Before we delve into what’s under the hat this week, I must first apologize. Originally, I intended this column to be three times a week and to cover six episodes at a time. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible for me right now, so for the first few weeks, it will be every Sunday and two-three episodes each time. The intent and eventual plan is for this humble posting to occur three days a week here on The CineMasoCast, but for now, we’ll all have to settle for one column each Sunday.
And as for that column this particular Sunday…
What will follow will be a short review of each episode noted above. It will be a cross between partial summary and my thoughts on both the episode itself and potentially its impact on the concept or the series as a whole.
In this premiere episode, viewers meet all the principal characters and, thanks to both the blurb at the beginning of the episode explaining what Pretenders are, everyone is on the same page going in. Jarod is a Pretender, a person of nearly unmatched intelligence and skilled at adapting to any situation to the point that he can not only mimic, but actually perform in any capacity/career with very little study. Once a part of a program utilizing these skills to run scenarios and build saleable operations to governments and corporations, Jarod was controlled by the mysterious Centre since 1963. His primary teacher/mentor was a psychologist, Sidney, and Jarod lived in the Centre with little to no knowledge of his life prior or of his parents. That is, until Jarod escaped.
The first episode of The Pretender sets the tone for the entire series, really, but particularly for the first two seasons. The plot each week is largely the same, that of Jarod going out to right some wrong that he feels his work at the Centre might have been responsible for or simply because someone was harmed in a way that was similar to his parents being taken from him. Because he is a valuable asset, the Centre dispatches Miss Parker, whose father is in a position of power in the Centre, to get him back. Sidney accompanies her, initially because it makes sense for him to help to bring Jarod back, but it is revealed rather quickly that it is also out of a sense of care Sidney has for Jarod, a father/son sort of dynamic. As things roll along, even in this first episode, hints are dropped like subtle breadcrumbs that both Miss Parker and Sidney have secrets of their own, secrets that rival whatever mystery Jarod is a part of.
With less than an hour to introduce all the above, the pilot episode does it amazingly well, jumping, as it were, right into the story that will become the formula for the series. Jarod pretends to be a doctor and joins the staff of a small hospital, but one on the verge of breaking into the big time, so to speak, with potential investors in the wings. His purpose in being there concerns a boy who was paralyzed possibly due to the malpractice of an alcoholic surgeon on staff. Jarod discovers that more than just the surgeon may be involved, the Chief of Staff and others seemingly implicated as he not only uncovers the truth, but sets up an elaborate ploy to reveal who was at fault and visit a bit of retribution on various parties.
Michael T. Weiss as Jarod is pitch perfect for the kick off to the series. Equal parts wide eyed wonder and desire for his own truth and justice for others power who this character is and Weiss pulls it off with a stunningly awkward at times portrayal of a man who, for all practical purposes, has escaped a nearly lifelong prison. His joy over experiencing ice cream for the first time or his amazement in figuring out ‘Wheel of Fortune’ all add a very relatable, yet interesting twist to a character who, later in the same episode, imposes a sentence on a man that is both satisfying and disturbing. Weiss’ physical presence as well as the tone of his voice work well for the collision of types that Jarod actually is.
Another positive aspect of this premiere episode is how it sets the tone for the pursuit of Jarod. He is one step ahead of Parker and Sidney from the beginning, leaving clues for them to follow that invariably lead them to him, just still a few seconds behind. The interplay between Sidney and Parker is dead on and establishes the rocky, yet mutually beneficial relationship the two will have for the duration of the show.
Yet another staple of the series makes its debut in the pilot episode, that being flashbacks into Jarod’s childhood. Viewers get to see glimpses of Jarod’s time at the Centre, as well as a young Sidney walking the boy through various missions and reconstructions, utilizing his knowledge and ability to get into almost anyone’s head, so to speak. These are some of the highlights of many of the episodes and are used effectively usually to illustrate something Jarod needs to remember or utilize in the story set in the modern era.
