Sunday, October 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Eyewitness' - Philip & Lukas Escape to the City as the Killer Strikes Again in 'Bella, Bella, Bella'

USA's Eyewitness - Episode 1.03 "Bella, Bella, Bella"

Helen seeks Agent Davis' help in tracking potential witness Bella. Philip and Lukas skip school and escape to a NYC club that isn't anything like Lukas expected.

The first two episodes of Eyewitness were very concerned with plot. They were two hours of big events that defined this story. The show was juggling so much story and not really presenting the audience with a reason to care. It showed why every character was important. It detailed how everything could be solved if Philip and Lukas just told Helen the truth about what they saw. It presented enough obstacles to explain why Philip and Lukas wouldn't do that. But there wasn't a whole lot of evidence of this being a show where the audience cares about what happens. It's a big event show. It's just a series of plot developments that happen to the characters and nothing more. There weren't any moments that genuinely built characters or their relationships to the people in their lives. That starts to change a little bit in "Bella, Bella, Bella." It's still an episode where the plot is more important than anything else. It's an hour that does build to the death of Bella. But it's also an hour that tries to flesh out Philip and Lukas' relationship and Helen's guilt about this investigation a little bit more. Just that effort is enough to make it a more enjoyable hour even if it's not quite great yet.

Of course, the show could be running into a major problem as well. It loves churning through plot quickly. So, the narrative keeps having to evolve to keep the core crime thriller element exciting and tense for the characters and the audience. But the more that happens, the less important it is that Philip and Lukas keep what they saw a secret. The more the show moves away from the murders at the cabin, the less important they are to the overall story. They need to be important. Philip and Lukas' need to keep their relationship a secret is a huge defining aspect of the series. It gives the narrative a different perspective so it's not just the latest in a long line of murder mystery shows. Plus, that central murder is still so complicated. Three episodes in, it's not any clearer what happened that night or why it happened. It was just a device to introduce this conflict while not being the chief focus for the actual investigative beats. Yes, Helen is tracking Bella down because of the hair that was found in the truck of the car. But the story has also moved past those deaths and is lingering on the emotions that come from the subsequent deaths of Tommy and Bella. They still connect back to the murder that started this all. Everything can be solved if Philip and Lukas come forward and identify Agent Kane as the killer. But none of that means anything if the circumstances around those first murders don't mean something soon.

Apparently, there's a war going on between two gangs. Kane is leading up a task force looking into these criminal organizations. While he was monitoring one of them, he fell in love with Bella. She's underage so it's an illicit dynamic. And yet, the show hasn't done an adequate job putting faces to these gangs. It's just important that they are on the FBI's radar and that things got so bad that a couple of them ended up dead in a small town outside of New York City. There's been no explanation for who the dead guys are or what they were trying to do that night. Why was Kane there in the first place? What is his motivation throughout all of this? Right now, he is just a killer. Every dead body that has piled up in these first three episodes is because of him. He killed all of them. There's a weird moment in the middle of this episode where he sees Helen at the hookah bar and experiences a traumatizing headache of sorts. Not entirely sure what that's about. But again, none of it means anything because the investigation isn't into anyone that resembles a character. They are just vague names. Bella's father, Mithat, shows up but he is more concerned about his daughter than in keeping his criminal operations running. Something is missing to keep this investigation from fully landing as a piece of storytelling.

And again, the relationship between Agent Kane and Bella is important. It's a way to link him to the murders. But it's also this tantalizing thing that shows how edgy USA is willing to be right now. It's willing to feature a long sequence where an underage girl flirts with an older man. She's asking him for sex even though she's just realizing he's a cop who was spying on her for a long time before they actually met. She has no problems with this relationship whatsoever. But it's not really a relationship. It's just this thing that the audience is suppose to accept. It highlights how Kane is this creepy dude in addition to being a killer. There's no understanding of why he is interested in Bella. But also, why does he kill her in the end? Does he do it in order to protect his secrets? He feeds into her dreams of running away from this life and enjoying being together in some warmer destination. He tells her what she wants to hear and then kills her. Does he have sex with her before he does that? Is he able to stage this new crime scene as well as the previous two? Right now, he remains just an unnerving presence. A character who is "mysterious and lethal." But that really doesn't mean anything without the necessary context to help it make sense. It's just a way to keep the audience on their toes.

