(Mathew Baynton, Joel Fry) (Photo: Ed Miller/WTTV Productions Limited)
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Toward the end of “What Happens To Idiots,” Max (Edward Judge), Ariel’s companion in chaos, learns of Project Genesis bunker, and also learns that their teenaged hostage is the nephew of Project Genesis’ architect. “What if this is more than chance?” Max asks, his atheism shaken. “What if there’s, like, a higher power at work here?”

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Because Ariel blows his brains out seconds later, Max dies with those questions still blossoming in his head: Is there a God? Does some higher power watch over him? Is he part of a divine plan?

“What Happens To Idiots” doesn’t answer the question of whether an all-seeing God is making plans for this fictional universe, but it demonstrates other forces, large and small, that keep watch and lay plans. Ariel strong-arms Spike into hacking FaceChaser not to wreak havoc, but to find Layla among the billions of faces tracked by the NSA. A team of cops and U.S. Marshals track Rhonda and Leanne to their hideout at the Blue Alligator guesthouse, thanks to their teenaged hostage recognizing Rhonda’s face from news bulletins. The operatives (Bronagh Gallagher, Bruce MacKinnon) introduced in the previous episode trail Father Jude, planning their approach with tactical precision.

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“What Happens To Idiots” is full of plans, and full of back-up plans. Denied entrance to the hospital where his birth mother is held, Jamie announces, “We just jump to plan B,” engineering a break-in with slick ease more characteristic of his twin than himself. “Do you mind me asking what the plan is?” Father Jude asks a man standing on the ledge of a church’s clock tower. Ariel’s keen to exploit the U.S. government’s “back-up plan” for survival—and to fit it into his own plans.

Holding people at gunpoint is Leanne’s plan A, plan B, and plan C. She does it over and over with unsettling ease. “You might want to tell them to drop their weapons, hon,” she advises Rhonda, shucking off her cuffs. “Yes!” Rhonda yells, counterfeiting confidence, “I should have said that earlier!” The camera swings around as Leanne takes over the standoff, hinting that the situation has gone from precarious to wildly out of control. The uneasy sweep of the camera contrasts with Leanne’s practiced command as she pops cops into their trunks, pockets a shiny new weapon, and takes Marshal Carter (Nina Sosanya) hostage for the next leg of their journey.

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(Jenna Fischer, Will Attenborough) (Photo: NBC)

It’s not the actors’ fault these scenes don’t connect. The contrast of Jenna Fischer’s determined jaw and quavering voice as Rhonda bluffs her way through her first hostage-taking, Joel Fry’s tumble as Dave’s drugs kick in, Mathew Baynton’s panic as Jamie sprawls stranded between his catatonic birth mother and his doped-up friend; they’re giving their all to make this plausible. But the world that was so well-defined and lived-in for the first two episodes, that I described as both epic and intimate, has unraveled into a tangle of stories that neither sustain interest on their own nor weave into something larger—yet.

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In addition to the secret operatives, the cops, the church, and the NSA, “What Happens To Idiots” presents a form of surveillance so familiar and pervasive, it’s almost invisible. As Father Jude steps out onto the ledge to comfort Giovanni (Antonio Magro), binoculars, parabolic microphones, and cameras train on them, capturing every detail. When Jude talks the jumper back to safety and the opportunistic Father Christophe (Anthony Howell) takes over in an impromptu press conference, the audience and boom mic frame them as Father Jude and Sister Celine retreat into the crowd. Someone’s watching, but it isn’t God. It’s the media, looking for the most sensational angle on every story… and it’s us, watching that sensational excuse for news.

The episode’s title comes from Ariel’s last line, delivered through a window smeared with Max’s blood. “That’s what happens to idiots,” Ariel warns Spike. “Don’t be an idiot.” It’s a naked attempt to raise the stakes that relies on the audience caring about Spike by proxy: because he’s Rhonda’s child, because he’s a child. So far, Spike’s a pawn and not much more. Even Rhonda’s hostage at the inn, who punctuates his earnest attention to her story with a cry of video-game triumph (“Yes! Stabbed you in the face! Suck it, loser!”) feels more fleshed-out.

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We know the lead characters end up in the bunker together, and You, Me And The Apocalypse hints at some larger, probably divine bond between them, but two episodes in a row have failed to draw that connection with any compelling clarity. Knowing intellectually that there’s a bigger plan behind the action unfolding onscreen doesn’t make that action entertaining or moving. For a story about the end of the world, it’s surprising how inconsequential it feels right now.

Stray observations

  • update: This review originally transposed the names of Project Genesis and Operation Savior; I’ve corrected the error.
  • Father Jude persuades Giovanni not to jump by revealing the long-term effect of his own father’s suicide. But as far as anyone outside Project Genesis knows, humankind will be wiped out in 26 days. There are no more long-term effects. A nod to the idea that Father Jude is (consciously or unconsciously) using an outdated emotional appeal to save a life would have saved this scene from a clanging note of illogic.
  • The two-person team following Father Jude have names: Larsson and Molby. But in my notes from last week and this week, they’re IDed as Bangs and Normcore.
  • Their walk-by needle sting netted them a surprising amount of blood.
  • When an episode features a prolonged scene of one character reluctantly administering a sedative by suppository to another character, there’s no excuse for neither of them anticipating the drug’s effects.

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