The Tomorrow People "In Too Deep" Review: Not New, But Improved
In television, second episodes are often just retreads of the pilot. There's so much additional work that goes into getting the machine running once a series has been picked up that it's easier to simply re-state a show's big themes and concepts in Episode 2 and move on. This isn't necessarily bad a thing, it's frequently just the nature of the beast.
For the most part, this axiom held true with The Tomorrow People's second episode. "In Too Deep" gave us more of the same: Stephen struggling to balance his different lives, the basic tension between Ultra and the Tomorrow People*, general conversations about the "dangers" of evolution, and so on. The voiceover at the end of this episode completely mirrored the voiceover from the end of the pilot. The show's world didn't really expand, and it was barely disrupted throughout.
*While I'm on the subject, thank goodness this show didn't come out like a decade ago, because it totally would have been titled The 2Morrow People.
However, I actually thought "In Too Deep," despite its repetition, was a better version of the story we saw last week. It wasn't a dramatic improvement, but a sizable and smart enough one that I'm a lot more confident in The Tomorrow People's possible future, even after just two episodes. The show seems to be finding its rhythms, as do the actors. Perhaps more importantly, "In Too Deep" did a really nice job of telling the same kind of story while still pushing everything forward in a useful fashion. We're basically in the same place, but the characters are more cognizant of their circumstances, and it didn't feel like the show belabored any one plot point too much.
The best thing a show like this can do is simply put the foot down on the gas and go. Because it's a remake, The Tomorrow People comes with a whole lot of pre-existing material that Phil Klemmer, Julie Plec, and Greg Berlanti can draw from, but even if it didn't, this story—as I suggested in my review of the pilot—has a clear trajectory. It's not that we don't know where The Tomorrow People is going, it's that we don't know how or when it's going to get there. "In Too Deep" revealed that the show's creative team isn't interested in waiting around for obvious story points to happen 'organically' or 'methodically.'
As a result, this episode spent quite a bit of time building up two primary stories that will be integral moving forward: Stephen's recognition of the horrors that Ultra brings onto the world, and TTP's understanding that they can't just sit around underground, waiting to get picked off by Jedikiah and his crew of traitor minions. There was a mirroring story from the pilot, with a new breakout who decided to use his abilities to steal because his rising medical bills had broken his single mother. That's something that Stephen can obviously relate to, which made his first experience out in the field as an Ultra agent particularly challenging. He knew what the kid was going through and naively thought that he could help within the structure of Ultra, only to almost immediately discover that OMG Uncle Jed lied and Ultra would prefer to just ice breakouts instead of helping them. And when Stephen tried to confront his uncle or cry for an out, he was stymied. There is no way out, unless Stephen is ready to sacrifice his innocent family. That's what happens when you sign a proverbial deal with the devil (which is funny, since Mark Pellegrino has already played that role).
Of course, Stephen found away around this conundrum by hooking up with the somewhat reluctant John and Cara, who had their own little epiphanies in this episode as well. Although John previously worked at Ultra and knows the kinds of things the organization is up to, he's weirdly reluctant to fight back. I understand that he sees value in picking his battles, and that Stephen represents an annoying injection of false enthusiasm (and hope), but it was perhaps a tinge silly that John didn't want to rise up against Ultra. Unsurprisingly, Cara did the heavy lifting in that regard, via her connection with Stephen—first by giving him the watch to keep Ultra agents out of his head (which at least worked temporarily), and later by pushing John and Russell to take a stand and help the new breakout. It wasn't especially artful or innovative, but both Stephen and John realized that they're stuck in a terrible predicament and the best thing for them to do is to fight, however that might be possible. Although they're both stubborn and naive in their own way (Stephen in thinking he could either do good at Ultra or escape, John in assuming that low-scale tactics would solve anything), the events of "In Too Deep" helped them see that this fight is going to involve more head-on risk and danger than they perhaps thought.
On a basic level, not much has changed. Stephen is still an Ultra agent and the rest of the crew is still hidden underground. But the show can move forward much quicker because it won't be taking six or seven episodes to establish that Ultra can't be trusted or that John needs to stop slinking in the shadows. Similarly, we already knew that Ultra was the show's primary threat, but "In Too Deep" reinforced that Jedikiah and company are not screwing around—and they aren't stupid. He knows that Stephen is hiding information and is almost certainly working with his newfound compatriots, but he's willing to let it all play out because there's a bigger reward coming in the future. And he's also willing to make Stephen's life as difficult as possible while they keep the facade up, which is why he killed Stephen's partner just to prove a point. Though characters are still keeping secrets from one another, there's an awareness here that everyone is playing everyone. The stakes are clear, and no one is particularly dense or naive. Multiple times in this episode, people referenced the war between Ultra and TTP. Thankfully, the main characters appear ready to fight it, and that's a good thing.
The Tomorrow People still has ways to go before it becomes totally essential viewing. The actors are still settling into their roles—Robbie Amell and Peyton List seemed a bit better this week, and Luke Mitchell was actually quite good. Furthermore, the show will have to work through some of the boilerplate plots to get to the more interesting stuff (it looks like next week, we'll be dealing with the damsel-in-distress nonsense with Cara). But generally all I ask for when it comes to second episodes is that the show doesn't take a step back or waste my time. "In Too Deep" did neither of those things and in fact, it probably bested the pilot's formula. That's a win in my book.
– Seriously, the voiceovers gotta go. Just, ugh.
– It's a little awkward to watch characters mix and match outward speech and inner thought-reading from scene to scene. This episode was inconsistent in that regard; in certain instances, characters would speak aloud to the person at the other end of the telepathic line, even though no one else was in the room, and at other times, two people would sit in a room together and stare, speaking only in their minds. It was all a little silly.
– Weirdly, I thought the show looked a bit better in this episode than it did in the pilot. There were a few more locations, some more substantive exterior shots, and a color scheme that wasn't entirely soaked in metallic blues and grays. Apparently they can do New York better in Vancouver than they can in New York.
– The training sequence with John and Cara was about as frivolous as it gets, but at least it allowed her to get the upper hand and gave the show a chance to display some of its decent effects work.
– Two episodes in and Stephen's 'normal' life is already lame. The progression of his abilities led to a nice moment where he learned about (/remembered?) the night his father left his mother, but the little brother Luka and the friend Astrid are preeeeety non-essential. I understand why The CW wants them there, but the sooner some of them learn the truth, the better.
– Similarly, Russell had basically nothing to do this week. It's early, but that's not a good sign. How long until he's kidnapped and tortured as well?
What'd you guys think of Episode 2? Improvement? Are you sticking with the show?
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