However, this episode does have a number of good scenes. It's wonderful to see Philip and Lukas away from the angst of small town life. That has been a huge definer of their character arcs so far. It probably will remain that way in the future as well. Their trip to the city is an escape for the week. But they can't live those lives forever. They have to return home eventually. A home that includes fear of being outed as a couple while also facing the uncertainty of a killer still being out there. Grief over Tommy and his girlfriend's deaths do motivate them to leave the city. It's an understandable action. They are the only two who know what really happened. They need an escape from this life. It's a release that will be more gratifying than whatever guidance counselor-themed weekend the school had planned for them. Plus, it's genuine watching Lukas struggle with being in the city and around gay people. He's thrown when Philip takes him to a gay bar. He's been so reluctant to embrace this side of himself. He's attracted to Philip and wants that relationship to work. He's also scared of what his family and community will think. Here, those fears go away because he doesn't have to be Lukas. He can just be a guy kissing a guy on the sidewalk. It's simple but really effective in establishing the bond between them. In the previous episodes, they were such an inconsistent couple. But now, it feels earned.

Elsewhere, Helen is fully caught in the plot dynamics of the central investigation. She's running around town trying to find Bella. She's using favors from Kami to track a stolen credit card. She's pressing Kami for the truth about the bombing from last week. Kami isn't fully forthcoming. But again, that's not really what's important when it comes to Helen. Instead, it's so fascinating and entertaining to watch her struggle with being a parent. She's still learning how to be a good influence for Philip. The two don't really share any screen time in this episode. But it's clearly a struggle for her. She wants to do a good job. It comes naturally for Gabe. Meanwhile, Helen is still just listening to audiotapes hoping to find some valuable insight into how to connect with a teen. This uncertainty and emotional angst extends to the investigation as well. She feels personally connected to the investigation. These deaths hit her hard. No one she knows is caught up in this mess of a story - at least not that she knows of yet. And yet, she feels more believably connected to it than Kami or Kane. Kami's relationship with her sister is too forced and absurd while Kane is still just a mystery. Helen is actually on the ground needing to help grieving parents. That takes a toil on her that feels genuine. That in turn makes it compelling when she confides in Gabe about all of her fears about what is happening in this town. The deaths aren't slowing down. So, she'll need to find some way to cope with it all.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bella, Bella, Bella" was written by Adi Hasak & Angel Dean Lopez and directed by Scott Peters.
  • Everyone knows that Sita was behind the bombing at Mithat's apartment. She even left her son's pacifier there to make it known to pretty much everyone. Kami returns it eventually. It's becoming more and more clear though that Sita isn't someone worth saving. She just keeps doing crazy things.
  • Gabe has a nice bonding moment with Philip as well by trying to take him out on the water. It's a nice moment that shows Gabe puts attention into what he cares about. But then, the two of them ultimately don't go out on the lake. That's weird.
  • For a moment, the audience is suppose to believe that Lukas might jump off of the school's roof because he can't deal with Tommy's death. That's not really earned at all and the score really oversells it. But it's nice that Philip is there to talk him off the ledge.
  • Lukas' girlfriend, Rose, is the worst. On one hand, you do have to feel bad for her because Lukas is lying to her about being interested in their relationship. On the other hand though, she thinks it's romantic that Tommy and his girlfriend died looking up at the trees in each other's arms.
  • Philip and Lukas didn't really plan their trip to the city all that well. They had a good cover story with the school trip. But both of their fathers are left at the school parking lot not sure where their kids are when they don't get off the bus. Consequences should be coming for both of them.