Tuesday, September 29, 2015

REVIEW: 'Limitless' - Brian Pushes the Boundaries of What It Means to Be a Consultant for the FBI in 'Badge! Gun!'

CBS' Limitless - Episode 1.02 "Badge! Gun!"

Brian risks his new FBI job when he disobeys orders to stay out of the investigation into a renowned journalist's murder.

Last week's series premiere of Limitless was a lot of fun. It had a strong hook that focused intently on this miraculous journey Brian Finch is on. Over night, he was transformed from a slacker to the most important person in the world. However, it did create a number of narrative hurdles the show would need to address early on in this episode. Brian was able to be a compelling and entertaining character because he wasn't forced to follow the procedure of the FBI. He was able to exist outside of that organization and structure. That's how he was able to get away with so many potentially illegal things. That's not something he could continue doing now that he is officially a consultant for and being studied by the FBI.

However, Brian's new job isn't as exciting as Rebecca made it out to be at the end of the premiere. He is largely just sitting in a room being analyzed by the FBI. When they eventually trust him enough, they just put him to work as an analyst learning Farsi. It's surprising that that newfound language doesn't come up later on in the episode. But it's still some skill that might come in handy later on. This episode is largely Brian pushing the boundaries of what he can do with the FBI. He breaks out of their custody multiple times. The bureau spends several hours looking for him. He's too busy changing people's lives to care about the consequences waiting for him.

It's a structure that shows just how valuable a resource he is. He doesn't have to agree to be observed by the bureau. They've come into this arrangement willingly. But he was led to believe that his skills would be used to help the people of New York City. Not just sit around an office all day doing research and learning new skills. He is capable of being out in the field. He can handle himself and think quick on his feet. That was apparent in his very first interactions with the FBI last week. The bureau just has to learn to trust him. They don't know if he'll come back. When he escapes, they fear that he is going towards freedom. This isn't the kind of deal he wanted and now he's backing out of it. That's not what Brian is doing at all. He's dedicated to helping people. The world around him is just skeptical of that. Brian certainly gives them reason to be skeptical too.

It's a bit surprising that Naz, the agent in charge of this unit, actually wanted to fire Brian after he escaped twice. It's crucial for the bureau to understand NZT, where it comes from and who is distributing it. They have access to it and are able to use it in order to better understand the human condition in many different ways. Brian is the first test subject not to experience any of the side effects. Sure, he gets super drowsy after the effects wear off. But that is very manageable. It's not crippling to him. He's grateful that Eddie Morra and his team gave him that shot. But he doesn't know if he can trust him because of how powerful and controlling he is. Brian joined the FBI to make a difference. Put these newfound skills to work and create meaningful change. And yet, Naz still wants to fire him. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Fortunately though, Brian proves himself to be vital to the operation.

The case-of-the-week in "Badge! Gun!" isn't that strong. It jumps around quite a bit. First focusing on the death of a well regarded journalist and eventually building to the development of a biological weapon that only targets specific genetic markers. It's a cool case that is a very fictionalized telling of something within the realm of possibility. Of course, the reality of it all doesn't need to carry much weight since the grand conceit of the show is that Brian takes a pill that gives him access to 100% of his brain. But this case doesn't immediately feel special. It feels something that would feel right at home on a CBS procedural. The story beats the hour hits are very similar to other shows on the network. The character drama is still very entertaining and makes the procedural moments worth it. But the only difference Brian is making is locking up one man after he kills three people. Sure, he also exposes an expert bomb maker. That's enough to get him to continue with this job in a more official capacity. But it didn't really play as something that demanded his increased intelligence in order to solve.

And then, there is the big family drama happening elsewhere in Brian's life. His family is very surprised by the news that he is going to work for the FBI. They don't understand how he is qualified in any way to assist them. They obviously love him because he's family. But they don't know how he would be an asset. He proves it to them later at his father's big welcome home dinner and game night. He shows off his new skills. But that only continues to build up the illusion. Brian can't tell his family anything about what he's doing or he runs the risk of getting them killed. He doesn't want that. So, he withholds the truth - and that has the potential to ruin his great relationship with his father. He wants to tell his dad what he's doing. He wants to share everything. But Morra has made his influence known by getting his nurse to be the one assisting Brian's father in his transition back home. Morra has eyes on Brian at all times. It's a good character-based cliffhanger that is exciting. What will Brian say to his father now that's he hired him as his lawyer? That will have to wait until next week.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Badge! Gun!" was written by Craig Sweeny & Marc Webb and directed by Marc Webb.
  • I let out a small cheer when the episode broke into an opening title sequence. Those have largely disappeared from the broadcast network shows. They cut into too much of the running time. But I still enjoy seeing one pop up every now and again. This one isn't anything too special but it is fun to look at.
  • Rebecca and Spelman actually had moments where they seemed like competent FBI agents. Well, it was mostly Rebecca. But still that goes a long way in making them feel like an important part of this show as well.
  • Naz remains the stern authority figure and nothing more than that. She appears solely to yell at Brian every time he escapes. It seems like a waste of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's talents.
  • The show has also fleshed out Brian's relationship with his father in many great ways. But when is the same gonna happen with his mother? Blair Brown isn't playing the part for it to be this limited, right?
  • Definitely enjoyed every time Brian referred to his two bodyguards as Mike and Ike. It was especially great when he apologized to them beforehand about breaking out - even though that was a part of his grand plan.
  • Still a lot of narration and Brian talking with himself. Shouldn't he now have these FBI agents to bounce ideas off of?