Around the Water Cooler: “The Tomorrow People,” Checking In Mid-Season (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “The Tomorrow People,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on the CW.  It initially aired on Wednesdays at 9:00 PM but is moving to Mondays at 9:00 PM as of March 17, 2014.

What: “The Tomorrow People,” a science fiction teen drama about humans, most of whom are teenagers, who have evolved to have powers of teleportation, telekinesis, telepathy and possible other abilities, and the government organization named “Ultra” that seeks them out to neutralize them.  The action is centered on Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell), a young high school student who begins to exhibit these abilities and so much more and who is being sought out by an organized band of “superior” humans as well as by Ultra for not only his abilities but also his family connections.

SYNOPSIS

Stephen (Amell) has been struggling for a year with strange occurrences, not the least of which include him waking up in foreign surroundings as if after sleepwalking, such as another couple’s bed (in another couple’s house).  Believed to have inherited an inexplicable psychosis from his father, Stephen has been undergoing psychological therapy and is taking strong anti-psychotic medication, which is often stolen by a school bully.  His friendships are strained, and he is frustrated by what seems to be a deteriorating mental state, until he is contacted by Cara (Peyton List) telepathically.  Cara and her boyfriend John Young (Luke Mitchell) introduce Stephen to the “Tomorrow People,” a ragtag group of teens who have enhanced abilities.  Stephen also finds out that his father abandoned his family, including his mother (Sarah Clarke, 24) and younger brother, because he also had abilities for which he is being hunted for study, and it is believed that Stephen can help locate his father, to the extent he has any interest in doing so.  Meanwhile, Ultra tracks the Tomorrow teens and is headed by Jedikiah (Pellegrino), Stephen’s uncle, his father’s brother, and an evolutionary biologist who seeks to minimize the threat and risk that these evolved humans in such formative years potentially pose to worldwide society.

When: The mid-season finale aired on the CW, Monday, December 11, 2013, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show appears to be set in a large metropolis like New York City, but it is unclear (as of yet) if this is a strictly fictional universe or a fictionalized action set in realistic surrounds.

Why: I enjoy science fiction as a genre. The premise seemed pretty interesting (if a little derivative of the X-Men, though it is based on an English television show from the 70s).  The series features Mark Pellegrino (Jacob on Lost, Satan on Supernatural, a Monroe militia man on Revolution), who is one of my favorite character television actors of today, as the primary antagonistic force.  Also, one of the executive producers is Julie Plec, who is also the executive producer and head writer for The Vampire Diaries and The Originals.  All in all, I felt this program had a decent chance of being quite good.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

This viewer initially rated the pilot of The Tomorrow People 4 stars – there were flaws in premise and execution, some of which still exist as of the mid-season finale (unfortunately, I watch a lot of TV and have a life in fine arts, so I’m only now getting around to this show).  The biggest flaw of the series is its almost shameless borrowing from, if not plagiarizing of, other science fiction vehicles, drawing from sources like the X-Men and Star Wars in story arcs that have presumably evolved beyond the constructs of the original version of the show from the 70s.  While the story is engaging enough by itself, the liberal use of conventions established by other science fiction is almost too distracting, as are the middling performances of especially the younger actors in the ensemble, particularly by Amell and List.  Though Amell holds his own in some scenes, the love triangle trope between Stephen, Cara, and John is played to saccharine, predictable, and formulaic effect.  In fact, Cara may be the most annoying of the characters – though she has not been as fully flushed out as her male counterparts have.

The most enigmatic and complex character is that of Jedikiah, who walks a deliciously morally ambiguous line, forever the doting uncle as well as the stalwart soldier for those looking to contain the Tomorrow People.  Stephen’s efforts to tread under his uncle’s radar offers the most interesting aspect of story, as Stephen plays the spy, and Jedikiah believes he is brainwashing his nephew into understanding the risks that the Tomorrow People’s abilities present to the rest of the human race.  Plus, Pellegrino is clearly the most capable actor in the ensemble and is what tethers this particular program to a level of decent quality, aside from the visual effects.

Still, the show, on the precarious ratings bubble for most of its life no doubt due to its premise and airing network, is racing through story lines normally hashed out over the course of several seasons, which also presents pacing challenges.  Startling revelations became evident by the end of the December finale, prompting the need for this review. Several episodes have since aired, but if you are as behind as I am, here’s what we found out by mid-season on The Tomorrow People:

1. All this time, Stephen was roped into the ragtag rebellion of Tomorrow People by John’s promise that if they found Stephen’s missing father, they would be able to defeat ULTRA and bring salvation to the Tomorrow People.  We find out by the end of mid-season that John, during his time as a captive of ULTRA, murdered John’s father.

