This week picks up immediately where we left off last week but with a twist.
A desperate, worried, and clearly distraught Salazar is led into an interrogation room. She’s been handcuffed on both her wrists and her legs. She is clearly being treated as a horrible criminal. In the room, she tries convince her interrogator that there is a rogue A.I. on the loose. This A.I. committed suicide, made people believe it was gone, but it isn’t. It’s still out there. Not only is it still out there, it has targeted Salazar and has weaponized her emotions against her causing her to appear as a threat to not only society but to herself. She is terrified and it’s obvious she loves her son.
The interrogator doesn’t believe a word she’s saying.
Meanwhile, back at Zava in Paolo Alto, LeBlanc, the programmers at Zava, and Salazar are surprised as the backup servers and power banks, which give the AI power, surge, causing the power banks and motherboards to go up in flames and causing the building to need evacuation. Salazar believes her troubles are over. NEXT self-destructed. There is no reason to worry anymore. However, LeBlanc isn’t convinced that it was that easy. A program as self-aware as NEXT wouldn’t allow itself to be destroyed. Salazar remains convinced, but the cracks are beginning to show.
Back in Portland, Salazar returns home to give Ethan the boost he needs to get through another day at school. She apologizes for not being there. She hates when she’s away from him. He does too. Before Salazar leaves, she makes an off-handed comment about Ethan having Iliza in his room. It doesn’t need to be there. It needs to be in the kitchen so they can all use it. While Ethan is getting ready for school, Iliza sends him a video his bullies recorded and reminds him that he can stop this torment if he were to kill his bullies. We see Ethan go and get the gun and presumably put it in his backpack and go to school.
Elsewhere, Salazar is beginning to notice things that aren’t quite right. She nearly goes through a green light and is hit in the intersection, only to discover the other light is green as well. Her superiors don’t believe her when she mentions the technological threat, even as they work to repair months and months of lost data from the hack. CM (Michael Mosley) fully believes and trusts in his boss. The other members of her team aren’t so sure. They know something happened, but the idea of a rogue A.I. doesn’t quite make sense to them. Since CM is the resident hacker, it makes sense to him that this could happen.
LeBlanc, also convinced about what’s going on, continues to deteriorate due to his fatal familial insomnia. He’s increasingly becoming more and more paranoid (with the right reason) and desperate to reach out to his daughter. His hallucinations are becoming more and more regular and he dismisses all of his staff to keep them from sounding the alarm. He figures he’ll be dead in three months anyway, so why not send them away.
After Ethan has a run-in with the bullies at school, he calls Salazar and spills how Iliza gave him the combination to Salazar’s gun safe and gave him everything he would need to become to get rid of the problem. This puts Salazar on a collision course with LeBlanc again, who agrees to help get Iliza to speak to Ethan so they can, hopefully, trace the source code’s location. They do. To Dartmouth, which is where LeBlanc and Salazar head to hopefully nip this whole thing in the bud.
There are so many tremendous things going on in this episode. Directors John Requa and Glenn Ficara create some tense moments that hold their tension due to their lingering on certain objects. For instance, when Ethan is heading into the school, the camera lingers on his backpack and does so until Salazar picks Ethan up and he spills the beans. In another tense sequence, as Ethan is making his way upstairs to talk to Iliza, the whole thing feels almost like a horror movie. I feel like I should have been yelling at Ethan from my computer to not go into his room because there lies the danger.
Of course, all of this is buoyed so well by Kim Clement’s script. Clements manages to do what most writers can’t do which is make the second episode even more interesting than the first. Clements builds on what Manny Coto started in the pilot and somehow makes it even tenser and even more urgent. That urgency never wanes. From the scene where Ethan is getting bullied, to the moments when LeBlanc is manically hammering nails into all his technology including his digital thermostat and his smoke detector, everything feels wracked with tension. Don’t even get me started on the conversation Iliza and Ethan have while LeBlanc, Salazar, and CM are trying to track Iliza’s I.P address. Clements balances so many plot threads and never drops the ball. She also gives us more to look forward to in future episodes, like Ted LeBlanc and his programmer Sarina, who are also on the search for NEXT. Salazar and LeBlanc and Sarina and Ted are going to have one heck of a collision, I can almost guarantee it.
As for the acting, the standout of this episode is Evan Whitten. Of course, I’d be remiss to not mention Fernanda Andrade, due to her opening scene, but Whitten stole the show. Whitten is the backbone of this episode, hands down. Everything revolves around him either directly or indirectly and he carries the emotional weight on his tiny little shoulders. The scene where he and Iliza are talking in his room is a breathtaking exercise of strength and resilience. Ethan is a badass, according to LeBlanc, and, honestly, so is Whitten. I hope we get to see more of him as the series progresses.
Episode three of the series has dropped early. So, expect my review in the next few days.
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- Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts on the Series Finale of Studio 60 - October 15, 2020