After the setup of the first episode, Intruders sinks comfortably into its plan for long-term reveals, upping the atmosphere as those affected by the supernatural try to navigate it with varying degrees of success, and slowly illuminating the world of Qui Reverti. It doesn’t quite cast the spell it hopes for—it’s too busy dropping hints to give its characters much to hang on to, which hamstrings any urgency. But from the unsettling early shot in which Madison stares fixedly at the train-station clock without seeming even to know why until it ticks over to 9 and she wakes up, this episode reminds us that the world is full of uncanny things just under the surface, and they’re probably out to get you.
Some of us, of course, are prepared. As always, the most paranoid characters have the best handle on the implications of events (and often the highest death rate, to which this series is no exception). While everyone else is busy using the possibility of coincidence to rationalize their suspensions away, the new DJ of the Oz Turner Network, Tim Truth, proclaims “Coincidence is a coward’s rationale,” and is more than happy to lay out exactly the pattern that the collection of recent incidents would suggest. Of course, though he seems terribly sure of it all, we are deliberately, decidedly not.
Though the two major storylines so far are clearly connected, this episode becomes a dual-track story carrying a lot of embedded meta about mystery TV itself, and there’s enough dark humor to suggest this is all by design. In one track, Jack searches for his wife, asking questions without getting any answers; in the other, we get to be one level closer to the action, but because they ask questions of each other we have no context for, we end up equally in the dark. In a show that’s shaping up to be about secrets, power, separation, and identity (how far people will go to keep secrets, identity as something that can be taken from you by force), the parallel mystique is a really interesting setup, though the plots have yet to compel the same way.
Jack remains in the slower-burn story, in the nightmare where you run as fast as you can but can’t gain traction, or the one where you keep asking a question and no one can hear you. McCreary’s score is nicely off-balance, and director Eduardo Sanchez makes the most of the ghosts behind frosted-glass walls. Though he’s still in the thankless role of the guy asking questions he can’t imagine the answers to, John Simm’s nervous energy gears up, his determination suggesting deeper resources. It was great to see his confusion fall away the moment his wife’s boss challenged him, and Simm’s dangerous delivery of, “Anything I should know…Todd?” Though he ends up with only one answer (yes, something is Definitely Wrong), he manages to fall in with cab driver George; his rapport with Peter Bryant feels natural, and Bryant is no slouch in let’s-cut-the-shit line deliveries: “I do remember your wife, and she creeped me out.”
“Madison” takes a significantly more active role in this episode, too, as Millie Brown tries to balance the little girl lost and the latent Marcus. Her possessed anger still doesn’t make a convincing jump to Adult Dude, but she does a nicely uncanny job of being a little girl pretending to be a guy pretending to be a little girl, and for the brief time she’s herself, she gives us a great moment of trepidation pulling things from her pocket that she never put in them, thumbing through all the accoutrements of losing yourself. It’s a nightmare scenario familiar to adults that young Madison had yet to think about, and all its implications settle uneasily on her face.
Unfortunately, with everything that’s going on, we still have little sense about what it means to actually be possessed: clearly Madison (and a flashback Amy) are uneasy shifting back and forth, but they’re also not quite themselves even when they’re “awake,” with the solitary panic or languor of a nightmare and yet no sense of whether they’re still underneath. Without knowing them for long before the intruders got to them, either, it feels like so far their characterization and the implications of what the intruders do to their victims is being postponed as Morgan and company spin out the creepy atmosphere. This mystery and its various entanglements are all proceeding apace, and I assume we’ll get to the emotional fallout—Mrs. Ng calls Shepherd to task for whatever’s happened with a venomous “That was no longer a little girl”—but at the moment, it feels like the Qui Reverti manual is meant to be creepier than a nine-year-old who keeps getting drowned by an interloper, and it’s not.
That’s one of the reasons Shepherd’s faceoff with Mrs. Ng carried such weight; besides offering a slice of insight into the Qui Reverti power structure (Marcus is as unacceptable an anomaly to her as to the guys in charge, it seems), it gave us another beat of Shepherd conflicted about the practicalities of assassinating a nine-year-old on company orders. James Frain once again demonstrates why you hire James Frain for parts like this by giving Shepherd that flash of self-loathing in between cool-cucumber kills, and also making psychological warfare on terrified parents look like the most fun in the world. It might be topped by the utterly-game, grim seriousness with which he uses one of Madison’s pastels to discover the last thing written in her flowered journal before she hit the road: “What Goes Around, Comes Around” (of course).
At episode’s end, the parallels move dutifully forward: Jack gets the call from Amy to come home, and Madison’s on the road to Seattle. Hard to tell whose life will unravel more quickly when they reach their destinations; on the other hand, all he knows is that Something’s Wrong, and she already has a manual in her pocket for comfort reading, welcoming her back all over again.
- That awkward moment where you Lancelot your wife’s phone back to her except she turns out to be some random executive assistant in the Law Office of Demonic Forces & Partners.
- The plot thickens: Madison’s parents suspect she went to Seattle “to find out what happened to her parents.”
- Amy Watch: Whoever has hold of her is apparently Russian and assassinated a labor strike leader in 1883. (Also, while this has yet to be confirmed, some “she” or other told the bad guys not to kill Jack; we’ll see.)
- I laughed when the Get A Stranger To Be My Dad gambit failed because the guy has the common sense of an amoeba. For that same reason, I am concerned about the woman who actually agreed to give Madison a ride.
- There are so many deliberate unknowns that tracking the conspiracy stuff seems secondary to the atmosphere, but I’ll note that two episodes in, the legendary Bill Anderson’s still AWOL.
- Smart of him, given that the show has introduced and promptly dispatched Oz and Mrs. Ng for knowing too much. As meta about shows that reveal their mysteries too soon, I understand it. As someone who would have been down for more of either of them, I’m preemptively mourning any further guest stars.
- Today’s quote that I hope will get its due later: “Death is not punishment. There is no such thing.”
- Technology continues to be distinctly unhelpful in a nicely mundane way. “Is this the guy?” “That picture sucks, man.”
- The way James Frain says “Problems?” is maybe the best-ever way to say it.