not safe in their present location. This is Surprise! [cough]sarcasm[cough] exactly what Thomas wanted to happen, and he hijacks the fuel rods in transit. Here is where things get dumb. In transporting enriched uranium (alien threat aside) the government decides that one federal agent in the tractor-trailer hauling the rods, and two cars with a total of 8-10 plain clothes federal agents, all apparently armed with little more than semi-automatic hand guns, is more than adequate to protect *enriched uranium*. And yet *they know aliens want to steal it*.They aren’t even wearing kevlar vests! Where are the HUMVEEs with 0.50 cal machine guns? Air support in the form of helicopters, E2-C Hawkeyes, military satellites? You’re moving uranium for Crom’s sake. You’re one teenager-texting-while-driving away from an accident that could result in a major ecological disaster. But no. No reason to be overly (or even adequately) prepared. So when Thomas and 30 or so aliens ambush the “convoy” with assault rifles and fucking missile launchers, is it any surprise they easily steal the uranium?
Or even worse, a couple of episodes later, Thomas calls for a meeting of a couple hundred of the aliens (who have been hiding in plain sight among humans), and the government learns of the meeting and surrounds the building where the aliens are. Sophia and Thomas use their piece of alien tech to destroy the Washington Monument and negotiate 3 buses to transport them to an airport where a fueled plane is to be waiting to take them wherever they want to go. But the government learns their alien tech is woefully short of power, the attack on the monument used the last of what it had, and their threats of further destruction are a bluff. So the President takes the “eye for an eye” tactic and orders an Apache helicopter to blow the shit out of the aliens. Again, here is where things get really, really dumb. First, perhaps you’d like to watch this video on the capabilities of an actual Apache Longbow attack helicopter, skip to the 3:00 min mark to hear why it is described as “the #1 killing machine for pilots”:
That reality contrasted with the sequence of events in this episode kept eliciting mental cries of “bullshit!”. The President gives the order to take out the buses. The Apache launches one missile and destroys the first bus. Sophia is on the second and her son Thomas is on the third. The Apache, a helicopter that by its very design is an aerial vehicle capable of hovering in place or flying backwards, seems capable only of moving forward and has to come around for another pass, which should take mere seconds but seems to take minutes. Then, after the President insists the bus Sophia is on, the second bus now in the lead, be taken out, Thomas decides to “run interference” and allow Sophia’s bus be teleported away to safety by their alien tech, using the very last of its power, by driving his bus in front. The Apache launches a second missile, destroys Thomas’s bus, and seconds later Sophia’s bus is indeed teleported away. Again, if it’s not clear, this is so unrealistically dumb it boggles the mind. Thomas’s divergenary tactic would have been great, if they were driving straight toward a tank. But it’s a fucking helicopter, it’s flying above them. The pilot could have targeted any of the buses he wanted, or all three simultaneously and destroyed them within seconds of each other. Of course, that would have ended the show, or at least ended whatever plot is currently unfolding. The faux-drama the writers were trying to create with this sequence was ineffective, obvious, and stupidly unrealistic. Sheesh.
One other thing. Apparently, the writers of The Event believe that if you are running on foot from Federal agents and want to escape, all you have to do is literally outrun them and manage to get into a car. They will *only* be chasing you on foot, and once they see that you are driving away, they will promptly give up and inform their superiors you got away. Congratulations you criminal mastermind! [COUGH!}SARCASM[COUGH!!] This has been evidenced in not one but two recent episodes. In one, two characters have conned their way into a Vice-Presidential gala, intent on interrogating him to learn of a man’s location. When their ruse is discovered and the Secret Service attempts to catch them, the two manage to escape the building and run away on foot, hijack a van and drive away. These two physically assaulted and threatened to kill the Vice-President of The United States of America. You (the writers of this show) are telling me that the Secret Service wouldn’t have every exit of that building manned and locked down within seconds? That there wouldn’t be additional agents in cars outside, that government helicopters wouldn’t be in the nearby airspace? That an all-points bulletin wouldn’t be issued with their descriptions, if not pictures from security footage? Yet the two manage to escape the country on a private jet, because one of them “called in a few favors.” You have got to be shitting me.
Or worse still, when the Federal agent placed in charge of tracking down the aliens is discovered to be a sleeper agent for the aliens, the government tries to use him to lead them to the other aliens. Only he learns his cover is blown, and attempts to escapes the White House. The. Fucking. White. House. And again, his brilliant escape plan involves running really fast, finding an unattended exit, getting into a car and driving away. We literally see a group of agents run out of the same exit in pursuit *seconds later* shrug, give up, and radio to their superiors that he got away. After driving away from the White House, the next time we see this agent he is hundreds or thousands of miles away in a secret alien base. Seriously? They wouldn’t lock down Washington D.C. faster than you can say “clear and present danger” enlisting the police, state troopers, and military? They wouldn’t be checking every car on every major road and highway, every passenger on every form of mass transit, putting his face on every news broadcast, asking for help in finding this man? No, he just “got away.” Jeezus Fucking K-riste.
