Monday, September 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'People of Earth' - The Aliens Carry Out Their Mutiny as Eric Enacts His Plan to Eliminate StarCrossed in 'Game Night'

TBS' People of Earth - Episode 2.10 "Game Night"

Gerry and Yvonne host a group game night. Agent Foster meets a person from her past. Walsh, Jeff, Don and Kurt enact their mutiny against Eric.

People of Earth went into its second season finale with a lot of plot it needed to address. The aliens needed to carry out their mutiny on the ship. Gerry needed to activate Eric's plan to eliminate StarCrossed. Agent Foster needed to meet her long-lost twin sister. Chelsea needed to tell Doug about being pregnant. Something needed to happen with Ozzie's body. That's a lot of ground to cover in a normal-length episode of this show. As such, a lot of things happen very quickly. "Game Night" is a finale with lots of twists and turns. It keeps the audience guessing as to what's going to happen to all of the characters. They carry out the plans they've been working on for most of the season. But none of them really go according to plan. That means the comedic payoff needs to work. In some cases, it does. In other cases though, it's a little more muddied by complicated personal dynamics. And then, other moments are just designed to tease the audience that everything is about to change in the already announced third season. So, it's basically a complicated finale that loves making things as complicated as possible. It leaves things in a precarious position heading into the next season. But that's also an exciting place to be in right now as well. Lots of this season was focused on buildup. And yes, some moments do land remarkably well. But I'm much more excited about what happens next than what happened in the majority of this season.

Before the mutiny happens on the alien ship, the alien gang is going around talking about what they are going to do once they have their freedom from the mission and Eric's rule. That basically signaled right away that they wouldn't actually be able to carry out these lives that they want for themselves. Jonathan Walsh wants to return to Earth to form a network of aliens that want to rise up against the main reptilian agenda. Jeff wants to explore the universe looking for more of his alien species with Kurt willing to go along with him. And Don wants to return to Earth in order to be a better person. He wants to work for Habitant for Humanity so that he can leave the place better than he found it. All of these future plans are very fitting for the characters. But it's also inevitable that they won't actually happen. It would be fun to explore more of the universe with Jeff and Kurt. But it would take them out of the main narrative of the actual show. Of course, it's also thrilling that the mutiny happens very quickly. It doesn't take much for the gang to capture Eric. It's delightful to see that Don is really skilled in combat. He can take down the security guards with relative ease. That's surprising but very funny to watch as well.

And yet, this whole story only confirms one of the potentially problematic elements of this season: Eric is just way too powerful. His only flaw is that he can't sense guilt in the same way that he can detect if someone is lying. That's it. He's been built up as this master manipulator. He can provide Gerry with the fatherly connection he has always wanted in his life. He can control his mind to ensure that he sticks to the plan to wipe out StarCrossed. And now, he proves to be quite destructive in combat as well. He can take Don out easily. But more importantly, he can actually change in size. He can shrink down so that the aliens open the box he is trapped in. Then, he can burrow into Don and take over his body. That's really terrifying and menacing. But he's probably too powerful. There's no one else in this show who can match his abilities. As such, it seems a little silly that the alien agenda would encounter much difficulties. It seems like Eric will be able to effectively carry out the mission without much effort whatsoever. That's not really the feeling the audience should have. We should see it as a more even fight. We should believe that StarCrossed has a couple of tricks they can pull out as well. Their survival doesn't have to be because of circumstantial intervention each time.

Of course, it's still thrilling to watch as Jonathan Walsh breaks into the game night to save everyone in StarCrossed from the toxin Gerry is about to release. All season long Gerry has been teasing that he'll activate when "the fives are two." It's a cryptic statement that didn't mean anything. It was revealed what the weapon was going to be. It was then revealed that the finale would be centered around a game night. That's a lot of fun. It produces a charming sequence where Gerry and Yvonne get rid of all the weapons in the house. The audience knows it's a bad idea but it still makes sense for the characters to do it. No one in the show is all that worried about this game night turning deadly. Instead, they are preoccupied with other endeavors. Gina is trying to help Agent Foster prepare herself for meeting her long-lost twin sister and Chelsea is trying to figure out how to tell Doug that she's pregnant but doesn't know who the father is. The later of which isn't all that engaging of a story. Chelsea and Doug's plot has been pretty off and on all season. It hasn't really been consistent. It's mostly just giving them something to do because all the other characters have personal lives outside of the main plot. Meanwhile, it's great to see Agent Foster realize her own connection to aliens just as she's confronted with actual proof that they exist. Her family consists of true believers too. They've been searching for her as well while trying to stay off the grid to avoid any more abductions. This is a genuine meeting that does well in the emotional stakes of the finale. It's not distracting from the main plot either. It doesn't prevent Agent Foster from being present when Walsh finally reveals himself once more.

