Limitless s1 ep 16

Brian is hanging out at home with his sister Rachel (Megan Guinan) who, as we are reminded in the previouslies, Ike thinks is cute. It could reasonably be argued that Ike has a point. Before I can spend too long thinking about just how much of a point Ike has, though, the peace is disturbed: Sands turns up at the door, bleeding copiously from a wound on his leg, in all likelihood caused by the piece of glass sticking out of it.

One NZT later Brian has sufficient field surgery skills to repair the worst of the damage, but the night has just started: Sands demands Brian’s help in finding someone called Frederick Tanner, who has forced Sands to hunt down and kill his, Sands’s, old army buddies. In the course of finding out why, we get plenty of Sands backstory, partly rendered as a series of chapters from a comic book.

All of this, though, means that Rebecca can’t find Brian in order to work an urgent CJC case, in which a young boy, the son of an American diplomat with access to UN Security Council information, has been abducted. Ike is sent to Brian’s apartment to wait for him, and since Rachel is still there, and Ike is quite willing to play up his role in keeping Brian safe for impressing-the-ladies purposes, they will of course hook up. But in the meantime Rebecca needs to get on with finding the kidnapped boy for herself. Not for the first time, she proves herself almost as good without NZT as Brian is with it.

It probably took me longer than it should have to work out the link between the two plots, but when it’s revealed it explains a lot about Sands, Tanner, and why Sands is so ready to do Tanner’s bidding. And as Sands and Brian close in on Tanner, there’s a telling moment when Brian – who’s been going to considerable lengths to try to prevent any killing – tells Sands to “do what you have to do”, knowing what that means. It mitigates the idea that Brian is too squeaky-clean to exist in the world he’s found himself in, and it provides a human connection of sorts between Brian and Sands.

There’s a further twist, though: it’s Rebecca’s birthday, and she’s mightily pissed off about it. (As am I on mine, but I’m older, so I’m allowed to be.) Her reason for that is powerful enough, but it contains yet another connection to the main plot, when Brian discovers that Rebecca’s father was killed by someone we know. ‘Sands, Agent of Morra’ is another superbly imaginative and entertaining episode, which puts beyond doubt that – notwithstanding the show’s cancellation – Jake McDorman is a star, and one who presumably won’t need to wait too long for another vehicle. And we even got the return of Brian’s FBI t-shirt.

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Limitless s1 ep 15

640-4Oh wow. After a couple of weeks of treading water, Limitless came roaring back this week with an utterly fantastic episode. Confidently writing its own mythology from the start – the title, ‘Undercover!’, inviting direct comparison with the dazzling ‘Headquarters!’ episode; and the subtitle, ‘A Romantic Caper in Three Assignments’, telling us exactly how it’s going to do it – the show then did its very best to deliver on its promises.

There’s a framing device – Brian, being interviewed, explaining how something or other went down – but that needn’t detain us. The premise is that the FBI’s list of undercover agents has been stolen, but not yet leaked, so the agents still in the field need to be brought in before they’re in danger. Five agents haven’t yet been found, so Brian and his “team” are asked to help. He tracks four down pretty quickly – and even this brief sequence is a model of wit and invention – leaving only one, Lucy Church, thought to be undercover at a corrupt hedge fund.

Brian manages to find Lucy as well (hee on the big signs) but she wants to stay undercover, because she’s found out that the hedge fund has been laundering money for an upmarket escort agency, The Blue Limit, which has been using trafficked women and holding their passports so that they can’t escape. So it’s agreed that she can have two more days to bring the traffickers in, with Brian’s more or less willing help. First up is a Blue Limit benefit – is this a thing? Benefits for high-class knocking-shops? – at which Brian is undercover! as a client, with Lucy on his arm.

