In Mali, a U.S. Special Forces Team unexpectedly find and kill an Osama Bin Laden-type figure. Their superiors congratulate them, then, for sinister global conspiracy reasons, send a private security team to kill them all, with only Anna Friel’s Sgt. Odelle Ballard surviving the carnage. Stranded in the desert, in a country where she’s probably at equal risk from both the residents and her own government, how will she get back home?
In suburban America, meanwhile, former U.S. Attorney and now corporate intelligence man Peter (Facinelli) is looking into global behemoth Societal Mining and their supremely shady boss Alex Baker ahead of their proposed merger with Peter’s employers, when he stumbles onto evidence that Societal may be implicated in the killing of Odelle’s team.
And in New York City, the insanely annoying, self-centred and self-aggrandising Harrison – son of rich man Randall, so daddy issues etc – Walters leads a G8 protest camped out in (I think, but happy to be corrected) the Plaza. Harrison fobs off fellow campaigner Bob till Bob manages to hack into Odelle’s email, proving that she survived the attack and the official line on her death is a big lie, thus suddenly giving Harrison – oh Happy Day! – a new opportunity to keep his face in the news…
And that’s not even the half of it. Odyssey is a hugely ambitious enterprise, a large sprawling canvas of a story spanning continents, building in a massive number of characters and incorporating both the old world and the brand spanking new. In a TV landscape strewn with remakes and reboots, this level of ambition is commendable but risky; on the evidence of the opening double-bill, it felt to me like the writers had taken on too much and the dwindling US ratings and show’s subsequent cancellation suggest I’m not alone.
I found the first episode almost overwhelming, and not in a good way. Less than twenty minutes in, I was bored, tired and ready to switch off – far too much going on, far too many threads and characters, none of them intriguing or fresh enough to give me a reason to stay. But I soldiered on and, in fairness, by the end of episode 1, things had improved: some genuinely shocking moments, some arrestingly beautiful photography (the Tuareg convoy in Mali at the end was incredible), and obviously the promise of Gregory Fitoussi in episode 3 brought me back for another instalment and I’m glad it did. Episode 2 was much more focussed and much better for it; more of the genuinely shocking moments and the arrestingly beautiful photography, less of the acres of set-up which made the first episode a chore to get through.
The one drawback of episode 2, however, was that, without a load of set-up to hide behind, it became obvious just how aggravatingly stupid certain characters were. Odelle and Peter aren’t too bad; they’re decent, brave people, but they persist in trusting folk they obviously shouldn’t – the odious Colonel Glen and Joe could be wearing signs saying “I BETRAYED YOU” and these two would still be relying on them. The appalling Harrison, however, is in a league of imbecility all of his own. He thinks (and he’s right) that Bob has stumbled on a conspiracy of EARTH-SHATTERING proportions, which Governments and all sorts of corporate interests are trying to hide, so he blithely tells anyone he fancies about it (anyone he fancies including exceptionally dodgy “reporter for Time Magazine” Ruby who is clearly about as much a “reporter for Time Magazine” as I am Wonder Woman), talks loudly about it in public areas and just keeps banging on about how he needs to release the email when his Twitter account reaches 200,000 followers. Or something. Harrison’s dialogue gives the impression of being written by people who seem acutely ill at ease with the idea of Twitter, protesters and this entire sub-plot. They do have a point in relation to the latter, mind you, since the Harrison/Bob sub-plot makes no sense (what do anti-capitalism protests have to do with #Odellelives?), adds nothing to the overall story and is just infuriating.
Which is a shame because by the end of episode 2, I was much more enthusiastic about finding out what happens to Odelle and Peter than I had been at the start. Both are way too stereotypically noble (career soldier Odelle can’t help offering people medicine from her Mary Poppins bag of useful things even when they’d quite like to kill her, Peter is prepared to risk his life to find out the truth etc) but still, I’d like to see if Odelle makes it home and if Peter survives bringing down Societal. To do that, I suppose I’ll have to continue to put up with Harrison dragging the show down. He did have one useful comment to make though: “keep the message simple,” he said, focus on “one thing, so that people will listen.” Given the overwhelming scale and disparate threads of the narrative Odyssey is trying to tackle, that’s advice the show would do well to follow. We’ll see over the next few weeks if it does.