“Pilot” (Episode 101)
January 14, 2019
If you read our Love It Or Leave It? Review for The Passage, you know we’re big fans. This was a no brainer show for us to recap because there is so much juicy detail in the episodes. At PCR, we love to dig in, rehash and relive great TV. Our recaps are blow by blow accounts of the episodes, full of details you might have missed and quotes that we think resonate and should be highlighted.
So, let’s not waste a minute. Read on for the deep dive recap and review of The Passage episode, “Pilot” … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!
“My name is Amy Bellafonte. I didn’t used to believe in monsters, but I do now.”
So begins our story. Amy (played by the young and delightful, Saniyya Sidney) is riding in a car as she narrates how our story began. For that, we need to go back in time three years …
Bolivian Highlands, 2015. Doctors Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane) and Jonas Lear (Henry Ian Cusick) are walking through some ancient Bolivian forest looking for “a magical 250-year old man.” Clark Richards (Vincent Piazza) is there with the doctors and represents the military side of their expedition. He’s got a group of American soldiers with him. The men are traveling with Bolivian soldiers who are acting as their guide. Jonas is convinced they can “change the world” if they can find this mystery man. Richards mentions that they are here because the “DoD and CDC believe” in Lear so, now we know that this is a sanctioned mission.
Hot take: This group has no business walking through this area, that’s the definite mood. White men scientists working for the American military/government complex should never be trolling through Bolivian forests looking for ancient old people. That’s bad juju.
We arrive at a cave where the Bolivian soldiers say the mystery man is located but they tell Richards that they will not be going inside. That’s the right call, as it turns out, because inside the creepy cave, shit goes side ways almost immediately. The group finds their old man but he’s locked in a cage. This is Red Flag Number 1. Red Flag Number 2? A young boy is unlocking said cage and keeps saying, “Jararaca.”
Fanning approaches the ancient saying he’s a doctor and he can help but the ancient man isn’t actually much more than a terrifying skeleton that proceeds to nom nom nom on Fanning’s neck. Bullets don’t put the creature down and it isn’t until Richards takes a rock to the creature’s head that things calm down.
Lear runs to his friend lying on the ground. Blood is pouring out of the puncture wounds on Tim’s neck. Yikes. RIP Tim Fanning. It was nice to have known you, albeit briefly.
But wait. Dead isn’t really dead anymore. At the Bolivian hospital, Tim comes sauntering out to his friend. Jonas was sure Fanning was dead but no no no, Tim tells his bestie that he feels amazing; he is sure they found what they were looking for. One small problem, let’s call this Red Flag Number 3. Tim Fanning has a crazed way about him and is bleeding from his mouth. He also spits a massive looking tooth into his hand.
“Project NOAH was born,” Amy voices over.
Huntsville State Prison, Texas. Present Day. Meet Brad Wolgast (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). Brad and his partner, Phil Doyle (Zach Appelman), are here to meet with a prisoner on death row, Anthony Carter (McKinley Belcher III). In exchange for commuting Carter’s death sentence, Wolgast and Doyle offer him a place in Project NOAH. What is project NOAH, you ask? I am glad you asked. It is a federally sponsored medical organization committed to finding a way to make all Americans immune to all diseases. Heavy hitter diseases like, AIDS, SARS, Ebola.
Wolgast tells Carter that he’s being offered a spot in the program and mentions others that have done the program, people like Martin Echols, John Baffes, and Shauna Babcock.- all former death row inmates that took this chance. Carter asks the very sensible question of whether he can speak with any of these felons to get a sense of their experience with Project NOAH but Doyle counters that Carter is looking at execution so, he’s not so much with the better options.
Carter thinks he’l reject this deal. Wolgast steps back in, all good cop to Doyle’s bad, and tells Carter that of course he has a choice to participate or not but Anthony is facing certain death here in Huntsville. And Wolgast is offering him time. Time to continue living.
“I can give you an ocean of time.”
Project NOAH. Telluride, Colorado. A group of doctors are gathered around a conference table. We see Dr. Lear is at the table and Richards is standing off to the side. The leader of this meeting, Dr. Major Nichole Sykes (Caroline Chikezie), explains to the learned men and women that the Chinese Avian Flu has gone pandemic and will hit the Unites States in three months if it’s not contained. This is a nasty disease, only 12 hours from first signs of sickness to death.
