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intruders pilot

'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.

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