INTRUDERS 1.01: “She Was Provisional”

INTRUDERSCan you keep a secret? The debut episode of INTRUDERS kinda sucked. The pilot played as intentionally vague and purposely confusing – as if being obtuse made it somehow deeper. I felt like I was on the outside of the show looking in – and the people inside were all old friends who weren’t interested in letting me in on the joke. I know it sounds weird to want more of something bad, but this show could have benefited from a two-hour debut. But only if we would have gotten more exposition, not more mysteries.

(BBC America’s INTRUDERS did well in the ratings, pulling in 1.5 million viewers, Variety says, according to Nielsen’s “live plus-3″ estimates.)

It’s hard to know where to begin with a recap. In 1990, Donna Albert (Katherine Evans) celebrates a birthday and is later accosted by Frank and Richard Shepherd (Robert Forster and James Frain), who claim to be there “to shepherd” her. (Get it? Their name is Shepherd) She suffers some weird symptoms, and then later kills herself, leaving a note for a “Gary Fischer” and claiming she is not Donna.

In the present day, Amy Whelan (Mira Sorvino) doesn’t want to celebrate her birthday, but her ex-cop/novelist husband Jack Whelan (John Simm) insists, even though she is not acting like herself. The next day she leaves for work – and never comes home. Jack recovers her phone from a cab driver and learns she has been getting mysterious texts, some of which suggest Amy is setting up Jack to be murdered.

intruders1After little Madison O’Donnell (Millie Brown) celebrates her ninth birthday, she gets a visit from Richard – who changes his mind about shooting her dead on a beach. Later, Madison prepares to kill herself in a bathtub just like Donna – but suddenly drowns her pet cat instead. She makes a threatening call to Richard (who calls her “Marcus”), promising: “What goes around comes around,” and sets off into the night.

Meanwhile, people are looking for Bill Anderson, an acoustic engineer who has a conspiracy theory about ultra-low frequencies emanating from 32-foot organ pipes in Europe. (Seriously.) Apparently, if someone could hear these frequencies, they could learn “how to never die.” At least, that’s what crazy podcaster/ham radio operator Oz Turner (David Dastmalchian) believes. Jack is visited by an old friend, lawyer Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles), who drops cryptic hints about Bill Anderson. Richard somehow tracks down Oz and kills him.

Despite all that Sturm und Drang, INTRUDERS just didn’t give me enough to be interesting.

It’s clear that Shepherd was supposed to kill Madison but he didn’t, and she was probably supposed to commit suicide in the bathtub but didn’t. So that’s twice Madison dodged the Reaper. How long can that go on? And why is Marcus in a little girl’s body?

Millie was terrific as Madison – except for Madison’s breakdown after the cat incident; her “Oh, my god, what have I done?” dialogue was too on-the-nose for a child and sounded odd coming from her. Millie didn’t know how to deliver the wooden lines. But other than that, she was very scary as that ever-popular horror trope, the freaky little girl.

Speaking of the cat incident, what do you want to bet that scene dominates the internet morning-after conversations, even though the murder wasn’t explicitly shown?

intruders2From BBC America’s myriad nonstop commercials, viewers know going in that the show has something to do with the dead rising and second souls occupying bodies – but the premiere episode doesn’t really get into any of that. Not even a little bit.

Everything about the episode was maddeningly elliptical:

  • What’s up with Gary, who traveled from Chicago to Washington state to talk to Jack in the woods for three minutes about the murder of Bill’s family in Seattle?
  • Who is Shepherd, and who is working for? Is he doing something different now than he was back in 1990?
  • Why mention that the car Jack borrowed needs new engine mounts if the engine didn’t then fall out of the car? Somebody needs to read more Chekov.
  • Why is “Amy Whelan” a codename for “Mr. Crane”?
  • What do the dilating pupils signify? The never-mentioned second soul taking over?
  • Why did Jack write a book called Afterlife? What’s it about?

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

  • When Shepherd asked Oz, “No ‘I want to believe’ poster?” it was a reference to executive producer Glen Morgan’s tenure as a producer on THE X-FILES.
  • Is the number 9 an extended Beatles joke?
  • Did many in the viewing audience wonder what that 45-record adapter was when Frank showed it to Donna? How many of you just assumed it was a prop made for the episode?
  • Simm and Frain have very good American accents.
  • Oz didn’t use the crisper sleeve for his Hot Pocket, so clearly he deserved to die.
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