Sykes tells the room that the CDC thinks the work at Project NOAH is the best path for saving America. Dr. Lear pipes in with the bad news … they haven’t actually solved anything yet or had any kind of breakthough. One of the younger doctors, Dr. Daniel Pet (Alain Uy), thinks he has an idea but assures the room that no one will like it. We head “to the cells” to get further explanation of his idea.
The cells, as it turns out, are the cages where test subjects of Project NOAH are kept and monitored. It’s a grostesquerie of half formed monsters that used to be humans. We see Tim Fanning, now a full on terrifying creature that only vaguely seems human anymore. Dr. Pet narrates for us that Fanning was 52 when he got bit in Bolivia. Afterwards, his immune system went into over drive and experienced a period of accelerated healing. But, Tim’s eventually systems began to slow and decline into the monster sitting before them.
“He’s immune to disease but he’s also a lethal, bloodsucking monster who we are all very careful not call a vampire.”
Pet goes on to narrate the timeline of their experiments. With each new test subject, they tweaked the formula, providing longer and longer periods of sustained health but all, eventually declining into lethal, ugly creatures.
And then came Shauna Babcock. “Subject 11. The best result yet.” Dr. Pet explains that Shauna took 28 days to decline and, as we see Shauna sitting in her cell, looks no where nears as scary or decrepit as the other test subjects. Pet tells the assembled doctors (and us) that Babcock is immune to diseases AND remains human in appearance and in her vitals. Richards mentions that she can now also rip you apart and “drink you like a Jamba Juice.” Fair enough, concedes Dr. Pet but … Progress!
Dr. Pet says that age is a key factor in their formula, younger people have more neurons and can better absorb the Project NOAH vaccine. Anthony Carter, who arrives tomorrow, won’t be young enough, Pet says. To the horror of Lear and Sykes, Dr. Pet proposes that the next step in Project NOAH is to test their formula on a child. Children have billion more neurons than adults and are ideal for handling the Project NOAH vaccine with zero side effects.
“You wanted a solution? This is it.”
Cut to Sykes taking a run to clear her mind. She comes back to the compound to find Richards waiting for her. She’s made her decision because she knows that Pet’s theory is sound. Sykes asks Clark if he can find a child and he responds by asking her if she can live with this decision? No, is her honest answer. But, she’s weighing a child’s life against millions of lives that are at risk. The greater good and all that.
Richards is a soldier and understands having a mission. Clark tells Sykes that he can find the right kind of child, i.e., one with no family that will miss him or her when they disappear.
Memphis, Tennessee. Meet Amy Bellafonte, again. This time we get a proper introduction to Amy who is living a life of a lonely child. She’s got a mom but her mom works nights. Amy is a 10 year old badass with wit, brains and strength. And a fresh mouth. We learn that she’s moved around a lot having already lived in Georgia and Baton Rouge. After eating a lonely dinner at a diner, she returns home to find her mother just died. Like, just right now. Of a “drug over dose.” She watches her dead mother be carried out of their home. Suspicious timing.
Amy is taken to a police station to be held as she has no other people. We learn she’s going to be placed in a temporary foster home for the weekend until social services can process her on Monday. Amy tells us what this story is about.
“I’m the girl from nowhere. The one no one will miss. That’s why they chose me. My name is Amy Bellafonte. This is how the world ends.”
Brand and Phil deliver Anthony Carter into to the plush hands of Project NOAH, based out of a former hotel in picturesque Telluride. As Anthony disappears into an elevator with some medical staff, Doyle asks Brad if he wonders about what happens to the “homicidal maniacs” after they get into that elevator? Wolgast assures his partner that he does not think about such things. Well, that’s one way to compartmentalize.
Clark Richards crosses the foyer and him and Brad bro it up. We get some exposition that the two men served three tours together in a special ops group. Clark says that Brad taught him everything he knows and remarks that Brad is a dangerous man. Clark hands over a new file to Brad and studies Brad’s reaction as Wolgast reviews their newest target. Wolgast looks up and assures his boss that it won’t be a problem. Clark looks a little relieved, and maybe a little surprised, at Brad’s answer.
Cut to Amy. She’s been placed with a real “Miss Hannigan” type for you Annie fans out there. She’s also getting into fights on the playground, Lord of the Flies-style. Awful Foster mom (which how she is credited in IMDb) hands Amy over Brad and Phil. Brad gives his sympathy for her mom’s death and explains that they think it was due to a toxin. The CDC wants to run some tests on Amy in Colorado to see if she is okay. Amy is all red flags at this mumbo jumbo and calls Brad on why there is no social services lady. “They always send a lady.” Amy … is no dummy. Brad gives a verbal shrug and Awful Foster Mom sends her on her way to pack up her stuff.