But the ending of the season seems very manufactured as well. The show had this ending of everyone in StarCrossed and Doug being abducted by Don who is now controlled by Eric, Agent Foster and Walsh being away when it happened, and Jeff and Kurt being stranded down on Earth. It's a compelling final image for the season. It just takes a lot of convenient storytelling in order to get to that moment. Agent Foster doesn't remember that Ozzie's last words were to trust Walsh until she's already halfway to the FBI to officially arrest him for his white-collar crimes. Even then, she doesn't totally believe it until she gets confirmation that the FBI has been lying to her. Of course, it's much quicker to believe in Walsh is an alien by him simply showing off his real eyes. That took no effort whatsoever. So, it again feels like a stalling technique to keep StarCrossed from getting all of the answers they want from him. They have huge questions for him but Agent Foster won't let him answer any before arresting him. They are returning to Gerry and Yvonne's house to talk things over only to discover that everyone has been abducted once more. That's a perilous final image. It's confirmation to Kelly that Don is actually an alien. That seems to be the only point of Eric taking over Don's body. He really doesn't need it anymore because he's eliminated the other threats. It could come in handy. But it's also a way to provide StarCrossed with a familiar face from an alien race they understand. Meanwhile, Jeff and Kurt on Earth is a hilarious prospect and a key reversal of the natural stories of this show. They are on the ground while everyone else is on the ship in space. Plus, the punchline is pretty great as well with Kurt getting run over yet again and Jeff getting chased by a dog. Those are funny sights that again leave them in a precarious position for the next season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Game Night" was written by Alyssa Lane & Alex Sherman and directed by Shaka King.
  • So, nothing ultimately happened with Ozzie's body on the ship. The season has been setting up the expectation that he'll come back to life just like Kurt did. That's still a possibility as well. But now, Eric has his body. He has always had nefarious plans for him. So, he could use it to his advantage to torture StarCrossed. Or he could just casually toss it off the ship and be done with him already.
  • The bee was a dangling plot thread as well. The show purposefully kept that creature alive on the ship in the previous episode. At the time, I stated that that would need to have an epic payoff in order to be worth all of the hassle. In the end, it's not. It just serves as confirmation that Eric is much more threatening and powerful in Don's body than Don ever was.
  • It's not all that surprising that Agent Foster's sister happens to be her twin. That was the expected twist. Of course, it's shocking to Agent Foster because she didn't know the circumstances of her birth. And now, she has her answers. It's just a lot for her to take without any proof that it actually happened. But with seeing Walsh for what he is, that could forge a strong bond between the sisters.
  • Jeff won't be able to blend into Earth as easily as some of the other aliens have. That should be a lot of fun. He won't be able to be out in the opening. He'll need to be more stealthy. Will he succeed in that regard? Or will he get lucky and run into another alien who'll be very helpful in giving him a place to hide? Walsh seems like a viable candidate. But it could be someone else as well.
  • Jeff's more important moment comes when he finally tells Kurt that he's in love with him. That's a moment that should have happened in last week's episode so that we could actually see what Kurt's reaction would be. Here, it still has power as a moment. But it's still largely about Jeff. And then, Kurt's quick death on Earth is treated as a joke instead of a tragedy happening all over again.
  • As I've mentioned earlier, the show has already been renewed for a third season. It will return sometime in 2018. I probably had more problems overall with the second season. But this is still a fun and charming show. The cast makes so much of it work while the quirky details of this world remain incredibly amusing. I'm curious to see more.