2. At the same time, Stephen discovers that he might be able to find his father with a combination of his enhanced abilities and a near-death experience – by finding his father in “limbo,” a construct theorized by a professor and ally of Stephen’s father.  The mid-season finale, “Death’s Door,” found John, Cara, and Russell (Aaron Woo) attempting to cause Stephen to die, so that he could experience limbo, and then race to revive him before brain death occurred.  When Stephen awoke at the end of the episode, he proclaimed that in order to find his father, they had to find his body, while John looked on in disbelief, reminding all that he personally murdered the guy that he convinced Stephen to join his little rebellion and to help find in the first place.

3. Stephen loves Cara and vice-versa, but Cara can’t quit John.  Their bond doesn’t make sense much sense, beyond the “he saved me from myself” motif, another boring formulaic plot strand. Their relationship doesn’t make sense, especially since Cara is able to connect with Stephen telepathically more readily and almost exclusively, presumably due to enhanced abilities that both Stephen and Cara share.   In fact, why is Cara so advanced in telepathy particularly and so in tune with Stephen?

4. John’s time with ULTRA led to him being conditioned against his evolution: he can cause pain and fatal harm to others, at least with rudimentary means, such as weapons.  In addition, Jedikiah sees John as some sort of surrogate son, which might be explained away given his paternalistic role in the ULTRA organization, but the subtext of their complicated symbiosis almost seems to support the idea that John, who looks a lot like Jedikiah, might actually be a biological progeny of the latter.  After all, John’s lineage has not been explored (as of December).

5. Jedikiah fell in love with a Tomorrow Person under the radar of the Founder, the head of ULTRA.  The Founder, at the same time, is a Tomorrow Person of advanced abilities.  Jedikiah admitted his weakness and contraband relationship; the Founder asked him to prove his loyalty by disposing of her.  Why the Founder wants to eliminate his own kind is a key question.

6. Though Stephen rescued Cara from ULTRA by stopping time and tricking his uncle into believing that he administered a serum to her that would have sapped her powers, Jedikiah discovers Stephen’s ruse.  Stephen is able to play it off, but Jedikiah’s trust in him, and Stephen’s ability to play double agent, may be severely compromised.

7. Jedikiah, in an effort to save his lady love, helps the Tomorrow People stage her escape, making it appear as if he killed her.  Where do his loyalties truly lie in the end?

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

1) What is the implication of having to find Stephen’s father’s body?  Are we talking about reuniting a soul and a presumably long-dead corpse?  Is this a thing that Tomorrow People – or, more specifically, Stephen – can do?

2) To that end, why is Stephen so much more advanced than the other Tomorrow People? (I have an inkling, thanks to my rudimentary searches…it will be interesting to see how information is revealed).

3) Why has Stephen permanently friend-zoned Astrid?  We have a bona-fide Les Miserables-style love triangle (I happen to be spending my time involved with that show) – Stephen is Marius, the clueless; Astrid is Eponine, the obsessed; and Cara is Cosette, the annoyingly uninteresting.  But seriously, why he is not looking at the stalwart friend by his side?  Is it because she’s too available? This is my primary question about friend zones.

4) Why does any one trust John anymore?  He’s lied to them all the whole time!  What consequences will he face?  Why wouldn’t they banish him for a time?  How can they trust him ever again?

5) Really, what is Jedikiah’s endgame?  On the one hand, he seems threatened by the abilities of his brother and nephew, and yet he finds them oddly comforting enough to become romantically entangled with someone who has them?  He almost appears to be an Aunt Petunia from Harry Potter equivalent – jealous that he doesn’t have the abilities, willing to condemn them to mask her abject jealousy, and yet sympathetic to them due to the love for his family members…

6) Then, there is the Founder.  Why is he trying to eradicate and control his own half of the human race?  Ultimate power?  Is he the Emperor Palpatine of this outfit, killing all the Jedi, i.e the Tomorrow People, to have the ultimate and only control of the Force, i.e. the teleportation/telekinesis/telepathy triplicate of powers?  What is his purpose?

7) Who is Stephen’s father, really?  Why is he so advanced and the mystical savior in the end?

PARTING SHOTS

The Tomorrow People is an interesting amalgam of recycled, simplistic, science fiction story tropes and more complicated questions involving the mysterious backgrounds of its key characters.  Sometimes, between the performances and more cringe-worthy romantic elements of the plot lines, the program is hard to watch, and yet each episode never fails to tantalize with new questions about Stephen and his cohorts’ larger purpose as evolved members of the human species.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Michael Ausiello over at TVLine.com is predicting that the show’s last rites are a lingering question, measured against the CW’s new series, The 100, set to premiere in The Tomorrow People’s former time slot on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at 9:00 PM.  He and other outfits believe that the CW will pick one or the other to renew, not both.  The 100 is on this viewer’s watch list, but the The Tomorrow People is set to air all of its ordered full season of 22 episodes, finishing out its season in its new Monday time slot.  May sweeps and up-fronts may provide the final word on this series and several other new CW offerings.  As this viewer watches the instant series, I sincerely hope that whatever may happen, outstanding mysteries are provided windows to be solved/flushed out for loyal viewers, and this viewer will be one of those loyal ones, watching and wondering what the purpose of the Tomorrow People may ultimately be.

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