‘Persons Unknown’ 1.03 Recap: “Maybe We Should Work Harder Not Escaping”

Strange things are still afoot in the weird little town where the ‘Persons Unknown’ find themselves trapped. I suppose that goes without saying. In last week’s episode, ‘The Way Through’, our band of abductees decide that if they can’t walk or drive out of town, perhaps they can dig a tunnel underneath it. As the episode starts, we’re told that they’ve been digging for a week, and have nearly reached what should be the border. Just as they get there, however, they hit a steel barrier. A siren blares, shutters in the barrier open, and gas fills the tunnel. Uh oh.

Well, they get out of the tunnel in time, but just barely. It looks like digging isn’t a viable option for escape. At this point, Moira comes up with the idea that they should spend less time trying to get out, and more time trying to draw help to them. Someone proposes that they build a signal fire in the center of town. Everyone starts collecting wooden objects and piling them up in the street. Strangely, nothing will ignite. It’s like everything has been doused in flame retardant.

As the characters struggle with this new setback, a helicopter flies overhead. They jump and wave, and it turns toward them. Rescue, perhaps? No, not this time. The helicopter opens a hatch and drops a cargo canister in the street, then flies away. In the container are exactly three gas masks… for seven people. Something bad is going to happen.

The characters argue about who should get the masks and why. They wind up in the hands of Moira, Charlie, and Tori. Janet is pissed. So is Bill, and he clearly isn’t going to stand for it.

First, Bill tries to make a move on Tori. When he gets too aggressive, she kicks the crap out of him. The girl’s more dangerous than she looks.

Earlier in the episode, Bill had walked past the TV repair shop and saw video footage of Charlie smothering his wife. He uses this to taunt Charlie with hints that he knows something. When they finally have a confrontation, Charlie claims that his wife was dying of cancer, and it was a mercy killing. Bill doesn’t seem to buy the story. Charlie still isn’t giving up his gas mask.

Moira makes an effort to bond with Graham this week. He tells her how he found religion while working an Abu Ghraib type military prison detail. She tells him a story about being an orphan, being sent to a mental hospital for examination, and pretending to be crazy because she liked it there and wanted to stay. Is this story true, or just what she’s convinced herself of?

Eventually, the group gets locked in the hotel, which starts filling with gas. Those with masks immediately put them on. Except that Bill clobbers Charlie and steals his. Everyone else panics and scrambles to find a way out. At a certain point, Joe and Janet realize that the gas in the hotel isn’t harmful. In fact, it’s the masks that are the trap. They somehow lock onto each person’s face and fill with toxic fumes. Luckily, Janet figures out a way to pry the masks off before anyone dies.

Back in the real world, Renbe is working the missing mom story again. He learns that Janet’s mother had abused her. For this, he finds his apartment trashed and the mysterious man who’d previously mugged him waiting there. The man gives a final warning to give up the story or else. He then beats Renbe up and steals his computer.

But Renbe is persistent. He learns the man’s identity: Samuel Edick, P.I. So he breaks into Edick’s office to get his laptop and his notes back, and snoops around in the man’s computer. He finds a phone number in the file for Janet, dials it from the office phone, and hears only a weird musical static noise. He hangs up. Then his own cell phone rings. It’s the same noise playing on the other end of the line. What is going on here?

In town, Bill tries to make nice with Charlie, and says he acted rashly in panic. He tells Charlie that he’ll keep his secret. When Charlie suggests that Bill’s not really a car salesman, he smirkingly admits to it, but won’t say any more.

Finally, Joe suggests a new plan of action to Janet. Whatever is happening, they should just ride it out. Janet agrees that they should show no weakness or emotion. (Not exactly something she’s good at hiding.) The Night Manager brings them a box of fortune cookies. She simply throws them away and says, “Here, we make your own luck.” (Her grammar sucks, doesn’t it?)

As the episode ends, Edick shows up at a police station to offer a detective friend a break in Janet’s missing person case. He says he’s located the ex-husband right there in San Francisco. The photo he gives shows Renbe as Janet’s husband. Is the photo real or a forgery? In this story, you never know.

Crackpot Theory Time: Something about this episode makes me suspect that the ultimate twist will turn out to be that the characters are all dead and in purgatory. There wasn’t any specific event that left that impression, just a weird vibe I was catching. That’s kind of a cliché at this point, especially since another famous show just did the same thing. I hope I’m wrong. We shall see.

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