Monday, April 2, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Crossing' - Jude and Emma Try to Understand the Mysterious Refugees Who've Wash Ashore in 'Pilot'

ABC's The Crossing - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

After 47 refugees mysteriously wash up in a small fishing town, local sheriff Jude Ellis teams with DHS agent Emma Ren to assess their unusual claim: that they're fleeing a war 180 years in the future. The mystery deepens when Jude realizes that one of them possesses heightened abilities and is a threat to his town. As the rest of the refugees acclimate to their unfamiliar surroundings, Emma learns that one has information that calls into question everything she thought she knew about our present time.

For the majority of this premiere, The Crossing feels like a show that would have debuted on the broadcast networks roughly 8-10 years ago. It's the networks trying to repeat the success of Lost without fully understanding what made that show so endearing and compelling to viewers. Most of these copycats believe all they need is a mysterious premise to hook the viewers by engaging them in some mystery. But the true heart of Lost came from the characters and witnessing the emotional journeys they were on during their time on the island. A lot of crazy and weird things happened on that show. But it always made sense because it was filtered through the emotions of characters the audience was invested in. Nowadays, a lot of stories believe they just need a unique premise in order to hook viewers and all the character beats can happen after the fact. That hasn't been a formula for success for the broadcast networks in trying to find their own Lost. As such, the industry has typically moved away from these kinds of projects to chase the success of more recent hits - like Empire or This Is Us or reboots of '80s and '90s shows. Of course, every pilot season typically has at least one of these super-serialized genre shows. It's still something the networks would like to have on their schedules. Sometimes these projects even produce second seasons - like NBC's Revolution or ABC's Resurrection. But they are mostly one-season wonders. In this premiere, The Crossing does have a solid hook that will surely intrigue some viewers. But right now, the characters all seem like composites audiences have seen a million times already. As such, the show will need to figure out what sets it apart from the pack quickly if it has any hope of surviving on the air.

The allegory at the heart of The Crossing really is its most remarkable and significant feature. It's essentially a story about refugees. That's a timely issue as the world continues to double down on its borders out of fear of who might be coming in with sinister plans. That's a fear the characters have here as well as soon as they realize the world that these mysterious strangers come from. But the premise of the show comes from hundreds of people suddenly washing onto the shores of this coastal town in the Pacific Northwest. It's a premise not too different from Lost. The survivors are still trapped by circumstance in a limited environment. But it's a harrowing start because over 400 of these refugees die in the water when they made this journey. They received no warning about what to expect on the other side of this adventure. They just know they had to flee their war-torn home. Only 47 people survived. They presented a story that seems impossible. They are from the future. 180 years from now a new species will rise up and orchestra a genocide against humanity. It's an apocalyptic future where the world is completely different. War has corrupted the world and destroyed governments. And now, the idea of time travel has come up as a potential ray of hope in this traumatic world. These people were all willing to take that step into the unknown hoping that it would lead to a better life. None of them were expecting to land in the water. But some still survived. They survived to live on and potentially rebuild in a new world that would have them. They are welcomed by the America they always dreamed of. Yes, there's an adjustment period as the officials have to check out this story. But they are still taken care of respectfully and with the promise that they will be welcomed here.

The local sheriff, Jude Ellis, is the man who first discovers the bodies. He gets a call that one has washed up on the shore of this cove where no one in town really visits anymore. It's then that he realizes that there is this huge swarm of people floating in the water trying to make it safely to shore. It leads to a whole government response that gains a lot of attention. Does it get as much attention as it should? It seems like the officials are able to keep a pretty good lid on what's happening in this corner of the world. It still seems remote enough for it not to blow up into some big story that gains national recognition and demands an immediate response. So, Jude and company have the time to try and figure out what exactly has happened here. Of course, Jude is quickly shut out of the investigation. He's a familiar character. He's an officer from the city who had to leave under mysterious circumstances. He is now the sheriff of a small town hoping to restart his life and be a better father to his kid. That character has been seen a dozen times both effectively and problematic. It's Steve Zahn playing against type in an interesting and nice way. He's mostly done comedic roles but asserts himself well as a dramatic lead. The writing just doesn't have a whole lot of originality to it right now. He quickly finds himself in a conflict with Department of Homeland Security agent Emma Ren. She is the agent in charge on the ground. She lands on the shores and immediately starts questioning people about where they came from and what they are looking for now. Jude believes he can work alongside her and she wants to keep this investigation in-house until they know what's going on. If there is any truth to this story the refugees are saying, Emma needs to ensure their safety and that more people don't try to abuse this system of potential time travel.

