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!

Limitless s1 ep 9

So, Casey seems like he might be trouble, huh?

Not that he’s done anything anti-Brianish at all, as yet. But there’s something a little too pointed about his conversation with Boyle – who’s also maybe not quite as 100% on board with Team Finch as I thought he was last week – about the source of Brian’s talents that makes me think Agent Rooks’s interest in our hero isn’t entirely benevolent. We’ll find out either way in due course, I suppose, but not this week since, rather than killing the mood with betrayal or double-crosses or any of that nastiness, this week’s Limitless focusses on serving up almost unmitigated sunshine instead.

The story revolves around a simple but completely marvellous idea: Brian assembles his own crack team of Bruntouchables in a bid to catch the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted in two weeks and earn his own “Headquarters!” in return. Why? Because “boring stuff happens in an office” and “cool stuff happens in headquarters,” of course. And because Brian is the best, and Limitless is tremendous, not even the “enemies of joy” can condemn this plan or indeed this ep which is just irrepressibly cheerful, clever, charming and all-round hilarious, much like our man himself. Yay!

Limitless s1 ep 8

I love Brian Finch.

In this week’s irresistibly entertaining episode, Brian, with a little help from his friends, manages to a) exonerate Naz from treason charges and rescue her from potentially indefinite imprisonment, b) track down a band of pirates on the other side of the world, c) rescue the girl they’ve kidnapped, d) procure the world’s rarest arcade game and e) make me laugh at a whole bunch of thoroughly juvenile but completely hilarious penis jokes.

All of this would be impressive enough but is even more of a delight because Brian’s so charming and sweet and funny and loyal (and did I mention charming?) with it. Not that I’m the only one who’s noticed. Naz and Boyle have both come round, Naz’s daughter Ava is properly smitten (and who can blame her?) and as for Rebecca? Well, if I needed any more incentive to love Limitless, the writers gave me it this week by setting off every shipper alarm at Unpopcult HQ. That ever-so-slightly pointed game of “Screw, Marry or Kill”? Rebecca’s far-from-relaxed reaction to Brian clasping Ava’s hand? And the prospect of a little honest-to-goodness romantic competition? Anchors aweigh, you guys. Or, in unpopcult-speak, squee!

Limitless s1 ep 7

In Limitless’s homage to Ferris Bueller, Brian Finch’s Day Off turns into Brian Finch’s Black Op as our man on NZT is kidnapped by CIA-hired mercenaries and pressed into service on a off-the-books mission that turns out to be something very dark indeed.

While our hero tries to make the best of it – working things out with plenty of help from himself, his, er, other self, and Imaginary Sloane Rebecca – his FBI buddies, a little surprisingly but genuinely touchingly, raise merry hell trying to get him back safely. I mean, we know Brian’s important to Rebecca, so her role in Operation Bring Back Brian is a given, but it’s nice to see he’s important to Boyle and, I think, Naz too. Even if her motives are always a bit cloudy, I don’t think she was faking that.

Of course, homages can be a bit tricky – they need to be “homagey” enough to tickle fans of the original while also standing on their own to ensure folk who think Ferris Bueller is some kind of accountancy firm can enjoy them as well. As someone somewhere in the middle of the Ferris spectrum – I last saw the movie about 20 years ago, enjoyed it, but couldn’t have told you any of the other characters’ names till after I saw this ep – I think it worked reasonably well. I imagine it will have scored more points with true Ferris devotees, but Limitless’s trademark humour and intelligence laced with darkness, moral ambiguity and pathos meant there was also more than enough to the episode to entertain everyone else. I liked it a lot.

Limitless s1 ep 6

My turn to throw in my two cents about Limitless and what a terrific episode to weigh in on.

Brian and Rebecca are working together to try and find out more about the Venn diagram between her dad, NZT and the FBI. Unfortunately, Brian and Rebecca are both being pulled in other directions too; Brian has to choose between destroying Rebecca (“not an option”) or succumbing to a slow, mind-bendingly painful death from the side-effects of NZT (“really not an option”), while Rebecca is being pulled up the corporate ladder via a starring role in a Red Team / Blue Team exercise at Naz’s behest. Neither of these competing missions is a coincidence: it’s clear that our hero and heroine are both being played by various factions, the question is just how much the people playing them know and how far the people playing them will go.

Pretty damn far, I guess, considering the final scene of the ep, which is less of a surprise than a horrible inevitability – anything less would have been far too easy and Limitless isn’t going for easy.

