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It took the show nineteen episodes to get here, but “Children of Men” is a fairly decent hour of television. The show has moved at a snail’s pace at times, slowly creeping towards the more anticipated and interesting narrative developments. While it has done a good job with keeping some mystery alive, the show has done so in an infuriating, frustrating way, giving us glimpses and hints here and there without ever really developing a rich narrative. As a result, the mystery of the show: the need to uncover the secrets of the mythology have become much more important and fascinating than the characters who inhabit the universe, when it should have been the other way around. It is hard to sell a program solely on the intricacies of a premise without adequate characters to support it. While there are an abundance of characters on the show with compelling backstories, the writers have seldom taken advantage of that richness and fleshed out who these people are and the reasons behind their actions. Our protagonist and hero, Miles, has been stuck in the same dilemma since the very beginning (as he battles with his past actions and attempts to redeem himself by protecting his family); the specific plot situations might change, but his inner conflict is always the same. The same can be said for almost every character in the series. Monroe continues to reign tyrannically over the Republic; Rachel is guilt ridden about her involvement in the blackout and willing to do anything for her children; Tom is compensating for his weak past by seeking out power in the new world, etc.
“Children of Men” takes on major mythology issues, while at the same time taking its time with presenting new situations and conflicts for the characters. Many of the characters find themselves at critical points of transition by the end of this latest episode. Tom Neville is manipulating a coup against Monroe and placing himself in a position of power while at the same time strengthening his relationship with his son. This not only enforces what we have come to know and expect from Neville, but also provides significant character growth for him and for Jason. The two have been at odds for most of the series, and this latest development shows that they have been affected considerably by their experiences. An actual sign of character progression; I can’t believe it. Neville and Jason aren't the only ones to make some progress; in perhaps the most surprising instance of a character going through a significant change, we find Monroe acknowledging the error of his ways (although it’s a bit too late for self awareness now). He might have been conscious of his wrongdoings in the past, but this is the first time we see him be openly remorseful and actually confess his guilt to someone else. If we are to take Monroe’s scenes with Rachel on faith (he did save Charlie, after all) and believe that he is being honest, then there might come a momentous shift regarding him in the near future. Is it possible for him to switch sides and join Miles? With the imminent coup his future status in the militia appears dubious.
Also, although he ends the episode in a potential face-off with Miles, it is highly doubtful that either character will meet his demise, as we are lead to believe. The writers make a point in bringing up the "Bass has a kid" storyline from a couple of episodes back, which suggests there is a future out there (somewhere) for Monroe, and there is no way that Miles, our protagonist, will be killed. They will probably have a few words, maybe battle for a while, but will be (at least eventually) interrupted by something more critical, or one will gain the upper hand and once again be unable to kill the other. Neither one will die in the finale. It would actually be a shame to lose Monroe at this moment, now that David Lyons has a clear handle on the character and his performance keeps improving. Lyons did a fantastic job this episode, which allowed him to show a little bit more range than previous installments. Not only did he have the chance to showcase the usual melodramatic, crazed Monroe, but also the lesser-known emotional and remorseful Monroe in addition to the funny and quip-y Monroe. It is common courtesy to thank people after they have just saved your life, even if it means thanking the man you have been trying to kill for the last couple of months; have some manners, Charlie.
Monroe’s scenes with Rachel were a great sequence in the episode. Although there was not much in them in terms of "action," their performances were strong enough to stand up to the craziness happening in the tower. Their scenes also give way to the two flashbacks featured in the episode. They show a much more vulnerable portrayal of Rachel than we have ever seen before, it is almost like the writers were saying, “Hey guys, Rachel’s not as horrible as you thought she was. There really is a human being underneath the cold, sociopathic demeanor.” There isn't much to really grasp and learn from this set of flashback; instead it communicates Rachel’s turmoil over the blackout and her vacillating relationship with Ben. It also serves as a reminder that she wasn’t the only one involved in all this and she shares the blame with a larger group of scientists and government workers. Plus, we have a clearer reason and impetus behind Rachel’s actions; unlike Miles, who seeks redemption from his past, Rachel seems to be punishing herself in order to cope with her grief, meaning that there is no redemptive journey for her. As usual, Elizabeth Mitchell is engaging as the troubled mother, expertly portraying both the vulnerable and resilient aspects of the character. As the issues of the tower come to a forefront, Rachel’s role in the show should become more prominent, a development that would be entirely welcome as she is one of the most entertaining and captivating performers on the show.
As the mystery of the tower unfolds, not only does Rachel’s role expand, but Aaron's role does as well; he apparently has a predestined role to play (we do not yet know the details). Even Grace knows who he is and suggests that other people are aware of his importance. This is also a good episode for Zak Orth, who might possibly have the best line of the night: ”With this book, I can, you dick” as he responds to Neville’s own dig “Chubs." Orth is able to be quite funny and sarcastic a few times in the episode and also gives quite a noble and convincing speech defending the decision to turn back the power. Aaron and Rachel are yet another set of characters in transition, their roles and standings amplifying as the show delves into the secrets of the tower, which remains as ambiguous and shadowy as ever. The mystery of what lies in level 12 is not as riveting as the writers probably think it is and the dilemma presented in the final moments doesn’t necessarily provide the amount of danger or shock that the writers try to convey. We know the world won’t really be destroyed by their attempt. They might not even get the chance to turn the power back on or there could be a malfunction of sorts, but the Earth is not going to go up in flames, yet we get this huge dramatic gesture panning over Dr. Warren’s journal up in flames. This is so eye roll inducing and heavy handed. Implying that the threat is likely to manifest, the writers are clearly trying to create unnecessary anxiety and anticipation. There is going to be a second season, so they can’t all die. If this was a series ender then the threat would be much more exciting and plausible, but we know it is not a possibility. The more they dwell on this, the less time they have to explore more intriguing and deserving aspects of the finale. Still, it provides a conflict for the characters to overcome in the final episode, which can’t come soon enough. With all the questions still unanswered and the hundred more that will probably arise out of the finale, I don’t see how the season can end in a satisfying open ended conclusion; surely there will be a shocking cliffhanger that will compel viewers to come back for a second season. But if that is what the series has been reduced to: providing a mediocre episode each week only to have something amazing happen in the final five minutes, therefore manipulating viewers into tuning in the next week, then a second season would be a waste.
-- Finally we get some semi-valid/plausible answers about the tower and what exactly is going on down there. You’d think that maybe Aaron and Rachel would have been a bit more informed, what with Dr. Warren’s journal in their possession and all. She did say it contained everything the needed to know about the tower. Maybe she’s a liar too. Who isn’t on this show?
-- The writing feels like a (bit of a) step above what we have seen so far from the show. The dialogue has improved vastly, the banter between the characters feels more believable and is genuinely funny at times. Of course, the usual melodrama manages to permeate the episode, but one cannot hope for a drastic change. I find myself genuinely chuckling a few times.
-- The way they have Rachel and Monroe survive the grenade explosion is maybe even more anti-climactic than how they escaped the militia’s helicopter in the spring premiere. Oh, and the militia dude just grabs the grenade from Rachel’s hands and nonchalantly tosses a few feet away from where they were. I don’t know much about weapons, but wouldn’t you want that thing to be as far away as possible when it explodes? Couldn’t he have really thrown it farther away? Oh, well.