Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Limitless 1x06 "Side Effects May Include..." (There Was No Choice To Make)

"Side Effects May Include..."
Original Airdate: October 27, 2015

If I haven't said it enough already throughout these reviews, I really love Brian Finch. I love him because he's sarcastic and I love him because he's silly. I love him because he wants to find his purpose in life and I love him because he has values and morals. I love him because he's not an archetype, not a "just": just a slacker or just a drug addict (which he technically is) or just a failure and a fraud. I love him because he's complex and everything he does only furthers the idea that he's trapped. And trapped people do desperate things to save themselves and the people around them.

Because even though, to an extent, taking NZT was a way for Brian to make sense of his directionless life and find a semblance of purpose in it, it's not the reason he continues to take it. He continues to take the drug because with it, he can help people. With it, he can be the kind of son he's always wanted to be to his father — the kind who would make him proud. With NZT, Brian can literally save lives and put away bad guys for good. And with this pill, Brian believes he's the kind of person that everyone actually wants around. A better Brian, to be precise. What's so wonderful and heartbreaking is that Brian off of NZT is just as valuable and important as who he is while on the drug. But Brian doesn't see it that way. He's got some self-loathing, just like a hero usually has, and he's trying to tamper that down so that he can help others.

Unfortunately, the way that Brian acquired a way to manage the side effects of his NZT was by making an arrangement with Eddie Morra — a man who looks like the gorgeous Bradley Cooper, but has the soul of an amoral politician. So in "Side Effects May Include...", Brian is in a difficult position. He needs NZT in order to think of a way to help squash the side effects he's feeling from it AND he needs NZT in order to try and help Rebecca piece together what happened to her father. Since this episode was jam-packed, let's begin.


Brian spends the entire episode fighting so valiantly against turning over Rebecca to Shady Sands and Eddie Morra. In fact, there's no real case throughout this episode of Limitless which was both strange and also refreshing. There are so many emotional stakes that adding in a case — however relevant — would have detracted from the things that Brian and Rebecca were facing separately and together. As Brian begins to succumb to the side effects of NZT, he tries his best to hold fast to his relationship with Rebecca as an anchor. 

Sands tells him that if he pushes Rebecca away (if he pins the stolen FBI files on her), he'll be able to enjoy a lack of side effects again. Problem solved, right? Well... no, of course not. Because Brian refuses to frame Rebecca. Even as he's suffering from hearing loss and visual impairments and vomiting and excruciating pain and paranoia, Brian puts Rebecca over himself every chance he gets.

... And Rebecca does the same for Brian, in return.

They're both keeping secrets for each other and though they spend the vast majority of this episode apart, they're still working as a team. Brian is Rebecca's partner, and that isn't something she takes lightly. And Brian, even while suffering, refuses to be the kind of person who turns on his friends in order to save himself. Oh, sure, there are parts of him — the parts that are supposed to be the logical, NZT-driven ones — that keep thinking maybe he needs to put himself first, save his own life and turn on Rebecca. I noted this before and it bears repeating: it is so important that, while on the drug, Brian fights against the logical part of his brain and embraces his humanity.

THAT is what makes Brian Finch such a great hero. He struggles. He's not immune to thoughts of self-preservation. But he is not driven solely by logic or by selfishness. He's driven, always, by the need to protect the people he cares about. He is driven by ethics and emotion. So as Brian begins to crumble under the weight of his side effects, he also continues to fight. He takes the pill each day and that choice is such an important one. It is a conscious decision on his part to embrace pain in order to help himself find a cure for his side effects and, more importantly, help Rebecca discover the truth about her father.


In this week's episode, Rebecca tries to act normal around Naz. Spoiler alert: it's not easy for her to do and she doesn't have the best poker face in the world. At the opening of "Side Effects May Include...", Rebecca discovers — via Brian — that the FBI knew about her father being on NZT. And, in fact, they studied him. The file on her father leads Rebecca and Brian to a drug rehabilitation center (which Brian infiltrates in order to get information about who was in contact with Conrad before he died). Rebecca and Brian have to try and act normal around Naz and Boyle, though, even though it's difficult to do so.

What makes it even more difficult is the fact that Naz has recruited Rebecca for an assignment — a simulation, essentially. Rebecca does extremely well in this simulation, coming up with ideas and plans that end up impressing the director of the FBI. The director wants to meet Rebecca, but the woman is more concerned with the state of Brian's health than anything else in the episode. And when Brian goes missing for a while, she cancels the visit.

