There is a good test for measuring whether a television series will make it past its debut. It involves three simple questions, none of which can be asked until the second episode has aired. They are:
1) Does the second episode deepen and/or flesh out elements introduced in the first?
2) Does the series introduce new, yet logical, elements that were not mentioned in the first episode?
3) Is someone taking the time to insure that new and old elements will work well against each other?
While 'Parallax' is technically the first episode of the WITCHBLADE television series, the two-hour pilot movie acted as the small screen introduction to NYPD foot soldier Sara Pezzini and her rather unusual plight. As such, the above-mentioned test can be readily applied and, lucky for the show, director/series creator Ralph Hemecker is definitely sweating the details.
Unlike other fantasy-based excursions, WITCHBLADE is rooted in tough cop drama more so, in fact, than its comic book roots. What this means is that in order to earn any kind of credibility as a show of this genre, Pezzini must face serious consequences for her actions. Hemecker understands this and kicks the season opener off with Pezzini and her partner McCartey facing an internal affairs investigation into their actions in the pilot.
True to form for cop shows, there's one investigator who has it out for Pezzini. A nice twist of the knife is that this new character, Captain Dante, is also Pezzini's new C.O. It isn't enough that fledgling super-hero is left to wonder as to what exactly her destiny is, but now she must face an adversary who will make her professional life the only semblance of a normal life she has left a living hell.
Still, it's in adding depth to the world around her that Hemecker is at his best. In this episode, an element of Nottingham's past is introduced one that has a very sudden effect on Pezzini, both personally and professionally. Not only have the police targeted this mysterious 'man in black' as a key to Pezzini and McCartey's internal affairs difficulties, but suddenly there appear three more men in black out to kill him. Pezzini and McCartey know that if they allow these men to kill each other, their lives will become that much more difficult. However, Nottingham and his three friends are hellbent on murdering each other.
While not that much more is learned about Pezzini's character in this episode, the supporting cast around her is fleshed out in more detail. As one can expect, there's much we don't know about Nottingham and his employer, Irons. However, there are some very interesting twists involving certain police officers Dante and the seemingly cherubic McCartey included that are sure to keep you paying attention to the show for some time to come.
If that isn't enough, Hemecker made a truly inspired decision by adding Will Yun Lee to the cast as Pezzini's slain partner Danny Wu. The chemistry established between Yancey Butler's Pezzini and Lee's Wu was incredibly strong in the pilot and it's good to see the two maintain it in this episode.
The series is also allowing Pezzini to step out of her state of confusion and start becoming more of a commanding figure. In the pilot, Butler played the character as much as a victim as hero and the constant soul searching stretched the story's limits. Pezzini is starting to accept the unusual weapon she is entrusted with, however, and, in turn, the weapon is starting to reveal more of its abilities. No slouch in the acting department, Butler is at her best when she concentrates on playing an action hero something this particular episode allows her to do.
Yet the best facet of this episode is how Hemecker mixes both new elements with the old in such a way as to allow all of them to make sense. If that isn't enough, many times these new elements actually add depth to the old. What it boils down to is that Hemecker makes a darn good continuity cop for the series and that makes the enjoyment level much greater.
The only place where the series can use a bit of work is in its special effects. Quite frankly, it appears this is where Hemecker has spread his budget a bit too thin. For example, there is a motorcycle chase and battle sequence between Pezzini and one of the men in black that was reaching for MATRIX-like special effects. However, what came across onscreen looked like a low budget version of the source and ended up feeling cheesy in the process.
For a first episode, 'Parallax' is a darn good sophomore effort. It does an admirable job at fleshing out what's already been established in the pilot, while adding new plot elements that are sure to give the series much more depth in the future. You can't ask for much more this early in the game.
Reviewed Format:Series Premiere
Original Airdate: June 12, 2001
Cast: Yancy Butler, David Chokachi, Eric Etebari, Anthony Cistaro, William Yun Lee, Nester Serrano, Kenneth Welsh, Kathryn Winslow, Peter Mensah
Writer: Ralph Hemecker
Director: Ralph Hemecker