Sheila Van, Stark Sands

Is this a great episode of television? No.

Is it the best episode of Minority Report thus far? Yes.

In its fourth outing, Minority Report finally eased up a bit on the future-tech throttle. There was nary a hover-bike in sight, and most of the technology depicted had already been introduced. Yes, there was an eyeball printer, but let’s face it, that eyeball printer was cool, and the rest of the futuristic void was filled with the agendas, hangups, fears, and annoyances of those who populate this world. Go figure—people are more interesting than the gadgets they use.

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Let’s be clear: It’s an improvement, not a dramatic turn in the road. Anchored by a solid guest performance by Sheila Vand, “Fredi” feels more like a decent episode of Law & Order (or Bones, or Sleepy Hollow, or Monk) than a bad one. That may be damning with faint praise, but it’s still praise. Each of the main characters suddenly has someone to care about—be it Fredi, or Dash, or themselves—and as a result, the whole affair suddenly feels more grounded.

At least that’s true for the first three-quarters of the episode. Once we get to The Twist, all bets are off.

Still, for the first time since the pilot, there’s something here that feels honest, if not original. Two cast regulars, Stark Sands (Dash) and Laura Regan (Agatha) have more to do than in previous weeks—Dash, in particular, gets loosed from the burden of having sad eyes and not much else—and the supporting standouts, namely Li Jun Li’s Akeela and Daniel London’s Wally, continue to provide specificity and the occasional moment of levity. The result is an hour of television that feels watchable, if not particularly surprising.

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The key to all of that is simple enough: give the case-of-the-week’s central figure something to do. Fredi is easily identified by Vega and company—no dashing around from shoes to matching pair of shoes—and watching the awkward Dash try to flirt with her gives Sheila Vand something to react beyond the insistent questioning all the other suspects (or suspected victims) have faced. It may seem unlikely that even a cop with judgment as questionable as Vega’s would throw Dash into an undercover situation, but it’s a setup that allowed Stark Sands to stretch his comedic wings a bit, and the result is fairly charming. Dash and Fredi’s brief romance might not be the most believable relationship in the history of network TV, but at least we spend some time getting there.

Agatha, too, finally gets a storyline that feels like development, rather than simple reaction. Wrapping up last week’s horse-repair-into-blackmail subplot, Laura Regan gets to pair that reasonable, semisweet exterior with something more malevolent. Her manipulation and eventual murder of Charlie washes over her like it’s all just another day in the park. The look of mild satisfaction on her face as gunshots ring out behind the diner might wring more of a chill from viewers than anything Minority Report has shown us thus far. Regan’s small, satisfied smile isn’t that of a criminal mastermind who has just pulled off a massive score, and it isn’t that of a bloodthirsty murderer reveling in the gore. It’s more like someone who, with a little persistence, has finally gotten their turn at the jukebox. That kind of violence is Agatha’s song, one she listened to on repeat for years, and this time, she’s the one who pressed play.

But though moments work throughout “Fredi,” the whole remains unsatisfying. As the episode nears its end, the audience is treated to more of the neat wrap-ups and exposition that have made previous cases-of-the-week such a slog. They shoehorn in a twist, give all the explanation necessary, wrap it all up in a handy to-go container, and send the whole thing on its way. There are good performers doing good work here, and scenes or stories with some potential, but the reluctance to let these things grow and deepen damages even the strongest of moments. If the show can’t transition Fredi from love interest to potential murderer in 46 minutes, force-feeding the ending doesn’t help.

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Most people don’t sit down to watch television and think, “man, I hope this is completely unremarkable.” People want to be surprised, scared, delighted, and even confused. The pilot suggested a somewhat thoughtful mess around the corner. “Fredi” hints at a show where characters could move the plot, not the other way around. But even when individual moments have sparked, the episodes haven’t. No one can see the future, but there doesn’t seem to be much reason to hope that the fire starts now.

Stray Observations

  • This is the last episode of Minority Report that the A.V. Club will cover. I can tell you that I’ve seen the screener for the next episode, and had a reaction that was similar to this one. If you liked “Fredi” a lot, it might be worth hanging on a while longer—next week it’s Meagan Good, rather than Stark Sands, who gets a chance to do some real acting.
  • Last week a commenter—sorry, I went back and looked for you but couldn’t find you so take credit below, please!—pointed out that William Mapother is Tom Cruise’s cousin, and this week that’s all I could see. Strong genes in that family.
  • Anyone who doesn’t like Elvis Costello’s “Alison” is obviously a monster.
  • “I’ll take good care of her, sir… is a thing I hear people say.”
  • My Mondays from here on out will be spent with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which, other than the inclusion of some music theatre luminaries—Stark Sands was Tony-nominated for Kinky Boots—could not be more different from Minority Report. Come watch with me! I loved the pilot.
  • Don’t worry, there are still fake fireplaces in the future.

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