Minority Report Recap: You Could’ve Smiled Back

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Stark Sands as Dash. Photo: Katie Yu / FOX
Minority Report
Episode Title
Mr. Nice Guy
Season
1
Episode
2
Editor’s Rating
3/5

In case you were unsure as to what Minority Report is really all about, its showrunners seem to be wasting no minute plot-point in driving that mission statement home for you. And this week, we’re all about taking on how pickup-artist culture is bad! I mean, they’re not wrong, but do we really want to think about that embarrassing and hideously au courant brand of misogyny existing 50 years from now? In the exact same form in which it exists today, no less? More and more, this show seems to be concerned with critiquing pop-cultural topics so specific to our time that it has trouble thinking about the long-run fears and anxieties that fueled its original source material and made it great. By all means, criticize the persistence of sexism over the centuries! But when you use too-familiar vocabulary, you say, “Hey, this is a show set in the present, except what if we had shinier stuff?” — which misses the point of science fiction entirely.

This week we begin with a more specific peek into the past, at an interaction between Wally the precog caretaker and Peter Van Eyck, the former Precrime deputy chief and current mayoral candidate. Van Eyck implies that the precogs aren’t real human beings, and Wally lectures him; he finds this defense adorable, of course, but through their interaction we learn how each of their gifts really “works”: Agatha is essentially an empath, her visions coming as intensely personal, as though she’s experiencing the crime herself; Arthur is the sociopath, of course, picking up procedural, context-free information — names, dates, times, etc. — “like an antenna”; and finally, Dash is the “bystander,” watching powerlessly as horrific things happen to other people, right in front of him — which would explain why Dash wants to help prevent these crimes more acutely than either of his siblings.

Back in 2065, Dash is busy ruining people’s chess games in the park when he’s overcome by another spastic murder vision. (One thing that's weird about this show so far is that the precogs conveniently only seem to get one vision at a time, and they're far enough apart to allow an entire investigation to play out before the next one hits. There are definitely more than that many murders happening in Washington, D.C., so what's the criteria for which ones overcome Dash and which ones pass him by?)

Cut to Vega, who is participating in a virtual-reality war-training exercise with Wilmer Valderrama — ugh, FINE, Blake. Blake is not a very a good lieutenant because he doesn’t seem to be interested in protecting Vega and lets a perp shoot her, ending the game; then again, Vega isn't much of a team player herself. (Kind of disturbing that this exercise requires them to kill suspects instead of subduing them. Let’s just pretend those are stun-guns, shall we?) They argue about Beyoncé, too, which ... sigh.

Thanks to a wiser decision from the writers' room than the one that gave us those Bey lines, the fallout from the Rutledges' deaths (murders, really) is still reverberating through Vega and Dash's lives. Vega is doing some impressive conversational maneuvering with her co-workers regarding Dash's existence/assistance, letting Blake assume that "I'm always better when I work alone" means the same thing as "I am not working with an informant," and telling Akeela (who informs her that the crime-scene forensics indicate that Rutledge was pushed) that friends don't let friends implicate each other in their illegal activities. Meanwhile, Dash is pulling an Olivia Benson and insisting he's not totally falling apart, and that all he needs to get past the fact that he killed a guy is to catch more murderers. Makes sense!

Dash goes to visit Wally, who extracts his latest vision — another woman, this time with fancy-cool shoes, getting murdered by a dude, purportedly with a symbol GIF tattooed on his arm — for sleuthing purposes. Vega arrives, and Wally casually mentions that he hacked the surveillance network to delete footage implicating Dash in last week’s unfortunate events. Dash’s footage indicates the murder will take place at a nightclub that Wally, inexplicably, has patroned.

That’s not enough information — unlike Vega and her boss, the precogs work better together — so Dash is forced to hit up Arthur for a White Bro chat; Art says that he “doesn’t work for free anymore.” This is a good point, honestly — if you were enslaved for ten years in a "milk bath" wherein your sole purpose in life was to witness countless violent crimes, wouldn’t you, too, be horribly scarred and cynical and believe that “some people deserve to die”? I take back what I said last week about Art being a schmuck — he might be a little skeezy and lawless, but he’s there but for the grace of God. Anyway, Art wants a case file as payment; Dash does not want Vega to have to steal, but later Vega willingly obliges on her own, risking her job and breaking Arthur’s rule and reading the case file, which is that of the precogs’ own dead mother. Arthur and Vega have a little flirty moment because Arthur likes Vega’s badassery. And why wouldn’t he?

