Week two of Cult teases how it will work as a series, although the audience’s disinterest for the show may have something to say about that.
Let’s bitch it out…
The numbers for last week’s premiere were pretty darn atrocious (even for The CW), so although I’m fully on-board the Cult train, I fear that this ride will be over before it even begins. Regardless, I’m enjoying the batsh*t craziness of the show, even as I recognize how desperate it is to be “edgy”, “cool” and “meta.”
In many ways, Cult is a successor to shows that have asked their audience to keep track of the clues required to solve the show’s central mystery (Push, Nevada, Happy Town, Harper’s Island, Twin Peaks). Like the first three examples, Cult isn’t overly complicated – the execution is less mysterious than it is mildly challenging. In this way the show echoes characters like Peter (Ben Hollingsworth) and Marc (Andrew Leeds), the kidnapped producer, who make comments about how Cult, the show-within-a-show, needs to be as accessible as possible. Each version of the show want it both ways: the niche of a tightly plotted mystery without the audience alienation that comes from being too culty.
Even though the show isn’t as challenging as, say, Twin Peaks, there’s an inherent satisfaction that it’s not entirely populated by idiots. ‘Obviously Evil’ Detective Sakelik (Aisha Hinds) is outed as a “true believer” by Jeff (Matt Davis) and Skye (Jessica Lucas) before the end of the hour, which is something that would have been drawn out for ages on many other shows. More importantly, Jeff demands to know why Skye is so willing to participate in the investigation, which is something we’ve been asking since five minutes into the pilot. In this way Cult demonstrates that it’s not going to simply let questions simmer for the sake of stretching out the plot…or at least not the obvious questions.
If there’s an inherent problem with the show, it’s that it’s operating on the level of ‘Grand Conspiracy’ (similar to other shows like Flash Forward and The Event). There’s a group of people pulling all the strings to manipulate events on a mass scale with surprising ease. “Are people really that crazy? That they’d kill for a television show?” Jeff exclaims in disbelief mid-way through ‘In The Blood’ and it’s clear that Cult expects you to say yes (or change the channel to NCIS). If you want to enjoy the show, then you will accept this statement and believe that people will kidnap network executives, search for people for decades and blow up trailers to eliminate a witness who threatens someone in a children’s ball pen…all for the sake of a TV show. It’s ludicrous and gloriously campy…and yet the show is more fun than its somber, sour cousin, The Following.
- The most confusing scenes involve our first impressions of Roger (Robert Knepper) and Marti (Alona Tal) – the actors playing characters on Cult, the show-within-a-show. I’m uncertain what we’re meant to make of these people. Marti fails to register at all, while Roger seems like a creepy bully whose penis will soon run him afoul of psycho fan_dom_main waitress Kirstie (Marie Avgeropoulos)
- In one of the sillier scenes, the show wants us to believe that passing off wallpaper is mysterious and weird and shocking. Sorry, Cult – it’s none of those things
- So despite an already swamped “everything but the kitchen sink” narrative, there’s now not one, but two love interests for Jeff?! As if Skye wasn’t bad enough, now we have jealous “tech person” E.J. (Stacey Farber). That’s two too many!
- Annoying recurring element #1: “Well, these things just snap right off.” Last week = creepy. This week = not so much. Talk about a case of diminishing returns
- Annoying recurring element #2: Jeff just happens to watch a key scene that factors into the real-life mystery (tonight it is the coin that leads them to the ball pen where James Pizzinato’s Nate made his late night phone call) . Obviously the plot hinges on parallels between show-within-a-show Cult and the Cult that we’re watching, but it would be better to trust audiences to recall key imagery or lines rather than literally pausing the show to make the connection
- Weak narrative move of the week goes to Skye, who almost intercepts a call from mysterious show creator Steven Rae, but is instead distracted by Peter and take-out. While ‘In The Blood’ does a good job of not insulting our intelligence in other areas, this is a disappointing cliche
- Body count after two episodes: 2
- E.J. (holding up the shady looking disc): “You put a disc that looks like this in your laptop?”
- Skye (to Jeff, after confiding the one thing she’s never told anyone): “I trust you.” And yet no one is sure why since you literally met this guy two days ago
- Jeff (contemplating “true believers”): “Are people really that crazy? That they’d kill for a television show.” That’s what One Million Moms are afraid of
What’s the most interesting mystery to you? Do you care about either of our identified “True Believers” or are they still too underdeveloped? Are you glad that Jeff prompted Skye to blather on about her daddy issues? And which would you have gone for: the phone call you’ve waited 10 years for or the delicious take-out you apparently get all the time? Hit the comments with your impressions!
Assuming that The CW doesn’t cancel it before next week’s episode, Cult airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST