NEXT on Fox: We Head to Dartmouth to Find Where NEXT is Hiding in “File #3”

Credit: Fox

After tracking NEXT to Dartmouth via Ethan’s conversation with Iliza, we begin episode 3–which was dropped alongside episode 2 two weeks early–with a conversation between two women on an international flight. They conduct a conversation about robots and computer language and how the younger woman used to work in America. Now, it seems like she’s going home and something is amiss. Suspicions are confirmed when the plane experiences severe turbulence and appears to burst into flames, presumably killing everyone on board.

Sometime later, picking up where we left off in episode 2, a clearly terrified and concerned LeBlanc tracks down his daughter Abby and tries to get her to leave her home, get rid of her smartphone, and buy an old car. All of this is an attempt to protect Abby. She might claim that they never had a connection, but it’s obvious he cares about her in his own little way. He’s been showing it more and more as NEXT’s threat becomes more and the stakes are getting higher. However, Abby doesn’t believe him and tells him to leave her alone.

Ethan, Ty, and Salazar begin packing up with the sole intention of getting Ethan and Ty out of harm’s way. NEXT has learned the emotional bond that Salazar has with her son and vice versa. This makes Ethan as much of a target as Salazar is and that just won’t fly with either Salazar or Ty. Salazar warns her husband to stay away from traffic cameras, stay out of public places, and take back roads to avoid surveillance. The only problem is, Ty doesn’t heed that warning, and soon, NEXT issues an abducted child notice with Ethan’s picture and the description of Ty’s car. This quickly becomes a problem as Ethan and Ty try to avoid trouble with varying results.

Meanwhile, LeBlanc and Salazar go to Dartmouth to meet with a professor friend of Paul’s, Richard Pearish, head of a company called BioMotion. The company is working on things like prosthetics, robotics, and other things meant to help people who have disabilities. Pearish is disabled and uses a computer to speak, breathe, and walk. He tells his people to give Salazar and LeBlanc everything they need to find NEXT, but the search comes up short. It looks like they’ve hit a dead-end until Salazar notices a shrine for a woman named Sidra who used to work at BioMotion. She died in a plane crash two weeks earlier. Sidra is the woman we saw at the beginning of the episode. When LeBlanc mentions Sidra to Pearish, he notices something odd.

Turns out NEXT hijacked Pearish, literally, in an effort to test the bio-printers which print flesh-like skin to go over the robotics the company creates. Sidra got too close which is why NEXT fired her from the company and then killed her. Turns out, the server LeBlanc and Salazar are chasing was never there at the company. It came from outside but Pearish tracked it and saved it on an older system archive. As LeBlanc goes to remove the archive, NEXT commandeers some robot dogs to antagonize Salazar, and one of them unplugs Pearish, killing him before Salazar and LeBlanc can save him.

More things happen in this episode, but I don’t want to break down everything because some of it I did not see coming. Some of it brings startling implications for the future episodes which will bring Abby, Ty, and Ethan even further into the investigation and into NEXT’s twisted web. The people Salazar and LeBlanc care about are in grave danger and they don’t exactly understand just how much they are. Abby refuses to listen and even enlists her Uncle Ted to help but he can’t be trusted. That is becoming more and more clear.

A year ago this month I wrote in my Modern Love review that I have never been impressed with John Slattery as an actor. I am so glad to be wrong. Slattery is the star of this episode, even though “File #3” feels more like an ensemble endeavor than the previous two episodes. Everyone is involved with the investigations now, including Salazar’s team whose quick thinking protects Ethan and Ty from a whole lot of trouble in small-town California. But, again, no one shines brighter this week than Slattery. He is a subtle tour de force.

There are two scenes that blew me away this episode. One takes place between Salazar and LeBlanc while they are waiting for BioMotion to close for the night. After Salazar is done telling a story her grandma used to tell her, LeBlanc opens up for the first time in the series, all of his own volition. Before, his telling Salazar about his condition was the result of a hallucination at an inopportune time. This time, he chooses to answer a question and the moment gives the audience a look at what it’s like to live with a fractured mind. The way Slattery performs this moment is an exercise in tragedy and the beginning of a redemption. In fact, this entire episode works as a “redemption” for LeBlanc’s character. He’s been prickly and unapproachable for much of these first few episodes but the story he tells Salazar about hallucinations and not knowing what is real and what isn’t is heartbreaking. Slattery performs the scene looking straight ahead out of a car windshield but the inflections of his voice tell the audience everything we need to know. LeBlanc is scared and is masking it with what little bravado he has left.

The second time Slattery wowed me is the moment he realizes he’s too late saving Pearish. It’s a devastating moment for LeBlanc who’s been largely untouched by NEXT’s sinister web of bodily harm. Not anymore. Slattery knocks it out of the park here. He is subtly incensed that he lost a person on his watch and he watched it happened with little power to stop it. I feel like this is the first time he realizes just how big of a threat NEXT is and that no one is safe from it. I feel like, at that moment, he realizes just how much Abby is in danger. I also have a feeling that LeBlanc hasn’t lost many people close to him. If he has, it’s been because he’s not been as aware of it and nothing as final as death. Losing Pearish hits Paul hard and Slattery portrays all of that in the silent moments immediately after Pearish dies as Salazar is checking him for a pulse. It’s a beautifully executed scene on all fronts but none more than Slattery’s acting.

I also have to give writer Joy Blake kudos too. The episode gave me so much anxiety I had to stop in the middle of it and give myself a breather. Like Clements before her, Blake answers a lot of questions and still poses even more. She balances characters well and while Salazar’s team still isn’t fleshed out properly, she gives them more to do and gives them more character traits that are obvious and starting to solidify around them. “File #3” was a breathtaking episode and it can only go up from here.

Shelby Arnold
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