Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Limitless 1x03 "The Legend of Marco Ramos" (Your Life Isn't Yours Anymore)

"The Legend of Marco Ramos"
Original Airdate: October 6, 2015

The last CBS procedural that I really loved was CSI:NY. If you read my "getting to know me" post or know anything about me at all, you know that I talk about this show quite frequently whenever I refer to fandom. I connected with CSI:NY because I latched onto a pairing that I adored (Danny/Lindsay) and fixated on their growth as characters. The reason that procedurals work, when they’re good, is that they use cases in order to illuminate characters. That’s not exactly what Limitless is doing, and yet it’s still one of the most captivating and engaging show on television this fall –– procedural or otherwise.

This show is, as I have stated before, not centered on an ensemble of characters. I think that this is often the problem with procedurals and why they falter so easily –– they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to engage the audience with the stories of six different CSIs or FBI agents or Seals that, instead of connecting with one or more, we end up connecting with no one. They fall into archetypal boxes: there’s the beautiful but guarded one; the stoic leader; the second-in-command; the technological wiz, etc. We’re often bombarded with so many backstories and so much potential that we lose focus easily. CSI:NY kind of did that, admittedly: they had a lot of characters and a lot of moving pieces (the entire franchise does, really), with characters and techs floating in and out during seasons.

I expected Limitless to fall into the same pattern –– to try and divide its time between Rebecca and Brian and Boyle and all of the other agents. But it hasn’t. It has, instead, chosen to hone in on the one character I really care about: Brian Finch. I’ve said that this show is unlike other procedurals for a variety of reasons and the chief reason is that the show is focused on one person, not an ensemble. This is not to say that I don’t care about Rebecca or Boyle, but… well, I care about them less than I care about Brian. And the show is ASKING me to do that, not because they’re irrelevant but because by focusing on Brian, I will actually learn more about Rebecca and Boyle and Brian’s family. Rather than bombard me with stories about Rebecca’s past or Boyle’s home life, Limitless engages me because it asks me to care about Brian first and foremost –– he is the one who is the driving force of this narrative –– and then care about other characters on another level.

This is smart and it’s inventive, and it is why Limitless is making its case to be a strong procedural that breaks the very mold of a procedural. But, for however much ground Limitless is breaking, it is still a crime show in many ways, and its stories are indicative of that. So let’s talk about the series’ third episode as it pertains to the procedural and also my impressions of it overall.


I’ll be honest here –– this case was the weakest that we’ve seen in the three episodes. Last week, I was actually able to follow along with interest. In “The Legend of Marco Ramos,” I found myself infinitely less invested in the procedural, crime-solving part of this show. That’s not to say that this was a bad episode by any means, because I think that what we learned about the characters revealed more than I could have ever gleaned from a crime scene. But still, I wish it had been a tad more interesting.

What I did appreciate about this case was that it really demonstrated the boundaries the FBI has with consultants –– realism portrayed on a crime show is a novel concept, apparently –– because Brian doesn’t get to go everywhere with Rebecca. He doesn’t get to visit crime scenes or carry a badge or a gun. He’s not immediately integrated into the crime-solving aspects of the team just because he’s now ON the team, technically. And that’s great. It would be really implausible to see Brian go from average guy to someone with his own desk and trotting along at Rebecca’s heels to every dead body.

Otherwise, I’m ashamed to admit that I followed some of the case (snipers, illegitimate children, and a shady task force are really what I gathered), but really wasn’t extremely invested.


What really struck me though about this episode was just how emotionally poignant it was. This is a show that focuses on Brian Finch –– a man who takes a pill to become smarter and better in every way. So what happens when he meets his ex-girlfriend on his way to work one morning while on NZT? Short answer: she becomes interested in him again.

In a scene that will become extremely important and moving at the end of the episode, Brian opens a beer and asks Rebecca to join him (because it’s beer o’clock, and she obviously does not join him but does stick around for the conversation). He asks her what to do in the situation of Shauna, his ex-girlfriend. What if she only likes Brian because of NZT? What if the Brian off of the pill isn’t interesting or attractive to her? Rebecca is baffled by the conversation because she tells Brian that he’s thinking of himself as two different people, when he is not. He’s only ONE Brian. The young man disagrees. It’s this mini-identity crisis that is so captivating about the show.

There’s a duality to the character that Jake McDorman is playing and he absolutely (and stunningly, but we’ll talk about that in a bit) understands the two different sides of Brian. They’re subtle but those levels are there –– Brian on NZT is always more deliberate, more stoic, speaking with more clarity and intention. Brian off of NZT slouches more, his tone and phrasing more relaxed, his attitude a lot more carefree. These are all things that Jake McDorman talked about at Comic-Con –– notes Bradley Cooper gave him about playing two different sides of the same character.

Brian, in a heartbreaking little moment, tells Rebecca that he knows she’s wrong –– he IS two different people and given the choice between Brian on NZT and off of it… which does she think someone would choose? Rebecca tells Brian that if Shauna can’t accept who he is off of the pill, then she isn’t deserving of him. And if she accepts him off of the pill, then there’s nothing to really worry about. Brian takes this little pep talk to heart and has his date with Shauna.

Okay, look, I’m not really a prude. I’m totally okay with more amorous scenes on television as long as they’re done to enhance the show and for the betterment of characters. But can I just say how impressed I am that Limitless steered away from that for the scenes between Brian and Shauna? It could have easily gone there and would have been expected (the show does air at 10 PM, so I assume it has a little more leeway from the network), but chose to give the audience a glimpse of who Brian Finch really is and what he cares about. And this guy? He’s extremely endearing. He stays up late, laughing with Shauna and joking with her. They talk about the serious stuff. AND THEY FALL ASLEEP TOGETHER.