Upstairs, Amy promptly bolts out the window, a small back pack and her well worn copy of A Wrinkle in Time the only possessions she takes with her. Brad calmly notes her escape but Phil is all in freak out mode and begins to chase her. They track her to a playground easily enough. Brad hangs back, there a bunch of people around, but Doyle goes in blazing and abducts her in the most horrible way possible, full on bitch slap included. The two men make off with the girl but what a shit show if you’re trying to keep a low profile. A few blocks away, Brad pull the car over and slams Phil’s face into the dashboard.
“You hit the kid again, I will shoot you in the face.”
Brad checks on Amy to make sure she’s okay and not overly injured from the grown man whacking her head. She’s scared as hell but tells him she more or less okay. Clark calls in to check on their progress. Brad tells him they got the girl but notes the aforementioned shit show, including police and 10 witnesses. He tells Richards they should drop the girl somewhere and abort this plan. Clark gives him a definitive, “no way.” The girl is necessary and don’t you worry why we need a 10 year old kid, Brad!
“You know the people we work for Brad. You can’t cross them. Don’t test me.”
Well, that’s not fucking ominous at all.
Benton, Arkansas. To recap the mood in the car: Phil is pissy after being dashboarded; the wheels are turning in Brad’s head; and Amy is about to be car sick after reading in the car. Brad pulls over and is all fatherly concerned while Doyle stays in the car … pissily. He is even more pissy when Brad sends him to get a clear carbonated soda and crackers and then finds out he has to ride in the back so Amy can have shotgun.
Brad is doing his best here to not be a monster but Amy isn’t really buying any of it. She’s pretty sure she’s bring kidnapped and that the “doctor in Colorado” story is bullshit.
Project NOAH. Jonas stands in front of his friend’s cage as Fleetwood Mac’s classic, “The Chain” (from the fantastic, Rumours album), plays in the background. A soldier, Lawrence Grey (Jason Fuchs), comes by and asks about the song. Jonas admits Tim liked the song and is hoping he’ll respond … if he’s still in there. Grey assures Dr. Lear that Fanning is still there … Lawrence tells Jonas that Fanning visits him in his dreams, talks to him. Grey is terrified by how real it feels. Him and a lot of the other men are getting these nighttime visits. Dr. Lear assures him that it’s just cabin fever.
Dr. Lear tells Grey not to read too much into it as Fleetwood Mac sings, “Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies.” Sure, this will all work out great.
Grey’s dreams are like Red Flag Number Gazillion.
Across the way, Dr. Pet scoffs to Clark about Lear’s classic rock stylings. He is SURE that Tim Fanning is gone and no amount of awesome 70s tunes can bring his bestie back. Pet says that they’re all gone, as far as higher brain function goes anyway. He admits that they all have their things they do on instinct, like, how Babcock is eye fucking the shit out of Clark right now. “That’s her thing.”
Pet asks for some exposition on Shauna and we learn she was on death row for the double murder of her parents. “Gah” is essentially Pet’s response and he announces that it is feed time. If you were wondering, blood is the meal of the day around here and Shauna is all face deep in some nom nom nom blood vittles. After she takes a long drink, she comes to the front of her cage and stares right into Clark’s face, her eyes bright orange. Same with Tim over in his cage, staring in to Lear’s face. CREEPY!
Back in the kidnapping car, Amy has settled down with Brad’s iPad and is watching some good ole Bob’s Burgers. She announces that he’s gotten a text from a “Lila.” Who now? Brad’s ex-wife. Phil didn’t even realize his partner had an ex-wife. Brad asks what the message says. Seems she has left several messages and she’s worried about Brad. Phil is eye rolling hard in the back seat. Phil is a dick.
Amy’s eyes light up when they see a carnival and brad is all about it. Impromptu carnival adventure! Phil’s eyes roll over like a slot machine. He pulls Brad aside and reminds his partner that Amy is not a cute orphan but rather “cargo.” Wolgast visibly restrains himself from striking Doyle and just responds that they’re going into the carnival for 90 minutes, clear?
Project NOAH. That night, in the crew quarters, Sykes finds Richards waiting for her in her bedroom. But, it’s cool. They’re a couple. As they lay down for some sexy times, she asks after the child and Clark tells her the girl’s name is Amy. Seeing how conflicted Sykes is, he tries to reassure her — they’ve vetted the science, Amy will be fine. Now come give daddy some sugar.
