TV REVIEW: The Tomorrow People Season 1, Episode 4 – “Kill or Be Killed”

kill or be killed still

This is the first week that I really loved and episode of this show. It’s not a perfect episode, but I really liked it and I think it’s showing a lot of what this show is capable of when it fires on all its cylinders. Last week, we got a good glimpse and feel for Cara and her past. This week, we’re looking at John and delving deeper into why he finally left Ultra…

Recap:  The episode, like “Girl, Interrupted” before it, is an interwoven mixture of flashbacks to John’s past (he looks maybe fifteen if not younger in those flashes) and to the present where an enemy of both The Tomorrow People and Ultra, the rogue and murderous Killian McCrane is causing havoc for everyone.

We open with a flashback to fifteen years ago, where a young John is involved in a police chase (again, while the actor looks like it’s possible he’s maybe sixteen, it may also be that John was just good at hiring cars and driving illegally too). He teleports out at the last minute, and it’s been revealed that he’s been stealing food for his foster siblings because their guardian is a drunkard who spends the food money on booze. The guardian and young John get into an argument over the spent money and it looks like John’s going to get physically abused when Jedekiah shows up at the door and gives the deadbeat foster father money in exchange to take care of John who has “tested well” in school.

We flash forward to the present where John is trying to teach Stephen how to teleport another person with him. Stephen’s been at it, but he hasn’t exactly developed a knack for it. John mentions Stephen’s overthinking it and trying to apply cognitive processes to it he learned from Jedekiah. John insists it’s more instinctual than that. Stephen is saved from continuing, however, because he’s late for dinner. He rushes home, and his mom is upset not just for the lateness but because he’s been lying about his attendance at a school club, his lack of seeing Astrid, and the strange bruises he has. She also points out she found his security badge for Ultra in his room and wants to know what he’s doing with his uncle whom she clearly doesn’t trust. Stephen flounders a bit.

We cut to John comparing a pattern of fires and explosions across the country, the last being in Philly and indicating that something big is coming to Vancouver New York. He thinks it’s the resurgence of Killian McCrane, his former partner at Ultra and a Tomorrow Person who was experimented on so that he can kill. John flashes back to his start at Ultra training where he’s trying to learn to teleport better to fight McCrane. He complains to Jedekiah that he keeps losing and that he’s too small and Jedekiah just encourages him to dig deeper and go for the kill.

Back at Ultra, Stephen is trying to ask Jedekiah for a big favor—-he wants him to come to dinner and put his mother at ease. Jedekiah says he has no time for such things and, also, in a cute joke, reminds Stephen not to call him “Uncle Jed” at work. He reveals that they have a bigger problem on their hands with the rogue Killian around and that they have to be careful. Stephen wants to work the case to prove he can be more than just at Ultra through nepotism. Jedekiah is reluctant but changes his mind when Stephen’s split second timing and teleporting saves him from a bomb McCrane has planted for Jedekiah.

There’s an alert and Stephen and his partner, the powerful female telepath we’ve seen over the last few week, track down McCrane at a warehouse. His partner is not happy because McCrane is someone who’s put dozens of Ultra agents in the ground and she doesn’t want to babysit for someone as rash as Stephen. They go in with human agents who are armed to the teeth and she’s even got a high powered stun gun. Stephen in another cute beat asks where his stun gun his and his co-agent, stone faced, basically tells him to stay to the walls, touch nothing and not interact. WOULD THAT HE FOLLOWED THAT ADVICE. He tried to engage McCrane, fails miserably in a fight and is only saved by the fast teleporting of his partner. They land back at Ultra after having almost been machine-gunned by McCrane. Stephen thanks her but she’s gruff in response, saying she only did it because his uncle would have had her killed had Stephen died and to listen and stay out of her way next time.

Things aren’t going well in tracking down McCrane. John and Stephen eventually take their separate shot tracking him back down to the warehouse and realize the only reason McCrane had hidden out there in the first place was because it adjoined a concert hall where there was to be a kids’ symphony concert. McCrane and John fight and it’s impressive, especially with the teleporter-versus-teleporter visuals. McCrane eventually leaves so John and Stephen can try stopping an explosion rigged in the warehouse to kill the concert goers. This is a very good scene because there isn’t actually one bomb but six coordinated. John basically has to max out his teleportation in another good visual to essentially be six places at once and defuse things in sequence before Stephen cuts the final wire. It’s very well done and shows us not just that John has very honed skills from Ultra and is as gifted at teleporting as Cara is her telepathy or Stephen his time-stopping but also that this was clearly something Ultra had done before…setting up bombs and other traps. It’s unsettling.

