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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Event: "Face Off"

Illustration for article titled The Event: "Face Off"
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Boy I tell ya, surprises every day. It’s really too bad that, at this point, to call “Face Off “ the best episode of The Event ever can only be interpreted as damning with faint praise. Because “Face Off” was genuinely awesome and sort of impressive, considering how silly and pointless this show has gotten. It was like watching someone who had sunk chest deep in quicksand suddenly swim out with his outfit as clean as if he’d never fallen into begin with. I suddenly felt like I was watching the show I’d been abstractly imagining while watching the earlier episodes of the show. That’s largely because “Face Off” resembles so little of what the show was in its first span of episodes. Goodbye, incessant flashbacks; hello, strictly linear storytelling. This thing had genuine tension, ticking clocks aplenty, a crazy disaster, buses being blown up with rockets, and shocking character deaths. It’s like “Damn, hello, handsome.”

Now maybe I’m going overboard here, which is always a risk when you praise an episode of The Event. But “Face Off” was amazing, and mostly because Sean and Leila were such a small and tangential part of it. It’s not that having someone like Sean as a part of the story isn’t a good idea—it is. But having him be such a large part and actually drive the story is a mistake, now more than ever. Sean, Leila, and Vicky should be secondary, if not recurring, characters. It was especially irksome in this episode, which featured the best stuff we’ve seen all season. I realize that the entire episode couldn’t consist of just the church and the war room, but seriously, Sean and Vicky go to France? I was hoping after the interminable segment in which Vicky FaceTimed her mother, we’d leave them on the plane for the rest of the episode and check in with them next week. Y’know, kick the can down the road. But then we had to see Vicky’s reunion with a rakish French crony and learn stuff about who she is. Who honestly cares about learning Vicky’s backstory at this point?

But I won’t dwell on the bad stuff, since there was such an overwhelming amount of this episode that worked. Every scene in the war room worked for me. I love the direction they’ve taken Martinez. He’s like many tragic leaders in that he has trouble differentiating between objectively logical or moral choices and stuff that will personally gratify him. Back when he was planning to free Sophia and her people, he was driven by the desire for fame and greatness, to be remembered as the man who righted a great injustice. Now, he’s been embarrassed, disrespected, punk’d. Now that Martinez is pissed, he’s conflating his hunger for vengeance with strategically sound decision making. He’s convicted but tragic, and Blair Underwood played the hell out of him.

I also loved Laura Innes in this episode. Sophia had lots of shades in “Face Off”: tender and motherly with Thomas, vicious and unyielding with Martinez, and quietly trembling with fear with Simon, upon admitting their show of force had blown all their powder. But man, what a bluff that was. Not since the plane disappeared in the pilot have we had a visual quite as breathtaking as the Washington Monument collapsing. And it actually kind of scared me. The war room stuff was shot so effectively that it achieved a verisimilitude I’d have never expected from this show. It was a stunning symbolic jolt—much like the reveal of the still-intact Twin Towers in the first-season finale of Fringe. Sophia used it as leverage to gain safe passage for her people, Sterling deduced that Simon was a double-agent, and Sterling and Martinez hatched a smart plan to get the drop on them. Brisk, economical, suspenseful storytelling. And I feared there would be some awful twist at the end that would ruin everything or at least let the show off the hook in some way. But no, instead, two buses full of sleepers were incinerated, including Thomas and his power-hungry paramour. I didn’t think the show had the guts.

I’d hate to conclude that esteemed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this episode, just because I recognized his name. But this was by far the most elegant-looking episode we’ve seen, at least since “Loyalty,” if not ever. But beyond the look of “Face Off,” it delivered on a story level in a way we hadn’t seen heretofore. There was much less of the stuff I hated about this show and so much more of the stuff I like. If the rest of the season can deliver in the way this episode did, I’d be willing to take back all the mean things I said about The Event. Maybe that’s The Event? The point at which the show itself suddenly becomes not just watchable, but compelling?

Stray observations:

  • I know I didn’t mention the Dempsey as Indiana Jones/Arvin Sloane stuff, but I honestly don’t think I completely understood it. Or perhaps I just don’t care enough.
  • I can’t wait to see the new ass-kicking Sophia.