Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Limitless 1x04 "Page 44" (Immortal Mice and Moral Dilemmas)


"Page 44"
Original Airdate: October 13, 2015

We all make choices in life. These choices –– for better or for worse –– define who we are and who we become. If you do bad things with good motivations, does that make you a bad person? If you help someone in the same day that you commit treason, are you the hero or the villain? Can that change? Is this even a question of either/or –– or do we all have, as Harry Potter told us, dark and light inside of us? And how do you really decide whether or not you’re a good person or a bad one?

In this week’s episode of Limitless, Brian Finch struggles to figure out whether or not he’s a bad guy or a good guy. And it’s a good question for him to ask of himself, because he saves an innocent man from prison in the same episode that he commits treason by stealing files from the FBI. What I am loving about this series –– and why I fully believe it to be worth your time –– is because it is focused foremost on characterization. The cases drive the plot, but they are so much more integral than that because they drive character development. In the case of this week’s episode titled “Page 44,” we not only become more engrossed in Brian’s moral dilemmas and story, but also the story of Rebecca. The show could have easily brushed aside the comment she made to Brian in the pilot about her father and his involvement in NZT. But it didn’t. Instead, Limitless brilliantly paralleled two revelations at the end of this episode.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s talk more about what is making this show so wonderful.

THE CASES


There were actually two cases this week! In a procedural, that’s fairly common (because by no means is the FBI or CSI unit just working on one case every day). But what was good about this episode that the previous episode lacked was relevance to the main story –– to the story of Brian Finch. Since losing Shauna (thanks to Shady Sands’ warnings), Brian has been resorting to one-night stands in order to fulfill him. He simply cannot become attached to anyone at this point in his life without putting them in danger (much like a certain hooded vigilante noted to a certain blonde IT girl in season two of Arrow). If he cares, they can be used as leverage against him.

So Brian finds no meaning in these meaningless relationships (he dryly comments on that) and instead, chooses to spend his nights on NZT perusing the Internet and talking to geniuses all around the world about the projects they’re working on. He begins to chat with a man named Arthur who is working on extending the lifetime of a mouse. Brian helps him, as you do, and Arthur is extremely grateful for it. And then, the mouse goes missing and Arthur panics.

Arthur also reveals to Brian –– when the two meet in person –– that he was one of the founders of a biotech firm called Claxion… oh, and he suspects his former partner, Paul, is behind the stolen mouse. Why, you ask? Because Arthur did tons of work for Claxion and Paul stole all of the hard work and ended up making millions off of the information and research, while Arthur was left with nothing. When Paul shows up dead the following day with Arthur’s fingerprint at the crime scene, Brian is a bit concerned.

The other case in the episode involves a Chinese drone and honestly, the only important part of this story connects to what Brian has to do (steal all the information that the FBI has on NZT, making it easier because the case gave him special security clearance at the FBI). The show does a wonderful parallel between Brian stealing the information and the culprit –– Zhang –– confessing that he was a spy. The confession by Zhang is important, because he tells Rebecca and Boyle that he never intended to be a spy. It didn’t start out that way. It started out, much like addictions and things of that sort, little by little until finally, he was caught in a web of espionage.

There’s the understood warning there that if Brian does what Shady Sands –– and, by proxy, Eddie Morra –– want him to do in committing treason, there is going to be a snowball effect. He’s not going to be able to escape his web of lies and crime. One act will lead to another and then another. We see the effects of that this episode.

Meanwhile, together, Brian and Rebecca manage to determine who actually killed Paul and why (basically, Paul was going to leave five different charities all of his money after he died instead of giving it to his children and told his lawyer about this, but instead of making the change, the lawyer contacted one of Paul’s children and promised them that he would be able to sit on the will and not do anything about it… if the price was right). Arthur is extremely grateful to Brian and lauds him a good person and a hero. Brian, feeling immense guilt for what he was made to do by Sands, isn’t so sure.

But Arthur is insistent that Brian is a person who did a good thing and that he owes him.

(I hope we see more of Arthur again, honestly.)

BRIAN’S MORAL DILEMMAS


Brian is told by Shady Sands that he needs to steal all of the information the FBI has on NZT and if he doesn’t, people he loves will get hurt. Here’s what I love about Brian: decisions don’t come easy for him and we see the weight of those decisions pressing down on him at every turn throughout the show. He’s an extremely emotionally-driven and invested individual. He cares about people, he wants to help them, and he genuinely desires to do good. So when he is forced into a corner by Sands, Brian tries to outthink him –– he fabricates documented evidence from the FBI about NZT and crosses his fingers that it’ll work.

It doesn’t.

