With Eleventh Hour, CBS and the Jerry Bruckheimer television empire attempt to do for science what CSI and its ilk have done for forensics: push it from a cold, foreign subject out of the grasp of everyday Americans and turn it into a part of the public consciousness. Is it an uphill battle, a perhaps overly optimistic goal? Sure. But then, so is any scientific endeavor worth its salt.
Eleventh Hour stars Rufus Sewell, Marley Shelton, and … and that’s it, actually. Doing a show with only two series regulars is going to be a fascinating experiment in and of itself. But you can understand why Sewell, an accomplished veteran of the stage and screen, would be interested in making this his first television role. It’s hard to ask for a bigger showcase. Given that his character is bound to be onscreen almost all the time, Sewell has every opportunity to quickly establish himself as one of the finest actors on TV.
As the premiere episode opens, however, the first person we see is neither Rufus Sewell nor Marley Shelton. It’s Jimmi Simpson, which is a complete surprise. All of the promos that CBS was airing made the show look like the bleakest thing ever, with nothing but washed-out colors and dark conversations in dark hallways, so it’s a little bit jarring for the show to open up with a comic actor best known as one of the McPoyle brothers on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
But that opening does tell us two things right off the bat: first, that there will be a little more levity to the show than the promos would have led you to believe (though not really from Simpson’s character), and second, that at least Sewell and/or Shelton won’t have to be in 100% of the scenes. That last one’s a big deal in terms of the general ethos of procedural dramas. Procedural dramas can work one of two ways: either you never see the potential baddies without the central investigators in the scene, meaning you as a viewer are never ahead of where the main characters are in the story, or alternatively you do get to see the potential baddies on their own, which allows you as a viewer to be a step ahead of the central characters investigating what’s going on. Here in the Eleventh Hour pilot, it’s the latter style. We meet Kelly and know that she’s in trouble before the main characters know who she is, we meet the doctors working on the cloning process before the main characters know who they are, and we see Kelly go off to the hospital and then get abducted by the doctors while the main characters are always a step behind. That’s an interesting stylistic choice, and it’ll be worth noting whether the show maintains that style or not.
As the pilot opens, Jimmi Simpson’s character, who will later be named Will, is leading the cops on a car chase. He tosses a canister with a biohazard symbol out the window, but then immediately proceeds to crash his truck. The cops pick up the canister, and we flash to a Detective McNeil noting that this is the 19th one. Nineteen canisters, with nineteen dead fetuses contained within them. At this point, McNeil is interrupted by the arrival of our conquering heroes. Dr. Jacob Hood, as the series describes him, is the man the FBI sends in to investigate crimes of a scientific nature. Dr. Hood is the man America turns to as its last best hope, and apparently his job only permits him to investigate once things have crossed a certain threshold of seriousness – as in, apparently this wasn’t a big enough deal when there were only a piddling seventeen dead fetuses in cans popping up over the greater Seattle region.
Dr. Hood’s title is special science advisor to the FBI. Because he’s a scientist (which is code for "nerd"), he needs to have some muscle accompany him everywhere he goes. FBI Agent Rachel Young proceeds to pull out her gun in the very first scene she’s in. It’s the first of four different times that she’ll pull out her gun over the course of the episode, despite the fact that nobody else in the episode ever flashes a gun at her or Hood. Rachel Young, it seems, loves to pull out that gun. But it has the desired effect. One of the possible barriers for entry into this series for viewers has to be the possible suspension of disbelief that young petite blonde Marley Shelton is acting as a bodyguard for a well-built adult man. But by the time that Rachel has drawn her weapon for the fourth time, it’s clear enough that she’s pretty tough.
Rachel lectures Detective McNeil, and by extension us in the viewing audience, as to why she’s there. "He spends most of his time in his head, so I have to watch his back," she says of Hood. And Hood is awfully accomplished at ruffling feathers and making people very angry. "He has this annoying habit of telling the truth," Rachel adds. At one point the year before, Dr. Hood was the subject of a bombing attempt.
Over the course of the episode, we see the extent to which Rachel tries to protect Jacob. Wherever they go, Hood is supposed to use an alias, and supposed to always carry a portable "panic button" to push and summon Rachel anytime he may be in trouble. That such a job might be annoying to an FBI agent is abundantly clear, and it turns out that Rachel is not the first Rachel. She tells Jacob at one point that she is not going to be driven away from this job like all of Hood’s previous handlers were. Rachel says that she is committed to this job, but Jacob isn’t necessarily committed to being an affable partner in the arrangement. His people skills are lacking, which is largely why Rachel needs to be there in the first place, and Hood has never made any effort to bond with his partner. When Hood tells a suspect about his own late wife who died two years earlier, it seems clear that Hood has never talked about the subject with Rachel before.