Unlike so many procedurals on tv, the over-arching mythology/conspiracy here is genuinely multi-layered as opposed to just multi-tentacled: unusual, exciting, deep and menacing, with frighteningly believable stakes, both in terms of the big, global picture (as underlined by another guest appearance from Bradley Cooper) and the smaller, local one. That the show manages to leaven all this darkness with humour, imagination, a charming leading man in Jake McDorman as Brian, and a beautifully-judged partnership between him and Jennifer Carpenter’s Rebecca, makes it all the more impressive. If I had a quibble with this particular instalment, it would be that Rebecca’s sustained, almost unbelievable brilliance at the Blue Team exercise was verging on Mary Sue (or NZT?) territory, but that’s a minor niggle – the show’s great and so was this ep.

Limitless s1 ep 5

Not for the first time, Limitless filibusters a little in the first couple of minutes of ‘Personality Crisis’, by recapping three times: opening credits, previouslies, and the start of the episode itself. But given that the third version is a reconstruction of the most important parts of last week’s episode, with video, puppets, and a snappy Bob Dylan pastiche, it’s easy enough to forgive. In fact, the video – NZT Brian reminding Normal Brian not to tell Rebecca that her late father features in the FBI’s NZT file – sets up a dialogue between the two Brians, which runs throughout the episode, and again hints at the nature/nurture issues I wondered about before.

Anyway, it’s a procedural, so we need a Case of the Week. And, truth be told, it’s nothing special in itself: an investigation into a meth lab turns into a race against time to stop a terrorist group assembling a dirty bomb, target NYC. But, as before, the details elevate it: everything from Brian’s “bladder management”, together with computer graphics, while on a stakeout, through to the ambiguous resolution to the Case of the Week, giving Brian an ends-justifying-means dilemma, and leading to his realisation that he doesn’t want to become the sort of person who’s comfortable with shutting down the part of himself that cares about morality.

And there’s a new character: SWAT’s Casey Rooks, in a sort-of relationship with Rebecca, and played by Desmond Harrington, making it the second time he’s been Jennifer Carpenter’s on-screen love interest. I’d prefer Rooks not to be an ass – I think it would be out of keeping with the tone of the show – and so far he seems OK, although he’s clearly intrigued by Brian’s ability to pick up advanced self-defence technique in days. He could, of course, be a Morra plant. I don’t discount that possibility. Perhaps not quite as good as last week’s episode, but even on a medium flame Limitless still has wit, energy, and imagination in abundance.

Limitless s1 ep 4

images-34To distract himself from the loss of Shauna, Brian has thrown himself into a round of NZT-fuelled one night stands. But hang about – I thought the point was that he got one capsule a day, which wore off at about 9pm, so unless he’s going out on the pull at about 7.30…? I probably shouldn’t overthink this, particularly because Rebecca’s being remarkably tolerant of Brian, which in due course might lead to a ship I can get behind.

Anyway, Brian is read into the top secret investigation of Mao Zhang, an employee of a defence contractor, who is suspected of selling intel to China, specifically drone technology. As it happens, although this is ostensibly the Case of the Week, there isn’t very much that is whodunnity about it; its function is to provide a counterpoint to Brian’s own acts of treachery. Because Sands has started to flex his muscles: he wants Brian to break into Naz’s office and find out what the FBI knows about NZT, or Morra will decline to allow Brian his next anti-side-effects shot. And when Brian stalls by fabricating FBI files, Sands arranges for Brian’s father to be infected with a virus which requires him to be taken back into hospital.

If that weren’t enough, Arthur, an eccentric scientist who Brian first meets online, claims to have developed an immortal mouse. Arthur asks for help when the mouse is stolen, perhaps by his former business partner, who then turns up murdered with Arthur’s fingerprints all over him.(Somewhat distractingly – and I have no idea whether this was deliberate – the baddie’s name in the Case of the Week sounds a little like “mouse”: there’s a point when Rebecca is after “mouse contact”, or possibly “Mao’s contact”.) Brian suspects it’s a fit-up and decides to try and prove that Arthur isn’t guilty, although it would have been remarkable were his intervention actually necessary to ensure that at least one piece of exculpatory evidence – the DNA under the deceased’s fingernails – was taken into account. Still, it’s highly entertaining.

And there’s more: Rebecca’s dead father was an artist, and his dealer doorsteps Rebecca to tell her that he left three paintings behind, and would she like them? Rebecca declines, but later goes to see them in a gallery; this coincides with Brian reading through the FBI’s NZT files, and ends the episode with a double-WHOA moment.

‘Page 44’ is remarkably busy. But I watched it during a 50-minute train journey, roughly the same length as the episode, enjoyed every second of it, and disembarked feeling uplifted. I don’t want to damn Limitless with faint praise – which I sometimes do with network procedurals – nor do I want to build it up into something it isn’t. But once again the abundant wit – verbal and visual – of previous episodes were on full display, with a sense that the writers are able to confidently juggle the sombre and the silly. A show which has me smiling pretty much all the way through – even at Brian’s ridiculous T-shirt – is something to be treasured. I think Limitless is seriously good.