The Tomorrow People Mid-season Finale Review: To the Other Side
When we last left The Tomorrow People, or at least reviewed of the show, it was humming along at a nice clip, smartly using flashbacks to tell efficient, even somewhat moving stories about the lead characters. The series' third and fourth episodes, with their focus on Cara and John respectively, were particularly good in this regard. In the five episodes since, the show has focused quite a bit more on plot than character, diving headfirst into Stephen's search for his father Jack and the corresponding possible existence of limbo, a place that only extra special Tomorrow People (i.e. Stephen and Jack) can enter when they stop time.
I have to say, that story hasn't held my interest much. It was always pretty clear that Jack wasn't gone forever, and even though the last few episodes tried to throw a monkey wrench into that obvious endpoint by showing us that Jedikiah actually ordered John to kill Jack, I still didn't buy it. Perhaps most problematic of all is that Stephen remains the show's weakest character of the lead trio. This happens quite a bit with lead characters who are so quickly painted as saviors, but Stephen's existence in the show is so plot-based. Clearly, he wants to find his dad and he'll do anything to accomplish that goal and yada yada, but what else do we know about him really, other than he's probably in love with Cara? The double agent story hasn't been especially interesting, partially because it's ridiculous at times ("Where's Jameson?" "I don't know.") and partially because the Tomorrow People are so often in contact with Jedikiah and Ultra anyway that it mostly makes everyone look a little stupid.
The last few episodes have really concentrated on the messed up crap that happened to John while he was at Ultra, particularly his messy relationship with Jedikiah. Really, John and Jedikiah are the two characters carrying the show because they're the ones it has heaped on the drama and tension onto. Not only through their screwed up interactions with one another but also their relationships with their "people". John "killing" Jack at Jedikiah's behest, only then to lead the Tomorrow People on a multi-year goose chase to find the man he murdered is kind of messed up, and almost entirely justifies all of Cara's "Why won't you let me in?" prodding throughout these first nine episodes. Jedikiah meanwhile regularly seems to eschew Ultra protocol and no more so than in his relationship with Morgan, a breakout. It's not really a problem that the supporting characters are more interesting than the lead. Like I said, that happens quite a bit. What has dragged The Tomorrow People down a little in the last few episodes—and don't get me wrong, the show is still very entertaining--is that the show has asked us to care just as much about Stephen's search for Jack as we should about John and Jedikiah, and that's just really hard for me to do. And "Death's Door" was especially focused on Stephen and limbo and as such, it wasn't the best episode to leave 2013 on.
The clearest example of how Stephen and his laser-focus on finding his dad is hurting the show was the moment where John, pretty much wracked with guilt over what he did to Jack, admitted the truth to Stephen. Although John had little to lose at that point considering he was stuck in Ultra in-line for a surely nasty execution, the fact that he told Stephen was pretty big, particularly for a character that has trouble being honest about his dark and twisty past. And what does Stephen do? Get moderately upset about it for a few minutes, only to quickly move on because he knows that limbo is real, his dad is alive, etc. Of course that's almost certainly all true, as this episode's final moments proved, but John's honesty could have created a lot of tension between two characters who are already on uneasy ground--and it would have introduced even more skepticism into whether or not Jack was alive or dead.
To make matters a bit worse, the episode spent a whole lot of time working to make Stephen's journey to the other side into limbo seem important. That's what the show should have done, but when the story leading up to scenes like the one where Stephen brings the Tomorrow People into his home to hang out with his family and Astrid is weak, that supposedly big, great moment is also weak, if not weaker. It's silly enough that the episode developed some flop sweat trying to convince us that Stephen could actually die, but to include a scene where he connects his two worlds as if it's something the audience has just been waiting for, is kind of manipulative. Free of context, that scene was fun enough, and I want to see more scenes of Astrid making eyes with John or chatting about Stephen with Cara. Unfortunately, context matters and within the framework of the story The Tomorrow People is currently telling, that rang false with me.
And then, we didn't even get to see Stephen in limbo! This is the moment the show has been building to, the one that it has told us is the most important above all else, and all "Death's Door" gave us was 55 seconds of Cara, John, and Russell freaking out over the possibility that the plan didn't work and Stephen was, in fact, dead and then the quick reveal that he was alive and that they needed to find Jack's body. Clearly, not showing us what happened to Stephen in limbo is a strategy to get us to return in January, so it's not as if the show is planning on keeping things from us in the long haul. But I don't quite understand the logic of that cliffhanger. Why not at least give us another quickly glimpse in limbo with a close-up shot on Stephen smiling and saying "Dad?" Not hard, right?
There was still some stuff to enjoy in "Death's Door," mostly around the edges. John manning up and telling Cara the truth about his role in Jack's death was pretty important for their relationship going forward. The show keeps stopping and starting with the love triangle, and that's certainly fine by me, but I would like to see John and Cara make a go at an adult relationship before Stephen fully interrupts with his chosen one googly eyes. A random byproduct of their arguing at the end of the episode led to Russell also finding out the truth about John, which could be helpful and/or interesting in the next batch of episodes as well. And Jedikiah's unwillingness to kill Morgan, despite the Founder's directive, only further cemented him as one of the show's two most interesting characters. I loved that he figured out exactly how Stephen kept from injecting Cara with the de-powering serum and that he let Stephen off the hook because they're both in forbidden love situations. That Jed, what a softy.
My fear is that the next step in Stephen's crusade to find Jack will keep dominating the story, but at least now that we know limbo is accessible, perhaps more compelling stuff is around the corner. And even if that story does power The Tomorrow People throughout the early stages of 2014, I think the show has done a decent-enough job establishing John, Jedikiah, and to a lesser extent Cara, and I'm still dedicated to seeing this through, at least until the end of Season 1.
– One of my pet peeves about this show was on full display in this episode: So much random telepathic conversation. Cara decides, seemingly on a whim, when she wants to move her mouth and when she wants to use her abilities. And it's not even like she says secret stuff in telepath channels and non-secret stuff aloud. It's random!
– I like The Founder well enough. He's creepy.
– The Tomorrow People HQ has gotten emptier as the season has progressed. Some died, sure, and they went out of their way this week to explain that they moved some people due to possible danger, but... it's probably a budgetary thing. I can't wait until Ultra wipes out another 20 red shirts so the show can really just have the four main characters hanging out in the subway station.
– R.I.P. to Doctor Crick. I'm not familiar with the original series, so I'd like to hear what you longtime fans thought of how the show used Nicholas Young. I'm guessing they'll keep doing stuff like that, which is fun.
– Every time the show cuts back to Stephen at home, I probably shouldn't immediately think, "Oh yeah, this." Do a better job with it, or let it go.
What'd you guys think of the fall finale, and the last few episodes in general?
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