John realizes it’s enough of enough and insists that from now on they need to work with Ultra, call a truce, because McCrane is a huge threat for everyone on both sides. He has Stephen tell his Uncle Jed to meet with him at the neutral chinese restaurant. Stephen tells Jed in a break during a spectacularly awkward and tense family dinner (here he has to remind Stephen not to call him “sir” among family). Jedekiah agrees and meets with John. He’s very paternal toward John and says that they do have to work together and to trust him cause McCrane getting sloppy and exposign the existence of The Tomorrow People would be a disaster for all. John agrees and asks Jedekiah to lure McCrane to a place where he’ll intercept and fight him. He just needs a ten minute head start. Jedekiash calls John “son” throughout the meeting and it angers him enough to tell him never to do that as he leaves back for the underground. Jedekiah might have been the closest thing to a father that John ever had but he also made him do horrible things at Ultra.

Cara is very worried. She knows there’s a lot about his time at Ultra that John’s not telling her. She also is scared because McCrane has the ultimate advantage—-he can kill. There’s nothing John can do to counteract that. It’s always going to be an advantage. John says he’ll find a way before teleporting to the set trap.

He and McCrane fight but Stephen gives John an emergency telepathic message that the wetworks team is coming for both of them and Jedekiah was never going to give him a head start. John had anticipated that from the beginning and then teleports McCrane to the woods to finish this away from humans and ultra. He kills McCrane by shooting him, revealing to McCrane as he falls dying that the reason that John leff Ultra was because the organization had turned him into another McCrane. He telepathically calls Stephen to have him inform Jedekiah there’s no longer a threat and it’s taken care of. Back at the Ninja Turtles hideout The Tomorrow People’s subterranean lair, everyone’s excited and Stephen tells Cara he finally gets why she likes John, that he really is that good a leader. John takes Cara aside and kisses and reassures her. He tells her that he reasoned with McCrane and warned him never to come back. It’s unclear how much of this B.S. Cara actually buys.

We’re shown one final flashback to John’s childhood. He’s still a young child and has teleported back home to his foster father, begging him to let him stay. His father is shocked to an extent (he’s also horribly drunk), and he is mostly concerned with not letting John back home because then he’ll have to give the money back. He’s about to hurt John in what I assume is probably an attempt to knock him out to take back to Ultra when Jedekiah bursts in and shoots the foster father dead. In this case it’s so that there is no witness left behind to know about John’s powers and, by extension, the existence of Homo superior. Jedekiah reminds him here again of that lesson that you must kill or be killed and he needs to understand that now.

The episode ends with Jedekiah getting into his car. John’s already there waiting for him saying the game has changed and that if his people bump into Ultra agents above ground, they’re not gonna run but are going to fight. Jedekiah shows little emotion but says “So you finally learned: kill or be killed?” John doesn’t answer but just teleports away.

Gauntlet thrown.

***

The Good:

*   John’s character development — I am very glad to see the show working hard to flesh out its characters. It seemed to be gaining more of a stride last week with Cara’s past being shown. Now we have John’s. A glimpse at the TV Guide summaries indicates that in two weeks, it’ll be time to look into Russell’s past and relationship with is father too. For me, I enjoyed Cara’s story more overall, even if it did rely as a rape-shock tactic crutch. That said, there’s some interesting glimpses here at John’s past. We see that he’s someone who always felt he had to protect those weaker than he (in this case his foster siblings). He’s also someone who had to be taught and bred into that killer instinct. He’s a good person deep down or desperately wants to be. Also, I really love his complex relationship shown here with Jedekiah. This is a boy who never had a real father—-at best a succession of foster care losers—but who did cling to Jedekiah as a savior and mentor at least for a time. There’s probably a Frankenstein undercurrent in this story. The last scene, Jed takes credit for making John “perfect” because he’s eliminated the non-killing code in his DNA. John, at least in his Ultra days, was very much what Jedekiah wanted and created and that clearly has left John with resentment and deep fears about what he really could be capable of some day.

*   Killing is bad —I know it can verge on a bit preachy but I thought the line the show toed tonight was great. John’s speech to Jedekiah that he didn’t think that being unable to kill actually was a weakness/defect was superb. I liked the analogy of how killing takes a piece of your soul each time and that piece-by-piece death of his soul (we’ve no idea yet how many people John has killed for Ultra) was what prompted him to run. He felt that again killing McCrane.