Naz eventually discovers this, of course, and — in a rather surprising turn of events — sits Rebecca down and tells her about her father's file. She tells her that she's known (again, Rebecca, you need to work on your face whenever you look at Naz because it's filled with rage) for a while and that the only way Rebecca will ever discover more about NZT is if she has the kind of clearance necessary to access information about it. And that, apparently, is what Naz's goal was with the simulation: she wanted to introduce Rebecca to the right people to make her climb to the top — and closer toward information — possible.

I still don't trust Naz, really, and I don't think Rebecca does either. It will be interesting to see what all transpires between the two in the future. Toward the end of the episode, Rebecca and Brian discover that Andrew Epperley, a man they believe to have invented NZT (and who had contact with the four patients at the rehab clinic whom Rebecca and Brian suspect had been given the drug), is alive and probably knows how to direct them toward more information about the origin of NZT.

Unfortunately for Brian and Rebecca, though, that's the only information they'll ever get from him, as Shady Sands (or should I say Murdery Sands) blows up Epperley's house at the end of the episode.


First off, let me get some superficial things out of the way, here: Bradley Cooper is an extremely attractive human being. Okay, now, moving on: Brian is suffering from debilitating side effects in the episode. He becomes so disoriented and paranoid that he ends up walking into the street, getting hit by a car, and passing out. When he comes to, he's on the floor of a rooftop building with Eddie Morra's face looking down on him. Brian is upset and frantic to get out of the situation (as you would expect), but Morra insists that he's not going to hurt Brian or anyone he cares about.

... Well, that's new. Brian is just as baffled as we are, wondering why he should trust a man who threatened his family and loved ones. Morra insists that the whole "get rid of Rebecca" thing was just a way to see how far Brian's limits were. Stealing FBI files and committing treason? Doable. Betraying a friend and sentencing them to pain and time in prison? Not so much. Brian is baffled, and so are we. If Morra doesn't want Brian as his lackey, then what DOES he want?

Morra explains that he wants Brian as his partner. Together, they could change the world — he would be the political face of change, but Brian would be a part of the leadership that makes that change effective and possible. Isn't this a tempting and ideal offer for someone who has spent all of his adult life feeling like a failure? Isn't it tantalizing, this promise of changing the world? Of making a difference? Brian must think so too, because he doesn't walk away from the conversation and he hides the five pills of NZT bestowed upon him by Morra in his apartment.

I'm still not sure if I trust Eddie Morra. I don't think the show asks us to make a judgement about him either way, really. What I do know is that we learned the kind of person Brian Finch truly is this week. Even on the brink of death, he wouldn't compromise his beliefs. He has his limits, after all. And, as Morra notes, Brian is a man of integrity. He upholds his own set of beliefs and standards and doesn't compromise on them. In a television landscape of amoral characters, antiheroes, and people who constantly make the wrong decisions so eventually — once — they can make the right one, Brian is a refreshing sort of hero. I honestly could spend an entire review gushing about him, but I'll refrain. Suffice it to say, though, that Brian has a difficult road ahead of him in terms of growth and development. He may have escaped the side effects of NZT for now, but I have a feeling he's just beginning to unravel the mystery of the drug, its purpose, and use.

Limitless isn't a perfect show, but it's one of the best procedurals (and dramas, really) on television right now. It's smart, it is making the audience think, and it is providing us with amazing characters and relationships. Plus, the occasional appearance by Bradley Cooper and his blue eyes doesn't hurt either.

Bits & pieces:
  • I constantly praise Jake McDorman, but it bears repeating in this episode because he had to play three different versions of Brian — Brian on NZT, pre-side effects; Brian on NZT, with side effects; and Brian's imaginary NZT self whom he talks to. Seriously, I am always impressed by his performance on this show, and this week he brought a whole new layer to that performance.
  • "You make yourself the Barbarian Queen of New York City!"
  • I love that Brian's fake name was Mike Ikerson, because why wouldn't it be?
  • "Because if you know it, I know it... and I don't... know it..."
  • "Hi! I need to speak to someone important!" That's how I'm going to enter rooms when I need things from now on.
  • I didn't like that Brian's manifestation had to do with crawling bugs because ewwwww.
  • "I just needed to know what your limits are."
  • "There's so much more, Brian." "... There's rice?" I need Bradley Cooper and Jake McDorman in more scenes together. They'd be great in a buddy cop movie or something, because they have a nice rapport already.
  • So here's a question: is Shady Sands going rogue? Or is he still following the instructions of Eddie Morra? Because it makes that scene where he, you know, BLOWS SOMEONE AND THEIR HOUSE UP pretty critical.
That's it for this week's Limitless! Let me know your thoughts about the show in the comments below. Until then. :)


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