The sexy times commence but suddenly, it’s Shauna riding him instead of Nichole. “Hey baby, I missed you.” Ruh Roh! Shauna tells Clark that she thinks about him all the time (he does too, he admits) but then also admonishes him for lying to her. She bears her fangs and he wakes up in a cold sweat, Sykes sleeping peacefully at his side. Crazy dream, huh?
We come back to the carnival and Amy, faced covered in sugar, spies a stuffed unicorn she’d very much like to have.
“What is it with 10-year-old girls and unicorns?”
It’s not just 10-year-old girls, Brad. Believe me. Anyway, it’s a bullseye shooting game. Amy gives Brad some shit about probably not being able to make the shot and he assures he’s gotten medals in marksmanship. Way to rise to the bait of a 10-year-old, Brad. Male pride is something else, amiright?!?
Brad nails the shot and then turns the rifle over to Amy. They have a spat over what she can and cannot do. Brad believes in her. He gives Amy some quick training on how to take a precise shot and bing, she’s nails the first bunny. And then bing, nails the second. She won herself a unicorn and Brad is besides himself on how well she did.
Note: This was my favorite scene in the episode. Some Grade A acting and chemistry between Sidney and Gosselaar.
As Amy picks out her prize, Brad walks off to take a call from Lila, the ex-wife. Dr. Lila Kyle (Emmanuelle Chriqui) asks Brad how he’s doing; Eva’s birthday is coming up. It’s been three years but they both agree it doesn’t get easier. Lost child I think we have to presume. She also wants to tell Brad that a man named David asked her to marry him and she said yes. She turns the screw as she tells Brad she feels like she needs to move on and maybe even have another kid. Brad doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say here, congratulations?
Lila is trying to get a reaction out of him, maybe something like telling her that he will come home to her.
Wait, so if Brad was like, “I’ll come home,” Lila would say … what? “Peace out David. Not only will I not marry you but it’s over between us?!?” Girlfriend is Savage as fuck. Lila assures Brad that what happened to Eva wasn’t his fault and she’ll tell him that as many times as he needed to hear it if he would only come home.
I … I don’t think she’s in a great relationship with this David is this is how she is talking to Brad. It’s all for naught though because Brad tells her that he can’t come home. They hang up and he harasses Amy about how ridiculous the unicorn is. She disagrees, calling it “freaking awesome.”
Phil finds them and it’s time to get going. Brad agrees but first, potty breaks. As a cover of the Eagles classic, “Take It To The Limit,” plays on the soundtrack, Brad follows Phil into the toilet and chokes out his
partner former partner. I don’t know what’s worse, that Brad choke him out or that he leaves him unconscious on the floor of the carnival bathroom.
“New plan,” Brad announces to Amy. He tells her that A. Phil isn’t feeling well so he’s going to stay behind and B. No Colorado, that’s a bad place. Brad tells Amy that some bad people are going to come looking for them so she needs to trust him. He starts to press his argument further but Amy is all in.
“I trust you. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
They grab hands and take off running.
Project NOAH. Clark and Sykes are in a conference room speaking to a disembodied voice. Disembodied voice says that Brad is a trained killer and a liability and he needs to go. Clark Richards is a soldier and agrees to do what must be done. He assures Nichole that being friends won’t matter. I suspect you’re lying Clark … or else, you’re a cold-hearted monster.
The next morning, in the fugitives car, Brad pulls off the road by a river. He wakes up Amy and tells her it’s time for her to say goodbye to her mama. He assures Amy that it’s an important thing for her to do. Maybe say a memory or something she did? Besides being a junkie he has to qualify for the sassy Amy.
“Anger is poison. Maybe you can leave some of it here.”
It takes her a minute but Amy finds the catharsis of the moment. She tells Brad how her mom once made her a birthday cake out of doughnut holes, covered it in whipped cream and let her eat it for dinner. She talks about how her mom never yelled at her when she got scared. She begins to break down into tears as she recalls that her mother told her that Amy “was the joy of her life.” Brad hugs her as she weeps.
I’m not crying, you’re crying. SHUT UP!
Project NOAH. We come back to Anthony Carter getting a physical by an unseen doctor. Unseen Doctor pronounces Anthony in excellent shape and assures him he’s going to be a great addition. What’s your name, Anthony asks? We pan up to see it’s Tim Fanning. Normal looking. Not vampire-y at all.
Anthony asks what’s going to happen to him? Fanning doesn’t sugarcoat things and tells Carter straight up, it’s going to be bad and then it’s going to get worse. Much worse. Tim begins to bleed from his mouth as the viral look returns to him. Complete with the orange eyes. Tim finishes by telling Anthony that he’s going to be with Anthony the whole time and things will get better.