Now, a point can be made about this episode that Jarod’s interest in the paralyzed boy and his reactions to the case are a little too syrupy sweet, a bit clichéd and such. And, yes, that’s a valid assessment for not only this episode, but many of the episodes in the series. However, understand, that IS part of the show as well. Jarod’s reactions to injured souls is one of empathy, an ability he was trained to use more as a weapon than a feeling, and of compassion, but he has no social training on how to react to things, or even how to filter what he says. So, some of the more saccharine moments take on a different light through that lens.
The episode ends as it establishes another trope for the show, letting viewers see what Jarod’s next job is, that of an airline pilot. This doesn’t connect to the next episode, as most of these teases throughout the show’s run do not, but it adds to the list of experiences Jarod has.
One of the neat aspects of THE PRETENDER is that the creators, at least early on, were not afraid to take risks with mythology, that of the show or actual mythology. Jarod leaves a folded origami figure in his room at the Centre for Miss Parker and Sidney to find, one that Miss Parker identifies as the Greek god of retribution, Onysius, who stands up for the weak and the wronged. There is no such god in the Greek Pantheon and the creators admitted in later interviews that they made him up because they needed such a figure for the scene.
Overall, the PILOT episode of the series does what any good pilot should do-sets up the series itself and leaves enough dangling to bring its audience back the next week.
Episode Two-EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY
Jarod’s focus in this episode is to help a mother and daughter find peace after their father drowns while boating. Believing that members of the Coast Guard were responsible for what they very quickly labeled an accident with little evidence, Jarod signs on as a Coast Guard officer working alongside the rescue crew that may have led to the man’s death.
This episode is also one that is a first for the series, but not necessarily a happy first. Although the plot of the story makes sense in the end and works out as it should, with the wrongdoers being brought to justice and the survivors of the dead man receiving something precious to them, it’s not a perfect tale. Getting to the resolution of this episode was far more complicated than it should have been and there were leaps in thought that Jarod took that weren’t telegraphed appropriately to the audience.
The biggest issue I had with this episode’s story was that there wasn’t any real evidence or set up…or mystery solving that led Jarod to the truth behind the matter. Whereas the pilot presented a well structured story with connective tissue all the way through to the rather satisfying twisted ending, this one just didn’t bring the same whammy. Yes, the bad guys get theirs and yes, it’s because of Jarod doing something neat and innovative, but there was a lack of impact in this episode, due I think primarily to the fact that, well, it felt like some of Jarod’s logic, or the explanation of why he thought certain things, simply wasn’t included this time. This is something that recurs in the show at times, which is disappointing.
An added complication to this episode is a weakly handled subplot. I’m not talking about the pursuit of Jarod, that’s handled as well as it was in the pilot episode, with Parker and Sidney arriving just after Jarrod had left the YMCA where he’d learned to swim. No, while trying to solve the mystery of the drowned man, Jarod encounters a sort of recluse living on his boat in the ocean who won’t come back to shore. Not only was this second story not developed well, it simply wasn’t presented in a clear manner as to why it was even a part of this episode.
Jarod has more discoveries in the outside world in this episode, including novelty toys like fake dog poop as well as Oreo Cookies. The cookies go with what will be Jarod’s longest running snack obsession, Pez Candy, as shown in this and the pilot episode. These interactions with a world he never knew as well as a very disturbing flashback related to the JFK assassination and young Jarod’s part in the study of it, are the highlights of this episode. That is disappointing as the actual story just doesn’t work as well as the pilot episode’s tale did.
Another bright spot in this episode is the debut of a character that would very quickly become recurring and stay with the program through the rest of its run. Broots, a Centre employee who appears to be a technician of all types, comes on the scene the first time, assisting Miss Parker and Sidney in their pursuit of Jarod. Broots is both sympathetic to Jarod and desperate not to anger Miss Parker, so it makes for an interesting dynamic as the show progresses.
I don’t want to fall into a trap of rating episodes by Stars or Pez Dispensers or something, so let’s just say that EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY simply does not stand up as an equal to the pilot episode …or (and yes, this is telling) most of the episodes that follow it.