Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Limitless 1x11 "This is Your Brain on Drugs" (Nothing Left to Lose)

"This is Your Brain on Drugs"
Original Airdate: December 15, 2015

If you had the ability to take a pill that would allow you to become something better –– something smarter and faster and more perceptive –– than you are right now, would you do it? Would you slide down that slippery slope of addiction in order to feel powerful? In order to feel purpose? And who would you be willing to sacrifice along the way in order to get the thing you want most? That’s the question of the winter finale of Limitless, titled “This is Your Brain on Drugs.” It’s a weird episode for the show –– weird in the sense that a lot of the time and focus is taken off of Brian Finch and placed onto the supporting characters. That’s a gusty move, and I have to admit that for a majority of the episode, I found myself to be a bit underwhelmed. But the last act more than made up for it with the prominent character development and conflicts of interest.


I’ve never really cared for Casey as a character. It could be because he wasn’t totally utilized in Limitless, or it could be because I always had the feeling that he would turn into the villain somehow. Regardless of my feelings toward him, “This is Your Brain on Drugs” focused a lot on his characterization, his leadership, and ultimately the price he was willing to pay in order to feel in control of his life and circumstances. Because Casey had been teetering on a dangerous edge for a long time. He’s always wanted to be respected and to be the best. In his nature, he’s the kind of man who desires that and values things like hard work getting rewarded.

But the problem with people like Casey is that they’re often willing to sacrifice things –– big things, important things –– when they feel like they have nothing left to lose. We see this pretty clearly in the episode. Before Rebecca breaks up with him, Casey discovers that his team has swiped a bit of the NZT evidence and kept it for themselves. They’re curious about what the pill can do for them, but Casey is unsure that they should travel down this path. That is, until Rebecca breaks up with him via text message. After that particular moment, and the ones that follow in which Naz reveals what NZT does, Casey becomes detached but also unhinged.

This episode allows us to do what no other episode in the series has thus far –– watch Brian interact with someone else on NZT. Technically Eddie Morra is on NZT, but he has been using the drug so much that the effects aren’t as prevalent as they are in Brian and, in this case, Casey. Because Casey becomes very militarized when he is on NZT. Where Brian was fun, childish, and extremely energetic (like a child hopped up on candy), Casey becomes very robotic and extremely calculated (like someone is programming him to talk and move his head). Brian is suspicious when he interacts with Casey, post-NZT for the first time. He knows Casey (and knows him more because he can see everything clearer while on NZT), and knows that Casey –– normally –– is very deliberate in what he says and does. But Brian can tell that something is seriously off about Casey and it’s only when he discovers a Sodoku puzzle book in which pages upon pages are solved does Brian look up and across the office to find Casey staring at him intensely and kind of scarily.

But let’s back up just a bit because I left out something important in regards to Casey. When he and his crew swiped NZT from evidence, they decided to have a boys’ night out to try the drug. Everything was going well until Nick calls Casey the next morning, informing him that he strangled Russ –– one of their other partners-in-crime. While on NZT, Nick realized that Russ was sleeping with his wife and he snapped. Yeah, not good.

We find out the lines that Casey is willing to cross and here’s the really telling part of it all –– NZT doesn’t fundamentally alter who you are. We have never seen that to be the case in Brian or others who have taken the drug. It enhances facets of your personality that were already there and it definitely causes you to become more perceptive and generally more energetic. But Casey’s first instinct is to cover up Russ’ murder and pin it on –– of all people –– Russ. If we thought Casey was a stand-up guy, we thought wrong. NZT didn’t turn him into a man complicit in a crime. No, that’s who Casey WAS. NZT just allowed him to figure out a smart way to cover up, you know, a homicide.

Unfortunately for Brian, Casey and his crew on NZT are smart and end up yanking Brian and Rebecca and holding them captive, since they’re the two who know about what NZT does and that Casey is on it. Here comes the problem –– while attempting to get out of the CJC, Casey and his crew run into Boyle (who, we learn, was sent by Brian to rescue them). What results is ultimately Casey’s death, as he has his gun pointed at Brian’s head with no intention of lowering the weapon.

So Boyle shoots.


