TV pilots can take many different forms, but there are common beats found in nearly every one because their purpose is always the same: to introduce viewers to a show. We usually meet the characters, get a feel for the setting, and discover of whatever conflict will drive the series. Oh, and there's almost always some heavy-handed exposition to help lay out the basics of the show's premise—something that critics love to bitch and moan about because it constitutes telling and not showing.
That's why, in theory, I should be ecstatic that the first episode of BBC America's new series Intruders skipped that last element and jumped right into the middle of the action. But alas, that's not the case.
You can call me a hypocrite later (God knows I've bemoaned the exposition/"pilotitis" problem several times before), but Intruders' first episode could'e benefited from a bit of explanation. Even just a quick title card with some background on who the Qui Reverti are—you know, before the opening scene in which a young girl slit her wrists after writing a letter to a boy named Gary Fisher that said she wasn't Donna—would've been immensely helpful.
As it were, I had to watch "She Was Provisional" several times before I could even begin writing this review. Each time I picked up on more details because I knew what to look for, and what I was listening for, but I suspect that most viewers won't be so generous with their time. A pilot is a show's chance to hook a viewer, and with so options on an ever-growing list of networks, it feels like somewhat of a misstep to drop viewers into the middle of a story as complicated as this one with zero explanation and hope they're left feeling intrigued rather than confused. It's frustrating—and yet, I also understand the show's desire to be opaque at the outset. However, I'm not sure Intruders, which is based on Michael Marshall Smith’s novel The Intruders, is as clever or well-written as it needs to be to warrant that sort of mystery.
At the heart of the series is the Qui Reverti, a secret society whose name roughly translates to "who's returned." Its members—which include James Frain playing yet another bad guy—chase immortality by seeking refuge in the bodies of others. Our entry point to the story came through John Simm's Jack Whelan, a former Los Angeles cop who wrote a book titled Afterlife and then relocated with his wife Amy (Mira Sorvino) to the Pacific Northwest (of course) in search of a quieter life. When Amy went missing the day after her birthday, it was Jack's search for clues that drew us into the story.
The mysterious way in which Amy seemingly vanished—she left for a hotel in Seattle, never checked in, and dumped her cell phone in a cab—was suspicious enough, but she also wasn't acting like herself in the days leading up to her disappearance. And by the time Jack discovered her absence, we viewers were already aware that the woman who'd gone missing wasn't actually Amy. Indeed, she had displayed the telltale characteristics associated with the Qui Reverti piggybacking on another body: Her pupils were blown, she was acting weird (she was really into jazz all of a sudden, as if she'd been watching the Homeland credit sequence on repeat), and her strange behavior and the timing of her departure coincided with her birthday.
But what's more interesting than Amy's disappearance is 9-year-old Maddie (a surprisingly adept Millie Brown). She's unwillingly hosting an Intruder named Marcus, and that douche-nozzle strangled Maddie's cat in a scene where Maddie and Marcus struggled for control of Maddie's body. Then, Frain's Richard Shepherd stalked and attempted to kill Maddie/Marcus for reasons I still don't understand—but Maddie was able to convince him to spare her/them. But by episode's end, Marcus had won the battle for control, and he called up Shepherd with a baffling threat: "You brought me back too early," he said in one of the hour's most confounding moments.
My complaint about Intruders' debut isn't that viewers won't be able to understand that these characters are not themselves—that's pretty obvious. It's that we don't know anything else about WTF is going on, and after watching "She Was Provisional," it's still not clear why we should care to stick around and find out. The episode was full of questions and zero answers. Why and how do the Qui Reverti hitch rides inside other people? And why do they appear to have a limited life in said bodies? Furthermore, why is Shepherd, who appears to be a member of the society, killing them? Do the human bodies have to die before Intruders can be released and jump into a new body? And just what does any of this have to do with the number nine, which was present throughout the pilot: It was on Shepherd's cool-looking business card that he left with the Qui Reverti when it was time to get the hell out of Dodge, it was the number on Maddie's birthday cake, and it flashed behind Oz's head (more on Oz in a second) when Shepherd met up with him in Reno. The show is certainly using the digit in a symbolic way, but I don't know if it's supposed to represent something like the nine lives of a cat, or if the producers just thought it looked cool.
There's also the question of how any (or all) of this stuff is connected to former-cop-with-a-newly-missing-wife Jack, whose BFF in high school was Gary Fisher (Tory Kittles), the same boy to whom Donna—the girl in the cold open—wrote her suicide note. Fisher is now the executor for the late family of Bill Anderson, an acoustics engineering professor at the University of Washington who is (or was) studying sound frequencies that the human ear can't process. As far as I can tell, Shepherd went looking for Bill—who's currently missing—because Bill discovered that said frequencies hold the secret to immortality. When Shepherd could only find Bill's family and they weren't very helpful in directing him to Bill, Shepherd killed Bill's family and then set out for Reno in search of the the aforementioned Oz. Oz was a wackadoodle dude who broadcasted conspiracy theories from his van, which he naturally described as being "everywhere and nowhere." But he apparently knew about Bill's sound-frequency research/immortality theories, which was enough to get him shot once Shepherd caught up with him.
So, yeah. There's a lot of confusing stuff going on. And even though some viewers might be curious enough to tune in for Episode 2 with the hopes of discovering how all of these seemingly unrelated events are connected, I think it's far more likely they'll be quoting the Man of Mystery instead: "Whoopty do! What does it all mean?"
– Why is James Frain always cast as a bad guy? He plays them well, with convincing menace and all that, but you'd think he'd be tired of the typecasting. I can think of exactly one good guy he's played: Forney in Where the Heart Is (a.k.a. that movie where Natalie Portman had a baby in a Walmart). What gives?
– John Simm joins David Tennant (Gracepoint) and Karen Gillan (Selfie) in the "We're Not Really American!" club. What did you think of his accent? It sounded weird to me, but I can't tell if I'm just used to his natural speaking voice and my brain has trouble reconciling the two Simms in my head.
– That's Bear McCreary doing the moody score. If you still don't know who McCreary is, please rectify that immediately. He's brought his unique sound to Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, and Outlander, among other things.
– How do you call unknown numbers? THEY ARE UNKNOWN.