A Brief Note on This Week’s Episode of The Event, “Face Off”

So in all likelihood, The Event (2010-11) will join Stargate Universe (2009-11) as yet another SF casualty this year, being canceled, like so many SF shows of late, before it got a chance to really even get going.[1] But this is not for a lack of sincerely trying to keep a fickle audience enthralled. The writers of The Event have explicitly commented upon the lessons they’ve learned from such shows as Lost—i.e. they will raise huge plot-point questions and answer them quickly, like in the same episode they were raised (of course leading to other questions, which will be also answered quickly). The Event, from what I’ve seen, is very much dedicated to not stringing its viewers along w/ dangling MacGuffins week after week in order to create suspense. And if this last week’s episode “Face Off” is any indication, they’re trying to do more than just that.

Unlike SGU right now, The Event is not poking along, exploring relatively unimportant character psychology and non-big-picture-type-side-plots, but rather hitting us over the head again and again w/ game-changing “events.” (Yes I will spoil them.) In this last week’s episode alone a major character died, hundreds of alien refugees were killed by the US government, the Washington Monument was destroyed, it was revealed that these aliens had been among and had been persecuted by humans for thousands of years, the alien presidential aid’s cover was blown, and the sexy femme-fatale’s past as a CIA operative was partially revealed. In other words, “Face Off” was the kind of episode we usually only get at the beginning and end of seasons: major things happening that radically effect everything. The writers of The Event are clearly attempting to draw attention to the show, stay relevant, and create weekly episodes that are not just serial little entries that may add one thing or another, but essentially don’t really advance the story very much (I’m looking at you Lost). To put it bluntly: they are trying to stay on the air. And their efforts have produced one of the best mid-season SF episodes in recent memory. This is why the show will be canceled.

For what is perhaps apparent, the Nielsen ratings don’t measure fan involvement w/ a show, they don’t measure a viewer’s annoyance over a plodding plot, nor do they measure when a show really hits on every single cylinder and produces something very rare: a midseason episode which was frankly brilliant just in terms of its televisual form (i.e. a lot of stuff happened). What they measure is the “average” viewer who probably couldn’t care less what they’re watching so long as they’re staring at the television. The achievement of this last week’s episode of The Event then will most likely be a hollow one, for what they are attempting to do (not be Lost) will be “lost” on the average viewer (and really, Lost stayed on for six seasons b/c of its ridiculous plot lines). I hope I’m proven wrong, but if history is any guide—i.e. a show gets canceled when it’s starting to get really interesting, which takes time, something The Event is attempting to jump over, and just get straight to the interesting stuff—then The Event is about to get canceled w/ a huge ax. It just got too good too fast; and that the networks cannot abide for they cannot let any show be more interesting than the commercials which air alongside it.

[1] SGU is esp. sad b/c they canceled the show after this current season had been written (and filmed, I think), so I expect their plan on a five season run will leave viewers woefully unsatisfied when this season draws to a close.

A Brief Note on a Minor Nuclear Plot Point in The Event

Two Mondays ago (NBC’s replacement for the original Law and Order [kidding]) The Event proposed as one of its plot points that whatever extraterrestrial or extra-dimensional people the US government had been holding captive since WWII were actually responsible for the atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project, and such.  The Event is an interesting show so far, and perhaps lives up to its advertisement as what offspring 24 and Lost would have if they decided to copulate (neither show was on NBC, btw).  But to be frank, the idea that nuclear technology wasn’t possible w/o the intervention of some advanced species, that we were “given” nukes to bolster some people’s (i.e. the “aliens’”) attempt to overcome their own state of being unheimlich, is tiresomely crazy.  Yes, I tend to like concepts like Stargate or Battlestar Galactica that propose humans are not actually indigenous to Earth (or whatever), and yes, I appreciate alternate histories of all sorts, but to take away from humans their greatest accomplishment ever—the ability to destroy themselves in their entirety—is going too far.

An alternate history like this—that the US government, Oppenheimer, and all the rest—were not actually responsible for nuclear technology appears to me like a particularly insidious form of delusional revisionism.  Not only does history easily refute this narrative point in The Event—if we allow it, the show makes the entire 20th-C. following it a colossal joke.  Which it isn’t.  SF has mined the depths of “what ifs” (take Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, for example), but it rarely makes us completely un-responsible.  To suggest that human history is a whim of some advanced species is to suggest that nothing we do has any consequence whatsoever.  And to do this is to completely degrade the very cultural artifact we ourselves are watching w/ pleasure (or at least b/c it isn’t as shitty as our day-to-day lives).  In other words, a show that desperately wants our viewership, a show that is staking a claim on a now not-so-populated ground (read: there ain’t much SF on network TV no more), is suggesting that the very human history it is attempting to explore is not of our making, is a show desperately desiring to be cancelled after one season.