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'Intruders' series premiere recap: Can you keep a secret?

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “She Was Provisional” | Aired Aug 23, 2014

BBC America’s new series Intruders has a lot to say about life and death. We don’t know exactly what that is yet. The first episode is, smartly, less concerned with answers than it is with asking the right questions, which gives a lot of breathing room to the characters who ask them. This is the restrained, capable pilot of a show that already knows what it’s about and will tell us when the time is right. All we know so far is that across the West Coast, people are behaving strangely, and a few men in suits stand at the center of it all.

Barstow, California, 1990

A teenage girl named Donna blows out the candles on her birthday cake, surrounded by family and friends. She’s the kind of girl who locks the front door to the house before going to bed and falls asleep with her yearbook on her chest, dreaming of football captains Gary Fischer and Jack Whelan. While she sleeps, two men in dark suits pick the lock, slip into her bedroom and muffle her screams. One of them shows Donna a yellow, circular object and asks if she can keep a secret. (“It’s a secret you gave to us. We’re here to give it back to you, just as you asked all those years ago. We’re just here to shepherd you,” one of them says.) The man forces the yellow circle into Donna’s mouth.

intruders pilot frainDonna vomits and rocks in the corner, speaking a different language, while the men have a clinical conversation about how long it takes (years, sometimes) when “the older one doesn’t want to give up.” They leave her a bus ticket to Seattle and a thick black card embossed with the number 9. That morning, Donna wakes up on the lawn. Where is her family? Is no one worried? She studies the bus ticket as her pupils grow wide, then writes a note that reads, “Because in the beginning there was death,” and, “I am not Donna.” She underlines “not” multiple times. She’s very insistent about not being Donna. The girl who was once Donna fills the bath and slits her wrists, and as she dies, the bloody water splashes on her note. It’s addressed to Gary Fischer.

Seattle, Washington, present day

A man calling himself FBI Special Agent Shepherd (James Frain) knocks on a woman’s door late one rainy night. He’s one of the two men who shepherded Donna. He doesn’t look a day older, so unless showrunner Glen Morgan has been spending so much time with former The X-Files star Gillian Anderson that he forgot people could age (come on, we’ve all seen how much Gillian Anderson does not age), then there’s something sinister going on here. Shepherd trains a gun on the woman and demands the location of her husband, acoustics engineering professor Bill Anderson. When the woman doesn’t answer, Shepherd shoots her, along with her son Matt. He also sets a fire in the basement, because subtlety is not this guy’s game.

Birch Crossing, Washington

In the kind of idyllic seaside community where people emerge from bookstores to offer birthday greetings, former cop Jack Whelan (John Simm) is worried about his wife Amy (Mira Sorvino). She’s been acting strange lately. After lighting the candles on her birthday cake, Jack finds Amy dancing alone to jazz music, which she’s never liked before. To reignite whatever loving relationship they obviously had in the past, Jack proposes a trip to Paris, and he and Amy flirt before making out in the kitchen. Her pupils go almost totally black.

intruders sorvinoThe next day, Amy leaves for a business trip, jazz music blaring and instructs Jack not to call her office. Alone in the house, Jack receives a visit from old football cocaptain Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles). Every bit the retired cop, Jack pegs Fischer for following him yesterday, but waiting to make contact until Amy was gone. Fischer knows something. He makes Jack take him to the woods, where he tells the story of Judy and Matt Anderson’s murder. Jack suspects Bill, but then, Fischer points out, why would Matt tell 911 that there was an “intruder” in the house? Fischer prods Jack to investigate and hints about an incident that forced Jack out of the LAPD. Their entire conversation is layered with colloquial references to death, aging and rebirth.

Two nights later, Jack gets a call from a cab driver with Amy’s phone. That might explain why she hasn’t called him back, but it doesn’t explain why she’s not checked in at her hotel or why her calendar for the next month is completely empty. Jack borrows a friend’s car and heads to Seattle to reclaim Amy’s phone, which he uses to call her office. They conveniently shut him down. The phone also contains a number of vague texts to unknown numbers, including one that says, “We must wait until he’s dead.” Jack calls the number, but he only hears jazz.

Reno, Nevada

In a van beneath a highway overpass, Oz Turner (David Dastmalchian) broadcasts from a pirate radio station. He’s every bit the stereotypical conspiracy theorist, but since this is a Glen Morgan show, he’s also probably right. Turner tells his listeners about Bill Anderson and a society called Qui Riverti, “the ones who tried to kill him.” Unfortunately, Shepherd is one of those listeners. He tracks Turner’s signal and phones in, convincing him to meet when he calls him by his name.

intruders pilot kittles simmHuddled in the booth of a dive bar, Shepherd passes himself off as a fellow conspiracy theorist eager to talk about Bill Anderson. He gets Turner to explain some of Bill’s ideas, the craziest of which revolves around cathedral organs. In Europe, cathedrals are equipped some some pipes that produce sound too low for the human ear. Bill believes that if we could hear them, we would hear “how to never die.” Shepherd promptly bolts, but he shows up on Turner’s doorstep and insists that he’s risking his life to say something. When Turner lets him in, Shepherd makes the requisite “I Want to Believe” joke, then tells Oz that he should be proud of himself: “They do exist. And we don’t die. You do.” Shepherd wrestles Turner’s shotgun from his hands and shoots him in the head. Somewhere, Fox Mulder cries.

Finley Beach, Oregon

In a beach house with sheets on the furniture, Madison O’Donnell (Millie Brown) celebrates her ninth birthday. Those Qui Riverti members must really love birthday cake. Her mother insists on the phone that Madison doesn’t want to see her father, so Madison runs down to the beach in some impressively hardcore rain boots. She’s greeted by Shepherd, who holds up a sand dollar. He doesn’t even hand it to her; he just sets it on a rock and walks away, like he’s afraid to get too close. Shepherd comes back another day to hand Madison one of those cards embossed with the number 9. He pulls out a gun and calls her Marcus, but she pulls back. She cries that she’s just a kid and calls out for her mom, and Shepherd hesitates just long enough for her to escape.

Madison has fitful dreams of strangling a man, or possibly of being strangled. She wakes up and studies the sand dollar, then draws a bath. When her cat Loopy pays a visit, she initially dotes on him like any 9-year-old would, but she turns suddenly and drowns him. Realizing what she’s done, Madison sobs. Her cat’s life, like his name, was a roller coaster. Later that night, Madison calls Shepherd to scold him for bringing her back too early. She warns that “what goes around comes around” and leaves the house with a backpack.

intruders pilot madisonIntruders has a lot of talent behind the camera, and there’s just as much in front of it. Simm, long overdue for an American vehicle, is the standout so far; in his hands, Jack is reluctant but capable, confused but perceptive, and desperate but still just barely in control. He has immediate chemistry with Sorvino, who hits all the right notes as she distances herself from her husband. Young Millie Brown has a lot on her shoulders, but her emotional breakdown by the bathtub is impressive.

Is Madison now a dangerous man come back to life? Can Jack bring Amy back, or is she too far gone? What happened to end Jack’s career with the LAPD, and what does Fischer know? How does Shepherd not age, and why is Bill Anderson such a threat? Again, this is an episode of questions, but they’re interesting questions, so I’m in. Are you? Share your reactions!

The Intruders, rated TV-14, airs 10/9C on BBC America.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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