Human Target – “Rewind”


January 20th, 2010

Airing out of order, “Rewind” is either trying to complete the trains, planes and automobiles trifecta for Christopher Chance’s various missions or trying to simply put the show’s best foot forward in its second episode out of the gate behind American Idol. I’d be worried if it was the former as the show can only go so far when Chance is trapped on a moving mode of transportation with no chance of escape, but I think the latter is their primary goal here.

And it works really well, because the hour is certainly an improvement over the already solid pilot. Not only does “Rewind” feature one of the most extensive uses of in media res storytelling I’ve seen in television for a while, but it also taps into both the potential comedy and the potential mythology present in the series. It is a ludicrous hour of television from a physic perspective, but in terms of delivering action and suspense while maintaining a light-hearted sense of humour and revealing some deeper shades of Christopher Chance and the work he does the episode is quite successful.

There is a lot of intelligent stuff in this episode in terms of how it was structured. First and foremost, you have the choice to make Chi McBride’s Winston play flight attendant, which creates some great humour in general and allows for Chance to be in the cockpit while still having a reason to go back to the plane. Second, you have the choice to join the story in media res, which was not just a simple “eight hours later” structure but rather a constant shift between the present and the past in order to figure out how we got to that point in the story. It was more comprehensive than I was expecting when the episode started, and I thought they did a nice job of playing with our expectations surrounding the flight attendant by the time we got back to the “present” and the story picked up from there. The episode made for a nice narrative ride, with the action scenes exciting enough to sell the lack of suspense (and the “how’d they get here?” story having some twists of its own, like Chance ending up in handcuffs).

But the best parts of the episode were about establishing that the show is capable of selling us on characters we’ve just met and convincing us to care about Christopher Chance and his journey. On the former point, Laura (played by Courtney Ford, who was so annoying on Dexter this season but who was great here) gets her own sendoff of sorts, and because we spend most of the episode with her it’s important that we get to know her. However, the episode goes one step further and gives her a story that reflects Chance’s own back story, as she finds herself trapped in a life of crime (killing the actual flight attendant who was supposed to be on the plane) and Chance offers her a way out (like, we learn, Winston offered him a way out years before). It’s an interesting arc that Ford sells well, and which is almost completely sold through the use of Bear McCreary’s immense talents in order to deliver an emotional moment.

You can read Bear’s entire post on the score for this episode at his blog, but the idea that he composed a theme for a character who we will only meet in this episode, and that said theme will recur when we start to learn more of Chance’s back story, is just the frakking coolest thing I’ve seen in a while, especially on a show like this. We’ve known how fantastic McCreary’s work has been for a while now (it is, after all, a subject I’ve written about in the past), but he’s going some great (and noteworthy) work selling this show and its world right now. When Laura was about to fall out of that wheel well, I could hear the score providing something that felt more meaningful than one would expect of a character we’re never going to see again, and sure enough Bear’s post confirmed that the music was hinting at something deeper, in the process giving her death more than enough weight to make it an important moment in the episode and in the series as a whole.

It’s a good sign for the series, because telling straightforward action stories like this needs to be done with an attention to detail, and a slow reveal of information. Yes, I could watch a show where Mark Valley kicks ass, Chi McBride makes wise, and Jackie Earle Haley threatens people without changing the intonation of his voice. However, I’d rather watch a show that hints at something more in the process, and McCreary’s music combined with some sharp plotting are assisting in making the series seem expansive enough to keep my attention beyond the initial adrenaline rush. So, considering me on board for the long haul on this one (although it will be two weeks before the show finally lands in its normal 8pm Wednesday time slot, so that long haul will require some rerouting).

Cultural Observations

  • Based on the Variety article linked above, I think McCreary might finally be in line to pick up his first Emmy (in fact, his first Emmy nomination). The Academy has shown interest in “old school” scores in the past, and the sheer amount of nominations that 24 has garnered demonstrates that they’re interested in action scores.
  • The show’s “science” is still more than a bit sketchy, and a “skeleton key to the internet” was as ridiculous as it sounds, but I think it adds to the fun of the show – I thought they used the various elements quite nicely, so it’s not as if they stopped the episode dead or anything. So long as it serves the story, they can flip commercial airliners any time they want (although that might get old).
  • In other McCreary news, his post about scoring the new Capcom game Dark Void really makes me wish the game looked a lot less generic than it does (although I’d consider the prequel, Dark Void Zero, if I had a DSi).

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