Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Limitless 1x07 "Brian Finch's Black Op" (Life Moves Pretty Fast)

"Brian Finch's Black Op"
Original Airdate: November 3, 2015

The first time I ever saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off was, weirdly, when I was babysitting my neighbor's kids. They were sitting around the living room watching the film while I helped prepare food in the kitchen. The most recent time I watched the film was to introduce it to one of our writers, Lizzie, who had never seen it before. And honestly, if you watch the film today, it still stands up as a great comedy and an even greater coming-of-age film. See, the thing about Ferris Bueller is that he isn't a slacker. He is, in a lot of ways, but he really isn't. He's just bored — bored of high school and the way that he's treated because he's young. Bored of being in a classroom instead of living life. And while Lizzie noted that she spent most of the movie wanting Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane to get caught because they were rebellious kids... she also found them endearing.

That's the appeal of Ferris Bueller — he's the kind of character who you desperately want to hate because of all the poor choices he's making and the lies he tells, but you also can't really hate him. Not when he constantly encourages Cameron to stand up to the things in his life that he constantly runs away from. Not when he shows appreciation for his sister. Not when he cares about Sloane and treats her pretty well. Ferris Bueller may be a lot of things as a character, but horrible isn't one of them. His boredom just makes him skew toward recklessness as a means of escape and fulfillment.

The same could be said of Brian Finch in Limitless. Last week we got a pretty big glimpse into Brian's life and his emotional state. This week was a little more playful in terms of characterization and shenanigans and a little less high-stake (and, consequently, less involved plot-wise). It is a welcome reprieve from the emotional turmoil Brian was put through in "Side Effects May Include..." honestly. But don't let that fool you — a "fun" episode of Limitless is still one in which important issues arise and character growth happens. Let's dive into that, shall we?


Since "Brian Finch's Black Op" is less intense and complex than most of the episodes this season, I thought I would take some time in this review to talk about Brian Finch as a character. What's really interesting is that we don't know much about Brian, apart from the pre-NZT character who we met in the pilot. Oh, sure, we see Brian in every single episode. But we also see multiple versions of him — the guy on NZT and the NZT manifestation in his head. We rarely slow down long enough to dwell on him as an actual character without the drug. And when we do, it's usually extremely emotional and powerful (like him breaking down over pushing Shauna away).

But what this episode did really well — and what I hope the show continues to do as it progresses — is drop more hints, little fragments of backstory into dialogue. While in the woods with Kyle (also nicknamed by Brian as "Cameron" to follow along with the Ferris Bueller's Day Off homage), the two discuss what Brian is like on NZT. Kyle longs to have a taste of the kind of intellect and purpose that Brian seems to on the drug. It's then, in a moment that isn't extremely significant or notable, that Brian confesses he thinks the pills are amazing, in spite of their complexity. Why? Simply because Brian Finch was kicked out of five schools. He was so used to his parents looking at him like he was a failure and a joke. He hated that — hated that he was a disappointment and that he couldn't change his circumstances. And that's a little sad, isn't it? You feel bad for Brian, a person who desperately wanted to make something of his life who is now doing that by lying to the people he cares about and taking NZT.

Because now, with the drug, Brian has been thrust into a life he never could have expected and doesn't always want. Case in point: this week's episode. When Brian is abducted by the CIA to participate in a black ops mission in the woods, it seems like a pretty cut-and-dry situation. The mercenaries are going in to extract a terrorist and bring him to justice... until Brian realizes that they plan to kill the man instead. And when that doesn't happen — when two out of the three CIA contractors go rogue with their own plan to sell the hostage to the highest bidder for $10 million — Brian realizes he's in a lot of trouble as the one caught in the middle.


I remember the executive producers at Comic-Con noting that the thing that makes Limitless different from other procedurals is the fact that Brian Finch is thrust into a life he did not prepare for after taking NZT. He is not an agent. He's not a soldier. He's just a normal guy who used to be a failing musician and happened to take a pill that now heightens all of his abilities. Unlike everyone else in the show, Brian is the rookie in the sea filled with veteran players. Sometimes, Limitless uses this for comedic effect.

