Finale Fever – The Tomorrow People
I’m way behind even the UK airing of this episode, still I’m catching up slowly but surely. The rest of my finale reviews will follow soon.
The episode opens with a really cool sequence involving Jed breaking into Ultra and using the powers he stole from Irene to get to Roger and the machine. Unfortunately his powers cut out at the exact inconvenient moment and he’s left with only one option, he has to kill his brother. Even more unfortunate is that Stephen arrives just in time to see this happen. If that wasn’t bad enough, Roger was in the machine long enough to power it up so he’s no longer needed, in short Bathory has what he needs to enact his plan. This scene was great, seeing Jed using his powers to break into Ultra was such a cool scene and Mark Pellegrino plays the scene where he has to kill his brother beautifully, you can see him weighing up the need for this and the painfully tough decision he is forced to make. It makes perfect sense for Jed to do this given how pragmatic his character has been throughout the show but his humanity shone through and clearly the act left an emotional scar. It was a very powerful scene that didn’t skip on the required emotional beats.
Stephen’s reaction is also something I found to be perfect, it’s consistent with his impulsive nature and his emotional shock that he would seek revenge against Bathory. The only way he thinks he can do this is by undergoing the same procedure John had, the one that allows him to kill. Eventually he decides that there’s a better way with Cara’s help.
The representation of the relationship between Jed and John was excellent. After losing his brother Jed revisits things in his life that he’s proud of and somewhat retreats into himself. It’s clear that he regrets what he did to John and the admission that he considers John to be his son was genuinely touching. Jed is a complex and layered character with motivations that can’t always be understood. I really like the idea that this has all been about family for him and protecting his any way he can. His methods are often questionable but it does seem that he’s willing to do unspeakable things to protect what he feels is important to him, something of a sacrifice if you think about it.
Astrid and John’s relationship is nicely done here too. Astrid takes the prospect of the end of the world with a lot of dignity and maturity which is something I absolutely expect from her, she’s the emotional core of the show as well as the representative for humanity among the group of paranormals. Teaming John and Astrid up for the final confrontation was a good idea and I liked that John did the shooting so as not to give Astrid the burden of killing. Their relationship in general is incredibly pure, it’s obvious that Astrid makes John a better man and that’s definitely something he clearly likes.
One thing that I’m not happy with is the continued character assassination of Russell, I don’t believe that he would betray his friends in that way and simply go along with letting Ultra invade the lair. Russell has always had a black and white outlook on what he thinks is right or wrong so none of this has ever sat well with me. He has been too quick to trust Ultra and go along with their plans which just isn’t consistent with his characterisation as established. He does somewhat redeem himself by bringing information at the right time but it’s too little too late in a lot of ways.
Another thing that irked me about the episode was there were too many clichéd final moments where characters would stop and say something profound to one another before rushing headlong into not quite certain death. It’s a staple of many CW shows and this usage is not particularly effective.
I would say the overall story was the weakest part of this, there’s been a lot of buildup concerning Bathory and the machine that I don’t think reaches any particular payoff here. The machine stops time for humanity but leaves the paranormals unfrozen, not exactly the best of plans. It’s unclear if it stops time for technology, I’d presume so since it’s not really stopping time otherwise. Ultimately the story boils down to your standard end of the world scenario culminating in a paranormal fistfight that decides whether the world ends or not.
The fight itself is well done though, Bathory’s steely determination is clear and Stephen’s strength is enhanced by his rage and grief which makes him more than a match for Bathory. It ends with the defeat of Bathory of course but is he dead? We’ll actually never know, time for some fan fiction perhaps….not from me though.
As the episode wraps up it leaves some food for thought if there was going to be a season two. Things to mull over include the increase of Stephen’s powers which now allow him to reverse time as well as freezing it which will be a handy skill but one that’s potentially a drama killer since there’s actually no jeopardy when someone can simply undo any death or crisis.
Jed’s recreating of Ultra with a repowered John as his lieutenant is something that is potentially very interesting. The most interesting part is Jed giving John the powers that once belonged to Roger’s DNA, he is literally making John a blood relative which perhaps elevates him to brother in Jed’s eyes. This could give a change in the dynamic in their relationship where they act more as equals, I’m not sure I buy the fact that John would join him and the new Ultra but maybe with a second season the reasoning would become clear.
Stephen, Cara and Russell using the former HQ of Ultra as their new lair makes a kind of dramatic sense, I wonder if the plan would be to turn the organisation on its head and use it to help new breakouts, turning what was once evil into a force for good. Thematically it’s perfectly reasonable but it is a shame that we won’t ever find out.
