Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Limitless 1x05 "Personality Crisis" (Between An NZT And A Hard Place)

"Personality Crisis"
Original Airdate: October 20, 2015

What do you do when you're stuck between a rock and a hard place?

I hate making decisions. I'm really bad at them, actually, that I often just wait until my circumstances make choices for me. Or until someone else does. My friends and I are notoriously bad at decision-making, especially when we go out to eat or plan a movie night. It takes us thirty minutes to pick a restaurant because we all keep insisting that we don't care where we eat — really, we're fine with anything! But that's a lie. I hate making decisions mostly because I hate the fact that there is usually a right one to make and a wrong one. And I am always fearful I will choose wrongly. Up until this point in Limitless, Brian Finch has had to make a lot of decisions. He chose to work for Eddie Morra and keep a secret from his family and from the FBI. He chose to hand over the NZT files. He chose to let Shauna go. None of those decisions were easy ones to make, and I don't mean to cite them as a way to diminish the choices. These were extremely difficult things for Brian to do.

But all of those combined cannot compare with the decisions and ramifications of those choices that Brian has to make in "Personality Crisis." Brian's NZT double-life is often played for levity on the show — I love scenes of NZT!Brian interacting with normal!Brian. It's fun to see him interact with himself. But this episode sees a different kind of interaction — a more internal one than anything. This particular personality crisis isn't about what Brian is like on the pill or off of it, like the crisis we saw with Shauna a few weeks ago. This crisis is inherently about self preservation versus being a good person.


"Personality Crisis" was all about identity. (For those of you who read my Arrow reviews, this might sound like a rehashing of season three.) The case was relatively simple to follow for a procedural (and for that I was extremely grateful because a convoluted rabbit-trailed case would have been a disservice to the emotional content of this episode). It centered around two brothers: Chris and Sam. The former was picked up by the FBI while he was attempting to flee a building that they raided under suspicion. And when he was brought in for questioning, Brian was the only one Chris wanted to speak to. In doing so, the FBI had hoped that Brian would gain valuable information about the whereabouts of Sam, his older brother, and a suspected person of interest in the case.

But the more Chris talked about Sam, the more Brian believed Sam wasn't possibly the person of interest — the suspected terrorist. He was Chris' older brother, a compassionate young man who took care of Chris when their mother died and their father was hauled off to prison later. There's another show on television these days called Blindspot, and I couldn't help but be reminded of its title and the significance of it while I watched this storyline unfold in Limitless.

We all have blind spots — we all have weaknesses, places where we can't see clearly. I'm driving my parents' car for a week while my car is getting repaired, and theirs is an SUV — bigger than my sedan and equipped with, you guessed it, blind spots that I am not used to. We all want to know that we are in control and that we are capable. We all want to believe that we can see everything around us clearly, that we haven't gotten something crucial wrong. But the problem is that... sometimes we do. Sometimes we see people in only one light because they're our human version of a blind spot. When we look at them, we see the world differently.

Sam was Chris' blind spot, with good reason. That was his older brother — the person he looked up to most in the world. And when Brian reveals that Sam actually WAS working on building a dirty bomb and detonating it in New York City, Chris couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe that he would miss the signs, that he could misread his older brother — someone so intimately connected to him — that badly. The FBI wants to use Sam's care for his brother and trust in him as a way to stop the bomb from being completed, so they use Chris as bait and lure Sam (and a co-conspirator with neck tattoos) out of hiding for the final component to be delivered.

But this is where things go awry. Because Chris can't let Sam go, can't let him get caught and thrown into prison. That's his brother and for however badly he's messed up, for all of the bad things he was about to do... it's still his brother. And he still loves him. Sam is still the blind spot. LOVE is a blind spot. So when Sam and Neck Tattoo flee, Chris chases after them, with the FBI shortly behind. Shots are fired, and Chris is fatally wounded. Sam is imprisoned, and the bomb never detonates.

Thousands of lives are saved, but one is lost in the process.


Okay, let me pause before I delve into the emotional elements of tonight's episode to talk a little bit about Brian Finch as a character. I absolutely love him. I've said in recent reviews that the difference between Brian and other heroes on series that I've watched is that he doesn't have to mess up a million times, make smarmy comments, and then grow as a person in order to be lauded as a hero. He's already a hero when our story begins. He's already a good person — he doesn't have to be taught how to love or care about others from a ragtag study group. He doesn't have to go through five years on an island or be struck by lighting in order to embrace his inner hero. He doesn't have to try and fail every episode to do the right thing.

And that's REALLY refreshing.

Because so much of what I watch on television these days is us rooting for the hero to finally become the hero — to overcome all of their internal demons and struggles and to take one step forward in their journey by the end of every episode. And I love shows like that, don't get me wrong. A hero's journey is epic and it's important and it's necessary. But not all stories are stories like that. Not all stories are ones of transformation.

