Pilot episodes are usually rough. The first episode of a series must straddle the line between providing too much information and not enough; either one can leave its viewers feeling utterly lost. The CW’s newest drama “The Messengers” somehow manages to do both these things, straddling no line and tumbling head first into confusion. Its first episode, “The Awakening,” is guilty of introducing too many characters, then not divulging enough information about any of them to make the audience care.
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The episode opens with a recently engaged woman, Rose (Anna Diop, “The Moment”), shot for no apparent reason. The events of the show take place seven years after the shooting. A couple of radio astronomers, Vera (Shanel VanSanten, “One Tree Hill”) and Alan (Craig Frank, “Mixology”), witness the impact of what they believe is a meteor, but it turns out that it is actually a mysterious man (Diogo Morgando, “Sol de Inverno”). As he lands, his impact sends out a shockwave which momentarily kills certain people across the United States and Mexico.
All the chosen people begin to exhibit special powers and angel wings, though some manifest sooner than others. The televangelist, Joshua (Jon Flecter, “City of Dreams”), one of the chosen, portends the end of the world, while the government tries to cover up the impact. The man who crashed to earth contacts one of the scientists and seems to have all the answers, but only doles out the information at his leisure (typical bad guy). And, whether from fate or circumstance, the chosen are all heading toward Huston. The whole episode plays out more like a science fiction genre than fantasy, despite its supernatural elements. It has the feel of an invasion plotline – think “Independence Day” or “War of the Worlds.” It has the government cover-ups, the scientist who tries to find the truth despite the cover-up and the average people who are wrapped up in the chaos.
Those “average” people aren’t actually so “average.” Each of them had something utterly depressing or traumatic happen to them, but in the most cliché way possible. There is Peter (Joel Courtney, “Super 8”), the suicidal teenager from a foster home; Erin (Sofia Black-D’Elia, “Skins”), the single mother with a former drinking problem and now a jerk of an ex-husband; and Paul (JD Pardo, “Revolution”), the fugitive who was set up by his partners and is now on the run. They are all so horribly trite for this genre that, despite how miserable their lives are, they mostly inspire an eye-roll or two. In addition, it is rather difficult to familiarize oneself with any of the characters since the episode jumps around between all of them so often. At the end of the episode, it was hard to even remember any of their names.
The interaction between Peter and his peers feels like it was ripped straight from a bad sitcom. The outcast boy with the hot best friend is picked on by a bully calling him gay: “Is it true that Susan broke up with you ’cause you have a really small … vocabulary?”
The most interesting character is undoubtedly the mystery man who fell out the sky. Morgando plays this character with subtlety as both an enigmatic and terrifying antagonist – with implications of his identity as “Lucifer,” perhaps. He has power, and he knows it. He comes off so utterly alien and it only serves to make him more intriguing. It will be interesting to see how the writers operate within a biblical universe.
The series’ use of color is also stunning, favoring blues and oranges in landscape and lighting, alternating between moments of high saturation and desaturation within the same scene. But, the special effects used on the angel wings lacked, appearing more like fiber optic Christmas decorations. However, the wings were saved as a plot device with the choice for an underplayed introduction via reflection, as the characters are shocked to discover they have a new pair of iridescent wings.
Ultimately, there are too many curveballs for one episode. It would have been enough for a man to fall out of the sky and cause people to become angels. We didn’t need a complex plotline or extraneous details, for example seeing the near death of a child and/or Joshua’s father’s subplot drama.
Despite all this, there is time for backstory and untangling of plotlines as the season progresses, and the main female protagonists show promise as potentially strong leads. Erin’s young daughter, Amy (Madison Dellamea, “Secrets of a Psychopath”), packs enough of the adorable factor to forgive the fact that she fulfils the same role in the plot as Jaden Smith in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and Dakota Fanning in “War of the Worlds.” And the mystery of why a comatose Rose is a threat to Lucifer is enough of a cliffhanger to pique curiosity for the next episode.