Brian’s father ends up in the hospital, not in life-threatening condition but in a condition no less. Sands knows. And we assume Eddie knows, too. The web that Brian is caught in isn’t just growing more complex by the moment –– it’s starting to choke him and kill him. There’s a great shot right before “Page 44” jumps to commercial in the hospital. Sands has just left and Brian is sitting in a chair, beginning to feel every implication of what he has done and what he will do. His hands go to his mouth and he rubs his face, wearied and burdened.

Brian is a good guy. He is the kind of guy that you want to root for –– the kind of guy you already believe is doing the right thing, the best he can. He’s not like Jeff Winger, who was smarmy and egotistical but still (probably) had a good heart. He’s not rough or tortured like Oliver Queen. He’s not judgmental or jaded like Danny Castellano. He’s not self-involved like New Girl’s Schmidt. Brian is a character who you truly believe has a heart of gold and wants to do right by the people he loves.

He’s a hero and he is a dreamer and he wants to live a better life for himself and his family. He wants to save his father. He wants to prove his worth. He wants to HELP people. But now, Brian is being coerced into stealing secrets, turning on his own people in order to save others. Brian isn’t protecting himself by doing business with Shady Sands and Eddie Morra. He’s trying to protect everyone else.

“Page 44” was such a great glimpse into this growing inner conflict and the effects of Brian’s choices. Jake McDorman continues to impress me with his portrayal of Brian, as he can transition from playful and goofy banter (seriously the emoji thing was adorable, as was digging through the trash excitedly, and the fantasy sequence of Mike and Ike this week was hilarious) to extremely concerned and serious quicker than I can snap my fingers. The producers talked at Comic-Con about how Jake was the right guy for the role because of this, and I truly believe them. It takes a talented person not only to play opposite himself (which he does in the NZT sequences), but to be able to play such an array of emotions without making them contrived or clich├ęd.

DADDY DEAREST


Brian isn’t the only one who gets some emotional depth this episode –– Rebecca does, too! When she meets a “dealer” on the street… the woman quickly explains that she is an ART dealer of her late father. Rebecca had no idea that her dad had continued to paint in his later years, assuming that once the drug addiction began, he had stopped. The woman hands Rebecca her card, and tells her that there are pieces in a gallery that her father did and might be of interest to her.

Rebecca doesn’t want to see what her father created (even as she shows Brian pieces of his pre-NZT art). In an extremely sweet moment, Rebecca and Brian talk about their parents. Understandably, Rebecca is trying hard to distance herself from the NZT version of her father. She doesn’t want to remember him as the addict. She doesn’t want to think about that part of his life and if he painted something while on NZT, she wants no part of it. But Brian gently tells Rebecca that if he found something of his father’s after HE passed… there’s no way he wouldn’t want to be a part of it. It’s a lovely little moment between these two and I love that the show has been so intentional in building up their trust in one another.

So Rebecca goes to the art gallery and meanders around… only to discover a painting of her that her father did. Jennifer Carpenter does such a great job conveying the utter shock and intrigue and well of emotions Rebecca is feeling as she sees the painting.

THE TWIST


Of course, at the end of the episode, Brian also discovers something: the FBI has a file on Rebecca’s father in that top-secret stuff that he stole for Shady Sands. They knew he was on NZT (something is important that was great foreshadowing was that Rebecca hasn’t told anyone at the FBI that she suspects her dad was on the drug) and, moreover, were monitoring him while he was on it.

Brian’s horrified realization is that he can’t tell Rebecca that he knows this. He can’t tell ANYONE that he knows this without them knowing the treason he committed.

So is Brian a good person or a bad one? The answer is far more complex than that, I think, but I would venture to say that –– right now –– Brian is a good person who is being made to do bad things for good reasons.

Bits & pieces:
  • “If you could make ten minutes feel like an entire day… what would you do?”
  • “… Please don’t spill coffee on the top-secret file.”
  • The graphics and directing in the show are amazing and I say that every week but I will keep saying it as long as it keeps being true.
  • The fact that Brian helped create an immortal mouse is so great.
  • Every time Shady Sands (his real name is Mr. Sands, but I’m adding the “shady” for fun) is on screen, I immediately yell: “HI WALTER FROM ARROW!” Funnily enough, Arrow name-dropped his character this week.
  • “If I were you… and I pretty much am…”
  • “Wake up.” “Ugh, Ike.”
  • “SHE IS TRYING TO RAISE ENOUGH MONEY TO BUY A PONY!” – Brian’s fake excuse while pretending to sell Girl Scout cookies for his “niece” in order to sneak into Claxion.
  • In the background while Brian calls Rebecca, the lab mice hop down the stairs (clearly CGI lab mice) and it’s hilarious and also slightly adorable.
  • “Thumbs up!”
  • “He was right. Or I was right. Whatever.”
  • “And I wanna know what you did with Arthur’s mouse.” “I do too!”
  • BCOOP IS RETURNING. It’s amazing how he is able to play such a calculated and cruel villain, it really is.

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