Wow. Just wow.
With ‘Second Opinion’ Continuum delivers the best episode of the series and cements its status as one of the best science-fiction dramas on television. Huge accolades to follow.
Let’s bitch it out…
There are times when I forget that Continuum is as good as it is. It’s easy to overlook the many fascinating elements of the show when we focus too much on Agent Gardiner (Nicholas Lea) and his silly vendetta, for example. And then episodes like ‘Second Opinion’ come around and silence all qualms because they’re so full of kick-assery that complaints have no business being here.
Yes, folks, ‘Second Opinion’ is the best episode of the series. It’s an emotional, tense and extremely well-plotted episode that takes the show’s narrative and performances to new (and unexpected) heights.
What’s so impressive is that the episode is a glorified bottle episode: nearly all of the action – aside from the introduction of Alec’s (Erik Knudsen) new superlab – takes place inside the VPD precinct. There’s no reliance on gun battles, or Liber8 attacks, or even 2077 reveals to keep viewers entertained. It’s nothing but straight-up character development for forty-two minutes and it works beautifully.
Last week I acknowledged that Kiera’s (Rachel Nichols) longing for her family was well-integrated into ‘Second Skin’. I also naively suggested that there was no way for this storyline to play a more dominant role in the narrative without dragging things down – who wants to watch Kiera whine and mope about her son every episode? Clearly I could not have stuck my foot further into my mouth. After this week’s episode, I am all over Kiera working through her personal issues if it carries the emotional pay-off that Sam’s birthday yields here.
At various times I’ve wondered if Kiera’s suit is a narrative crutch because it can be made to do anything the writers need/want it to. Perhaps that’s because the suit has never been employed as well as it is here. More often that not, Kiera has a gadget that we’ve never seen before that just happens to be able to save the day (ie: the invincibility shield in 2×02 ‘Split Second’). This argument is put on its head because ‘Second Opinion’ demonstrates that the suit is only as functional as its user – something that was suggested last week when everyman Rex tried to become a superhero and instead got his ass whupped.
The idea that Kiera’s functionality is inherently tied to her mental status is brilliant. As Kiera’s instability increases under pressure, the suit activates a cognitive therapist, Dr. Fairweather (BSG‘s Alessandro Juliani), effectively forcing our hero to take a time-out until she can get control of herself. The fact that this imposed action occurs at exactly the same moment that a formidable new opponent appears on the scene is masterful. The argument could be made that it’s incredibly convenient, but that’s overlooking the fact that this kind of reality break has been building for some time. Continuum has done an excellent job of hinting that Kiera’s isolation (from both her own time, but also Alec so far this season) has been weighing her down more and more in recent episodes.
The introduction of Inspector Nora Harris (Catherine Lough Haggquist) adds another significant obstacle. We’re so used to Brian Markinson’s Inspector Dillon allowing Kiera to do whatever she wants that it’s quite the wake-up call when someone new comes in and immediately begins questioning everything (bonus points for not doing it in the same douchey way that Gardiner traditionally facilitates). Harris is the kind of villainous bureaucratic that series creator Simon Barry loves to introduce. She’s a character trope that many viewers will recognize from Barry’s previous show, 24: a powerful and intellectual opponent to our protagonist who is utterly misguided in her attempt to find “the mole” in the department.
Harris’ appearance doesn’t simply put the pressure on Kiera, though. It also raises the dramatic stakes for nearly everyone else. Carlos (Victor Webster) is tasked with the unfortunate mediator role, which means he must simultaneously try to protect his colleagues without interfering with a procedural witch hunt. Inspector Dillon, on the other hand, is almost immediately sidelined, effectively removing one of Kiera’s most powerful supporters in a single dramatic move that will have huge ramifications moving forward.
And then there’s Betty (Jennifer Spence)…
Betty has been on the periphery of the show for a long time. To a certain extent, she’s a ‘Alec-light’ in that she’s called into action whenever the VPD needs a technological fix. Aside from some minor developments in S1, however, Spence’s Betty has rarely been employed in a significant way on the show. Clearly S2 means to rectify this since Betty has been outed as the mole (albeit only to the audience). What this means for the other characters remains to be seen, but having Kiera clear Betty’s name and wipe away the incriminating evidence suggests that Betty is poised to become a major factor in whatever narrative direction Continuum is headed in.
At the end of the day, though, ‘Second Opinion’ works because of Rachel Nichols. In the last few episodes Nichols has been given the opportunity to showcase more of Kiera’s emotional side, and the show has only improved as a result. This full-blown crisis emotionally deepens both the character and the series, aggressively reasserting how much Kiera’s isolation and distance from her own timeline has affected her. She’s not succeeding so much as she is treading water and the show’s decision to acknowledge how psychologically damaging this is not only adds a gravity to the proceedings, but serves to distinguish the show from other ‘shallower’ science-fiction shows. The result is a quantum leap in quality for the show and my appreciation for it.
- Another significant dramatic element is the pairing of Alec and Jason (Ian Tracey), the possibly crazy/possibly truthful man introduced in the S1 finale. I doubt that Kellog (Stephen Lobo) will take kindly to this interloper, whom Alec has already allowed into the sanctity of the lab, even if Kellog stands to benefit from Jason’s designs should they prove capable of reproducing Liber8’s time travel device
- The lead-up to Kiera’s breakdown is nicely forecast by the mise-en-scene. As Kiera becomes increasingly agitated by Harris’ and Gardiner’s verbal assault, the framing of the shots are tighter and the speed of the cuts is increased, making everything feel more chaotic and in-your-face
- As much as the hologram storyline works for me, I seriously doubt that Kiera would be able to attack Gardiner without incurring some kind of punishment. Speaking of Gardiner, this is the first time I’ve truly appreciated the mustache-twirling antagonist. Pairing him with the more calm and collected Harris works to offset my innate hatred for him and Harris reinforces that his vendetta, while personal, isn’t completely unorthodox. Others are clearly keeping an eye on Kiera’s talents…
- Finally, a special shout-out to Juliani, who is particularly well-suited to play these analytical characters. Here’s hoping that we see Fairweather again in the future (although Kiera can’t afford to have many more of these breaks without someone suspecting she’s unstable)
- Alec (when Kellog thanks him for the meeting): “Anything to keep you from the playing the ‘show up when I least want it’ game”
- Alec (when Kiera explains why they lost contact): “So Doctor Feelweird cut us off?”
Your turn: do you agree that this is the best episode that Continuum has ever done? Were you shocked by the narrative developments (Dillon’s outster, Betty’s character reveal, Kiera’s near-escape from being exposed)? What are the ramifications moving forward? How does Betty factor into Liber8’s plans? Hit the comments below with your thoughts
Continuum airs Friday nights at 10pm EST on Syfy