Hood explains the situation at hand. All nineteen of the dead fetuses possessed the same DNA. Somebody is attempting cloning in the greater Seattle area (and not just on Kyle XY). Nineteen dead fetuses represent nineteen failed experiments. And then we immediately cut to #20. We see a pregnant woman named Kelly in a supermarket, as she tries to get away from an abusive ex who has been following her. Later, we’ll learn how the dots are connected. Kelly is being paid to be pregnant, because she needs money to move away from the man who puts her in danger. Kelly volunteered for what she thought was merely a surrogate pregnancy, not having any idea that she’s part of a cloning experiment.
Hood and Young track down Will, the security guard who tried to get rid of the canister, after the local cops are done with him. They bring Will to a church, since he’s a religious man – the canister was found with a crucifix draped around it. Hood may not be the muscle around here, but he does put a scare into Will by shoving him around and screaming at him. And then to add insult to injury, Hood tells Will that God doesn’t love him. Harsh. But it works. Will tells them the location where he worked, and gives up the person he works for, but says that the person is known only as Geppetto.
Jacob and Rachel head to the location that Will gave them, and find what appears to be a recently abandoned mobile lab. The doctor shows up, but runs off as Rachel spots him. Rachel tries to chase him down, and pulls out her gun and starts firing shots at his retreating car. It’s the second chase scene of the episode. Every good pilot for a series needs a good chase scene, just for fun. Was it necessary? Not particularly. But it was fun to look at.
Every good pilot also should up the sex factor, even if it has nothing to do with the show. So soon enough, we are treated to Marley Shelton running around a hotel lobby in her underwear and a flimsy robe, after Jacob accidentally sat on his panic button while at the hotel bar. It’s a completely gratuitous scene to have Shelton running around in her underwear while waving a gun around, but there will be no complaints here. Was it necessary? Not particularly. But Marley Shelton is fun to look at.
The pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Kelly calls the doctor, the same one whom Rachel scared away, calling him Dr. Hayward. Kelly is bleeding and needs medical help. Hayward tells her not to go to the hospital, but Kelly does anyway. Around the same time, Detective McNeil brings Rachel some information on a local disgraced obstetrician who lost his medical license a few years back, a Dr. Sidney Hayward. McNeil also does his best to flirt with Rachel, with absolutely no success.
Hayward is a piece of the puzzle, Jacob notes. But he can’t be the big boss. He’s simply not good enough. "To clone anything takes science stroked gently with artistic hands," Jacob observes to Rachel. Some random local obstetrician would not be able to accomplish something the top scientists in the world have not. Hood gives Rachel a quick overview on how exactly cloning is done, using a grape as a fertilized egg. It’s a nice, effective scene, with Hood putting this scary scientific concept in easy-to-understand terms. For somebody with supposedly no people skills, Hood explains cloning in layman’s terms perfectly.
That’ll be really important to the future of the show, for the complicated scientific concepts to be unpacked in digestible bites for the home audience, while at the same time not cutting corners and making the concepts no longer scientifically sound. But I really have confidence that the show can succeed on that front. I expect to talk more about this particular issue in the weeks to come, but the Bruckheimer pedigree carries weight with me on this front, despite the fact that I really don’t watch any of Bruckheimer’s preexisting shows. Although I don’t watch those shows, it has always been my understanding that the CSI shows are technically spot-on. They aren’t very accurate when it comes to the big picture and how forensics is really not the savior of every murder case in America, but on the technical details of how those processes work, those shows do right. So I have every reason to believe that Eleventh Hour will do the science well also.
After his quick science lesson, Hood proceeds to eat the grape. "Cannibal," Rachel scoffs. There’s a little inkling of humor coming out of the pilot once in a while. In another scene at the hotel, Hood lies in bed and watches a series of TV commercials touting miracle baldness cures and prescription drugs, and scoffs at his TV screen about how they’re all lies. That’ll be important. With such grim subject matter, a little bit of levity to soften things up every now and then will be really helpful.