Are The Writers Even Paying Attention to what They’re Doing?
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the writers have a shorter attention span than my Border Collie mix, unable to remember even what happened the week before in moving the plot forward. To wit, an episode or two ago a wealthy, enigmatic senior citizen named James Dempsey (Hal Holbrook) made a long-sought archaeological discovery, which has still unrevealed implications for the upcoming alien invasion. When he arrives at the dig site, an archaeologist remarks he entered the unearthed crypt, which prompts Dempsey to calmly and coldly murder the innocent man for disobeying explicit orders (Dempsey was the only one to enter). Dempsey shows absolutely no qualms about gunning this man down, no concern over what to do with the body, how to explain what happened, or how to avoid prosecution. An episode or so later, when assassin for hire Vicky Roberts (Taylor Cole), who for reasons I don’t fully understand nor care to understand, is captured and brought before Dempsey, he orders her to be killed. Their history and his motives are irrelevant for the point I’m about to make. A henchman takes Vicky into another room, ties her up and proceeds to set the room on fire, and leave her to burn to death, smugly certain of her demise. Why in the world did the henchman decide to do this? Check that, I know why, because (again) the writers are creating faux-drama. Vicky is one of the main characters and is not really intended to be killed at this point. Another character named Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) – who he is doesn’t matter – will come and rescue her in the following episode. I’m certain of this. If I could bet on it, I wouldn’t even bother because the odds wouldn’t make it worthwhile; I’d be betting on a sure thing.
But that’s the point. In the context of the show’s plot, why does the henchman choose this manner of execution? Dempsey gunned down an innocent man and promptly forgot about it; he doesn’t care about making it look like an accident to avoid prosecution. He doesn’t seem to be exacting any sort of sadistic vengence. He merely wants her dead, out of the way, disposed of, no longer a nuisance. The henchman should have taken her out back and put a bullet through her head. Hell, he could have probably done it right then and there and Dempsey wouldn’t have cared. It makes absolutely no sense to put Vicky in a burning room, unless the writers intend for her to be rescued. Which they do. Not to mention the fact that the henchman apparently just started a fire in the building Dempsey is in, carefully analyzing the precious ancient tablets, tablets he spent millions of dollars to find and has proven to kill over. WTF is the henchman thinking? If this show had any sense of consistency, Dempsey would be pissed over the henchman’s stupid decision and shoot him in the next episode. Of course, that assumes the writers are paying any attention whatsoever to keeping this show consistent, which they aren’t.
Or, on a much larger scale, the unfolding character arc of Sophia is equally, if not more inconsistent. I said earlier that she was the one who wanted to keep things on peaceful terms with humanity, while Thomas wanted to take a more violent approach. Did I mention that their conflict led Thomas to order Sophia’s murder? That he sent a loyal alien to do the deed, and he damn near succeeded in strangling her to death? Yeah, that happened 2 or 3 episodes ago. Then, when Thomas orders the aforementioned meeting, Sophia attends and learns that Thomas has heard from their home planet, and learned the news that their sun is going supernova, and they have to relocate their entire civilization (~2 billion aliens) if they want to survive. Somehow they form an uneasy truce but still disagree on how to proceed with the relocation. Then the aforementioned escape attempt and stupidly slow Apache sequence transpires, leaving Thomas dead and Sophia alive. In the next episode, Sophia makes a 180 degree turn and takes up her dead son’s point of view. The humans have killed her son and her people, ergo violence is the only answer. She will ensure the survival of her species at the expense of ours; if humanity must be eradicated, so be it.
Except for one thing. The aliens fucking started it.
Sure a ship carrying them crash-landed on Earth near the end of World War II, and a bunch of them (including Sophia) were held against their will in a secret military installation for the last 60 years, but what would you expect the military to do if they discovered aliens? And Sophia seemed to be fairly patient with humanity, assured that a peaceful resolution would prevail. Which it almost does when the President decides, upon learning of their existence, to reveal them to the world and set them free (he changes his mind, for reasons I don’t care to learn because they’re probably stupid). The Apache helicopter attack, the attack that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of aliens and Sophia’s son, the attack serving as her justification for retaliation against humans, was retaliatory for the destruction of the Washington Monument, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. You may argue that this attack was provoked by their imminent capture, but that was only prompted by Thomas’s earlier attack and theft of the uranium, which resulted in the deaths of a dozen or so Federal agents. Sophia seems to be forgetting all of this, forgetting that only a few weeks earlier her son nearly had her killed and set all of this violence in motion, and she is now viewing him as a martyr for the cause, a cause for which the only course of action is apparently genocide.
I can understand the writers being under a lot of pressure to keep churning out scripts, to keep ratcheting up the tension, to keep driving the narrative forward in increasingly exciting ways, all while ensuring everything appeals to and is understandable by the lowest denominator (this is network television, afterall). But drama that is not grounded in a well-crafted story populated with fully realized characters is just faux-drama, and that’s not the kind of drama I want to watch.