Tuesday, December 15, 2015

REVIEW: 'Limitless' - Casey is Tempted by NZT While Boyle Makes a Life-Changing Decision in 'This is Your Brian on Drugs'

CBS' Limitless - Episode 1.11 "This is Your Brian on Drugs"

When Agent Casey Rooks and his SWAT team skim 80 NZT pills for themselves from the recovery of stolen inventory, it starts an internal investigation that is viewed through the shifting perspectives of Brian's immediate circle at the FBI.

Limitless really has become quite confident with itself over these first few episodes. That ambition hasn't always paid off but it's always been admirable. "This is Your Brian on Drugs" is able to build on so many of the successful personal dynamics of the first season so far. This show really has become a strong ensemble. That's what makes an episode like this one - which basically opens every act from a new character's perspective - so engaging to watch. The show has really grown into itself. It has found a rapport with the story and character beats at the CJC that really works well. That's what makes this episode so confident. It pushes the boundaries of these characters' lives in realistic ways while continuing to challenge just how stable this operation is with Brian Finch.

So much of the story of Limitless is so personal to Brian. The only reason why he took NZT in the first place was to help his dad while he was going through a health crisis. That idealist goal got him into some trouble which led to his current job with Rebecca, Naz and Boyle. Since then, Brian has used his enhanced mental capacity to do some good for the agency. Sure, he can be very irritating to the people around him due to his inability to follow procedure. But Brian has inserted himself into these characters' lives in a very rewarding way. He's invested in what happens to the rest of the team. He has come to rely on them as much as they need his NZT-enhanced brain. But the rest of the team have personal lives as well. This hour puts that on focus and it makes the audience understand how people are forced into doing what they do based on what they lives have been like as of late.

Brian has changed so many lives because he takes NZT. But the show always has to remember that it's a powerful and dangerous drug that could do much harm to the world if it falls into the world hands. Brian mostly uses it to have fun and to help people who need it the most. However, most people are more selfish than that and will use it to their own advantage to make their lives significantly better. That's what happens when the FBI dispensary is hit. It forces a couple of things into action that force a handful of characters to make some life-changing decisions about this drug. Naz and Rebecca have to protect it no matter what. But the effects the drug have had on Brian haven't gone unnoticed by Casey. And when Rebecca breaks up with him via text, he is more than willing to take a pill alongside the rest of his SWAT team just to see how miraculous the experience actually is.

It's easy to understand why Casey does it. He hasn't been a hugely important character this season but he has had a presence. That has largely amounted to being the guy Rebecca is dating who also helps out on cases occasionally. But here, it becomes much more than that. It's never really clear why Rebecca wants to dump him. Their relationship never had a ton of value and the show didn't seem to be getting any interesting story out of it. It is the catalyst in getting Casey to join his team in taking the drug. They have a good night out on the town too. This group of guys are like brothers. But when the next morning comes around, one of them is dead and it's up to Casey to cover it all up. Because of NZT, Casey is a much more formidable opponent because he understands what they need to do. It's interesting that the team really doesn't understand how NZT works at all. They just figure it helps them with their skills. They don't realize the effects it has on their memory and their perception. That's what led to this conflict that Casey has to clean up. But the appeal of the drug is ultimately what gets Casey noticed by Brian.

That confrontation where Brian and Rebecca are essentially held hostage by Casey and his team is engaging because things have escalated too far out of control for Casey. He remains calm and level-headed throughout it. But it's literally up to Brian to figure out a way of this mess. Casey and his team are so uncertain that it clouds their judgment. Brian has more experience with being on NZT. So that helps him pull off this plan without anyone else noticing. But it's also a conflict that leads to Casey's death. Boyle is able to knock out the other two members of the team. But when it comes to Casey, it's a choose between him or Brian. It's a choice that Rebecca can't make because of her personal attachment to the case. It's up to Boyle to decide. He ultimately shoots and kills Casey. It's a devastating action but also one that everyone comes to accept as the right one.

Everyone except Brian. He had a plan. It did not involve Casey being killed. He wanted everyone to emerge from this situation unharmed. There would be consequences for the team because they stole the drug. But they would still be alive to deal with them. Brian was the reason why Boyle was in that room to turn the tides of the conflict. However, that lethal action shows that Brian may not understand Boyle as well as he thinks he does. Boyle has been a bit more determined to keep his personal life private from the rest of the office. He is a character who has done great things both for and with Brian. But in the heat of the moment, Boyle chose to shoot instead of let Brian continue to negotiate with Casey. Brian understood that Casey was never seriously going to kill anyone. But that was the assessment Boyle came into the situation with. It was very simple and he made a choice. And yet, it creates an even bigger divide between Boyle and Brian. The audience gets more of a peak into Boyle's home life at the end of the hour. He and a nurse have to provide round the clock care for his mother. That is obviously taking a toll on him and is a wonderful, character defining reveal in this episode. In that moment, Boyle understands that Brian may understand things given the pill he takes everyday. Previously, Boyle never wanted to take the drug. He was never even curious. He didn't want to be high when he made these kinds of decisions on the job. But in the end, he is still faced with that choice after he finds one final missing pill. Because of the strong character work throughout this episode, it makes the dilemma he faces even more real and understandable. He could realistically go either way which creates such fertile storytelling potential for the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "This is Your Brian on Drugs" was written by Sallie Patrick and directed by Steven A. Adelson.
  • The show really did earn that reveal of Ike's real name. It was able to be funny in the beginning when it had to censor their real names when they were uttered by other people. But the fantastic cold open showed a human side to Ike as he's worried this job will be never ending for him. He jumped in front of a bullet for Mike and was in peril for the remainder of the hour. But then, that Jason title card came up in the end that showed Brian by his side willing to treat him much better in the future.
  • Rebecca was a little too awkward in her handling of the Casey situation. She wanted to break up with him but didn't know how because apparently she doesn't like that kind of a conflict. It was just a tad too one note.
  • It's weird that no one from Casey's team experienced any of the side effects from taking NZT. They didn't know about that which could have been a rude awakening for all of them and really informed the severity of the situation that forced Casey to take a second one.
  • I loved the fake tease of an act told from the point-of-view of Stavros.