Having worked out who has the passports, undercover! assignment 2 for Brian is temping at The Blue Limit, where he steals the passports – then spends an afternoon making some money betting on horse racing, in order to give the trafficked women some funds as well. Now, because Lucy is hot, and Brian is Brian, and it’s a romantic caper, there have been sparks flying all over the place from their very first meeting. But this convinces Lucy that Brian is a nice guy – which he is – and the two of them totally Bollywood. How Rebecca feels about this is hard to discern; she certainly approved of Brian in a suit, but the show is still leaving itself some wiggle room if it decides not to pursue Brebecca (?).

And the third undercover! assignment is at a company called Edelweiss, whose name keeps cropping up in The Blue Limit’s ledgers. By this point Brian’s NZT has run out, and it shows. (Interestingly, we will find out in due course that Lucy has worked out Brian’s deal. Also – once again – Brian off NZT is still as moral as Brian on NZT, if not as brilliant.) The Big Bad behind the trafficking is at Edelweiss; Lucy gives serious consideration to killing him, but Brian – still holding himself partly responsible for the death of the custody clerk in last week’s episode – just about manages to talk her down. Lucy will then disappear out of Brian’s life, Cheshire Cat-like, leaving her smile behind, and I’d be happy to see her back.

But it’s not all romantic capers, and as ever, the show manages to balance the fun and the darkness: Rebecca is invited for a meeting with Sands, who offers her a generously-compensated job working for Morra. Rebecca not only declines the offer but discloses to Sands that she’s investigated him and discovered that he was bought off by Morra himself. Which is smart, but puts Rebecca in even more danger. Undercover! is an excellent demonstration of why this show is so very much more than a standard procedural, and of why we’re going to miss it.

Limitless s1 ep 14

There’s a lot to like – as there always is – about this episode of Limitless. Brian and Rebecca investigate the death of Eloise Carlisle, a software engineer at CRAFT, the firm which a couple of weeks ago gave Brian a jetpack, and gave us the stellar ‘Arm-ageddon’ episode. Eloise had been working on Project Mind-Vault, in which the contents of a brain are downloaded into a computer, then uploaded into a robotic head thingy. As she had also mind-vaulted her own brain, this affords Brian and Rebecca the novel opportunity to interview an after-the-fact murder victim to try to find out if anyone had been threatening her.

Meantime, in what will, I suspect, turn out to be the most significant part of the episode, Rebecca is refusing to let Senator Morra’s assassination attempt go; having established that the coats were switched, she’s trying to find out who might have done it. Brian is torn here: as well as trying to persuade Sands that the investigation is done and dusted, thus protecting Rebecca, he knows that when she finds out what happened she will regard this as a betrayal too far. And Mike and Ike have recruited a third body man – Spike – for Brian, whose Headquarters! now has – or have they always been there? – fetching “Business” and “Pleasure” neon signs, to be switched on and off as the conversation in the office requires.

The problem with ‘Fundamentals of Naked Portraiture’, though, is that the A-plot stubbornly refuses to leave the runway. There are some interesting ideas about consciousness in there – and some sinister robot heads – but compared to what, say, Elementary did with a broadly similar concept, Limitless didn’t quite get there, and cramming an episode’s worth of exposition into thirty seconds is admission rather than mitigation.

But now I need to process the news that the show has been cancelled by CBS. I’m far too long in the tooth to take these things personally, or throw around accusations about broadcasters hating shows (they don’t care), or treating audiences like idiots (ditto), or not giving shows time to grow (they almost never grow); it’s a business, and if Limitless isn’t paying its way then it’s inevitable that it’ll be sacrificed. I do, though, think it’s a great shame that a show as imaginative, inventive, and witty as this couldn’t find the audience it needed. And deserved.

Limitless s1 ep 13

‘Stop Me Before I Hug Again’ starts with the aftermath of a murder: the victim was, we are told, raped, stabbed, and strangled. Gosh, I thought: by the standards of this show this is a bit grim. At that precise moment Brian’s subconscious reaches the same conclusion, and conjures up a beloved children’s TV star from his past, who suggests replacing the unpleasant words with more palatable ones. Thus the victim was “sent to an awesome farm in the country” by a “serial hugger”. And huggers don’t get cool nicknames any more, they’re named after ice-cream flavours. So the perp in this case, whose thing is to snip off the ring finger of his victims, is no longer the Marrying Man: he’s Mr Pralines and Cream.

