Recap: Intruders, “She Was Provisional” (1×01)

Intruders is not interested in holding your hand and leading you through its mythology. It thrusts you into the middle of it, abruptly and violently, and almost dares you to catch up. The resulting bewilderment and detachment experienced while watching the pilot works right up until the point where it doesn’t.

As someone who mostly loathes exposition dumps, I can appreciate a show that only gives you clues as they happen in the show’s universe. But the key here is in how to parcel out information surrounding the central mystery, keeping the pieces relevant and not random. This requires two things: careful pacing and strong characters, and the pilot of Intruders lacks either.

That’s not to say I’m not interested in the show. What is does have going for it is creator Glen Morgan, who retains a lot of genre goodwill from his days as a writer and producer on The X-Files. He hasn’t really struck it rich on any television projects since, but still, that one credit alone is a juggernaut.

After the pilot, the only thing I know for sure is that, on this show, it’s pretty poor luck to be female and have a birthday with a round cake with candles to celebrate. Clearly, this leads to bad things for first Donna in California back in 1990, then Amy in Washington, then finally Madison in Oregon. Although none of them turned the same age – Donna was a high schooler, Amy is an adult, and Madison just turned nine – the birthday triggered something in them akin to possession, causing black pupils and uncharacteristic behavior. All of this is linked to the number nine, sand dollars, and a group called Qui Reverti who have figured out how to cheat death.

If that description seems scattershot, it’s because the episode is. It cuts between locations and characters with the rapidity of a music video, which suggests interconnectedness and simultaneity but masks the passage of time. At this point, most of the main characters remain sketched out with only broadest strokes, where we know what (well, sort of) they are but have no window into who they are.

Our protagonist is Jack Whelan (John Simm, Doctor Who), and ex-cop from LA now living in Washington with his wife Amy (Mira Sorvino, Falling Skies), who has been apparently acting very strangely lately. We know this because Jack tells us so, because Amy now likes jazz, and that is strange. Jack is confronted by his old friend from California, Gary Fisher (Tory Kittles, True Detective), now a lawyer in Illinois who is looking into the murder of a local family as part of an “estate case”. Jack and Gary also went to high school with Donna (we learn through a clumsy bit of yearbook photo exposition), the first victim, whose reawakened possession led her to commit suicide, leaving Gary a note that said “Because in the beginning there was Death” and “I am not Donna.” Gary wants Jack’s help investigating the murder, Jack says no, and later has good reason, as he has his own wife’s disappearance to contend with.

Said murdered family was the wife and son of an unseen man named Bill Anderson, who likely knows more than he should about “them” and earned a visit from Richard Shepherd (James Frain, Grimm) for it. “Shepherd” seems to be more a title than a name, as his charge appears to be ushering “them” into and out of the world, and protecting their secret. (Which is encoded in audio frequencies from European organ pipes or something? Whatever. I’m assuming this gets explained later.) Shepherd murders with a casual and brutal violence, and Frain is really given a chance to chew the scenery with his expansive screen time in the pilot.

The last piece of the puzzle is Madison O’Donnell (Millie Bobby Brown, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland), a kid from an unhappy home, whom Shepherd finds and “activates” on her ninth birthday. The thing inside her is named Marcus, and there is bad blood between him and Shepherd. In the episode’s most disturbing scene, after being awoken, Madison/Marcus goes to take a bath and presumably kill herself like Donna back in 1990, but instead snaps and drowns her beloved cat. Brown is asked to do far more complicated acting in this episode than heavyweights Simm and Sorvino, and she acquits herself well. It’s a relief that along with all the convoluted mythology, it doesn’t look like terrible child acting will be a concern.

So Madison is off to Seattle, Shepherd is trying to keep secrets and settle a score, Amy Whelan is missing in Seattle and Jack’s there looking for her, and Gary is looking for… something. BBC America put the second episode up online already for early viewing; this is a smart move, because as much as I found Intruders a fascinating experiment, I need more of a hook to keep me going.

Odds & Ends

– Something that does interest me is the importance of Seattle as the location to where all of these “activated” folks are flocking. This is mostly because, Twilight aside, Seattle and Washington do not scream “sinister supernatural haven” to me.

– The conspiracy theorist dude in the tin foil wrapped van was a wasted diversion. The murder of the Anderson family already established Shepherd’s brutality, and there had to be a less time-consuming way to describe Anderson’s discoveries about “them” than introducing a poorly written red-shirt character.

– Robert Forster shows up briefly in the cold open as another Shepherd training Frain’s Shepherd. That’s a meaty guest star to only use for a couple minutes; my guess is that we see him again.

– So far, Shepherds are men and the possessed are women. Important?