Wednesday, November 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Incorporated' - Ben Risks His Life to Find the Woman He Loves in 'Vertical Mobility'

Syfy's Incorporated - Episode 1.01 "Vertical Mobility"

Spiga junior executive Ben Larson hides his real identity in order to infiltrate a very sinister corporate world and save the woman he loves. Ben's wife, Laura, considers a life change. Outsider Theo is offered a dangerous job.

Incorporated envisions a dystopian future where global crises and climate change have led to the rise of corporations as global leaders. It's a corporate espionage thriller set in a dystopian world. That's an exciting and new premise for a science fiction series. The show certainly does have a lot of fun envisioning what the world would look like where rising sea levels have destroyed major cities and global warming has led to 80 degree temperatures in Milwaukee in November. Of course, there's a realistic sense of dread to all of this as well. This is a future envisioned by the creative team to help propel the story forward in an engaging and new way. But all of it is deeply grounded in reality and what could become of this world if humanity isn't too careful. This world is defined by destruction and elitism. Those who comply and are loyal to the corporate overlords are safe in green zones. They are allowed to live their lives as normally as possible. But for those who don't agree or conform, they are condemned to the red zones which are ravaged by death and destruction. The show cleverly sets up these two separate worlds as it prepares for a major clash between them.

Caught in the middle of all of this is Ben Larson. He's a mid-level executive at a corporation called Spiga. They have helped re-vitalize the farming community by creating seeds that can withstand the ever changing world. But it's clear they are up to more than just that. Ben is working on a project where a machine can literally read a person's mind. It's not all that accurate right now. But that could be a dangerous invention if it should fall into the wrong hands. Ben has to be compliant and work on this project in order to keep his job and livelihood. He's not that concerned about the real-world implications of this technology. Because stuff like this is so commonplace in this world, it becomes all the more chilling. The boundaries have been pushed because of technology. The show has a lot of fun with the production details and technological advances of the future. The design of the green zone is filled with clean and precise lines and structure. Meanwhile, the red zone is defined by chaos where the power surges at all times and people fight and trade smuggled goods just in order to survive.

Ben also happens to be the son-in-law of the CEO of Spiga, Elizabeth. So that gives him importance right away even though he's just suppose to be blending into this world to enjoy the benefits. This premiere makes it known that this is all just a facade for Ben. He came from the red zone and changed his identity and personality in order to make it amongst the wealthy elites of the green zone. He changed in order to have a better life for himself. And yet, there's a layer of inauthenticity to it as well. His wife, Laura, is happy that they have been approved to start trying to make a baby. That's a process now dictated by the corporate overlords. Laura had to apply for such a request. Everything about this world is very business focused. The company will do whatever it takes to ensure that it's products are not stolen. So of course, that's the one thing that Ben tries to do in this opening hour. He risks his entire life for a woman the audience knows very little about. We just know that she is his connection to the outside world and still means a lot to him.

It's cliche and problematic that the disappearance of a woman is the motivation for the lead male character. It's a story that has been told many times before in many different genres. That plus the show's affinity for violence and torturing makes it a bit too uninspired as a piece of genre writing. The world and the details are exciting and cool to look at. But the ideas behind the main story are lifted out of a familiar playbook. The main character is not who he appears to be. He's pretending to be someone else to advance in a secret and powerful company. His wife has a tragic past that cripples her whenever she thinks about it. Issues regarding her father keep Laura from having a relationship with her mother. There's a secret man, Julian, who is a high-ranking member of Spiga but is also the person responsible for getting information out of anyone lying to the company. Ben's friend from the red zone, Theo, is pulled into the fight club life because he has no more options except death and despair. It's exciting to watch Ben manipulate his way into a senior position at the company. It's a carefully plotted maneuver on his part in order to find this woman. But again, is that enough of a hook to care about whatever Ben is doing? It's a predictable way to start a series while giving the audience no reason why we should be invested in this journey.

Of course, that final sequence is pretty intense with Elizabeth looking down on all of her employees as she announces the start of a new vetting process to replace Ben's boss. It's Ben's strategy going according to plan. He framed the man for corporate espionage. That's what led to him being carried away to the Quiet Room by security for interrogation. He will have to face a number of severe questions from Julian, who clearly knows how to get what he wants. And yet, the show is very manipulative in its handling of this story. The in media res opening is meant to keep things tense. However, the premise itself makes it clear to the audience that we shouldn't trust anything in this world. Not everything is at it seems. Anything can be artificial or manmade. Anything can be used as a trick to get ahead in this corporate setting. It appears as if Ben is stealing this information from his boss in order to get closer to finding this woman. But instead, it's all just to get this man fired. Ben wants to ascend the corporate ladder. He has to go further into the deceit and lies in order to get what he truly wants. That is inherently an interesting story. It's a structure that has been done before. But it could still be compelling here if the show commits to showing the true perils and uniqueness of this world. What makes this world unique will also help Incorporated stand out as a show moving forward this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Vertical Mobility" was written by Alex Pastor & David Pastor and directed by Alex Pastor & David Pastor.
  • There are a number of fight scenes that happen when the action cuts to the red zone. Those moments don't work all that well. The slow down fight at the club Ben and his friends go to is just a way to show off the brutality of this world while the fight to show how quick Theo is doesn't do that good of a job.
  • Of course, if Theo was a good fighter right now, then there wouldn't be any room for growth. He's not that important in this premiere. But it's clear he is going to be because he's the only person in the red zone that Ben seemingly cares about. 
  • Laura knows that Ben is upbeat, happy and charming all of the time. She envies him for it. She would love to be able to turn off her emotions. And yet, she more than likely doesn't suspect him of being someone who snuck into this world.
  • Plus, it doesn't seem like there is a lot of love between Ben and Laura. It's more important that Ben gives longing looks at this woman he is trying to track down. She's the one who he really cares for. He's willing to risk it all just on 73 percent chance that she has suddenly reappeared.
  • A woman is sent her husband's ear as part of a ransom. And yet, she has no reaction to it. In fact, this is something that is incredibly commonplace. Body parts get chopped off and people in the green zone have the medical technology to just reconstruct them. It's actually Laura's job in this world.
  • Theo introduces the idea that Ben is being torn between the world he came from and the world he is now living in. The actual story doesn't do much to actually reenforce this idea though. It's just a thematically rich thing to be said to Ben at this moment.
  • A co-worker of Ben's notices that Ben is up to something by inviting his boss to drinks. He may actually be Ben's competition for this job. So that story may become important.