In order to help with the hunt for Mr Pralines and Cream the team is joined by brilliant, intense, cool, bit-of-a-blowhard FBI profiler David Englander, who’s been after him for years. So when Brian, with the inevitable assist from NZT, solves the case in like 40 minutes, Englander invites him to Quantico for a couple of days hanging with the cool kids. “Will you stop shouting ‘road trip’?” Naz demands of Brian, who totally wants to go. So Naz lets him, but insists Rebecca goes with him to supervise his NZT intake.

My shipping antennae were twitching at this point, but what Rebecca really wants to talk about – and Brian really doesn’t – is the possibility that Senator Morra is on NZT, enhancing his reflexes to the point that he was able, literally, to dodge a bullet during last week’s assassination attempt. (Also, he’s gone from being a loser writer to a viable Presidential candidate in a couple of years.) She’s completely right, of course, but Brian does not want her going there, so he comes up with a risky plan to disprove her theory. Unfortunately for him, Rebecca is nearly as good a detective off NZT as he is on it, so – although he doesn’t know it yet – this isn’t going away.

Meantime, though, Brian has been reading Englander’s book about what a great profiler he is, and reviews the case of Mr Butter Pecan, the nickname of Andre Hannan, a serial hugger on death row. Brian is convinced that Hannan is innocent, and doesn’t budge when he finds out that Hannan offered a detailed and accurate confession, nor when Hannan passes a polygraph test on his admission of guilt. The completely deranged solution to the mystery will involve a crooked therapist, a tech zillionaire, the electronic manipulation of memory, and a shaved dog.

Fortunately, I don’t need to believe a word of it to find it terrific fun. The word-substitution device – delivered with a straight face throughout – is mostly a delight (and also conceals a serious-ish point about the glorification of brutal killers, in both fact and fiction, which can perhaps wait for another day). The shifts in tone are handled as adroitly as ever. Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter are just lovely. And, most of all, the episode is as imaginative and witty as ever. By this time next week we should know if Limitless has been renewed. I really hope it is.

Limitless s1 ep 12

In ‘The Assassination of Eddie Morra’ the Senator isn’t actually assassinated, quite, but only because he’s NZT’d to the brim and is able to take just enough evasive action to ensure that he’s winged rather than killed, with half an eye on his forthcoming Presidential run. Morra’s consigliere Sands then turns up at the FBI, purportedly providing assistance in hunting the shooter.

But when Sands has got Brian on his own, he tells him quite a different story. Morra and Sands already know who the perp is; it’s a disaffected former Morra employee called Piper Baird, who’s on the run having stabbed her boyfriend to death. Sands will take care of her, thanks, so Brian’s job is to ensure that the FBI doesn’t solve the crime, with the additional incentive that were Piper apprehended she’d be able to join the dots between Morra, NZT, and Brian, thus guaranteeing no more anti-side-effects shots. This is trickier than it sounds, mind you: the almost-impossible shot Piper pulled off to hit Morra suggests to Rebecca that the shooter is on NZT as well.

What Brian isn’t anticipating, though, is that Piper will find him first. Nor that she will turn up at his parents’ house claiming to be his new girlfriend. (Nor, frankly, that she’ll be rather attractive, although the undercurrents of mutual attraction remain – mostly – unexplored.) Which means, from the point of view of Sands and Morra, that Brian is ideally placed to kill Piper himself. Brian demurs, of course. “Why”, demands Morra, “are you trying so hard to hold onto the person you were before NZT?” This issue – whether Brian is indeed the same person – is something we’ve grappled with more than once this season already, and as recently as last week.

