Mania Grade: B+
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- Episode: Seconds (Episode 9, Season 2)
- Starring: Rachel Nichols, Victor Webster, Erik Knudsen, Stephen Lobo, Roger Cross, Lexia Doig
- Written By: Matt Venables
- Directed By: Michael Rohl
- Network: SyFy Channel
- Studio: Reunion Pictures
Continuum: Seconds Review
Does Continuum try too hard to examine cultural morality?
By Chuck Francisco
August 05, 2013
Full spoilers below
Continuum has yet to be accused of taking the easy way out when plumbing the depths of a complex ethical quandary, and this week's episode, Seconds, won't become the ice breaker clearing that path for the fragile freighter of cowardice. When you consider the real world parallels depicted this week, an understandable amount of discomfort is expected. Some of these issues may strike so close to the mark that I wouldn't be at all surprised if some folks hated this episode but were unable to to place their finger on precisely why. It's discomfort. Our culture is fairly reluctant to engage in most manners of introspection (which is likely why we rely so heavily science fiction to examine our more shameful aspects), and the most natural defense when entertainment (be it cinema, television, or games) brings them to the forefront is to throw up a wall of derision. Being made to consider that a long held belief is wrong hurts our ego; the natural human response to pain is to lash out in retaliation. (Consider Cloud Atlas as a stellar example of this phenomenon).
Now consider that Continuum is unflinchingly examining these tender wounds with salt scalpels. How can it skate by without coming under barrages of shame fueled rage? The answer is that it is so absolutely well crafted that it's almost as if the writing staff calculated the backlash and thought "that's nothing; our show is going to be so awesome that it will override it". That's confidence; that's planning; and that's awesome. Our culture needs a kick in the alignment of acceptable morality. This week's episode took a running start before lining up the delicate bits with a steel toed boot.
Kiera the protagonist brandished her fascism like a broadsword, taking the law into her own hands via kidnapping, torture, and (without the timely intervention of Carlos) murder. That's our protagonist. The amount of misinformation Kiera's been fed has basically turned her into one of the totalitarian goons who are wholesale slaughtered by our plucky hero in other, pulpier, action science fictions. Consider that even with the all seeing super computer of the future she didn't know the true identity of Theseus. As soon as she discovers this, something breaks inside and vengeance is broadcast across her every action. From here a weighting of the scales begins, and the oft floated question, would you kill one to save many more, is brought to bear.
Or perhaps it's laid bare, but not until the final moments of the episode, when the truly repulsive facts are shown to us, the audience. The corporate court (a disgusted shudder actually ripples through me as I type that) has unprecedented power by 2035. Sentencing people guilty of triple "civic debt default" to a life sentence of servitude, which comes with a revocation of citizenship. Consider this distinction in the context of how America already handles citizens versus noncitizens; this stripping of status opens up an entirely new toolbox of malfeasance in leveraging punishment. At the factory town of New Pemberton, the guilty are implanted with slavery chips crafted by SadTech. They're transformed into mindless workers for the duration of their lifespan, placed into a handy cubical, and left to their computer mandated devices. This is frightening in itself, but Continuum paints every side of the box a different color to muddy the waters.
Kiera grew up fully indoctrinated into this corporate totalitarian society, where she learned of the New Pemberton Massacre as an atrocity: the wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands by Theseus. Since that is all the world leaders wanted known, that's all she knows. So the fact that those people, when their slavery chips were shutdown, could only ever hope to be immobile vegetables until they expired, does not even factor into Kiera's through path. This mass misinformation is happening to a lesser degree right now, and here is a television show forcing us to look at the wart encrusted truth of it. Kiera's vengeance is rooted in the death of someone close to her parents, at least that's what she says; the woman in the prologue resembles the protector a bit too much to rule out a maternal connection. The sad truth is that every one of those supposed Theseus victims were, for all intents and purposes, already dead. Consider Kiera's opening voice over though: her indoctrinated culture was fed that from the darkness of chaos, the people of New Pemberton willingly came together and brought society out of the morass into which it had fallen, only to be cut down by the terrorist Theseus. There's even a nursery rhyme casting Theseus as the boogieman!
So much else transpired this week, but the heady central premise forces itself onto the center stage. One thing which didn't work was the brotherly bonding sequence. It seems broken on two battlefronts. The first, and most glaring, is Julian's pocketing of Alec's cell phone. As a technological wizard from whom no system is safe, there's simply no way that he leaves his cell phone behind and forgets about it. Hell, I tap the pocket I keep my phone in for assurance every time I stand up when out somewhere. We'll let slide that Julian was chased, tackled, and laid out in a massive rainstorm with the device in his pocket, since Alec probably has a beefy, boss phone. The other irreconcilable issue is between the boys themselves. Julian's actions lead directly to the death of their father and to their mother being shot; and his trial was puppeteered by both portions of Liber8. Reconciliation seems incongruous at this point.
This is a heady course of science fiction as teacher, as a consequence it comes across as more important than normal episodes but a bit less entertaining. Consider though that Continuum is so tremendously excellent that even a lesser episode warrants a "B" sized Mania grade. One final thought, a note on the cinematography- the instant where Carlos approaches Kiera with her gun drawn on a kneeling Julian amidst a downpour in the forrest is astonishing. Lasting only a few seconds, the scenescape was etched into the back of my eyes (I can still see it when I close them). When a TV show can offer something which is normally reserved for the cinematic realm, I simply have to take my strictly metaphorical hat off to those responsible. Bravo.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.