Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Zero Hour "Strike"

Non Spoiler Review:
Zero Hour is a new series from ABC that promised plenty of Da Vinci Code-type conspiracy with an exciting promo trailer. I had high hopes that it would prove a pleasant surprise given so many other hyped series have failed so miserably to deliver on the goods—The Event, Terra Nova, Revolution, etc. Despite being biased against network shows in favor of cable, I wanted to really like this. But now I realize that isn't a bias, but a justifiable opinion—The EventTerra NovaRevolution, etc.

The series begins with a flashback to pre-War Germany and a conspiracy to hide some important artifacts from the Nazis. Flash forward to the present and we meet Hank (Anthony Edwards) and Laila Gallistan on a shopping trip that will change their life. She's immediately kidnapped for something she purchased and husband Hank, along with the intrepid reporters that work for him at his Modern Skeptic magazine, embark on a journey to find the truth, stumbling upon a secret of apocalyptic proportions.

Zero Hour is thoroughly crazy—perhaps not yet at bat-shit levels, but that's definitely within the realm of possibility. What could be a very interesting storyline is immediately hindered by a cast of caricatures—not characters—devoid of development except what is told to us through exposition-heavy dialogue. This is the kind of writing where characters ominously report that "the end times are upon us", or the rationale skeptic is instructed "now is the time for faith." It's the kind of world where you can spontaneously decide to fly up to the Arctic Circle and luck out that the flight leaves in a few hours.

I can overlook the outrageously contrived events and perhaps come to enjoy Zero Hour on a mindless popcorn entertainment level, but we're not even there yet, so I'll wait until I get a few more episodes under my belt. I remain hopeful. The mystery will keep me coming back next week. Zero Hour, for now, is a very rough start that could easily be dragged down from it's potential. It's definitely something aimed for network television, and not the HBO crowd.

Spoilers Now!
1938, Germany. A man interrupts a priest overseeing the assembly of twelve clocks, warning him the Nazis have made a breakthrough and the end times are upon them. He takes him to a hospital the Nazis appropriated, showing him an ominous Antichrist-like baby with white eyes. They’re quickly discovered and flee into the streets. The men are Rosicrucians and declare they must protect what lies in the tunnels beneath their church. They haul up a large sarcophagus-looking thing and load it into a truck to hide it from the Nazis, even as the Germans break into the church and gun everyone down. The truck gets away, and the dying priest declares only the twelve can help now.

In present-day Brooklyn, Hank Gallistan and his wife Laila are perusing items at booths along the waterfront. He heads off to work, leaving her to finish her shopping, where she finds an interesting clock that she purchases for her own shop.

Hank works at the Modern Skeptic magazine, with reporters Rachel and Arron. He gets a frantic call from Laila saying someone is breaking into her store. He rushes out, instructing Arron to call the police. He gets to their shop to find it ransacked.

With his wife missing, the police advise Hank they’ll be assigning a detective and will be in touch. Hank thinks it doesn’t add up, given nothing is missing. They appear to have wanted his wife. Rachel and Arron are waiting for him when he gets home and together they attempt to get some answers. Hank spies a bag with a clock in it that means Laila stopped at home first with her purchase. The FBI abruptly show up to interview him.

Agent Riley explains they’ve been working on this case a long time and may have an idea who has her. They show him a traffic camera across the street from the shop that caught the perpetrator taking off with Laila. His name is White Vincent, an infamous mercenary. She needs to know why he would be taking his wife. Hank gets defensive and snarky and suggests she talk to the police.

After they leave, Hank examines the clock Laila bought (as marriage to a clock expert means he's absorbed a lot of that knowledge) and assumes that’s what the man was looking for. He proceeds to take it apart and finds a diamond inside, one that is flawed as it casts an odd shadow on the wall—a map.

Hank is skeptical that it’s a treasure map, but they go to a priest friend who might be able to read the language. The father is shocked to find the language is a dead one from the Second Century. Odd given the map is of the Western Hemisphere, which means someone in the church is still using the language. He explains they are Rosicrucians, who were a society of mystics readying themselves for the Apocalypse. There is also the name of a city named New Bartholomew in the Arctic Circle.

Hank then gets a rambling phone call from Laila’s captor, who explains if he knew the real truth he would lose his mind. Vincent tells him he gets the clock or she dies, so Hank agrees to a meeting. The priest pleads with him not to give over such a historical artifact to a mad man, and suggests he won’t let Laila go. He wants to bait him with the clock but hold on to the diamond.

