Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 24, 2019 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 4.122 million viewers total, 2.8/6 in Households, 1.026 million viewers and 0.8/4 with Adults 18-49, 0.3/3 with Adults 18-34, 1.1/5 with Adults 25-54
Is this it? Will this be the television how that makes a villain out of the mysterious child character with a dissociative amnesia? Is this show going to copy CHILDREN OF THE CORN or VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (but with only one child being the antagonist), instead of trying the networktize STRANGER THINGS? The final scene was reminiscent of a seemingly good and mannered character being evil and it made me think that the show doesn’t just want to be the latest science-fiction mystery story on television, but could actually turn around the expectedness of broadcast network mystery serials in the science-fiction genre, especially in the years following STRANGER THINGS, which made heroes out of kids. Will Tara Butters and Michelle Fazekas, a writing team I respect and whose previous works I like (at least some of them), go against the stream of broadcast network consciousness, or is EMERGENCE just going to be yet another one of those serial mystery dramas that is secretly about saving the world against the doomsday devices developed in a distant science factory sponsored by the Energy Department?
Those are the questions that roamed around my headspace following the final seconds of the episode, in which Piper removed what I believe could have been a tracker and decided to cover up her bloody cut and be mysterious about who she is, where she comes from, and what her deal is. She could be a character like Eleven in STRANGER THINGS – taken from her biological parents during her birth, experimented on to be a weapon for the government in black ops, escaped from the secret facility because she saw the opportunity and took it. Piper could be the target of the mystery men that were after her like Eleven was. Piper could be the central figure to a more science-fiction-heavy premise behind the pilot, because the writers couldn’t have just gone all in with what was really happening in this beach town that was just woken up by what is definitely not the crash of a science drone, because if the show happens to survive past its initial season, it can’t just be all about a mysterious kid with a questionable back story who gets targeted by a shadow government and a police chief of an unidentified town has to protect said kid. I think we’ve had that premise in broadcast television before, although I have to mention that I never saw a single minute of NBC’s BELIEVE.
As expected, this serial mystery drama did not get into what it’s going to be about in the long run. This hour exist to set up the characters and the tension, and to hook the audience with a simple premise to watch the next episode and maybe give the show a chance in the ratings war. Doing the “mystery kid gets hunted by mysterious people” thing for more than three episodes could get extremely boring in the fourth episode, and waiting to give answers could cost you viewers, which is why I dearly hope that ABC and Fazekas and Butters have learned from the mistakes of previous primetime serial mystery science-fiction thrillers and decided not to repeat them. But that brings along the question of why to do these kind of television shows to begin with then, when the only reason they exist on broadcast networks is to keep audiences engaged over 22 episodes and eight months. I’m pretty sure a scathing criticism about serial dramas on broadcast television and their fixation on a strict television season is necessary again, but I partially did that once after the premiere airing of the Kevin Bacon FOX thriller THE FOLLOWING, and I was eyed left and right like I was a crazy person. I will keep my scathing review in mind though, since this episode intrigued me enough to check out the next hour of Allison Tolman’s attempt to protect a kid that could either be a superhero or the supervillain of the story (please let it be the latter, I would give one of my kidneys to watch a broadcast network television show in which the innocent-looking child is actually the devil).
With all that in mind, this episode wasn’t particularly special or engaging in any way. The cast may look okay (Tolman delivering an expectedly great performance, but we all know already that she can carry a show and be the standout performer), but the story was breakfasted with the usual genre tropes and pretty much written by numbers. The mystery is all set up nicely, the protagonists and the shadowy antagonist have been introduced, questions have been asked and characters from different sides with competing agendas have been connected to build a potential team. At least this pilot did things better than some of the other high-concept mystery serials (I’m looking at you, THE EVENT), so the advantage is with EMERGENCE, although I would love to know why that title was chosen for the show. But I guess I can’t always have answers to my many questions, or the world wouldn’t be in any trouble at all. I do have one question though that may have a silly and “are you kidding me, how did you not realize this” answer: How did Piper get the box cutter? I can imagine that it was already in Jo’s jacket when she gave the probably freezing girl her jacket during the opening minutes, but while it’s an easy and logical answer that follows Murphy’s Law, it’s also a super convenient answer. I would rather think about the potential that Piper got the box cutter from the television that showed the mysterious symbol she cut out of her neck at the end of the episode, which means that not only is the chance for Piper being the villain of the show here, but also the fact that television is evil (at least in this series universe), now that it hands over weapons of certain kind of destruction to you. It’s new system of instant delivery, which Amazon may want to look into.