Meanwhile, there is one refugee who survives but doesn't wash up on shore. Reece isn't like the rest of the travelers. She is instead an "apex" - one of the genetically motivated people with heightened abilities. It's an intimidating performance because of how silent she is for so much of this hour. She speaks when she is demanding action. She is looking for someone. She is looking to reunite with her daughter, Leah. Now, the audience knows that Leah survived the journey. Jude was able to save her immediately because she was the first to wash ashore. But the official government response has outlined that there were no survivors. They don't want anyone believing that there are these mysterious strangers around who came from the distant future. Reece sees that report and desperately needs to confirm it for herself. She kidnaps Jude because he's the only one she knows has that information. The two are able to break into the hanger holding the dead bodies fairly easily as well. They are able to examine each one looking for Leah long before any additional agents show up. It's in that moment where it becomes clear that Reece has these special abilities. She is super strong and can leap great distances. It makes her a very difficult target to eliminate. She is at large in this community. That's troubling enough for Jude to worry about. He's focused on finding her even though she also stops the local mugger from hurting anyone else. And in the end, they are reunited. He surprisingly gets the drop on her after she breaks into his home. It's a tense moment. But it could also be the beginning of a fascinating partnership because everyone just wants to know what's going on. Reece just seems to be interested in finding her daughter. But the characters are also made aware that they should fear the apex and what they can do.

And of course, there is a premiere ending twist that helps fuel the mystery of what's to come next this season. That's such a familiar construct in these types of shows as well. They need to keep adding twists in order to ensure that the audience is engaged and willing to check out the next episode. It may actually make The Crossing a fascinating show to binge in its entirety. The twist here is that one of the refugees, Thomas, knows that others have come through the crossing before. He knows that apexes are in this world and have blended into society for a mysterious agenda. That certainly adds a fair bit of tension and uncertainty into the narrative. It creates a story where these genetically-modified individuals have utilized time travel in order to speed up their creation and eventual conquest of the world. It has ramifications that will play out in the present day of this story. That ensures that everyone will still be affected by this war even though the refugees have escaped to a world they believe to be better. It doesn't seem like many of them are aware that the crossing has been utilized in the past. It seems like some were expecting it because they were expecting the government response to be better. But they are also just transitioning into their new surroundings. They get bused over to their new homes in a very quaint and contained community. The government is still monitoring their movements with the fear that one of them has special abilities as well. But Emma is also perfectly fine setting up a meeting between Thomas and her boss, Craig. It's then that it's confirmed that Craig is one of the people from the future come back to the present day for the mysterious agenda. That's a twist that establishes who that character is and the role he'll play in the show for the future. It's exciting while also not being enough to fully establish a show around either.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Dan Dworkin & Jay Beattie and directed by Rob Bowman.
  • Overall, the only performances that are truly captivating and engaging in this opening hour come from the recognizable actors - Steve Zahn, Natalie Martinez, Sandrine Holt and Jay Karnes. All of them have deserved series that last for awhile. These do feel like good roles for them that show off their range quite well. But again, there needs to be more passion and emotion in the storytelling for it to truly connect.
  • There are only a few of the refugees who are given moments of actual story to define who they are and what they want in this world. First up is married couple Caleb and Rebecca. They lost the rest of their family because of this war. They came here for a better life in the hopes of starting over. It seems like they are already being rewarded because Leah is now staying with them in the new community.
  • Additionally, there already seems to be the emergence of a star-crossed lovers story. Hannah is one of the refugees who made this journey completely alone and doesn't know anyone else. Roy is one of the officers helping everyone get settled while also delivering supplies. He's not suppose to engage with her. And yet, he already feels a connection and ensures that she is taken care of in her new home.
  • Right now, Jude is the only officer at the sheriff's department who has some sense of what's going on with the government and the refugees. Additional officers did help drag bodies out of the water. But none of the refugees started sharing their story until they were rescued and could be interviewed by Emma. Jude got the first clues out of Leah and Caleb. He has some understanding of this mystery. But he's still kept out of the loop as well.
  • So, who is actually controlling the crossing in the future? Someone obviously made the discovery of time travel. The apexes then used that in order to advance their agenda by influencing the past to their benefit. But are these hundreds of refugees making the journey also a part of that plan? Or do the people in charge of the crossing in the future just not care who gets sent back to 2018?