Hank goes to the FBI with the situation. It's Riley's turn to give him attitude and wants to monitor the rendezvous. She promises him this will be his best chance at getting his wife back alive. Hank gives the priest the diamond to keep safe, given it’s their only leverage. Hank is directed to the meeting place as the FBI monitors the call. Hank gets a second call pointing him to a coffee shop. As he stops to tie his shoe, Hank realizes that Vincent isn’t actually watching him, and figures something is up. The FBI, meanwhile, raids a building, finding it empty with a camera pointed to where Hank was. Hank runs in, concluding this was all misdirection.

The priest is Vincent’s target, and as Hank and the FBI get to the church they find him nearly dead and the diamond gone. He’s taken off to the hospital and Hank is enraged that the FBI let Vincent get what he wanted.

Despondent, Hank knows Vincent doesn’t need Laila anymore. Rachel and Arron encourage him to have faith. They return to work to start analyzing their information, starting with New Bartholomew. Hank decides to arrange travel to the Arctic (!) and needs Rachel and Arron to remain behind to keep searching.

Hank bids them good-bye and begins his odyssey to the Arctic Circle where he’s quickly intercepted by the FBI at the airport. Riley wants him to come clean as she can be a resource, virtually begging to follow along. She admits her husband was killed in a Russian plane crash that was bombed. So see, they have a lot in common. She knows he’s going after Vincent, and she’s trained and licensed to use her weapon. She already has her ticket.

Arron has found a name on the clock—a German clockmaker who is currently 93 in Bavaria. They head off to Germany. 

In Nunavut, Vincent is holed up in a motel, and as he takes out his contact lens he reveals he has white eyes, and sadly, very likely not the Antichrist (but probably immortal). Hank and Riley hire a plane to the Arctic Circle and learn a man with an accent was asking the very same thing the day before and ended up driving all the way up the ice instead.

The pilot takes the two of them to the location on the map where they see a metal structure in the distance. They clear the snow away to find a Nazi insignia. As they climb inside they find frozen bodies that appear to be executed, as well as a map.

In Bavaria, Rachel and Arron show up at their clockmaker's house. Luckily he speaks English and after a moment of telling them to go away, opts to welcome the two frantic strangers inside. She shows him a photo of his clock which prompts him to make the sign of the cross. He had thought the clocks were lost and asks if blood has been spilled. He declares they are looking for the clocks again. Queue the infodump...

New Bartholomew isn’t a place, it was a man. Twelve numbers on the clock equal twelve apostles. In 1938 twelve men were entrusted with the salvation of mankind as the church appointed twelve new apostles that were given a secret not even the Pope new, one that could bring about the end of the world. They were scattered to keep the secret from the Nazis, one clock for each. He made the clock for New Bartholomew, a noble man who was also a Nazi officer (seen in the first flashback). Only the twelve knew the secret of what was hidden beneath the cathedral. The Nazis had figured out the first steps towards eternal life and a way to render God irrelevant. Those experiments never ended, nor the search for the clocks. He explains they must find the clocks before the enemy, as a storm is coming, a storm called zero hour (oh my, that's the name of the show!).

The Arctic base is actually a U-boat. And Vincent is fast approaching.

The Verdict:
The plot seems quite compelling and the premiere moved at a frenetic pace, so I can't fault it for dragging its heels, but it was tough to get passed the really bad dialogue—I mean really bad. If you can get passed that, then there's the whole-hearted level of contrivance of getting every character where they need to be within the first hour. I guess the writers want to keep the momentum so the episode feels like an international thriller, but it's come at the expense of any connection to the characters thus far. The villain spews over the top speeches, while Hank finds it wise to mouth off to cops and the FBI right from the start.

It's impossible to overlook some of the plot holes—Why was Laila targeted for the clock when it's obviously been sitting untouched for decades? Was something activated that alerted Vincent?

So you're an old German in fear of your life and two crazy American kids show up asking you about a clock you made. Why not explain everything you know about the end of the world? This man is so dead next week.

Apparently the magazine business is booming, given Hank, Arron and Rachel have no problem purchasing last minute flights to Bavaria and the Arctic Circle. As a Canadian, I can attest that getting to Iqaluit isn't going to be on any seat sales. 

Honestly, I had high hopes for the Antichrist when I saw the white-eyed baby. I'm guessing that's not in the cards. It's unclear if this storyline is going to bring in supernatural, Book of Revelation aspects, or it will remain a secular Nazi plot. The question remains of where and what is inside the object taken from the cathedral.

Nearly every pilot comes off somewhat awkward, so I won't paint the whole series with this brush yet. Episode two might show some improvement.

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