'Eleventh Hour': Youthanasia

Rufus Sewell Last week, the pilot episode of Eleventh Hour offered up a case of dead fetuses. This week, we're growing up a bit, with a series of dead adolescents. It's the aging process in full swing. We're slowly working our way towards an episode full of dead geriatrics. You just wait, senior citizens. You'll get yours. Oh, yes, you will. You'll get yours.

Racking up the frequent flyer miles, Jacob Hood and Rachel Young travel from greater Seattle, the site of last week's episode, all the way to the other side of the country, where a town in rural Georgia is experiencing a bizarre phenomenon of seemingly healthy boys dropping dead of heart attacks. In the opening, Freddy St. John becomes the third such boy to die of a heart attack in the last month. The local doctors are stymied trying to figure it out. There are no drugs or poisons found in blood tests, there's no family history in any of the cases, there are no other precipitating factors other than one boy being overweight, and there are no signs of any physical struggle on any of the victims. In short, the doctors have no answer. But as Hood lets everyone know upon his arrival, he's not that kind of doctor.

Jacob begins his investigation, which takes him and Rachel from the local hospital to the elementary school to the homes of the grieving families. One of the first things that Hood decides to do is crawl through the vents at the elementary school. There are no answers there, just a dead rat. But Hood had fun doing it. He thinks of himself as a superhero, and crawling through vents and getting dressed up in costumes - as he'll do later in the episode - are just part of the job. Admit it: if you had free reign to go anywhere you wanted while conducting an investigation, wouldn't you want to crawl through some vents at some point, just because you've seen people look so cool doing it in movies and TV? I know I would.

Also cool: licking toads. At least, that's apparently what the cool kids in rural Georgia do. While Hood is investigating, a big flashing red light emerges on one possible suspect, a hospital administrator named Beatrice Brown who's super-overprotective of her son Stephen, a boy in the same grade as all the children who have died. Mrs. Brown doesn't want Stephen hanging around with the riff-raff, but Stephen sneaks out to be with the cool kids anyway. And here, what the cool kids do is lick toads in abandoned barns. Cool! But is it science? Hmmm. This is a show about science, right? It's been almost fifty years since Timothy Leary's first experiments with hallucinogens, and there's still no scientific consensus on whether any of that was science or crackpot-ism.

For the record, Hood knows all about the effects of hallucinogens. Stephen comes back to the school and manages to pass out right in front of Jacob and Rachel. When Stephen is carted to the hospital, he is found to have been under the effect of a hallucinogenic called bufotenin that Jacob knows is found in certain mushrooms and toads. So Jacob and Rachel don some galoshes and go to the swamps for a little toad-hunting excursion. "What I think our kids have been doing is a little thing called 'toad-licking," Hood observes. "That's sick," Rachel responds. Such a girl.

Hood ultimately identifies the guilty toads, and traces their appearance - they're not indigenous to the area - to a woman named Lizzie Summers, who works as a "homeopathic pharmacist," also known as a drug dealer. Lizzie actually uses the toads to concoct an herbal remedy for erectile dysfunction, which she sells over the internet. Some of Lizzie's toads were stolen by a boy named Jesse Freeman, who introduced young Stephen to the world of toad-licking. Jesse is the primary suspect at this point, but then he quickly winds up dead.

While at the Summers farm, Jacob also learns that there is a poisonous plant in the neighboring swamp, known as foxglove. While foxglove can be poisonous, it can also be harnessed for use as a heart medication, and Summers did make heart medication for one town resident, the math teacher Mr. Tewsbury. Tewsbury acquired a lot of this medication, so maybe, Hood reasons, he could have used high dosages of it as a poison. At this point, Tewsbury becomes the primary suspect - and then like Jesse, he also immediately winds up dead.

Marley Shelton Hood conducts an experiment. Bees are attracted to foxglove, so Hood acquires some possessions of all the victims and brings in a swarm of bees. This is notable mostly for Jacob dressing up in a beekeeper's outfit, his second time in the episode getting to play dress-up, while Rachel runs out of the room, shrieking her distaste for bees. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's the bodyguard, running panicked out of the room. But the experiment also yields results: all of the victims did come into contact with high amounts of foxglove that had to have been intentionally placed.

Jacob has an idea. Somebody appears to be killing off the weak. So it would only make sense that the killer be the strongest one around - or, since this is all revolving around a school, the smartest. Hood decides to lay a trap and find the smartest kid by way of challenging the entire grade to solve a math problem. The only one who can do it (despite the fact that the actual math problem was totally easy) is none other than Stephen Brown.

Hood asks Stephen why he killed his classmates, and despite Mrs. Brown's attempts to claim credit, Hood knows it couldn't have been her. Whoever did this was a genius, or at least a little genius-in-training, requiring a skill set with chemistry way beyond what the mother would possess. Stephen had to do the whole thing, including mixing chemical compounds and faking blood samples. "I had to kill them. They were holding me back. They were holding the whole school back. The whole school was suffering because of those stupid kids," Stephen says. Stephen's classmates had low test scores that brought the school down, so they had to go. So Stephen's basically adult-size crazy in a child-size package. Of course, if you ask me, the real reason Stephen went nuts is that Mrs. Brown forbid there to be a TV in their house. Now that's crazy.

So what do we take out of the episode? Whereas the pilot episode was a reworking of an episode of the original British Eleventh Hour, this is the first episode that is uniquely credited to the producers of the American show. Theoretically, that means that this episode is more in line with what the show will be like in future episodes. You can make your own interpretations below in the comments of what that means as far as the level of quality. I'll just note that this episode was clearly different in the style of storytelling from the premiere. In the premiere, we knew the people who were behind the cloning efforts and we just waited for Hood to track them down. This episode was far more of a classic whodunit, which in turn makes it far more like the other procedural dramas in the CBS lineup. Will the show remain that way? We'll see. As any good scientist would tell you, this is still much too small a sample size to draw any firm conclusions just yet.

What did you think? Better or worse than the pulled-from-the-British series premiere? Are you surprised that CBS would run a show with kids killing kids in the wake of last year's Kid Nation debacle? What's the craziest thing you did when you were eleven years old? And lastly, which of Jacob's experiments in zoology would you rather: handle a dead rat in a confined space, lick a toad that had been pulled out of the swamp, or lock yourself in a bathroom with a swarm of bees?

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