I mean, come on. When was the last time you saw that happen on a procedural and/or a show that airs at 10 PM?

The truth that we were privy to was this: Brian has a big heart. He’s endearingly sarcastic, with incomparable wit, and he loves pretty deeply. He FEELS deeply. He’s not the kind of character who is determined to remain stoic or guarded. Brian doesn’t emotionally distance himself because he’s afraid of love. He’s scared that people won’t love him back –– that they won’t accept his flaws because he doesn’t accept them. If he was given a choice, he would be a Brian on NZT all the time. Because he thinks that guy is better. He believes no one would choose to be with the person that he is off the drug. Isn’t that just heartbreaking?

Brian’s skills on NZT may be the reason that he gets accolades and the reason he solves cases, but it’s not the reason he is loved by other people or accepted by them.

At the end of the episode, feeling happy because he’s moving forward again with Shauna, Brian is at a bar and a man approaches him –– a man who works for Eddie Morra –– named “Mr. Sands.” As it turns out, Mr. Sands is going to start requesting that Brian do some of his bidding too. Brian incorrectly states that he works for the FBI. Shady Sands (how I’ll refer to him from here on out, I’ve decided) corrects Brian: Eddie Morra is the man they both work for. And that means Eddie continues to be the puppet master, tugging at Brian’s strings. With one move out of place or unapproved by Eddie and Shady Sands, all that Brian holds dear could come crumbling down –– and not just with his family, but with Rebecca and Boyle, and Shauna.

As Shady Sands departs the bar with this ominous warning, realization and horror and emotion are clear on Brian’s face (serious kudos to Jake McDorman who portrayed the progression of those emotions SO powerfully). He’s horrified and so are we, because what started out as a way to become better and to help others has become an extremely tangled and dangerous web for Brian.

The episode ends with a really heartbreaking and extremely well-acted scene on Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter’s parts. Brian –– who just broke up with Shauna to protect her –– is sitting on the floor, crying. Like, it’s heartbreaking. I wish I could explain how heartbreaking it was to see Brian Finch, completely vulnerable on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest. Rebecca, of course, doesn’t realize how emotional Brian truly is (or what he’s really emotional about because he partially lies to her, telling her the reason is Shauna when in actuality it’s Shauna and the web of lies he’s tangled in). But when she does notice Brian’s pain, she immediately softens. Rebecca is a really interesting character because in a lot of ways, she was immediately drawn to Brian and protective of him.

But she’s still an agent, so she’s still most protective of herself. This was a chance, however, to see Rebecca prove that she is always on Brian’s side –– that he is her partner just as much as Boyle or anyone else in the FBI is. That she genuinely cares about him. So she listens to his story and then walks to the fridge and grabs two beers. This causes Brian to smile for a moment and it’s a beautiful display of how close these two are already becoming. Rebecca is willing to care about the things Brian cares about –– even if they’re silly –– to prove that she cares about HIM.

Limitless is a series that, so far, is less about solving crimes and more about exploring humanity. The crimes provide a backdrop for the characters and a way for them to talk about important issues. I’m sincerely appreciative of that and I hope the show continues to focus on that element, above all else.

Bits & pieces:
  • I absolutely love the directing in this show. If you’re not watching Limitless, you need to be. It has some of the most beautiful directing on television, and the graphics are integrated SO well. Even better than Sherlock in a lot of ways (and that’s saying something).
  • Yes, I too see the irony in the fact that the last procedural I loved and the thing that hooked me into fandom and writing about it and the show that has now captivated me both star Hill Harper.
  • Analeigh Tipton guest-starred in this episode which was delightful for two reasons: 1) It reunited the pair from the horrible (sorry, it was) comedy Manhattan Love Story, and 2) I just found out they’re together in real life which is adorable.
  • Also I really love Analeigh’s short hair. It works for her.
  • There was an exchange that had Jake McDorman and Analeigh Tipton read emojis aloud and it was so cute.
  • Mike was more prominent than Ike was in this episode, but both were awesome especially in the first sequence they have with Brian Finch (and the sequence where they’re helping him piece together shredded emails and documents, with exasperation).
  • “That’s… a cynical way of putting it.”
  • “The file on this guy is amazing. It’s like some kind of bad movie.”
  • The graphics and directing is awesome, but what is also awesome is that this show has Brian imagine highly-stylized sequences which HE APPARENTLY ALSO NARRATES ALOUD TO THE OTHER CHARACTERS. We don’t hear him do this, but we hear everyone interject with objections, so he obviously does. This week we got a stylized sequence of Rebecca taking down a perp and one of what Brian imagines Marco Ramos’ life to be.
  • “Do you think they kill consultants?”
  • “The tall sniper database?” “That’s… not a thing, is it?”
  • “There aren’t two Brians. There’s… you.”
  • “You ran like a rabbit, now you’re gonna die like a snake. … Wait, why would I say that?”
  • Brian made a mini paper airplane that said “bad guys” on it and if you don’t think that was the cutest thing in the episode, you’re probably right. Brian playing with a baby was the cutest. But this was a close second.
  • Literally my entire timeline watching Limitless said, upon Mr. Sands’ entrance: “WAIT, IS THAT WALTER FROM ARROW?” Clearly I have never been more proud.
  • “It’s a tough thing to get used to –– the idea that your life isn’t yours anymore.”
  • The final scene was so good that I’m still talking about it in the final bullet point.

What are you all thinking of Limitless? If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend it. And I never steer you guys wrong! ;)


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