Sometimes, when a story begins, it actually begins in medias res — in the middle of things. On Limitless, Brian is already a hero. And what he does throughout the episodes doesn't fundamentally morph him into someone different. His experiences and his decisions illuminate who he is and act as a compass toward what he knows to be true of himself already. Remember at the end of last week's episode that Brian was faced with a moral dilemma: he knows information about Rebecca's father and he has that information and he wants to share it.

But he can't share it without telling Rebecca how he acquired the files. This week, Brian struggles throughout the episode to talk to Rebecca and tell her about her father. It's clear she doesn't have closure after visiting the art gallery and Brian — to his credit — really has a difficult time with not telling her vital pieces of intel he has gathered. But the need for self-preservation weighs out in most of the conversations that Brian-on-NZT records for his non-NZT self to watch later on. NZT Brian is extremely intelligent. He's calculated and artistic and he has everything figured out, down to a formula and pie charts and little clay figurines.

Here's what is so great about this show, though: it would be easy to make Brian-on-NZT the voice of reason at the end of "Personality Crisis." We all assume that to be true, right? How could Brian on the drug — this super-genius who can master self-defense classes at the FBI, piece together almost 20,000 different potential email addresses, and recall entire conversations without missing a beat — possibly be wrong or off-base? 

... Unless there is something about Brian off the drug that Brian on the drug lacks. And there is: a deep, powerful connection to emotions and to relationships. Brian Finch cares about people. And not just in a way that is flippant or blase. He cares about people in an extremely profound way. He tethers himself to people and their stories. He cries. He gets angry. He tries to shut down the parts of himself that care. At one point in the episode, he puts on a leather jacket and dons sunglasses and pretends to be a version of himself who detaches from others, emotionally.

But then Chris shows up at his door, and he can't. And then Chris dies, and we would think — given what we know to be true of so many other shows — that this would be the thing that leads Brian to shut down further and drive him into isolation, a la Oliver Queen in "Sara." But it isn't. In fact, Chris' death is the catalyst not for Brian to withhold secrets and become calloused but to open himself up to potential harm for the sake of helping others.

Brian could very well die — in fact, he probably believes he will, given the threats that Eddie Morra and Shady Sands hung over him. But he doesn't care about that. There's a miniature speech that Brian delivers at the end of the episode, where he essentially says that if shutting himself down means that he loses the part of himself that feels and cares, then he never wants to be that person. That's not a life that is worth living. And I cannot tell you how happy that makes me as a writer and a viewer to see in this show.

The moral of "Personality Crisis" wasn't that being the tragic hero is a life you should aspire to, but rather one that is lonely and completely missing the point of heroism. Brian knows he is going to suffer, but he's weighed the price against what he could give someone else. Think about that — this decision is not about what Brian can GET but what he can GIVE to Rebecca. Can you please pass me some tissues? Because Brian Finch's heroism is making me a bit emotional.

Limitless keeps surprising me, honestly, in the best way. Just when I think we have reached the end of a possible problem related to Brian's secret, we unearth a new, more complex, more engaging one. I honestly cannot wait to see what this show does next. Whatever it is, I know it will be poignant.

Bits & pieces:
  • All the praise to Jake McDorman, who consistently brings it every week as Brian Finch. Man, just when I think I have figured him out, Jake manages to illuminate another facet of the character's personality that compels me to lean in. Bravo. Honestly and truly, bravo.
  • One of the things I feared with this show was that it would drag out revelations and secrets like a lot of other shows are prone to doing. Yes, there is the big overarching secret of Brian being on NZT that a few characters are not aware of yet. But Brian found out about Rebecca's relationship before the end of the episode, and by the episode's end, Brian was at her door with a folder, ready to talk about her father. Good job, show, for not stringing us along until the mid-season finale for that reveal.
  • I got two very distinct comedy feelings when I saw the videos Brian made for himself (reminiscent of Nick Miller's videos to his future self in New Girl) and the clay figurines he made (reminiscent of the ones Ben Wyatt made when unemployed on Parks and Recreation). 
  • "Brian, we've been talking to you for 30 seconds and you've been nodding along, but I don't think you're listening..."
  • The graphic of Brian's bladder? Hilarious.
  • "Don't... move?"
  • "You might know more than you think you do."
  • Rebecca isn't keeping secrets either! She told Brian about her father's paintings at the art gallery. I thought they were going to have her lie, but I'm really glad she didn't.
  • Brian made a pie chart titled "WAYS TO DIE" and it was literally just a circle filled entirely in that said: "Talk to Rebecca."
  • "I can be really annoying when I'm on NZT." "We've noticed."
  • "I'm checking on you." Awww, that was cute.
  • "You? It's Charles Barkley!"
  • "Just because you remember everything doesn't mean you know everything."
Limitless airs on CBS Tuesday nights at 10 PM EST. If you're not watching the show, you're only a few episodes behind — catch up!


Post a Comment