There are just two episodes left of Fox’s event series NEXT. The two-hour series finale airs tonight at 8/7c. But for now, let’s get caught up on “File #8” and the lengths the team is going through to finally put an end to this rogue A.I. once and for all.
The episode begins with Shea in a disclosed facility. We’ve seen this before in previous episodes, but we are finally seeing it again which means we are inching ever closer to the end. What end are we going to see? Not a good one, it doesn’t seem. Shea is being held and questioned for her involvement with NEXT and the events that have transpired so far over the course of the season. Her captors don’t believe her stories, but she is desperately trying to let them know that she and her team had to do what they needed to to save the world. She ominously says that Paul knew what they were facing and he always knew. He had one final move but so did NEXT.
Back in real-time, the elderly parents of an NSA operative named Mason, who works in the server room of the NSA, gets lost on the way to an urgent care center. Rather, NEXT leads them in the wrong direction. They call their son in a panic. Mason responds appropriately and sets out to find them.
Meanwhile, power outages and water grids all over the country are starting to fail. Paul and the team watch from their bunker with increasing alarm. The only way NEXT can release a bioweapon into the world is if the infrastructure is damaged. From its seat in the NSA, it’s doing just that. Paul and the team know they have to stop it. Ben and Gina head to find a whistleblower that revealed the NSA blacksite, only to find her dead. They both head back to the bunker with the woman’s NSA ID card and don’t call the death in. The team finds it suspicious that Paul is demanding that they leave the body there, but they comply.
At the bunker, Paul explains that the only way to stop NEXT is to get inside the NSA and introduce a hardware virus to the server. CM points out that it took hackers over 10 years to create a hardware virus that took out the Iranian Nuke program. Paul reveals he created a hardware virus in 18 months and it’s in the archives at Zava. Even though Zava is teeming with FBI agents, thanks to the NSA’s raid on Zhai’s plane the previous episode, Ted and Paul decide to break into Zava and give the FBI and the A.I. “what it wants,” meaning Ted is now a walking, talking target to whatever NEXT wants to do to him. While Abby and Shea are watching a live security feed of Zava, Ted is questioned by the FBI and Paul infiltrates the company.
Things are going smoothly. Ted distracts the FBI but Ben lets his father know Ted and Paul’s plan. Ben’s father tips the FBI off right about the time Paul walks into his office, only to discover it’s now a breakroom and he takes hostages so he has time to work and download the virus to a thumb drive. The FBI agents are beginning to believe Ted which allows Ted to work as a hostage negotiator. At the bunker, Shea and Abby watch helplessly as FBI agents move in. Meanwhile, Ben begins to feel guilty about what he’s doing but he can’t talk his dad out of believing that NEXT is the next step for United States supremacy. Gina catches him but he lies easily and tells Gina that he’s kind of developed feelings for her. Gina, however, is obviously beginning to fall for CM and Ben knows this. They promise to talk later.
Back at Zava, Paul suffers a relapse of his disease and hallucinates a person outside the door of his office. He fires a gun at the hallucination but his firing of the gun makes the FBI alert SWAT. Abby begs Paul to give up and turn himself in but he can’t do that. He wants to see NEXT destroyed. Ted takes the opportunity and alerts Paul to the knowledge that the FBI knows about the virus and he’s arrested. As soon as that happens, the SWAT team moves in to execute Paul. Only, he’s nowhere to be found.
As Ted is led out of Zava, Paul escapes into the world. It’s a rare and short-lived win as the team quickly discovers that the blackouts are becoming more widespread and are starting to affect the West Coast.
It seems we have finally gotten away from the bloated storytelling of episodes five and six and we are in a much more cohesive plot that is not only tense but also lean, mean, and down and dirty. This is the kind of story that I like to see and the kind of episode structure that worked so well in the first four episodes. Only one new plot thread is introduced–in the form of Mason, the NSA worker–but this new little tidbit seems to serve the broader story and whatever is going to happen in the final two-hour series finale. The next step is to infiltrate the NSA, but now that the NSA knows what’s going on, I don’t foresee things going well. It probably explains why Shea is being held in a secure facility somewhere.
However, one thing I’d like to know and I hope is revealed in the finale is this: where is the rest of the team? The narrative has decisively pulled away from being just the Paul and Shea show so why is Shea the only one being interviewed and questioned? Does this mean that no one else makes it out alive? I’m nervously awaiting the finale for that question to be answered. Hopefully, this series won’t end with a cliffhanger.
Other than the plot, which is tense and well-paced, the acting in this episode is fantastic. As always Fernanda Andrade knocks it out of the dang park and delivers a compelling performance as Shea. The first two minutes alone gave me chills. There is so much going on with Shea, so many emotions, and Andrade captures her desperation and anger with such ease. Elizabeth Cappuccino also delivers a fantastic performance as Abby Leblanc. Where I once lamented the lack of emotionality and warmth between Abby and Paul, this episode proves that Abby still loves her father. Her father, on the other hand, is one of those people who is willing to risk everything–including his own life–to see a plan through, but, to be honest, that wasn’t the Paul we met in the beginning.
Paul’s character arc and the relationship arc between Paul and Abby have been such beautiful things to see and Cappuccino and John Slattery go for the jugular every time. I would love to see Slattery again in another thriller. His calm, cool, demeanor and chilling decisiveness as Paul on a mission gave me chills. I love Slattery in this role. It easily shows his range and capabilities beyond his role as Roger in Mad Men. I can’t wait to see how he and the rest of the cast handle the series finale. Seeing them go toe-to-toe with NEXT is going to be a sight to behold.
So, don’t forget to tune in tonight at 8/7c for what is shaping up to be a tense and thrilling finale.
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