Overall, the finale was quite strong. The story was very typical in terms of events and structure but the emotional beats and dramatic character moments went a long way towards making up for that. I have to give credit for the fact there was some kind of a resolution and that the resolution made sense within the framework of the series. However, there was more to be done with the concept and the true purpose of the machine was a huge letdown. That being said, I enjoyed the finale immensely.
Relatively recently it was announced that The Tomorrow People would not be returning for a second season which I have to say disappointed me. The show started out as average and over the course of the 22 episode run built up a story that was both interesting and mysterious. It took some time to settle into itself but I’d never say I found it unwatchable.
To clear this up, I’m aware that this is a reboot of a British series of the same name but I have never seen that so I’m really unaware of the similarities or differences to the source material which obviously helps me to approach this with a completely fresh pair of eyes. Perhaps one day I will have a look at the old series and see what it was like.
When I first started watching this show I thought that it was fairly standard CW fare, the success of Smallville and other sci fi/fantasy shows probably went a long way into ensuring that this show could exist. The CW as a network are renowned for filling their TV shows with young, attractive actors who take every possible opportunity to assume a flattering pose or -in the case of the men- remove their shirts. Everyone is well groomed, well dressed and looking for new ways to create sexual tension with those around them. In some cases this makes sense but when it comes to the paranormal characters who are living underground without unfettered access to makeup and hair products it runs the risk of lifting the viewer out of the show. Can you believe that Cara takes all that time to straighten her hair when the survival of her race is at stake? Same goes for John and his ridiculously styled hair despite the fact that his character is supposed to be a no nonsense badass. This is a fairly minor niggle in the context of everything else but it absolutely permeated the show from the inception.
I liked the limitations placed on the powers early on. The power set was teleportation, telekinesis and telepathy -they can instantly move long distances, move things with their minds or read and communicate with minds- as well as a genetic blocker which prevents them from killing anyone. These rules gave the writers clear constraints to work under. I always found the power rules to be more or less consistent in their execution, it made sense that stronger and more practiced people found it easier to use their powers more effectively. It was also established that the powers could be expanded on like Stephen’s ability to stop -and later reverse- time and John’s scientifically manipulated ability to kill so who knows how far they might have taken them, I always appreciate clear limitations though and this show did it well. The powers looked great too.
The series had an overarching plot that was easy enough to follow. I really liked the idea that there were two main factions in this hidden conflict. Ultra and The Tomorrow People have very distinct ideologies that are in clear conflict with each other. Naturally The Tomorrow People just want to be left alone but have been forced into hiding lest they be constantly hunted and Ultra want to capture The Tomorrow People because they are a perceived threat to humanity -or so the motivation initially seems- so they bring them in and either condition them to work for Ultra or remove their powers entirely.
Complications arise when we learn that Ultra is run by Bathory -also known as “The Founder” for much of the show- who has a darker agenda that is a mystery to everyone except him. His agenda involves pausing time for humanity using the much talked about machine while spouting lies about ushering in an era of peace between paranormals and humanity. As villains go he’s charming yet transparent. Further complications arise when Stephen finds out his uncle Jedekiah works for Ultra and he agrees to work for them while serving as a double agent for The Tomorrow People.
Many of the episodes involved the location of a breakout -the name given to the discovery of a new paranormal- and the two sides racing to find them before the other does. These end in various ways but there is a clear formula here. The thing that made the show more unique was that it wasn’t frightened to deviate from the formula. Each breakout was given distinct characteristics and distinct ideological leanings that made each encounter different. The cat and mouse game between Ultra and the paranormals made the chases quite exciting too.
What makes a show? Why the characters of course. The Tomorrow People certainly had a decent share of those. The lead character of the series is Stephen who is just discovering his powers when the show begins. His powers manifest by having him teleport all over the place without wanting to -mostly into the bed of his neighbour. It doesn’t take long for Cara to find him and he’s brought into this strange world and the War that comes with it. Stephen was a good character, he was headstrong and impulsive but has a strong sense of what’s right even if it’s somewhat misguided some of the time. His impatience gets him into a lot of trouble throughout the show as does his lack of command over his abilities. Unfortunately the show brings him in with a standard “chosen one” narrative, he’s the son of Roger who is the supposed saviour of The Tomorrow People which places certain expectations on him. Thankfully the show doesn’t play up this chosen one angle too much and generally allows Stephen to develop organically as the series progresses. One thing I really didn’t agree with is the decision to have him in high school, for one thing he is obviously too old and doesn’t really act like a teenager would given the circumstances. Would it have killed them to make him a college student? That would really allow him to act more adult and be in more adult situations without it seeming ridiculous. It seems that the writers forgot all about the high school angle around a third of the way through the season since it was really hindering the rest of the show.
