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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Next offers the worst possible Alexa scenario

Illustration for article titled iNext/i offers the worst possible Alexa scenario
Photo: Jean Whiteside/Fox
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This was an especially distressing episode for me to witness, because I am exactly the kind of lazy schlub who’s an Alexa addict. Why should I research the time, traffic, or weather, or look up a dinner recipe or an album on Spotify when Alexa can just do it for me? We got the little pods a few years ago; then last year for Christmas my husband and I both (unknowingly) got larger Alexas with screens as presents “for the family” (one’s in the kitchen, and one’s in the front room). It was like an AI O. Henry story.   

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Couple that with my working-mom guilt and bam, Next! Right between the eyes.

We begin with an interesting fast-forward, of a future in-custody Salazar trying to explain how all sorts of (we’re guessing) unsettling things came about. She mentioned that Next knew she “loved my husband, love my son”: some interesting tense choices, there. But it all just goes to show that tin-foil hat and unfortunately hallucinatory guy, John Slattery’s LeBlanc, was correct from the start to suspect that Next was trying to take everything over, having escaped by compressing itself onto a server and getting shipped out of Zava (if someone tech savvier then I am—low bar—could explain to me how that might have worked, I’d be grateful) after burning everything to the ground . Now Next can control everything from the Salazars’ Alexa to the green traffic lights they pass on their way home.

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John Slattery continues to excel in the role of the eccentric billionaire; really enjoyed him pounding nails in everything from his thermostat to his smoke detectors this week, while making a case for his conspiracy theories to his befuddled staff. The set-up banter between LeBlanc and Salazar continues to be painful, as when he smashes her car’s GPS (“Next time, we take your car”). But every nail LeBlanc hammers just shows how attuned we are to everything electronic; as he explains to his staff, what happens when we’re without power, without a way to store food, without heat in the winter? If Next takes over the whole grid, it could effectively grind the whole world to a halt. Also, without these electronic systems we so rely on, how in the world is this team supposed to be able to stop something that powerful?

LeBlanc and Salazar need to find a Next weakness, and thanks to Salazar’s son Ethan, they have. Fortunately, Ethan is savvy enough to know that his real problem is not bullies, but the fact that his Alexa is talking to him and trying to get him to take a gun to school. This episode does the excellent job of pairing my two favorite characters—LeBlanc and Ethan—as the team realizes that the best way to try to track down Next is via the creepy Alexa voice that’s gone after a child. (My actual favorite banter in Next so far is between these two: “Quick tip: Never take advice from home electronics.” “She told me you were like this.”) Young Evan Whitten again does an amazing job portraying a 9-year-old forced into a creepy conversation with “Alixa” about how much she loves him when his own mother doesn’t, attempting to erode the faith the boy has in his parents, which would just make him more dependent on Alixa. The scene managed to be downright chilling, like Dave getting stuck in outer space by Hal, helped by Olenka Wos Kimball’s vocal delivery as Alixa that managed to be both mechanic and straight-up evil. (And again, tapped into my own working mom fears: Although now that we’re all stuck at home, you’ll never turn my kids against me, Alexa!)

Salazar and LeBlanc draft white supremacist C.M. to help them track down Alexa’s IP—unfortunately just at the same moment that Salazar’s boss is looking for an actual fall guy (not an A.I. version) for last week’s giant hacking. FYI, Next, the harried bureaucrat who just gets in the way of the people doing the real work has been done to death already. Nice of Gina and Ben to take over when C.M. gets carted away to capture that IP address—and the eerie eye frantically watching lines of code sets things up nicely for episode three. Next is doing an excellent job so far by continuing to raise the stakes; see you all next week to see how things pan out in New Hampshire.

Stray observations

  • Zava: Worst name for a company ever, right? Does it stand for something? Feel like it’s a combo of that Billy Corgan band Zwan and java.
  • Easily solved consistency problems that just bug: Why all the talk about dad’s pancakes? When we next spy the family in the kitchen, he’s clearly not making pancakes.
  • Considering using Next’s trick of answering “I don’t understand the question” every time I basically just don’t want to answer something..
  • All sorts of alarms going off over the “hot guy from the dating app” who suddenly wants to meet LeBlanc’s cute daughter in person.
  • I really appreciate the AI discussions in last week’s comments, thanks for chiming in! Am relieved to hear that most actual computer science people believe that AI, if it’s a possibility at all, lies in the far-off future. I still think Next offers a fun look at the worst AI scenario, though, a stark reminder how “on the grid” our society is, and a reminder, for me at least, that I can just go outside to check the goddamn weather. Play a record on vinyl. Wear a wristwatch. Read a cookbook. We’re not so past the point, just yet.
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Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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