First things first, the news. CBS announced earlier this week that it has ordered five additional episodes of Eleventh Hour, bringing the show to a season total of 18. The show will continue in the same Thursdays-at-10 timeslot through early April. It’s an overdue but nevertheless appreciated show of support from the network for a series that is still having some growing pains but which certainly seems to be getting stronger over time as it figures out who these characters really are. Eighteen episodes is not what has traditionally been called a full season, which is traditionally 22, but eighteen is good. Eighteen I can be very happy with. And I’ve gone very firmly on record in the past espousing a less-is-more attitude toward season lengths, so I’d much rather have 18 strong episodes than 18 strong episodes plus 4 mediocre filler episodes.
So how was this episode, strong or mediocre? I’d lean toward saying it was pretty good. The more we get to learn about who Jacob Hood and Rachel Young are, the better the show is going to get, and there were some very, very positive developments to that end here. The case-o’-the-week takes Hood and Young to Oklahoma, where several students at Tulsa State College have come down with the bends – a condition associated with scuba diving where the body reacts poorly to pressure changes. Oklahoma is not exactly a hotbed of scuba diving, so it’s instantly a stumper.
The first two students, Tom and Tara, both died, necessitating Hood’s arrival on the scene. We’re soon introduced to the next victim. Lawrence and Isaac Richmond are two brothers attending school together. Isaac is the brains; Lawrence is the brawn. He’s a stud on the football team, leading the Tulsa State Titans to a possible berth in the Cotton Bowl, which has everybody on campus excited. (Why is the Cotton Bowl not really something to be excited about? And what does that have to do with the Emmy Awards? That’ll be at the end of the post.)
Isaac accompanies Lawrence on a run, and soon collapses. Isaac has the bends too, but thanks to Hood now being here, it might not be fatal. Hood gets Young to demand that a pressure chamber be flown in, and Isaac is inserted into the chamber, which will buy everyone some time before the condition can kill him.
Jacob and Rachel are assisted by Blake Miller, the head of campus security and a former FBI agent. The three of them start looking for possible leads. The first possible lead is that Tara’s boyfriend had recently scored some designer drugs, so maybe the drugs caused the condition somehow. Nope; dead end. Testing reveals them to be sham drugs, just sugar. So it’s on to the second possible lead. A look at health records reveals that all three victims had recently been administered flu shots at the student health clinic. Did the vaccine somehow go bad? Nope, that’s not the answer either. But it’ll lead to some different answers entirely.
Hood examines the vaccine and doesn’t find anything wrong with it. But when he examines the blood of second victim Tara, he finds that she didn’t have any of the vaccine in her blood anyway. She went to get a flu shot, but was apparently dosed with something else instead. So it’s up to Young and Blake Miller to investigate the people who were administering the flu shots.
While they’re running down these leads, Rachel and Blake exhibit some chemistry, and we’re treated to some meaningful character development for Rachel as a result. Blake lays on a whole lot of flattery, but Rachel’s response is bittersweet. She likes Blake, but she has resigned herself to the fact that her job isn’t going to allow for any sort of relationship, so it’s not worth it to get too close to Blake and just get herself heartbroken. "It’s hard when I get back to my real life," she tells Blake. "How are we supposed to have relationships in this job?" For once, Rachel isn’t talking like a hardened federal agent, but rather like the young woman that she is, somebody with feelings and insecurities and questions about whether she’s really doing the right thing with her life. It’s great to see this additional dimension of her, smiling and laughing. But that being said, it’s also great that this side doesn’t extend too far. She may be young, but she’s not immature. She’s not a floozy who’s going to fall into bed with the first guy who comes on to her. That would have been a big mistake. One of the problems that some people have been having with the show is the feeling that Rachel may be too slight as a character; she’s young and many fans believe she doesn’t really seem to have the stature and gravitas that should be required of an FBI agent. Maybe it’s ironic that Rachel shows strength here in her sex life as opposed to just at her job, but the fact that she’s not willing to settle for a fling with this guy because she wants something more for herself is really a healthy character move.
While Rachel is working with Blake, Hood is working with a university geneticist named Dr. Ruscillo. They find that the victims had something curious going on with their muscle cells. They have been administered a form of gene therapy that is intended to build up the muscle cells. If such a thing were successful, it would be way better than steroids. It’s something that could revolutionize sports, even if maybe in very negative and unhealthy ways.
Rachel and Blake find the link. One of the people administering the flu shots raises a red flag, because he is studying sports medicine. Rachel and Blake inspect his apartment, and find files not on the victims, but rather their siblings. Tom Cassidy’s brother, Tara Bingham’s sister, and Isaac Richmond’s brother are all star athletes. Tom, Tara, and Isaac were guinea pigs – the two guys behind this plot, Dylan and Ellis, used them as test subjects on their experimental gene therapy program because they would have similar body chemistry as their athlete siblings. The tests, needless to say, didn’t work out too great.