And so Brian, given that he can’t risk Piper being captured, pushes her under a train and kills her. SPOILER ALERT: no he doesn’t, because he isn’t – yet? – a stone-cold killer, and since I wasn’t fooled for a second I’m a little surprised that Sands was. It’s another immensely clever and satisfying episode, although perhaps not quite as good as last week’s.

Limitless s1 ep 11

Just as I was saying that we’ve had a sunny few eps in a row about the positive, fun side of NZT, things suddenly get very dark very fast on this week’s Limitless.

Not that it starts off that way: we begin instead with a lovely opening sequence involving Mike, Ike and what must be the incredibly annoying – for the participant, that is; it’s very amusing for the viewer – side of babysitting Brian. It’s cute, funny and fleshes them out a little in Limitless’s usual deft, charming way, my particular favourite part being poor Ike’s recurring nightmares of being stuck in that job with a revolving door of colleagues leaving him behind – “There’s an Asian Mike, a white Mike, there’s even a woman he calls Mike!” – to wrestle with unrequited love and existential despair. Heh.

A robbery at the pharmacy storing the FBI’s NZT supply abruptly interrupts the comedy philosophising, however, and the subsequent recovery operation leads REDACTED into the path of temptation and squarely into the clutches of disaster.  The way things eventually resolve is tense, ambiguous and intriguingly downbeat, with interesting things to say not only about Brian but also about everyone else in the supporting cast. Not the cheeriest episode then, but still an excellent one.

Limitless s1 ep 10

We’ve talked before about the “Two Brians” question: is NZT Brian becoming a separate personality from Normal Brian? Is spending time as NZT Brian, with all the power and possibility that involves, turning Normal Brian into a different person the rest of the time too? To what extent can this be a good or a bad thing?

On the last question at least, the show has been pretty ambivalent at times – NZT Brian had to kill in a way that deeply troubled Normal Brian, NZT Brian was leaning towards betrayal of Rebecca in a way that Normal Brian steadfastly refused to – but seems to have moved towards the Team NZT side of things for now, as both this episode and the previous two have highlighted the overwhelmingly positive rather than any negative effects.

As with ep 8’s rescue of Naz’s niece, “Arm-ageddon” has Brian stepping in to help a friend of a friend on the team: Boyle’s old army buddy is accused of killing his wife but has something of an unusual defence involving a rogue prosthetic limb. Or, as Brian puts it:”you’re saying you’re innocent, but your arm is guilty?”

Because he is the nicest person on tv, Brian doesn’t burst out laughing but listens calmly and sensitively to the man’s story, before reassuring Boyle that “he’s your friend, I’ll help.” Because Limitless is the most fun show on TV, that help involves heading to the company which “invent(s) cool gadgets and then (hands) them out to people on missions” and is run by “the real-life Q!” Both Brian and I are utterly, utterly delighted by this – I mean, I don’t even like James Bond, but the show’s Quentin/Q ref is genius – and it’s just one of a number of lovely, lovely touches in another wonderfully uplifting and joyous episode. I loved everything about it. Brian learns to hack. Brian plays “Where in the world is Kenny Sumida?” Brian gives us a short lesson in authentic keffiyeh styles. Brian tries to avert “Armpocalypse Now.” (HEE.) And Brian devises his own juvenile, but completely marvellous punishment for the episode’s villain that just made me laugh and laugh.

I know I say it every week, but I LOVE Brian. And obviously Brian’s dad does too but, while I think Brian is incredibly kind and smart and generally awesome, his dad thinks Brian is (as he has been most of his pre-NZT life) weak, irresponsible, drug-addled and in need of his dad to rescue him yet again. Can all those things, the good and the bad, be true at once? Possibly. But at the moment, at least, Brian, Rebecca and Naz, rather than Brian’s dad, are right – NZT is helping him be the best he can be and that is someone very special. Someone who has more than earned the elation of spending a weekend with a jet pack, running like the wind. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!