28 May 2009

My Own Worst Enemy

A while back, I came across this series at Target. It looked like the type of character study that tends to interest me. Last night I finally watched the first episode, and it was a lot of fun. Now, this is one that you don't want to take too seriously. If it was just the technology that was implausible, that would be no different from many other shows. There's another problem, though.

The premise is that Edward is a spy. His cover is Henry Spivy, who is an entirely different person worked into Edward's brain through top-secret government technology. Now, this is a fascinating situation to watch unfold. It begins with Henry entirely unaware of Edward's existence...until he "wakes up" in the middle of a stakeout and nearly gets himself (and Edward) killed. Edward's handlers extract Henry, and attempt to erase his memories of Edward. Naturally, this turns out not to work except temporarily, and it puts Henry/Edward in danger.

The "relationship" between Edward and Henry is portrayed beautifully by Christian Slater. And as a character study, I loved it. However, it is one of the most improbable spy set-ups I've ever seen. I'm sure I've seen worse, but usually the acting is so horrendous that I don't bother trying to make sense of it.

Real spies are nothing like James Bond. They cannot keep a high profile. They cannot be easily recognized by the "bad guys." Real spies do need good covers for their operations, and a traveling salesman is a reasonable one. Edward, though, is a James-Bond-style spy. The bad guys know his face. In the real world, this would make him useless as a spy. Now, why does someone whose face is already recognizable by the enemy need a cover so deep that his cover doesn't know he's a spy? I haven't come up with an answer to that.

So let's look at the cover instead. The place where a deep cover like this would be useful is with a sleeper agent: one who's put in place early on, ready to be activated when the situation calls for it. That would be a perfect place for this type of dual personality cover. But, no, that's not what we have on the show. Henry gets to spend two days at home, then he goes on a 2-day business trip...where really Edward gets activated to save the world ... two days later, Henry returns, gets implanted with false memories of his boring business trip, spends two days at home... etc. Edward is an active spy; he doesn't need this idiotic deep cover. If anything, it makes him more vulnerable, not less.

Now, how could the set-up be altered to keep the basic premise but be at least marginally plausible? The best I've been able to come up with is to alter it so that this is a purely experimental project. They're testing the limits of their personality-switching device by switching it on and off at regular intervals, but not so often that neither personality can't have some semblance of a life. This is clearly not what's going on in the show, as there is at least one other dual personality spy (whose other half isn't waking up unexpectedly), and it's implied that there may be others, and this other dual-spy is also switched on and off every two days.

The best I can do with the setup as given is to conclude that the person running the operation is insane, and has enough clout to keep a patently ridiculous program operating. So for the acting and the character study, I highly recommend this series (though the 9 eps on the DVD seem to be all that were ever made). That part is a lot of fun. Just don't think too deeply about the setup, at least not while you're watching it.

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