Here’s a bold statement: episode three of Pioneer One may go down in history as one of the most program-revolutionizing episodes in a series, ever. In this episode we saw a complete gear shift – characters were fleshed out and brought to life in a hitherto unexplored fashion, giving far more depth to the show on the whole. The actors, whether under some adjustment of direction or simply achieving comfort in their roles, seemed to blossom and take a giant step forward towards achieving their potential. In some cases, such potential was revealed where it had previously not been clear.
Before I go any further into my review, I must disclose two things. First, this review does contain spoilers, and I will not clearly label them. So if you have not yet watched it, stop reading and stream/download it now – then proceed. Second, unlike with the previous two episodes I was completely sober when watching this third installment. See? No need for an intervention.
I have already lauded the character development and acting in this episode, and these elements will comprise the bulk of this review. Why? Because the story was not greatly advanced. Plot took a back seat to “getting to know you”, and this is more or less OK. The end result was an episode that was thoroughly engaging regardless. My only concern is that what plot was advanced seemed to be mostly sub-plot – and I would hate to see the primary storyline diluted by too much flotsam and jetsam. There was nothing inherently bad about these asides and incidentals. However, some struck me hit or miss. Some I am fairly certain will have a major impact on future episodes. Time will tell.
One example of such hit or miss storytelling was the puzzling glimpse into Tom Taylor’s personal life. After a cursory and somewhat clumsy conversation between Tom and Dr. Walzer about Walzer’s failed marriage, Tom was suddenly desperate to escape quarantine to go to his rather impatient and mostly unlovable significant other to pop the question. No doubt this was intended to grip us, as it was left a cliffhanger, but it seemed so hastily thrown-together as to feel like a non-sequitur. I found myself not the least bit emotionally involved in the scenario.
And while I’m speaking of Tom Taylor, let me state that while your mileage may vary, to me he went from being one of the most, if not the most, likable characters on the show to something of an unsympathetic dick. It’s the only character whose progression, in my opinion, ended up a regression.
Case in point: in this episode he delivered the worst pep talk in history to a distraught Jane Campbell when she was doubting her suitability as companion to the stricken “Martian boy”, Yuri. His idea of motivation was to tell her, “Sure, there are tons of people who are better than you. But you’re the one we’re stuck with, m’kay?” Now, I have already pointed out that he seems unprepared and unsure of how to handle the situation in which he’s at the helm. Understandable. Maybe that sequence was intended to underline this. And, while I’m proposing excuses, maybe the whole rush-to-marriage-proposal thing was meant to illustrate how fed up he is with being in charge. Maybe his sudden desperation to escape quarantine was, whatever his ultimate motive for so doing, more or less symbolic of his need to escape the turn his life has suddenly taken.
But at this juncture you may be asking yourself, unless you were good enough to watch the episode before reading this review, “Who is Jane?”. She’s a new character brought abruptly onto the scene to help keep Yuri company, and to perhaps elicit from him some intelligible responses to the inevitable onslaught of questioning to which he’ll be subjected when he’s recovered more. In a nutshell, she’s a nurse who’s experienced working with sick kids, and she happens to have a passable grasp of the Russian language. (Though this was never fully illustrated.)
She is, quite simply, the most stunning element of the show thus far, and if the preview of episode four is to believed, she will (thankfully) play a much larger role in plot to come. She is well and believably acted, but more importantly, she’s identifiable and you cannot help but relate to her on any of a number of levels. And for my money the best scene in the entire series thus far is her attempt at storytelling, guiding the clearly frightened and suffering Yuri through a little good old-fashioned escapism. It wasn’t not the first time someone reached out to him with a personal touch – more on that in a bit – but it’s the most touching outreach. Combining a simple fairy tale with something I can only describe as interpretive dance (and this is the only time you’ll ever hear me mention interpretive dance in a positive light), she came across as graceful, almost ethereal, and you couldn’t help but fall in love. And, for what it’s worth, it was one of the least choreographed-looking dance sequences I can recall seeing in TV or film. The end result was a totally organic scene.
Since we’re on the topic of reaching out to Yuri, let’s discuss the brief but important conversation Dr. Walzer had with the young lad. Walzer veered sharply from his Vizzini-esque path in this episode, becoming someone it’s possible to truly like. During his little chat with Yuri we saw a side of him that’s not yet been highlighted. We were given a chance to better understand what motivates him. And the show is better for having one of its central characters clearly explained.
But that’s not the only case of “meet and greet” with already-established players. Remember the guy with the emo haircut? Turns out he’s not so much emo, but actually just a nerd, and a fun nerd, at that. (He never stood a chance at being hip; he was named after Adlai Stevenson.) Why it took three episodes to learn more about him I can only speculate – however, getting to know him brings about another layer of polish and greater chance of immersion to the series. Perhaps it’s coincidental that it was Jane who brought him out of his shell. Then again, maybe not.
One last instance of character development, as well as a shining example of acting vastly improved from the previous episode, came in the form of the Canadian liaison, whose acting was stiff and actually distracting in episode two. In this episode, however, we were shown more of his character – a character who continues to assert his importance to Tom verbally, but more or less rolls over when told. And finally, this was brought to life with better-delivered dialog and body language. Hell, he even made a witty remark. A vast improvement.
“Vast improvement” is actually the key phrase when it comes to the entirety of episode three. And considering Pioneer One was a solid show to begin with, that’s a feat. As I pointed out in my review of the first two episodes Pioneer One began with much room for growth. It has made good on its promise and grown. I am greatly looking forward to episode four and hope you’ll join me both in watching it when it’s released, and in reading my future reviews of the series.