Tuesday, April 26, 2016

REVIEW: 'Limitless' - Brian Battles NZT Side Effects in His Quest to Find Piper & Defeat Sands in 'Finale: Part Two!!'

CBS' Limitless - Episode 1.22 "Finale: Part Two!!"

Following a stunning betrayal to their team, Brian and the FBI race to stop an NZT-enabled Sands and his associates from orchestrating an international incident. Brian experiences devastating side effects when his NZT immunity starts to wear off.

Over the past year, Limitless has proven itself as one of the best new shows on the broadcast networks this season. It was unafraid to experiment with its formula. Plus, it didn't take itself too serious while still providing a number of really high emotional stakes in its storytelling. Not everything worked this season. And yet, it showed true originality in a genre that needed to be shaken up. The two-part finale that closes the season is a bit more formulaic with its narrative beats than the series that preceded it. It wasn't surprising at all that Agent Bruster was revealed to be working with Sands in last week's episode. But these concluding episodes still did enough to showcase just how strong this show has developed. The intricate ensemble work was on display while also providing ample emotional stakes for Brian to deal with. Overall, it was a solid ending to a compelling and interesting season.

Again, it can't be understated just how much this season's final third benefitted from turning Sands into the true big bad of the season. Bradley Cooper was largely why the show got made in the first place. But his continued presence as Senator Morra was distracting to the storytelling more than it helped it. He was only able to be in the series in short bursts of time. Conversely, Sands had really developed into a multi-dimensional character. A man whose motivations were clear while he was still sliding into his role as the super villain of the story. That's what makes it so satisfying when his story is the central action of the finale. He's the one who has complicated the lives of Brian and Rebecca on a consistent basis. Everyone is still just trying to make sense of how important Morra really is in the grand scheme of things. But with Sands, it's pretty clear that he's up to no good and needs to be stopped in order to protect this world from his evil plans.

Brian enjoys envisioning the nefarious plans of the Legend of Whom in this episode too. He's dealing with a lot right now. He's succumbing to the crippling side effects of NZT now that his immunity booster is wearing off. Plus, he's still committed to taking the pills until Piper is found. Despite all of these personal setbacks, he wants to help the CJC find Sands and bring him to justice. They have just been hit with a devastating loss. They were all played by an evil entity that is smarter than them. That's the reason why they allow Brian back into the building. Naz doesn't really have any other choice. She knows he's their only hope of finding Sands before he harms the world any further. The show does get lost in the details of this plot a little bit. It's a story that includes the deaths of two government officials from Canada and Greenland. They are the murders that give this finale its episodic framework. But it's still just a lot of plot meandering that the characters need to go through in order to make their way to Sands and his evil organization.

The storytelling is much better when it comes to Brian struggling with the side effects of NZT. Right when he is needed the most, the immunity is wearing off. He's being hit with devastating and destructive paranoia, hallucinations and black outs in time. This plot thread is largely what gives the episode its sense of tension and mystery. It's uncertain whether or not Brian will be able to figure things out before he is rendered completely useless. He can't hide these side effects from Rebecca and the rest of the team forever. In fact, his pursuit of answers may be the thing that ultimately kills him. He wants to know what happened to Piper so badly that he's willing to compromise his own health to do so. It provides a wonderful moment of clarity and love between Brian and his father. That dynamic has been fraught with tension because of Brian's lies and his NZT addiction. But now, he's just trying to do the good and heroic thing even though it may destroy the rest of his life forever.

However, the show does struggle a little bit when it comes to the Piper of it all in this finale. She is given so much importance to the story. Brian believes she has recreated the immunity booster which has helped Sands separate from Morra and form the Legion of Whom. That's why all of this is happening. And yet, the story still plays into the conventional plot beats of the white hero needing to rescue the attractive blonde woman from a perilous situation. Piper is very much elevated as an object of Brian's fascination and obsession throughout this episode. He literally sees her everywhere. All of his side effects seem to revolve around seeing her. It's a weird way to dramatize things for the finale. Plus, the show tries to pull off the manipulative beat of Brian thinking Sands killed her only to have her show up alive and well in the end.

Piper's presence suggests how the future of this show will look radically different than it did during this first season. Brian has been fighting both for and against Morra and Sands all season long. And now, all of that has culminated in one final confrontation with Sands. Rebecca is finally given justice for her father's murder by putting a bullet in Sands. The finale leaves his fate up in the air. He is rushed to the hospital but it's unclear if he survives his wounds. This raid is a victory for the CJC and proves just how helpful Brian has been for this whole endeavor. He's defeated because he lost Piper. And yet, he quickly perks up again when she just randomly shows up at his parents' house. That's a weird scene because it feels too similar to all of Brian's previous hallucinations of her throughout the hour. It too provides a magical solution to Brian's problems. She has developed a permanent immunity shot to the NZT side effects. With it, Brian can continue doing work with Rebecca and making a difference in the world. But he'll have to do it without Piper because she doesn't want anyone else to have this kind of power except Brian.

This twist certainly provides an interesting shake up for the prospective second season - which CBS hasn't officially ordered yet. It means a weight has been lifted off of Brian's shoulders. He will no longer need to suffer from the consequences of this drug or the influence Morra or Sands can provide. He can finally be his own man making a difference with the CJC. He has built a true bond with Rebecca this season. She is there for him as he faces this uncertain future. She will do whatever it takes to ensure that he makes it through whatever happens next. Of course, Piper's solution fixes all of those problems. So now, Brian can work for the CJC as a part of a legitimate squad of agents. That's an exciting tease for the future. Brian has grown this season and his work as an investigator has impressed a number of influential people. Plus, it's just fun to see him embrace being able to assemble his own team. So much of this finale is very serious that that closing tag was really necessary and ultimately very uplifting. Hopefully, there is only bright things ahead for Limitless' future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Finale: Part Two!!" was written by Craig Sweeny & Taylor Elmore and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski. 
  • That final confrontation with Sands at his secret lab is some solid piece of well-executed action. It's tense while being an epic showdown between two well-equipped individuals. It did have some weird moments though - like that explosion that everyone seems to survive and Brian somehow making it all the way to the lab during the height of the battle.
  • The CJC also shows a willingness in offering NZT to individuals in their custody in order to help them remember some crucial details that could provide important leads on the case. Will that just be a one time thing due to the severity of the situation? Or something much more?
  • That final collection of interviews for Brian's squad shows just how strong the ensemble has been this season as well as how memorable a number of one-off characters have been. All of them are welcome to return for more appearances.
  • This is a fairly low-key finale for Mike and Ike. And yet, the show still earned that reveal of what Mike's real name is - just like it did earlier this season with Ike. But what are the odds Brian will start referring to them as Daryl and Jason next season if they become equals?
  • It's still surprising just how much of Brian's connection to his family is dramatized with his relationship to his father. He knows that his parents will want to be there for him as he prepares to go through NZT withdrawal. And yet, his mother is no where to be found during this emotional time.
  • CBS has locked down the majority of its schedule for next season but hasn't renewed any freshman show yet. However, the way that this show evolved over this season and built up its acclaim has to count for something. I'm still fairly confident that it will produce another season.