We have hit the halfway point of Fox’s event series NEXT. Each episode continues to not only thrill us but to also introduce new plot points that are equally interesting as they are terrifying. “File #5” is one such episode. While the episode, blessedly, gives the audience a little bit of a breather–and it gives the team a chance to regroup–the ending is sure to make any fan watching hold their breath until the next episode. Things are starting to heat up, more pawns are coming into play, and an already shady character is snagged by a little birdie with “sharp claws.” What does all this mean? Keep reading to find out.
As with every episode of NEXT, we begin our story immediately where we left off. The FBI building is on fire. People are running away from the blast. There are death and destruction everywhere and our team is, understandably, shaken, though none more so than Gina who is obviously scared witless by the injuries CM has endured from the bombing. He was closest to the blast (besides Mathis who, as I predicted, doesn’t survive the explosion) and by the looks of it, ends up with a hunk of steel in his side. Salazar tells Gina to go look after CM in the hospital right before Ben tells Salazar that Ty’s car’s been impounded 15 miles from the safe house. A visibly distraught Salazar tells Ben to find Paul then sets out to check on her family.
As expected, Paul has the hard drive that went missing minutes before the blast. He and Abby are on the move and Abby is getting more and more concerned about her father. He’s acting far different than he ever has before and Abby, ever observant, is begging to notice. However, Paul has a plan. He doesn’t trust the FBI. He doesn’t trust anyone. He has a place he’s taking Abby where he can decrypt the hard drive safely without any interference, but first, he must create a digital footprint to throw the FBI and NEXT off his tracks. They check into a swanky hotel and relax for a moment of quiet. In that moment of quiet, Abby remembers the time when Paul took her to Costa Rica on a business trip. Better times for the pair.
However, things begin to deteriorate. Abby accuses Paul of buying drugs. Paul is powering through an FFI induced migraine and when Abby searches for evidence of drugs, she comes across the smuggled hard drive. Paul snaps and in his fear, berates Abby, asking if NEXT corrupted her among other questions. Abby is terrified and starts sobbing, and finally just asks if Paul is sick. He doesn’t answer. They escape from the hotel before Ben can find them and in the old slave tunnels under the city, Abby asks again, but Paul continues to remain silent. (Cue me yelling at the screen for some honesty, for god’s sake.) It’s a pattern that continues as Paul and Abby get out of the city. The issue is compounded later when Paul realizes they’re being followed. Are they really? Or is this another FFI induced hallucination? We don’t know.
Meanwhile, in the hospital, Gina tries to convey the urgency of the situation that the hospital can’t use anything digital while treating CM. The nurse and the doctor are skeptical but since Gina is in the FBI they appease her and do as she asks. CM survives but is in a lot of pain and CM is clearly shaken up by the ordeal. Gina learns he has a son and an ex-wife and the revelation stuns her. It seems the two of them are poised to get even closer. This is further compounded when NEXT finds CM via his electronic ankle brace. Gina prevents a nurse from giving him a fatal dose of the drug fentanyl for his pain. CM remarks on this but Gina tries to sweep it under the rug.
Back at the safe house with Ty and Ethan, Nacio, the man who was “fixing a pipe” in the previous episode, teaches Ethan how to cast a fishing line. Nacio is impressed with Ethan’s quick learning skills. Ethan tries to get Nacio to go fishing with them, but Nacio stays behind with the promise to help cook whatever Ethan catches. Salazar arrives at the safe house in time for dinner and it’s immediately obvious that Nacio and Salazar know each other. Salazar is terrified and angry at this visitor, the emotion clear on her face and clear as the dinner continues. Finally, at her wit’s end, she tries to get Nacio to leave, but he won’t and he’s got a gun trained at them under the table. Turns out, Nacio is Salazar’s father and he’s there for Ethan, sent by NEXT to force Salazar’s hand. Needless to say, things don’t go well, but we know Ethan, and we know he’s a badass kid. So we shouldn’t count him lost just yet.
Overall, I felt that this episode was the weakest one, a kind of calm before the storm episode that focuses more on building plot than executing said plot in a tense manner. “File #5” is here to link the big moments together and serve as a catapult for the more intense storytelling coming up in future episodes. It breaks up the team and makes them appear weak and I feel that will be NEXT’s downfall. While I don’t exactly know what’s going to happen next (who really does?), I feel like we’re in line for a bait and switch. The team’s going to come back together and NEXT will be taken down, but at what cost? We already know Salazar will be arrested sometime in the future, probably without Paul to help her. Will he be dead? Will Abby end up helping? There are so many questions left and I hope that creator Manny Coto got to create a fulfilling ending and we won’t be left with a cliffhanger to end the series.
Despite the slow, almost creeping pace of this episode, we are introduced to many new plot threads that are going to be interesting. Are they interesting now? Depends. This episode might end up being one of the most important episodes of the show. Who knows? But for now, it felt underwhelming in a show that, for the past four episodes, has been nail-biting from start to finish. It just didn’t fit properly. It’s a shame, but it was still nice to watch unfold.
Fortunately for Slattery, Andrade, and the rest of the cast, this was a fantastic episode for character building. As someone who appreciates characters and how they interact with each other as well as the environment they inhabit, it was fascinating to watch Eve Harlow (Gina) courageously chest up to a man she imagines is there to harm CM. It’s fascinating to watch Matthew Molsely (CM), a normally large and in charge presence, reduced to a physically and emotionally broken man who is now paying for past indiscretions. What’s even better is getting to see Elizabeth Capuccino (Abby) standing toe to toe with John Slattery (Paul) and chewing up scenes like she was born to play this character. She nails down Abby’s fear and emotionality perfectly. Even though we haven’t had many scenes with Abby so far, she feels like a fully developed character who is equal parts her own person as well as the perfect shadow of her father, whether she likes it or not. Don’t even get me started on Andrade who expertly portrays Salazar’s rage in the face of her father who is threatening her family.
All of these moments bring some more humanity into an otherwise cool tech thriller. It’s these moments that make NEXT stand out. Coto and the writers know how to balance the warmth and realness of the human characters with NEXT’s cold and calculated AI. Again, could the plot of this episode been a tad stronger? Yes, but the character building makes up for it with oodles of kudos to spare.
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