The Starz network’s new high-concept sci-fi drama The Rook feels specifically designed as a replacement for the recently-canceled Counterpart. Although the premiere episode shows some promise, I’m not certain that it entirely fills that void.
Based on a 2012 novel by Daniel O’Malley, the TV adaptation was initially developed by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, who eventually left the production due to creative differences over the direction the other producers and the network wanted to take. Fortunately, whatever influence Meyer may have had is not immediately apparent.
The story is set in what appears to be a near-future London. The premiere episode opens with a young woman (Emma Greenwell) waking up on a bridge at night, surrounded by dead bodies. She has no idea who they are or what happened, but she literally has blood on her hands. As we quickly realize, the girl doesn’t even know who she is. She finds a letter in her pocket telling her that her memory has been erased and she should run.
The envelope contains two keys – red and blue – that represent a choice. She can either create a whole new identity for herself and slip away into hiding, or she can return to her previous life and try to find out what happened to her. The letter also tells her that her real name is Myfanwy Thomas (“Rhymes with Tiffany,” it helpfully explains).
After a night’s rest in a seedy hotel, Myfanwy makes her way to a bank’s safety deposit vault intending to use both keys, but is attacked by the female clerk and another man, who try to restrain and inject her with a needle. As she struggles, lights in the vault flicker and both attackers are flung away from her, as if by telekinesis. The man is killed instantly, but the woman crawls toward an alarm switch. Myfanwy is only able to open the red key’s box and make her escape.
Both the bridge and bank incidents are investigated by a government task force led by Linda Farrier (Joely Richardson). Her group is soon joined by an American agent named Monica Reed (Olivia Munn) who says that she can ID one of the victims from the bridge and wants to partner on the investigation. Monica cries when she views the body in the morgue. She claims that he was an operative from her agency, but it seems clear that she had a closer relationship with him.
The contents of the safety deposit box lead Myfanwy to her apartment, in which is a hidden room. She watches a video that she recorded for herself in the event that her memory should be wiped. It explains that she works for a secretive government agency called “The Checquy” (pronounced “sheck-kay”) that recruits people with extranormal abilities – and she is one such person. The video gives a rundown of other people she works with, including her boss, Linda Farrier. Agents there are given nicknames based on chess pieces. Linda is the King, and Myfanwy is the Rook.
Other than a cursory overview, the video’s details are frustratingly sparse. Original Myfanwy knew that someone would erase her memory, but doesn’t know who actually did it.
Linda shows up at the apartment looking for Myfanwy and quickly susses out that her memory was wiped, as if that’s a totally expected thing that happens all the time in their world. She also pieces together that Myfanwy was responsible for the deaths on the bridge and at the bank. She urges Myfanwy to return to work quickly and try to blend in as if nothing happened, in order to deflect suspicion. That’s obviously not going to be easy considering that Myfanwy has no idea what they do.
When she gets to the office, Myfanwy finds the building surrounded by protesters. Linda’s advice to keep her head down and not talk to anyone proves very difficult when practically everyone there wants a word with her, including Monica, the American. Of particular interest are a set of four siblings called the Gestalts, who are psychically connected to each other. Talking to one equates to talking to all of them simultaneously – and it appears that she had an ill-advised one-night stand with one of them, which must have been super-weird. Getting through all of this without giving away that she’s a blank slate is a big challenge.
In her desk drawer, Myfanwy discovers another letter from herself. This one claims that a traitor in the office betrayed her and warns her, “Don’t trust anyone.”
Episode Verdict / Grade: B
The Rook is a sleek and stylish thriller with a pretty good mystery hook, but the show wears its obvious influences very heavily on its sleeve. The elevator pitch was clearly, “It’s The Bourne Identity meets the X-Men!” Sprinkle a little Total Recall and even The Matrix on top for flavor.
I realize that it’s still very early, but I’m having trouble buying into all the plot details. How did Original Myfanwy know that someone in her office would betray her and wipe her memory (but not kill her), and prepare an elaborate contingency plan for that eventuality, yet not know who would do it? That seems like an incredibly specific thing to plan for. Having your memory erased is not something you’d just guess might happen to you… unless of course you knew someone who had the power to erase memories.
How long is it going to be before we learn that Original Myfanwy erased her own memories on purpose, and will the explanation for that at all hold up to scrutiny?
I’ll watch a few more episodes to see where this goes, but all things considered, I’d rather have another season of Counterpart.