When NBC premiered The Event last fall, both producers and audiences had high hopes that the next Lost had graced the small screen. But month after month, the viewership fled and never returned, leading to The Event's cancellation last week.
Does the season finale - now the series finale - answer the question that viewers have been asking since the premiere?
It goes without saying that this review will contain spoilers for The Event finale as well as earlier episodes - read on at your own risk!
In last week's episode, "The Beginning of the End", President Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood) began to recover from his poisoning with the help of first lady Christina (Lisa Vidol.) He returned to the White House to re-take the Oval Office from his assailant, Vice President, conspirator and political rival Raymond Jarvis (Bill Smitrovich). Meanwhile, Leila (Sarah Roemer) had been infected with the virus that Sophia (Laura Innes) is planning to spread throughout the world. Then, a mysterious blue light appears above the Earth.
There are three plots running through the season series finale, "Arrival." First and foremost, Sophia and her team of extra-terrestrials try to deploy the virus at critical locations around Washington D.C., spreading it in the hopes of euthanizing the entire human population. President Martinez must win back his position by convincing his cabinet to reinstate him, so that he can stop Sophia and contain a series of earthquakes spreading across the planet. Last and definitely least, Sean (Jason Ritter) desperately worries about his half-alien girlfriend Leila, who is still fighting off the infection.
It's not hard to see why The Event's viewership dropped like a stone after the initial revelation of the aliens, the catalyst for all the conflict and drama throughout the series. While the story itself is a fresh take on invasion plots like the various incarnations of V and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there's very little to indicate that the show you're watching is science fiction. Take away a few shots of the space anomaly and about thirty seconds of dialogue, and this could be a rather tame episode of 24.
There's nothing wrong with subtle sci-fi, but broadcast viewers probably wanted something either more benign or more overt; aside from a few "wow" moments spread throughout a half-dozen episodes in the first season, there's very little here that excites. However, there is a huge reveal at the end of the finale, which (frustratingly) opens an ambitious and unapologetic cosmic story arc. It's a shame that this will never be explored.
One of the largest complaints levied against the opening episodes of The Event was the reliance on disjointed flashback scenes. Since its mid-season return, the series has done away with these gimmicky and exposition-heavy sequences, and is better for it. The main thread of Sean, Martinez and company stopping Sophia's viral teams works well enough - loading the episode with tension and cat-and-mouse chases. The looming specter of the spatial anomaly makes you wonder what would come next if Sophia successfully wipes out the humans.
Likewise, the political scheming in the White House as Martinez and Jarvis jockey for the most powerful political office on the planet is compelling. It's not quite at The West Wing's level of political drama, but it's pretty good for a series on the narrative level of The Event. Unfortunately, the reveal that closes the conflict (as well as Leila's cliched revelation) falls flat. We've seen these tricks before, and mixing them in with "aliens" that are indistinguishable from humans doesn't make them any easier to swallow.
In fact, The Event has suffered from a narrative malaise ever since its opening episodes. Sophia is fascinating as a character ruthlessly dedicated to her cause, and Martinez is a believably upstanding Commander in Chief, but the rest of the characters (human, visitor and hybrid alike) are all just sort of... there. It's clear that the producers want the viewers to care about Sean and Leila, but with mediocre performances and the fate of two planets at stake, it's hard to give them the same emotional investment as the more powerful players. Veep Jarvis seems menacing and heavy-handed without any real reason to be -- i.e. you know he's a bad guy because he's doing bad things.
But the admirably complex and consistent storyline that has carried The Event for the past year does not falter at the last hurdle. Viewers will finally get a (very) small peek at just what the titular Event is, and the big finish will leave die-hard fans wanting more. It really is too bad that the cliffhanger twist at the season's conclusion won't be explored - it's easily the most interesting thing that's happened in the series so far. It almost makes me wish that NBC would move The Event to sister station Syfy, just to find out what happens next . The show could easily continue with a cable budget and viewership.
With The Event concluded, another science fiction series bites the dust before it gets a chance to become really compelling. While the action is good in the finale, the performances and plot won't surprise anyone. It's a shame that the series ends on such an interesting note, considering that we'll never know what develops next.
An editorial note to screenwriters and producers pitching new shows: television is ruthless, and it's only becoming more-so as broadcast and cable must battle video games and the web for the attention of viewers.
When you make a new series, be sure and end the first season in such a way that it satisfies your fans. I'm not saying don't set up for a bigger story - that's one of the core strengths of an episodic medium. But treat each new block of episodes like it might be your last - because as recent years have taught us, it very well could be, even with something as well-funded and heavily promoted as The Event.
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