One of the most interesting character dynamics in Limitless thus far has been that of Boyle and Brian. And I say “interesting” because I’m not really sure WHAT their dynamic is yet. Rebecca and Brian banter and love one another like siblings. She cares about what happens to him, and he will do anything to protect her. But Boyle is kind of a wildcard. He plays by the book, but he’s also not robotic. He’s compassionate and softens toward Brian. He’s not afraid to admit when he is wrong, and Boyle generally has a sense of humor about a lot of things too.

But the confrontation between Boyle and Brian post-Casey’s death is really interesting. Understandably, everyone is floored. Rebecca is shell-shocked and can barely process what happened; Boyle feels immense guilt for the decision he made in the moment. But he doesn’t regret the decision. He assessed the situation and made a judgment call. He did his duty.

But not as far as Brian Finch is concerned. Brian is upset with Boyle. He’s grateful to be alive, but he read the situation differently. Boyle has tactical training –– he’s been through rigorous training in his years as a part of the FBI. He’s run scenarios and has had to shoot people before, most likely. But Brian saw what Boyle could not, simply because Boyle’s brain was completely occupied in “hostage situation” territory. Brian, being on NZT, just wished Boyle could have given him a few more minutes to talk to Casey, to assess the situation. If he had… Casey might have survived. Because the truth that Brian saw and Boyle did not? Casey was lowering his weapon as the bullet sped toward him.

It’s this really complex and really interesting conversation. Really. Because maybe Brian is right. Maybe Casey was in the process of lowering his weapon. And maybe he wouldn’t have hurt Brian. Maybe if Brian had just had a few more minutes –– maybe even seconds –– things could have ended differently. But that’s not the kind of person Boyle is or can be. He doesn’t operate on possibilities. He operates on facts. And the fact of the matter is that Casey had a gun pointed at Brian and was not lowering it, even when repeatedly asked to do so. As the moments wore on, Casey only grew tenser. So Boyle made a call. And now he has to live with the choices of that call.

… Or does he? At the end of the episode, Boyle walks back into the CJC, feeling the weight of guilt and judgment from his colleagues. And as Boyle kneels down to retrieve papers that have fallen from his desk, what should he find but a clear little pill. And just like that, with only a moment of hesitation, Boyle pockets the NZT. This year at Comic-Con, Hill Harper talked to our press table about the complexities of Limitless and drug use. He discussed the possibility of inner tension in Boyle –– if NZT can turn Brian into someone perceptive and in control, why wouldn’t someone like Boyle want to take that pill as well?

I think it’s super important that Boyle’s decision to at least consider taking NZT falls on the heels of his decision to protect Brian and kill Casey. Prior to this episode, I wouldn’t have believed that straight-laced FBI agent would even think about taking a drug, especially one that he knows so little about. But given the events of “This is Your Brain on Drugs,” I can see WHY Boyle would choose to do that. Brian doesn’t feel guilt (at least that Boyle has seen). The pill that Brian is taking seems to have given him a better life. And Boyle desperately wants to be able to live a life where he doesn’t have to deal with the tough choices or feel the pain that he did in this episode.

I think that Limitless is asking some really interesting questions both of and to its characters. Because if you knew that there was a pill out there that could allow you to access your brain in a way you never could before, would you pick it up off the floor?

Bits & pieces:
  • MIKE AND IKE. I didn’t get to talk about them above but Ike got shot while protecting Mike. And we learned more about them as characters, which I thought was a really great decision on Limitless’ part –– Ike is stressed about being Brian’s personal babysitter and wonders if he’ll be doing this forever; Mike only has one year with Brian and then he gets a job promised to him at the CJC.
  • “… You did all this while I was getting my coffee?”
  • “Did you just break up with him over TEXT?!”
  • Brian’s fake newspaper headline read: “YOU DOWN WITH NZT? THE FBI IS.”
  • This episode was told mostly from minor characters’ (and Rebecca’s) points of view. As such, it was directed REALLY cool. Seriously. And I’m not sure if it was an homage to anything in particular, but there were a lot of tight shots which made things a lot more dramatic. The shot where Casey and Brian both look at one another was particularly well done.
  • “When are you going to start respecting me?”
  • “You know?... I kinda got used to Ike.” 
Well, that’s it, folks! Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the first half of Limitless as much as I have. See you in 2016! :)

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