Pilots can be deceiving. Pilots that have been reshot and recast can be even more deceiving. The first episode of The Passage was, well, kind of all over the place, having been assembled from two different passes by two different directors. It worked, but it also felt like it was held together by string and tape. With the second episode, “You Owe Me a Unicorn,” we start to get a better sense of showrunner Liz Heldens’s vision for the show, a mix of personal drama and apocalyptic intrigue.
So far that mix still feels a bit off. The intimacy of the scenes in which Brad bonds with Amy and reconnects with his ex-wife Lila contrast starkly with the chilly scene of Project Noah. Some characters start to come into sharper focus (Lila, for one), while others have yet to emerge from the shadows (most notably Nichole, who seems destined to play a major role but so far hasn’t done much). Still, whether dealing in hypnotic bloodsuckers or a lost orphan bonding with a dad still recovering from the loss of a child, it’s all compelling enough to keep the show intriguing. Heldens may not have found quite the right balance, but it feels like she’s getting there.
And in some stretches it feels like she’s there already. As in the pilot, the best moments of “You Owe Me a Unicorn” belong to Brad (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Amy (Saniyya Sidney), who’ve settled into a relaxed father-surrogate daughter chemistry with quippy exchanges that help balance out the fate-of-the-world tension at the heart of the show. The second episode picks up immediately where the pilot left off, with Brad and Amy on the run from Richards. After a broadcast-network-budget-friendly car chase, Brad sneaks her onto a school bus for a class trip by posing as a clueless dad adjusting to single fatherhood. (“My mom ran off with her trainer,” Amy improvs. “He’s 27.”) Encountering surprisingly lax security — parents, make sure your kids’ school is run better than this one — they escape to the wilds of Wisconsin, perhaps figuring that if it’s a good enough hiding place for Al Capone it’ll work for a federal agent and a little girl lamming it.
Meanwhile, back at Project Noah in Colorado, the military is beefing up its presence but not, apparently, its screening procedures. Noah’s don’t-call-them-vampire subjects have personalized guards but they’re not particularly good at their jobs. Fanning (Jamie McShane), the ringleader, has a doofus, while Babcock (Brianne Howey) has a misogynistic a-hole who’s set up to get what’s coming to him from the first moment we see him. And he does, getting too close to Babcock’s cage and getting his throat ripped out for his transgression. Good riddance.
But while the 12 caged subjects appear to be just feral monsters to those they encounter, they take on other aspects in dreams. Carter (McKinley Belcher III), Noah’s latest addition from death row, discovers this shortly after being injected with the vampire virus, dreaming of a bar where he hangs out with Babcock and Fanning while cool music plays. But there’s a catch: to keep the chill mood going he has to agree to drink a glass of what’s obviously not wine offered by Babcock. He turns it down, but loses a tooth anyway. Soon he seems destined to lose more, but the notion that someone can at least try to resist joining the undead is one of the most intriguing ideas floated by the series so far.
Back to Wisconsin: Brad first reconnects with his old friend Lacey (Kecia Lewis), on a heavily secured goat farm filled with weapons and records. She’s (eventually) happy to see Brad and gives Amy a warm welcome. This seems like it’ll be a good place to chill for a while — even better once Lila turns up to tend Brad’s wounds and kiss him after seemingly forgetting about her fiancé, David.
Another show might have drawn out both the sexual tension between Brad and Lila and given them more time on the farm. The Passage, however, has other plans on both fronts. The flame that was clearly alive between Brad and Lila last week is now an inferno. And, by episode’s end, the goat farm’s cover is blown, Lacey’s dead, and both Brad and Amy are exactly where they had hoped to avoid being: in Richards’s custody. The end of the world seems like it might have gotten a little bit closer.
Stakes and Mirrors
• The feeling of living in that moment just before everything changes also seems to be the mood the series is trying to establish. It doesn’t have much in common with The Walking Dead, but at least part of the creative process seems to have involved imagining the time immediately preceding an apocalypse, when things seemingly might still go either way.
• And how did we get here? This week also features a handful of flashbacks to 2015, when Fanning has to be talked into visiting Bolivia with Jonas, a decision that starts to seem regrettable once Fanning brings the Department of Defense in to sponsor the mission. “We go with the guys who make the rules so we can break the rules,” Fanning explains. That sways Jonas but not his wife Liz, even though he wouldn’t be this desperate if he wasn’t searching for a cure for early-onset Alzheimer’s. In the present, we see her condition has worsened and there’s no cure in sight. There are, however, a bunch of vampires ready to kill everything in sight. Seems like some mistakes have been made.
• Lacey is a character from the Justin Cronin novel, but, apart from a reference to her having once been a nun, she doesn’t have much in common with her literary predecessor. Here she’s the mentor who made Brad the killing machine he’s become, and now lives with regret for the life she used to live. She was an intriguing character, and well acted by Lewis. I’m sorry to see her go so soon. (Though this is a show in which the dead may not always stay dead, so who knows?)