*    Trust issues for Cara/John —- For a while, I’d been worried that the show was going to just flat out paint Cara as disloyal or easily swayed into a love triangle with Stephen. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the show is going there and the previews for next week has Stephen pretty impressed with Cara in her party clothes. However, the show is illustrating that there are reasons why John and Cara work well as a couple, after all they’re both fighters with hard, abusive pasts who share a common goal and a ton of courage. However, they still can’t completely trust each other. She won’t let him in to the extent of what happened to her the night she broke out and he has never told her he can kill and that’s why he really left Ultra. They seem to be lovers and allies who can only communicate to a point and that, Stephen aside, is their relationship’s true weakness.

*    Stephen’s mom is kind of a badass — I like her. I admitted there was a bit of wanting to hate her for the irrational reason that the same actress was Bella’s mom in Twilight and any connection to that level of suck makes me automatically recoil. However, the actress is doing a good job of displaying Momma Bear strength. You can tell that Marla’s smart, observed all that happened last time with her husband and how his paranoia and erratic behavior seemed to be pushed harder because of his work with Jedekiah and Ultra, and that she won’t let her son be hurt too. Yeah, she’s way over her head in a shadow war but she undercut Jedekiah and wouldn’t be intimidated and I really loved her for it. MORE OF THIS PLEASE, SHOW.

***

The Bad:

*    The casting and death of McCrane — First of all, I was a big Veronica Mars fan, especially in the first two seasons. Jason Dohring is a great actor, has a ton of charisma and is very entertaining. All of that was lost tonight when he was essentially playing a stock villain. Don’t waste money on a bigger name (at least for CW and genre fans), if you aren’t really going to use him to full advantage. His role was unmemorable and could have been played by any Canadian day player. Worse, McCrane could have been an interesting foil over the season for John, the road not traveled if you will. Again, with him literally dead and buried it’s a wasted opportunity that’s far too rushed through.

*     The pacing of the series — While I’m glad that this show isn’t going to wallow in some things. I still feel like it moves a bit too fast. The reveal that John can kill and that he’s the only Tomorrow Person who can due to having been experimented on is a huge freaking deal. It explains why Jedekiah is so scared. He knows not only is it possible to override the genes and create Homo superiors who can kill but that it’s already been done and the leader of the resistance has that kind of power. I know I said Astrid realizing/seeing Stephen’s powers was a revelation for at least mid-season sweeps. This is, frankly, a game changing reveal that means John’s far more powerful than any other TTP, even Stephen, because he can kill any time he wants…it almost makes you wonder how long he can control himself and keep what’s left of his soul intact. It seems to me an odd secret to blow so fast.

*    Not much progress on minority representation —- Russell at least didn’t annoy me this week. He was more the voice of reason going “John, you can’t do this. Working with Ultra isn’t gonna pan out.” He just didn’t do much overall either. I’m really hoping that the coming ep about him will really flesh him out. As I feared, Astrid wasn’t even in the episode this week. I don’t know how to read that. I’d rather not be dealing with recriminations and WHAT ARE YOU’s?!?!? this week. However, I don’t want her sidelined either. Next week has a side plot about her and Stephen at Homecoming together so we’ll see. Also, I know that Stephen’s partner is a woman of color. I apologize for not remembering her name. I couldn’t find the character name listed on IMDB. If anyone knows it, fill me in. As far as representation goes, she’s actually an interesting character. She’s smart, competent and powerful. She’s also a bad guy (sighs). However, as a side note, I am at least enjoying her because she seems to think Stephen’s a moron too. This leads me too…

*   Are you sure you’re the Messiah, Stephen? —- I swear he gets dumber every freaking week. First, he runs in half cocked on McCrane and would be dead is his partner weren’t so fast and motivated to keep him alive. Second, I really think the show has implied that Cara doesn’t really believe John’s story about McCrane just leaving. Stephen, however, does. He really should know better by now. He shouldn’t assume someone as sick as a serial bomber like McCrane could just be talked into leaving. He shouldn’t think he’s such hot stuff as an untrained agent that he can run into any situation. He, especially, shouldn’t be so dumb as to be freaking shocked when his uncle reveals that the getting rid of the non-killing gene isn’t a good goal for Ultra. After all, what shadowy government organization wouldn’t want super soliders and spies. Stephen, you’re eighteen. You’ve seen your uncle order people killed and betray his word on a weekly basis for about a month. You need to stop acting so naive.

***

The Verdict

My biggest annoyances are still that Stephen’s an idiot and too gullible this late in the game and after his experiences and that the minority characters could be better represented (again, still reserving some judgement till we see Astrid next week and the Russell-centric episode in two weeks). However, the action was well done, the effects superb and John’s back story with how entangled he his with his “creator” after a fashion of Jedekiah is extremely compelling. I like where this show is starting to head overall.

***

Next Week – Let’s all party like it’s 2013!

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Margaret Bates

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