I loathe to judge a show off a pilot. Pilots have the tough job of setting up a lot of introductions and backstory that can make the episode feel boring and badly-written. That said, I was disappointed to find the pilot of the much-anticipated Cult to be weaker than average. The show was obviously ambitious in its premise, but lacked the attention to details to pull it off well. The “Fan Domain” café felt like an outdated setting, the dark lighting and cramped space reminiscent of the Bronze in Buffy. Also why is it that none of the extras on this show have laptops? If you rewatch, you see the café patrons are all working on desktops, as are the people in the show within the show at Billy’s compound. In addition, it felt like the pilot was littered with cheap tropes and clichés: dead and/or missing parents, the hardass police officer, the brother calling on the staticky connection to say “Whatever you do, don’t try to find me.” Jeff, for some reason, takes a whole day to remember that his brother told him who to contact in case he went missing. My main problem, however, was the show within the show. The actress playing Kelly is terrible and her partner seems like a bland amalgation of every cop partner ever known to any TV show or movie. The whole thing feels cheesy too, in a B grade cop thriller sort of way. Most importantly, the show within the show kind of spoiled the suspense of the main show! Having seen the scene in the show where Joey kills himself, it was obvious as soon as Jeff and Skye found Merriam that she would go the same way.
Wow, that was a lot of griping. Time for the good news: The second episode was much better.
A lot of new elements are introduced that quickly up the investment factor for the viewer: Skye reveals that her father’s disappearance ten years ago had a connection to Steven Rae, the appearance of a new symbol (the tri-arm?), the pink-haired tecchie who obviously has a thing for Jeff and may serve as a potential third peg in a love triangle, and Detective Rosylnn had some kind of connection to Merriam’s husband. The second episode also greatly manages to turn up the paranoia factor that was sorely lacking in the pilot. The moment where Jeff starts to question Skye’s help is the best because it taps into the suspicion that was lurking in the back of the viewers’ minds: Can we trust Skye? Other great moments include the actor playing Billy acting weird at the table read, Skye’s supervisor reacting strangely to the soot on her cheek, and the weird personal messages Jeff keeps getting on the phone throughout the episode that Skye claims everybody gets. It’s quickly becoming clear that nothing is clear. We should be questioning everything.
I have to admit it, I am now hooked.
Some questions to ponder:
1) How much of a connection do the actors in the show within the show have to the creepiness extending beyond the show? They seem innocent at first, merely, literally actors in a bigger game Steven Rae is playing with viewers. But then Roger acts suspicious and there was that moment where Jeff thinks he sees the girl who plays Emily.
2) Do you think we can trust Skye or her supervisor?
3) What could the third symbol mean?
4) If we the viewers now start a secret cult based on this show, would we complete the meta-circle?