A few years ago, CBS tried to develop a TV series based on the Jake Gyllenhaal sci-fi thriller ‘Source Code‘. When those plans were eventually scrapped, the ABC Family network stepped in to create a thinly-disguised Young Adult knockoff of the same premise, called ‘Stitchers’. The pilot episode is about as good as you’d imagine such a thing could be, which isn’t saying much.
Late in the episode, our heroine Kirsten (Emma Ishta) summarizes the concept pretty effectively: “We work for a secret government agency that hacks into the brains of corpses and reads their memories.” Yup, that about covers it, but let’s start at the beginning.
Kirsten starts her day as a genius grad student at Cal Tech who’s placed on academic suspension after her grumpy roommate (also a fashion-model-gorgeous genius computer programmer) accuses her of sabotaging a project. Although Kirsten denies the charge, her rude and dismissive attitude doesn’t do her many favors with the college’s dean. You see, Kirsten has a fictional condition called “temporal dysplasia” which she describes as an inability to perceive the passage of time. Whether one minute has passed or one hour, she can’t tell the difference at all, except by using math and logical deduction based on clues around her. When a police detective informs her that her foster father has committed suicide, Kirsten barely reacts at all, because to her, it feels like he’s always been dead. This is supposed to be explanation enough for why she behaves like someone on the autism spectrum. She’s incredibly impatient with everyone and everything, has very poor social skills, and fixates on hard facts at the expense of emotion.
That same morning, Kirsten is grabbed by masked men, who put a bag over her head and bring her to a Chinese restaurant to meet a woman named Maggie Baptiste (Salli Richardson-Whitfield from ‘Eureka’). Maggie claims to work for an unnamed government agency (the most she’ll say is that it’s “NSA-ish”) and wants to recruit Kirsten for a new project called “Stitching,” for which her temporal dysplasia makes her uniquely suited. They enter a secret elevator at the back of the restaurant and descend to a fabulous high-tech underground lab buzzing with numerous twenty-something science nerds who of course all look like they’ve just stepped out of a J.Crew catalog.
Maggie explains the concept of Stitching using dialogue I’m pretty sure was lifted verbatim from ‘Source Code’. In essence, after a human body dies, the memories in its brain can still be accessed for a limited window of time. Using pseudoscience gobbledygook, a test subject called a Stitcher can enter those memories and interact with them to obtain vital information. For this, Kirsten must put on a skin-tight Spandex jumpsuit and submerge herself in a water tank.
Even though Kirsten can’t perceive it, time is of the essence. The body of a terrorist bomber who (accidentally?) blew himself up is brought to the lab, and Kirsten needs to enter his memories to discover where he planted two bombs that are currently unaccounted for. She has to do this and “bounce” out before his brain collapses, or else she’ll get trapped inside the dying brain, and that would be bad.
Long story short, the bomber blamed a tech firm called Applied Holographics for the death of his girlfriend, so he wanted revenge. He also intentionally blew himself up to be with her. One bomb is easily found, but Kirsten has to use a clue from his memory about a blue door to locate the second in the basement of her own university, strapped to a professor forced to hold a motion detonator. If he moves at all, it goes off. Kirsten then picks out other clues in the memory to find the code that will defuse the bomb.
Hooray, the day is saved. Kirsten officially joins the team, and will use this technology to investigate the death of her foster father, because she doesn’t believe he really committed suicide.
The narrative in this episode zips by at an absurdly rapid pace. The whole thing takes place in the span of ten hours, during which Kirsten goes from being a disgraced college student to an essential member of a secretive government task force. Characters barely have time to react to one plot point before the next comes crashing in. Maybe that’s a deliberate storytelling choice, or maybe the episode is just rushed to cram a lot of plot into the premiere.
Kirsten herself is meant to be endearingly quirky and eccentric. Her abrasive personality is obviously modeled after Dr. Brennan on ‘Bones’, and she trades lightning-fast flirty banter with a lab techie who’s obviously being set up as a romantic interest. However, in reality, she mostly comes across as a world-class bitch. Aside from the eye candy factor (she has a nice figure and looks great in the jumpsuit), I can’t imagine anyone wanting to spend time in the same room as her.
The show isn’t awful. For ABC Family programming, the sci-fi aspect is somewhat ambitious and more interesting than most of what airs on the network. Regardless, this clearly was not made for any target audience I might be a part of. I have no plans to watch again.