Jacob and Rachel stumble onto an idea. Maybe there’s something to the fact that this mystery person is named Geppetto. Maybe it’s like the original "Pinocchio" story, in that the goal of all this isn’t really the cloning but rather the desire to have a child, like Geppetto wanted a boy of his own. Hood deduces that the key is figuring out the original source of the DNA, and what might have happened to the original boy and his parents, who might be sponsoring this cloning adventure.
So we head to the library. Jacob and Rachel don’t really operate out of an office as they travel across the country, so when they need information, Hood can’t just pop over to his desk. So it’s off to the public library. Maybe this isn’t entirely realistic, that these two are digging through public library files instead of calling up the FBI for research, but it’s charming in a way. It’s charming to see high-tech storylines handled in a low-tech manner. It’s nice to see Hood digging through stacks of paper rather than simply having, say, a dossier on possible suspects e-mailed to Rachel’s PDA or something. And Jacob finds exactly what he was looking for in the newspaper archives. A rich industrialist named Gifford lost his young son a few years back. Gifford has the motive and the means to be sponsoring this cloning effort.
The next day, Hood and Young track down Gifford. Jacob seems to be doing his best cop impersonation while interrogating Gifford – he must watch a lot of CBS procedural cop shows while in hotel rooms – but Gifford stonewalls him. Rachel tries another tactic. She steals Gifford’s phone, so that they are later able to overheard Gifford making a panicked call to Dr. Hayward and another scary woman.
After getting treated at the hospital, Kelly runs off, and she is found by Hayward and the scary boss lady, who only at the end of the episode will be given a name, Lea. Kelly’s skeevy ex also shows up, and Lea the scary lady proceeds to stab him in the neck with a pair of scissors. Oh, that’s never good. Hayward, meanwhile, whisks Kelly off to another temporary clinic, getting ready to deliver the baby. After the commercial break, Hood and Young show up at Kelly’s apartment, always a step behind everyone. The abusive ex isn’t dead yet, though as Hood explains, it’s only because the scissors are still lodged in his jugular vein and slowing down the blood loss.
Hood is now just as desperate to save Kelly as he is to put a stop to the cloning. Hood seems to fancy himself as a hero – every good scientist does, after all – and wants to save the day and save Kelly’s life. Hood calls in a favor from Detective McNeil, and revisits Gifford’s house armed with a new piece of evidence – a container with the last dead fetus. What could be worse than Gifford’s son Gabriel dying? Gabriel dying over and over, Hood explains. Hood tells Gifford that there are now nineteen dead clones of Gabriel, which can only compound the pain of Gifford having lost his son.
And then Hood explains the even bigger catch of cloning. Even if these fetuses have the same DNA as Gabriel, they’re not really Gabriel. Gabriel was Gabriel because of how he was raised, and that can never be exactly replicated. DNA is really only the foundation of who we are; the story of how we live is just as important. As Gifford breaks down sobbing, he gives up the location where Kelly is supposed to be giving birth.
At the clinic, Hayward is having second thoughts, and suggests to Lea the scary lady that maybe they should turn themselves in. Lea just stabs him in the neck with a syringe. Lea sure loves stabbing people in the neck. And when Jacob and Rachel show up, she attempts to continue that enterprise, attacking Rachel with a scalpel. But Rachel easily fends her off and apprehends her.
But while Rachel and Lea are fighting, Jacob has found Kelly in her makeshift hospital bed, on the verge of death. There’s another person in the room now too, a woman. This is Geppetto. This is the woman that Hood has been chasing around the world. And now that Jacob is in the same room with her, he has to let her go, because Jacob is more concerned with saving the life of the innocent woman dying in front of him. As Jacob administers CPR, Geppetto looks on disinterested. Science requires sacrifices, she says. "Playing God has its disadvantages." She walks off as Hood is trying to save Kelly. For somebody who is supposedly beholden only to science, Jacob has a very different set of priorities when there’s a dying woman in front of him. Hood saves Kelly, while Geppetto gets away. At the very least, though, they will be able to interrogate Lea and Gifford about the real identity of Geppetto. But there’s no time to get into that. Hood gets a phone call. "There’s a situation," he tells Rachel. There’s always a new situation.
What did you think? What interested you in checking out Eleventh Hour in the first place, and do you plan on sticking around? Does the scientific nature of the show tempt you or does it turn you off? What are your initial reactions to the Hood and Young characters? What do you think about the source material, and the way that the cloning debate was handled on the show?