“And it will get better. And when it does, oh brother, it’s going to be glorious.”
Carter wakes up in the same examination room from his dream, handcuffed to the exam table. We cut to Tim down in his cage, a creepy smile spreading across his face.
At a quickie mart, Brad is buying some snack when he notices his face plastered on the TV as a kidnapper of children. Project NOAH has gone on the offensive. Brad makes his exit and uses a payphone to call Lila. She picks up and he begins to tell her that if Richards comes a sniffing, to say that she hasn’t heard from Brad in months. Lila cuts him off and uses some coded talk to indicate that Clark (and his men) is actually there with her now. Brad and Lila discuss the bold, underlined items: Lila is currently fine, the thing on the news about him isn’t true, and whatever happens, know that Brad is “trying to do the right thing.” Brad tells Lila that he loves her and then hangs up.
We stay with Lila as Clark sweet talks her that she should tip him off if she hears from Brad; maybe he can help him out if he can get to Brad before the police. Lila tells Richards that she’s sure there is an explanation and for Clark to remember that he and Brad are friends. The “you dick,” goes unsaid but the implication is clear.
Back in the car of fugitives and regret, Brad sits quietly as he notices a sheriff’s car nearby. He makes the decision to turn himself in versus going on the run with Amy. Brad tells Amy that if they surrender, they can get her on TV so no one will hurt her. She objects and only hears the part of the plan where Brad is leaving her. She turns from him but he needs to make her understand that her safety is the only goal.
“Your life is important. You are important. You’re wicked smart and strong and fast and funny and tough … that is not my opinion. That is a fact.”
She reluctantly agrees to the surrender.
Inside the Sheriff’s office, Brad is handcuffed to a chair while Amy chugs a soda. Brad asks after the reporter they requested but Sheriff Po Dunk isn’t really paying attention. He’s paying even less attention when he gets a call from the Department of Defense. Brad’s eyes go wide and he knows trouble is coming. He has Amy fetch the handcuff keys and tells her they need to bail ASAP. He tries to tell the Sheriff too but it’s too late because Richards and his Goon Squad have arrived and open fire, killing the Sheriff immediately.
Brad lays out a bunch of baddies and him and Clark are face to face soon enough. Clark assures Brad that A. Brad doesn’t understand what’s happening and B. He will kill Brad if he has too. Brad shoots to create a distraction and him and Amy are off. Brad takes a stray bullet in the side gut. They steal a Sheriff’s car and make their escape as Project NOAH jumps into pursuit. Amy is terrified and breathing hard. Brad assures it’s going to be okay and then promises that he won’t leave her.
We are back to the opening scene, of Amy in the car, narrating for us.
“Of everything that happened. This is the part I think of the most. Whatever was coming, we would face it together.”
How is THAT for a Pilot episode, amiright? I had the good fortune to see The Passage Pilot way back in October at New York Comic Con and discuss the show with the cast (check out the coverage here). I saw a lot of pilots at NYCC but this was the one that stuck with me. And not because of the action or the genre type – truth be told, I love sci-fi horror but I am not really into vampires – but because of the relationships and characters. From the get go, I was taken by the Brad and Amy relationship, the natural father-daughter chemistry between these two was strong and left me wanting more. And that’s to say nothing of the unknown history between Fanning and Lear or the mysterious connection between Shauna Babcock and Clark Richards.
This Pilot has set up the story conceit of The Passage perfectly but has also given us a feast of character depth and intrigue. Who are these people? Is what we see now everything there is? I don’t think so, not by a mile.
These characters all have stories and I am excited to learn about them as well as Project NOAH. Liz Heldens, who adapted The Passage for TV (from the Justin Cronin novels) and serves as showrunner, has a strong history of writing good character stories (she cut her teeth on Friday Night Lights – one of the best character driven shows ever) and I trust her implicitly to continue to handle the delicate balance of horror and gore on one side and character development and strong relationships that make us care on the other side.
And this is key to whether The Passage is going to be successful. You will always have a niche group turn out for any kind of genre show. Some people really fucking love vampires and the undead and will seek out that story wherever it is. But, to be successful on a network at 9pm on a Monday? You BETTER bring great characters with strong stories the audience is invested in or else, you won’t have a show for long.
I think The Passage can do it and I am here for the ride. I hope you are too. Thank you for reading and we’ll see you next week!