Vega and Dash hit up Wally’s singles club, which turns out to be some sort of terrifying IRL OKCupid affair that involves “microbiome analyzer” compatibility bracelets that tell you whether a potential hookup is a human trash-bag or not. Vega gives Dash a "sick stick" for protection from the murderer, which proves unhelpfully helpful in a few minutes when he sticks the wrong guy and he cartoon-barfs everywhere. They do spot the “real” killer, however, or at least his tattoo; back at Wally's, they discover it's an "African symbol" that tells them the dude wearing it is Tyson Cole, who is — wait for it — A PICKUP ARTIST. Sorry, I mean, a Harvard-educated pick-up SCIENTIST. I was so overcome by this I had to pause the show to control my shrieking laughter before continuing. Anyway, he's famous "for a guy who still writes books" (rude), and Dash "skims" his book, which makes Dash do gross things like try to neg a woman, but also a little helpful because he gets inside the mind of the killer.

I guess Agatha doesn't always dress like an alien trying to blend in at Medieval Times, as demonstrated by a full-VR “phone call” she and Dash have about how bad an idea it is for him to trust Vega and also to murder people. Agatha’s character description is “really mad white lady, oh, and she is clairvoyant or whatever.”

Back to this horrible club! Vega and Dash have a PUA-themed conversation about trust wherein Vega (rightly) tells Dash to throw away Tyson Cole’s book. They follow Cole to his house, and as they sit in the car outside, Dash confesses that although he's seen over 700 murders, he felt nothing in killing Rutledge. Vega can relate.

They follow Cole the next day to a lecture he gives, in which he actually says the words, “When she says yes, that’s when I fall in love with me.” Vega says, “But what if she says no?” under her breath and proceeds to try to catch Cole’s attention afterward by negging him, but he can smell Rule No. 8 on her (desperation is a deal-breaker) from a mile away.

So she gets the aforementioned file from Arthur instead. Blake excitedly tells her on her way to get it that Hawkeye, Van Eyck’s “computers-as-cops” program, is going to be beta-tested with their department, but she’s so distracted that he’s suspicious and traces her Google Glass–on-steroids thingie to the nightclub (where Vega and Dash are busy identifying the victim with Arthur’s information) and forces her to have a “chat” with him about how mad she still is that he got promoted over her. Meanwhile, Dash flouts Vega’s request that he observe instead of intervening and tries to “neg” the future victim, Blanca Garcia, which makes her leave ... in the same cab as Cole! Turns out it wasn’t him, though; she gets out halfway to his house because she forgot her purse. It’s actually the bartender, who was boring enough that he didn’t stand out until just now and just happens to be closing up (wow, time flies). No tattoo, no problem: Tyson Cole’s book logo is displayed on the (peachy skin-toned) wall. Anyway, he just decides to knock her out, tie her up, then monologue at her, like all TV criminals, only this guy talks like an actor in an anti-Gamergate PSA: “You could’ve smiled back! I was nice to you!” he says, insisting that he’d served her drinks for weeks. “I like guys like you! Nice guys! Harold!” she says, trying to talk him down. Too bad his name is Harlan! He is about to kill her when Vega and Dash burst in and conduct an acrobatics shoot-out montage like the one last week, only this time Dash figures out how to help Vega subdue Harlan instead of killing him. Progress!

As Dash celebrates by sitting down and playing chess with one of the park people to indicate that he’s "learned something," Agatha calls Arthur because she had another vision like the one I failed to mention last week: Not only will the precogs be put back into the milk bath, Vega will have something to do with it! But don’t tell Dash, for some reason. This felt almost like an afterthought to me (especially considering that Wally already explained how the precogs’ visions, when separated, only come 36 to 48 hours or so beforehand), and it shouldn’t — this is what will actually make the show great, this rushing against time and destiny, à la Heroes season one. Also, where did the “minority report,” margin-of-error element of this world disappear to?!

It sort of speaks to my initial point about these unlikely issues Minority Report seems to have with futurism and grasping its nuances. While we’re being pounded in the head with boorishly untranslated 2015 issues like “nice guy” entitlement and rape culture, the in-your-face peacocking of 2065 technology comes off as overcompensation. Great science fiction is so partly because the stories’ environments are understated, they feel familiar yet alien, advanced yet also integral: Characters live in a time far removed from our own, but the subtlety of that rift (and the universality of major social problems) is what allows the story to be relatable and effective as criticism.

Life with iPhones and telepresence robots is certainly different from life ten years ago, but if we spent as much time transfixed by the coolness of our tech as, say, a time-traveler arriving in 2015 from 1965 might, we would never get anything done. Our introduction to the shinier elements of life in 2065 feels almost insulting, in a way; the more we get hit in the face with stroller touch-screens and DNA-compatibility bracelets, it seems the less we’re supposed to be distracted from anything else. With every hamfisted, painfully obvious comment made by someone living in 2065 about 2015 social politics; with every HEY, LOOK AT THIS WACKY GADGET THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY B-roll shot, Minority Report takes one step closer to getting the ratings door slammed in its face, and that just breaks my heart.