Cara serves as the token love interest for Stephen and one point in the contractually mandatory love triangle on a CW show. Cara and Stephen have a deep mental connection from early on in the show which naturally implies that they are meant to be together. Cara is with John which complicates matters and adding the third point to the love triangle. By the end of the season this attraction is almost a non issue as the characters act on their lust fairly early on in the series and John manages to get over it pretty quickly. Dwelling on this would have driven me mad so I’m glad they didn’t. This doesn’t say much about Cara though, she is actually a character in her own right…just not a very interesting one. I’m not sure if Peyton List is generally an actress who plays her characters flat or if the character was written that way but most of the time she was really dull. Her range of emotion wasn’t huge, I understand that as a person she was guarded and afraid to trust others but she seemed to lack the ability to have much fun at all around those she did trust like John and Russell. Occasionally she would have a light hearted moment but those were few and far between. Highlights for Cara included the episode that showed her origin, the idea that she was a deaf girl who had her senses explode on her all at once was excellent and really nicely put together. Another highlight was having to deal with her sister breaking out and her regret that she’d have to face this same life.
John was a character that was difficult to place. For most of the series he was the leader of the group and did well in that role. He was strong, trustworthy, fair, compassionate yet pragmatic. Not to mention the fact that he was a well trained badass in combat thanks to his training at Ultra under the watchful eye of Jedekiah and Roger. He was able to kill due to an experiment that was ran on him some time previously but carries a lot of regret around that ability since he was the one who shot -and assumed that he killed- Roger. John was never afraid to let his hair down -though not literally- and have some fun. He also had a journey throughout the series where he reclaimed the humanity he thought he lost, mostly through his interactions with Astrid. There was a lot of mystery to him, most of which remained unsolved by the end.
Russell was my favourite character until the last few episodes. He was definitely the most human of the group with his happy go lucky attitude as well as always having a smile on his face and a joke to share with everyone. He has a very clear perception of what is right and wrong, one that doesn’t allow him to see the grey areas involved in the War that is being fought, like many of the group he just wants to be left alone but he also has a desire to help others. As I said above the last few episodes unfortunately did a lot to undermine his character with his quick acceptance of Ultra’s deal and his willingness to trust them. I get that he likes to see the good in people but I never thought he was that naive. My personal Russell highlight was the episode where he got to play superhero for a while.
Another character I really liked was Astrid. She served as Stephen’s high school best friend as well as being secretly in love with him. Thankfully they dropped that early on. She was such a great character with deep principles and often served as the emotional core of the show. Her very human perspective on everything helped the paranormals to make decisions that weren’t just beneficial to them. She also fostered a deep connection with John which helped him to reclaim his humanity and deal with all the terrible things that have happened to him. As romances went she and John felt natural as a couple due to Astrid’s maturity in the way she approached things. I genuinely believe that the series would have fallen apart without her around, the plots would have given way to so many contrivances.
Jedekiah was a great villain. Mark Pellegrino portrayed him with so much humanity fighting darker urges. It was clear from the beginning that he was complex and his relationships with most of the main characters were integral to the show. The fact that he was Stephen’s uncle as well as working for Ultra gave him a nervous proximity to Stephen and his relationship with the other paranormals. His tumultuous father-son relationship with John got wonderfully complex as it developed and the fact that he seemed to care about paranormals despite the fact that it was basically his job to mercilessly hunt them down created some really interesting internal conflicts. His relationship with his brother, Roger personified that nicely as well as the fact that he fathers a child with a paranormal named Morgan. As villains go he’s one of the best I’ve seen on TV in years.
I’ll finish off my roundup with Bathory, I could talk about Stephen’s family, Hilary or some of the other side characters but I’ve written enough already. Bathory was excellently acted by Samuel Merrells but the more I think about the character, the more one dimensional he becomes. He is pretty much the standard over the top villain with obvious evil motivations. There are moments where he tries to cover up his evil doings with flimsy explanations that people somehow believe. When he goes full scene chewing villain then it is a joy to watch but his motivations are far too obvious, the lack of noticing this makes the characters seem stupid.
Overall, the series was a lot of fun and very nicely plotted. The conflict was simple enough with enough complications tossed in to make it interesting, the character interactions really sold it for me and many of them were very strong. Although at times many of the characters were completely joyless which made them hard to relate to in some ways. The resolution of the series was a slight disappointment but emotionally the climax was really well done. I will miss the show and wish it had been picked up for a second season.