Limitless s1 ep 22


Spoilers, and a volcano lair.

‘Finale: Part 2!!’. Nearly done. As the search for Sands and his Legion of Whom gets under way Brian is back with the CJC, and back on the NZT. He deduces that the best way to find them – and their volcano lair, heh – is to work out what the Legion wants. But his immunity shots are wearing off and the NZT side-effects are starting to overwhelm him; he’s hallucinating,

As it happens, what Sands and the Legion are planning is a typically off-the-wall spin on a fairly standard plot: they want to make money by shorting certain stocks, but their scheme depends on the consequences of a melting ice-shelf, the emergence of a new Northwest Passage, and just how Canada and Greenland are going to divide the spoils of that. And, meantime, Brian is trying to find Piper: partly because she can provide him with immunity shots, and partly because he likes her, which means that the potential Brian and Rebecca hookup isn’t happening. In fairness, it should be said that the show has kept their friendship nicely balanced; apart from the occasional glance and what-if? it’s been plausibly platonic.

So Canadian nationalism rears its head – while wearing a spectacular bodysuit; a couple of diplomats get shot; the NZT lab is found; Sands takes a bullet. And Piper – perhaps improbably, but let’s not quibble at this stage in the game – turns up at Brian’s family house to give him a permanent immunity shot, before leaving again; she doesn’t want anyone else to get access to the antidote, but Brian deserves it. In fact, one of the themes of this episode is – and, again, we’ve picked up on this before – that NZT didn’t change Brian’s fundamental personality; it just made him a mega-intelligent version of who he already was. “You’re a hero”, Rebecca tells him, possibly still angling for some post-Piper sugar. “On or off the pill”. So the CDC wants him back, and he’s even getting his own crime-fighting squad, which is a satisfying, if low-stakes, ending. And there’s room for a coda, sweet and funny by turns, in which Brian recruits for his squad. As a season finale it leaves a couple of loose ends – where’s Piper going, where’s Morra, and whither Brebecca? – but nothing too consequential, which means it also works as a series finale. Which is good; because, of course, it is.

Now, I get slightly irked when people claim that a show they love has been cancelled because, y’know, it’s just too intelligent/quirky/witty/sui generis for everyone else. The quickest of looks around the current landscape proves that, more than any other time in TV history, there’s something for everyone. (And, as I’ve said before, the bar has been raised even for standard procedurals, which have a speed and complexity that couldn’t have been contemplated ten years ago. Say what you like about Quantico, for instance – and we just have – but you couldn’t complain about a shortage of plots. If anything, it’s too cluttered.)

But sometimes, no matter how good it is, a show just doesn’t find its audience. Perhaps Limitless would have been more successful, in relative terms, on a cable or streaming channel; we’ll never know. It will stand, though, as a season’s worth of dazzling, inventive, imaginative TV, which I would still wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. After the clusterfuck that was late-period Dexter, it was lovely to see Jennifer Carpenter visibly enjoying herself again (I think). And in due course the real takeaway might be that Jake McDorman is a genuine, name-up-in-lights star. I hope to see him back on TV soon, in another vehicle worthy of his talents.


Limitless s1 ep 20

It’s Rebecca’s turn to narrate, in “Hi. My Name Is Rebecca Harris”, although when we first see her she’s about to be shot. Winding back a little, we pick up at the end of the last episode, and the conversation between Brian and Rebecca which has been coming for the whole season: he promised not to lie to her, he’s been lying to her, and he needs to come clean. Which he does, about (I think) more or less everything; all the good stuff, anyway, like her father, the enzyme, Morra, the coat, Piper, Sands, and a stolen lasagne. Rebecca is all, well, let’s get Sands for killing my father, and I’m going to take your daily NZT dose to help things along.

Unsurprisingly, Rebecca on NZT is an even more amazing detective than normal (Brian rightly says it’s not fair), which means that even after she gets shot by Sands’s man she’s more than up to the task of dangling bait and tempting Sands into having a nibble. (In the middle of that I really liked Sands texting Brian to warn him immediately before the shots were fired. Sands has been less of an out-and-out villain than he at first seemed to be.) Admittedly the show needs some less-than-convincing scientific jiggery-pokery to get to where it wants to be, including a conversation, using a homemade EEG, with someone who has locked-in syndrome. Brian and Rebecca think he can be used as a witness in court. Uh, not sure about that, dudes.

The real kicker comes at the end, when Rebecca deduces that, by bringing Sands down, Brian has sacrificed his immunity shots for her sake. Piper is still out there, I suppose, although that might mean a shipping dilemma – did Rebecca’s “father” mean that she likes Brian, or that she likes Brian? But with Sands’s team now having the ability to manufacture NZT and its antidote, only two more episodes – ever – to go, and the show apparently now incapable of being less than stunning, we’re going out on a high.