The investigation closes in on Dylan and Ellis, though not before Tara’s sister Vivian becomes another casualty. Vivian Bingham was the only one of the athletes who knew something about what really happened to their siblings, and overcome by grief and guilt, she kills herself in a half-beautiful-half-morbid scene diving off into an empty swimming pool. But eventually Young, Miller and Hood are able to capture Dylan and then Ellis.
But they still need to save Isaac, who’s still in the pressure chamber. They also need to save his brother Lawrence. Lawrence knew Dylan and Ellis, but didn’t know what they were actually doing to him – they injected him too, but Lawrence thought he was just getting a standard cortizone shot. Lawrence is prevented from playing in the big football game, but he’ll survive. Isaac will survive as well, as Hood and Dr. Ruscillo are able to concoct an antidote that in effect tricks his cells into no longer replicating the negative chemical reaction that caused the bends.
Elsewhere in the episode, there’s some further character development for both Jacob and Rachel. The first time we see them, in fact, they’re at Hood’s nephew’s birthday party. It’s an odd little glimpse into Hood’s daily life, to see that Rachel accompanies him here, when they’re not really on the job. Hood’s sister notices that as well, and inquires as to whether there’s something more to that relationship. "Strictly professional," Jacob demurs.
Jacob is also pretty great with his nephew. He shows off some science tricks, which are just like the magic tricks your crazy uncle pulled on you as a kid, only these are way cooler. Hood’s surprisingly great with kids – he’s interacted with teenagers and young students a number of times so far in the series, and he seems to really enjoy it. I’m guessing there will be some elaboration at some point as to why Hood and his late wife were never able to have children of their own, and how that may affect Hood today.
Jacob and Rachel talk further about their families later on. Hood notes that his father was a high school football coach, so Jacob, not exactly an athlete, always felt like a disappointment. Rachel has always felt the same way. Her father wanted a son, and even though Rachel followed in his footsteps in joining the FBI, Rachel has never felt fully accepted.
How the BCS is like the Emmy Awards
It’s ironic that people at Tulsa State College are excited about the possibility of going to the Cotton Bowl in this episode, because in real life, the nearby team that’s actually in that position this year could not be more disappointed. That would be Texas Tech University. For Texas Tech, going to the Cotton Bowl will be a massive letdown. The Cotton Bowl is a second-tier game compared to the BCS. To just use the money as a yardstick, this year, it’s estimated that BCS bowls will pay out $17.5 million, whereas the Cotton Bowl will pay out around $3 million.
So what does this have to do with TV? The reason that Texas Tech is locked into the Cotton Bowl is that the BCS only allows a maximum of two teams per conference, and Tech is the #3 team in their conference, despite clearly being one of the top ten teams in the country (there are 10 BCS slots in total). Inferior teams from other conferences will be in the BCS, while Texas Tech will not. A similar situation has long annoyed me with the Emmy Awards. There were 16 different awards for acting handed out at the Emmys this year. But there’s no hope for ever recognizing the 16 best acting performances on television. The fact that the awards are separated into categories makes it impossible.
Here are the sixteen categories: lead actor and actress in a drama, lead actor and actress in a comedy, lead actor and actress in a miniseries or TV-movie, supporting actor and actress in a drama, supporting actor and actress in a comedy, supporting actor and actress in a miniseries or TV-movie, guest actor and actress in a drama, and guest actor and actress in a comedy. You see where the problem is? The title of "Emmy Award Winner" holds massive cache for all of us – but not all Emmy Award winners are created alike. It’s not like you get a bigger trophy for a more important award. An Emmy Award winner is an Emmy Award winner and will forever get to call himself or herself that. So Hugh Laurie and Jon Hamm and Michael C. Hall and Bryan Cranston and Kyle Chandler and the list could go on for another dozen names have to compete in a loaded category of best actor, and only one can win. But is there any argument that any of them gave a less award-worthy performance than whoever in hell wins supporting actress in a TV-movie or miniseries? No. These awards don’t recognize the 16 best performances. They should.
For another angle on how the system is flawed, think about this: Marley Shelton has a far, far better chance of winning an award for Eleventh Hour than Rufus Sewell does. I don’t say this to knock down Shelton; I think she’s probably been unfairly maligned as an actress because the character didn’t have enough to work with for a while. But still, Sewell is the unquestioned dominant figure here. Nonetheless, Sewell has no shot in a lead actor category that is packed with the majority of the greatest performances on TV today. On the other hand, there are simply so few TV dramas with female leads that it is far, far easier to break through. There’s simply less competition. Texas Tech’s conference, the Big XII, is the Lead Drama Actor category – they’re squeezed out by a numbers game despite the fact that their performance is clearly one of the best anybody has put up this year.
Next week: a Spring Break episode. In December. Naturally.
What did you think? Has your judgment of Rachel’s character changed as a result of the episode? Do you think there’s any possibility of Hood and Young becoming more than "strictly professional," or must that be avoided at all costs? And if you’d like to extend the metaphor, if Jacob Hood and Rachel Young are college football teams, what teams are they?