It’s official. I’m digging ‘Persons Unknown’ on NBC. The first episode set up an intriguing mystery plot. The second episode, ‘The Edge’, has me hooked. Maybe this isn’t the next ‘Lost’, but as a limited run miniseries with a set conclusion, it’s certainly worth watching over the summer.
For an hour-long drama, this episode is crammed full of plot. It starts with Moira cutting the implants out of everybody’s legs. We distinctly don’t ever see Moira herself going through the procedure, but I have to think that the other characters would notice that as odd if she didn’t. With the implants out, they try to cross the border around the town. Indeed, they make it past the previous limit without passing out. However, a few feet beyond that, Janet is blocked by an invisible forcefield that leaves her with mild burns on her skin.
That seems like a pretty big sci-fi element to drop on the story. So far, the show has a way of always skirting around such things to remain just a smidge on this side of plausible. The army sergeant, Graham, believes that the town is surrounded by hidden microwave weapons aimed inward. He calls them “pain guns” and claims that the military has occasionally used them in Iraq as a non-lethal deterrent. He spends most of the episode slowly and methodically marking the exact edge around town where the pain guns take effect. (Hence the episode title.)
When they get back to the hotel, the characters find their rooms cleaned and the damage fixed up. Some of them also find mysterious items and messages waiting for them. Tori, the bimbo party girl, finds a caterpillar cocoon in a jar, along with a note (printed on fortune cookie paper) saying, “You will soon win a major prize or award.” She’s disgusted by the insect, but Moira immediately agrees to take care of it. Over the course of the episode, these two start forming a friendship, part of which involves Tori finding Moira some new clothes at one of the abandoned stores in town.
Tori believes that her father is behind the kidnappings. It turns out that he’s the ambassador to Italy, and a former head of the CIA. When asked what she’s done that she thinks her father would put her through such an ordeal, she very determinedly says, “Things.” In a later flashback, it’s hinted that she knows a secret that her father wouldn’t want to get out. This still doesn’t explain the connection with any of the other abductees, however.
Janet had previously gotten the fortune cookie message, “Kill your neighbor and you’ll go free.” Now, she finds a loaded gun in her room, with the more explicit instruction, ““Kill Joe and You’ll go free.” She hides the gun while she thinks over her options. Later, she’s tempted further with pictures of her daughter.
Bill (the loudmouth car dealer) and Charlie (the investment banker) get it in their heads that torturing the hotel night clerk will yield them some answers. When everyone else outvotes them, they decide to take matters into their own hands. They beat him up, to no result, and then try marching him out of town. The idea being that the kidnappers would have to turn off the pain guns to let one of their own through. The night manager insists that he’s a person of no importance. Everyone else gets involved, there’s a scuffle, and the night manager indeed runs right past the edge of town unharmed. Charlie follows right behind and is blasted by the pain gun.
Out in the real world, Renbe the reporter continues to research Janet’s abduction. We learn that he’s usually the paper’s gossip monger, not a serious journalist. He believes that breaking a hard news story could be a Natalee Holloway-like career-maker for him. He manages to dig up that Janet has dark secrets in her past. (I’m guessing that she killed someone.) Before we can learn more, Renbe is mugged and has the evidence stolen from him. He’s warned to drop the story or face more serious consequences. Something tells me he won’t.
Back in town that night, a lightning storm strikes and explodes one of the pain guns. The group decides that immediate action is needed. They hijack the van from the Chinese restaurant. (Moira goes nuts in the restaurant to cause a distraction.) They make it past the border safely and drive through the forest, relieved at their good fortune. Not long after, a bright light in their path engulfs them. They immediately find themselves back at the town. They park the van and go back to the hotel dejectedly. (The night manager is also back, with a smirk.) This, again, seems like a big sci-fi element, but it’s left unexplained. Perhaps it will be picked up in the next episode?
The next day, Moira and Tori release the newly-hatched butterfly, which is promptly fried by the pain guns. Whoops. Tori is upset, and Moira admits that she’s a mental patient, not a psychiatrist. “I have truth issues,” she says.
The phone in Janet’s phone rings. It’s her daughter on the other end of the static-filled line. They only speak a few words before losing the connection. In San Francisco, Janet’s mother hangs up the phone in confusion at who her granddaughter was talking to. She doesn’t seem to have dialed the call, which leaves the question of who did.
Janet confronts Joe with the gun, tells him about the fortune cookie message, and acts like she’s going to kill him. At the last minute, she turns and shoots the camera in the room instead, yelling that she’ll make whoever’s responsible for this situation pay. As she leaves, the camera slides out of the way and is automatically replaced by a new one, as if this were expected.
In the midst of all this plotting, the episode also slowly starts to reveal more about each of the characters. For example, we learn near the end that Graham is Muslim. The acting is strong, the writing is good, and the mystery is compelling. I’m liking where this is going so far. I hope it keeps up.