This week, episode 6 of NEXT begins with a glimpse at Somalia. People are being rounded up like cattle against their will and are being strapped onto gurneys by guys in what looks like hazmat suits. The people are begging for their lives, but the man in charge, a man with a lot of guns, is more interested in the shipment of weapons of war he receives. He states that someone is looking after them as more men in the hazmat suits open a box of vials. This all hits a little bit too close to home right now which should up the ante for this episode but fails to.
Back in California, Paul is starting to deteriorate and Abby is starting to notice more and more. It’s obvious that Paul is sick and just like last week, he is unwilling to say anything to his daughter. He pushes it aside and gets to work on decrypting the hard drive. Eventually, Abby basically demands he tell her what’s going on. Instead of telling her outright, he gives her a medical book and tells her to read it. As expected, Abby doesn’t take it too well, but she takes it better than I thought she would.
As Paul continues to decrypt the hard drive, he begins to hallucinate more and more. He hallucinates Abby as a young girl. He hallucinates his brother. He even hallucinates NEXT, who tells him that he can come up with a cure to FFI. Paul doesn’t believe it and the audience is led to believe this is another hallucination but is it really? Paul starts to believe the voice, but I don’t think we should. I don’t think he should. After hearing the voice of NEXT and beginning to panic, he starts to hallucinate multiples of himself. That was an interesting thing to see, multiple Pauls arguing with himself. It’s a great plot device that works well here, especially as Paul starts to get annoyed so he does something drastic to get his brain to shut up for once.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, Shea and Ty managed to get free from their bonds. They chase Nacio and Ethan to an old airfield on the side of the mountain. Nacio kills a guy and Ethan pulls a gun on Nacio, but thankfully, Shea and Ty come to the rescue. Ty gets Ethan to safety as Shea confronts her father for what turns out to be the last time. Shea claims that he came at her with a knife so she killed him, but when she tells this to Ty, he doesn’t believe her. Ty’s trust in Shea has come crumbling down and he no longer believes Ethan is safe with her. He tells her that they’re going to stay at his mom and dad’s until Shea can figure herself out and figure out the NEXT problem.
Ted, Paul’s brother, and Sarina continue to use NEXT to secure the future of Zava. In doing so, Ted manages to enter into a business venture with a Chinese tech company. He wants to gain access to a server farm, something NEXT has set up for itself. As Ted and the CEO talk, he assures the other CEO that their mutual governments won’t get the way of this business deal. But there’s something that Sarina discovers as she’s looking at the schematics of the server farm. She says that it’s years behind NEXT’s capabilities. Something’s going on and I can almost see Sarina’s incoming death from here.
As for Paul and Abby, after doing something incredibly stupid to himself, Paul finally manages to get some shut-eye. In the meantime, Abby calls Ted who tells her to destroy the hard drive that Paul was trying to decrypt. Paul’s angry at first, but he realizes that if Ted told her to destroy the hard drive then that means Ted has the server. Now, Paul and Ted are on a collision course with each other, and I only hope that it’ll happen sooner rather than later.
I’m going to be completely honest here and I always try to be honest, but NEXT is starting to wane. The first four episodes were mind-blowing. The cast was sharp. Their chemistry together was great. The plot was moving right along. The audience was given a narrative from an unreliable source which made things sizzle and made the audience think but the past two episodes have slowed down. The tension is gone and it feels like the writer’s room is trying to write for a twenty-plus episode season instead of a ten-episode season. The show feels bloated and like it’s lost its focus.
One of the most egregious things the show has done is split up Shea and Paul. By splitting up Shea and Paul, the writers are allowing more and more plot threads to seep into the narrative. I understand that the idea is to give the other actors an ability to shine and that the FBI has taskforces that work together on things but this is not a team that is working together anymore and the show was at its best when all these characters were in motion together and bouncing off of each other. Right now, everything feels disjointed. John Slattery, Fernanda Andrade, Michael Mosley, Eve Harlow, and Aaron Moten were great together. Slattery and Andrade were a dynamic duo that just worked from the beginning. Their chemistry was phenomenal and it worked so well. That chemistry is still there, but with everyone scattered to the wind, I’m not entirely sure who we’re supposed to be rooting for and who we’re supposed to be paying the most attention to.
NEXT worked better when it focused on Shea and Paul and gave the audience two protagonists. It worked better when it allowed Slattery and Andrade to not only work off of each other but to work off the rest of Shea’s team. By taking Shea and Paul out of that team and splitting them apart, I feel like the show has lost its focus. I feel like the show has lost its core emotional connection as well. The audience immediately met Shea and put Paul and Shea together. The first time we see Paul in a vulnerable moment is with Shea. The first time we see Shea’s vulnerability is when she’s with Paul. Yes, I realize this is making me sound like I ship them. I don’t. I simply think that there is a reason why we saw Shea and Paul together first and whatever that reason was has been abandoned by Shea and Paul’s separation in the narrative. It feels like there’s a lot of misdirection going on right now and that’s not how the show was set up at the beginning which makes this all the more frustrating.
I also feel like creator Manny Coto is trying to recapture that emotional connection we had to Shea and Paul separately via Ty, Shea, and Ethan as well as Abby and Paul but here’s the thing: it feels like there is no emotional connection between Abby and Paul because there isn’t. They’ve been at odds with each other since the beginning and Paul is not actively seeking to build that emotional connection. If he wanted to, he would’ve told Abby outright what was going on with him. On the flip side, Shea and Ty have been separated for so long that their initial connection (and obvious happiness) has been completely severed and the events of this episode have done nothing to help that connection.
As a member of the audience, I’m starting to feel like NEXT is becoming too cold and clinical, or should I say mechanical? The narrative is a mess of plot threads with next to no focus and no main protagonist to root for. Were it not for NEXT’s obvious narrative placement as the antagonist I think I’d almost be rooting for the A.I. to succeed because at least it has a clear character arc to focus on at the moment. Hopefully, “File #7” will fix this and the tension will return to the plot.
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