In "Brian Finch's Black Op," however, while there are parts of Brian's novice attitude played for laughs, the majority of it is much more serious than that. When he realizes that there is no real way he can escape his situation in the woods alive, his NZT conscience reminds him of what he will need to ultimately do — kill the remaining two soldiers if he wants to survive. Brian accomplishes this by turning Kyle against Miklos, but there's something raw and real about the way Brian still reacts to death which I think is so important.

He flinches and looks away. He's horrified. He's not immune to death — not by a long shot. While Rebecca and Boyle can remain stoic in the face of that stuff, watching someone die still haunts Brian. He talks about it frankly, after the fact, but the truth remains that it hits him hard. And honestly, I think that is one of the things I really love most about Brian Finch. He's someone in a procedural who hasn't lost his humanity yet. He's trying desperately to not be jaded by the work that he does, to not let it cripple him emotionally, to not be so afraid of the world that he does nothing to save it, to not see the world as mostly evil.

That's admirable to me. And it's extremely reltable. It makes Brian the kind of character you instantly lean into — we care about Brian, because he's not like everyone else. We care about Brian because we desperately want him to succeed. And we care about Brian because HE cares. He's not cold and calloused. He still has intense and emotional reactions to things. He's just learning to tamper them a bit more around Rebecca.

I love that Rebecca notices this, though — notices the way that Brian matter-of-factly discusses death, and comments aloud to him, in private, that she's worried she turned him into some kind of unfeeling robot whose lost his tether to humanity. Honestly, I think Brian and Rebecca keep each other human. And I know that sounds grossly romantic, but I mean it sincerely — he helps her remember the best parts about life, the good parts in people, and the fun of waking up every day with something new to accomplish. And she reminds Brian that the world is full of pain and difficult choices and that sometimes there are painful things you have to do or see in order to ultimately protect someone else (or yourself). I said before, multiple times, that Brian's instinct is always aimed toward selflessness first. I stand by that, because he doesn't want to harm other people. He always wants to give others the benefit of the doubt first, and then resort to desperate measures if he knows there is no other way out.

What "Brian Finch's Black Op" proved was that Brian isn't immune to the pain and suffering of the world or the emotional toll of his job. Just like Ferris Bueller, he knows that the world is out there. And it's scary and complex and difficult, filled with people you don't like and things you don't want to do. It's a world swarming with Rooneys and people who just want to see others hurt so that they can benefit.

But, much like Ferris, Brian Finch makes the conscious decision — every day — to live his life with energy, humor, and enthusiasm. Because if he doesn't... what is even the point?

Bits & pieces:
  • Every single homage to Ferris Bueller's Day Off in this episode was absolute perfection. With maybe the exception of the end because WHAT KIND OF BUS DRIVER PICKS UP A STRANGE, DIRTY MAN WHEN CARRYING A BUS OF CHILDREN?
  • Brian Finch has a framed photo of Eddie Morra and that's just the best thing ever.
  • "Ohhhh, that's not how it goes."
  • "What's in those pills?!"
  • I love that Brian's NZT conscience manifested itself as Rebecca-as-Sloane during the episode. That was just the cherry atop an already wonderful homage. I also loved that he nicknamed the CIA contractors after Ferris Bueller's Day Off characters too.
  • "But if I know my quiet, psycho, in DESPERATE need of a hug mercenary types..."
  • "You're not dying. You just can't think of anything good to do."
  • No, wait, I lied. The best Ferris Bueller reference was Brian singing: "Let my Brian gooooooo" in the woods.
  • "You did it! You saved Ferris!"
  • "It felt like before... like the good parts of before."
What did you all think of this week's Limitless? Hit up the comments below and let me know! :)


Post a Comment