Limitless s1 ep 19

Brian is back home, but isn’t strutting around quite as much as before: Naz, understandably, wasn’t delighted when Brian hit Russia while carrying contraband NZT. So he’s had the HQ! taken away, there are lots of new rules, and two additional minders: Mr X and Mr Y, supervising him 24/7. Mr Y will, in due course, turn out to be a Sands placeman.

But before that there’s a Case of the Week to be solved: the murder of billionaire Gordon Roper, who had his right kidney removed by the killer. Roper had been awaiting a transplant, and to start with it looks as if he jumped the queue and bought a kidney, which was subsequently repossessed. Now, at this point I was thinking “Hang about – hasn’t someone already done organ repossession, and quite recently as well?” (Answer: yes.)

Then the storyline changes direction and becomes about the pioneering 3D printing of a live and transplantable human organ, with Roper interested both as someone needing a kidney, and as an investor in Biosoma, the company developing the technology. And then it becomes something else again, with poor old Stavros taking one for the team in order to track down the sort of underworld doctor capable of transplant surgery. In lesser hands the Case would have been something of an afterthought, given how much else was going on in the episode, but it was brisk, imaginative and fun; and it even gave us a gleefully nasty conclusion, which also served to explain the episode’s title.

Meantime, the season-long arc is increasing in intensity. Piper is back in NYC, having developed the enzyme which will free her and Brian from Morra. In order to meet her, Brian needs to shake Mr Y; what he doesn’t know, though, is that Ike and Mike are also following him, at Rebecca’s direction. Piper doesn’t turn up for their meeting, though, and someone leaves her bloodstained bracelet in Brian’s safe house. So Brian confronts Morra, who says that he didn’t know Piper was still alive, and concludes that Sands has gone rogue, although he seems relaxed about it. Surprisingly so, given that Sands now has a gang of villains and the capability, thanks to Piper, to manufacture NZT and its antidote. But in any event Rebecca’s had more than enough, and when Brian gets home she’s waiting for him with a pair of handcuffs, and not in a good way. Another terrific episode.

Limitless s1 ep 17

Brian’s trying to salve his conscience about his constant lying to Rebecca. This he does by taking one of his secret stash of NZTs, and heading onto the streets at night for some additional, out-of-hours crime-fighting. But then the lights start going out in Manhattan, which Brian traces to a mysterious bacteria that feeds off electricity. As he and Rebecca investigate they’re exposed to the bacteria. And, since it might be of extra-terrestrial origin (spoiler: it isn’t), and might be deadly (spoiler: it isn’t), and they might be contagious (spoiler: they aren’t) the two of them are put in quarantine.

Now, a few weeks ago, when reviewing a spectacular Blindspot, CJ suggested that the going-undercover-as-a-couple kind of episode is “the second-greatest gift a procedural TV show can give”. I’d also put the “quarantine” genre in the top 5. You know the sort of thing: the show’s will-they-won’t-they OTC find themselves in an industrial refrigerator with no hope of rescue, or in a locked bank vault, or in a broken-down lift in an office building when everyone’s gone home for the weekend and their phones are out of charge. Or in any situation which forces them to confront their feelings about each other; then, ideally, make out like teenagers. Such as, for example, quarantine.

It was pretty clear from the get-go, though, that this wasn’t happening here. Firstly, the place where Brian and Rebecca are quarantined is like a greenhouse rather than a love-nest, with plenty of people watching them, so any chance of “Well, if one of us is contagious then both of us are, so if we’re gonna die anyway…” is out of the question. But then the two of them start arguing – Rebecca had Brian’s house searched and some of his contraband NZT had been found – and the trust and truth issues which have been there since the first episode are finally out in the open. In fact, when the two of them get out of quarantine – saliva very much not swapped – Rebecca tells Brian that he’s getting a new handler as she can no longer work with him.

Not only that, but Brian’s sister Rachel had decided, despite his warnings, to confide in her family – and in Ike – about the incident in last week’s episode when the injured Sands turning up at Brian’s door. And she’d also worked out there was a drug involved, and had even lifted a couple of them herself. Which means that when Brian, seeking a refuge from the Rebecca situation, turns up at his parents’ house he’s cold-shouldered by his mother, who – understandably – thinks he’s mixed up in the sort of things that a mother doesn’t want her son mixed up in. To a certain extent, of course, she’s right about that.

The blackout will turn out to be cover for a crime which is of no great consequence: the episode’s real takeaway is Brian’s deception of family and co-workers finally catching up with him, as it was always going to. And so, with nowhere to turn, he decides that he’s got to do something to fix his relationship with Rebecca, and he leaves her an apologetic note saying that he’s going away. It’s not the episode I was expecting by any means, but it’s powerful and surprisingly sombre, and demonstrates just how well Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter have fleshed out their characters.

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.

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 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.