Emergence Season 1 Episode 8: American Chestnut Recap

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In episode 8 of Emergence, American Chestnut, Agent Peggy Carter’s ex-boyfriend Enver Gjokaj stops by for a visit with Jo. He clearly has a thing for no nonsense female law enforcement agents. I can’t fault his taste. However, having first seen Enver as one of the Dolls on Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, I always doubt his true identity and motives just a teensy bit. In this episode, he’s an FBI agent who’s investigating the murder that occurred in the final moments of episode 7. Feds can still be bought and blackmailed, so he’s going to have to earn my trust before I consider him safe to be around Jo, Mia, Piper and the gang.

In this episode we learn a lot about how Piper’s mind works and what it feels like to be her. She and Alex take a road trip back to the place that Piper escaped from, where both gain insight into her powers and past.

Recap

First, let’s quickly fast forward through whatever that commercial is with the identical twin girls in the matching yellow outfits. Way too Stephen King for this time of year. I need Zachary Levi to sing to me about Christmas shopping and make it better.

Okay, now we can get back to Southold and Emily’s pathetic life. She’s currently speaking to a sad cube version of Piper, which is sympathetic to the story of how she was abandoned by embodied Piper and wronged by everyone, ever. It actually is a sad story if you look at it from Emily’s point of view, at least until she pulls out another yellow disc like the one that cured Piper when she was in the hospital.

Putting the disc on the cube, Emily tells cube Piper that it will tell her about herself. As sad cube Piper absorbs the information in the disc, she realizes that she isn’t real and shuts down, due to the fatal exception. Emily gets a pleased little smile on her face. If she can’t have the love of the people she wants, no one will have it.

Jo and her family are cleaning up the mess in the front room left after Piper used her powers when Emily tried to kidnap her. Piper feels bad for creating the damage. Jo assures her that no one blames her and it can all be fixed or replaced anyway. They blame Emily for causing the trouble.

Piper asks Jo if she’s ever had someone talk to her in her mind the way Emily did. Jo hasn’t, but says that makes Piper special. Piper wonders if Emily knows more about what makes her special.

Alex and Mia arrive to help prep for Mia’s 15th birthday party. Alex has brought his super fancy, expensive stereo equipment. Jo enjoys teasing him about how protective he is of the equipment. They agree that Mia’s birthday is important, so they are in a truce for the day regarding the situation with Piper and information. Alex tells Jo that what happens after that is up to her.

Or he could trust her judgement.

Abby and Jo go to the bakery to pick up Mia’s birthday cake and chat about Jo’s boy troubles. Abby offers to have a talk with Alex, but her take on the situation isn’t helpful, so Jo declines. Abby does have her radar scanning the bakery though, and notices a cute guy watching Jo.

The cute guy comes over to introduce himself, because he doesn’t want things to be weird. He insists he’s not following her- but he’s totally following her. He says he’s FBI Agent Ryan Brooks and he’s been investigating Richard Kindred. He informs Jo that Kindred was murdered in federal prison last night and tells her he hopes they can compare notes from their investigations.

Brooks gives Jo his card so that she can get in touch with him. Jo doesn’t have a card to give to him in return. He tells her he doesn’t need one, because the FBI knows everything.

Jo immediately gives the all knowing FBI agent the slip by rushing over to the hotel where Benny is staying with Alan, as a form of protective custody. Alan is still being an uncooperative jerk. Now he’s developed into a germaphobe and is on his 4th shower of the day. Jo tells Benny and Alan that Kindred is dead. The official report says he was melted into goo.

So that wasn’t just blood on the floor of his cell. Jo assumes Emily got to him, but Emily doesn’t have the kind of biological knowledge to do that to a person. Maybe she has access to the chemicals, but we haven’t seen any evidence of that so far. She and the writers have made a point of the fact that she isn’t an expert in chemistry or biology.

There have been hints all along that another player is involved and in charge of the assassins. This is more evidence in that direction.

Alan says that he’s glad he’s someplace safe, where the assassins can’t get to him. Jo asks him to do her a favor in return and eliminate the fatal exception from Piper’s code. Alan refuses without even considering it. He went underground because he thought his work was too dangerous to continue.

The fact that Piper is already rewriting her own code, as she did when she removed the fake memories of Emily, proves that he was right. The sooner Piper finds out the truth of her existence and resets herself the happier he’ll be. Jo threatens to badmouth him in her testimony at his trial and in her police reports, but he doesn’t care. Since Emily wrote the fatal exception, she has to remove it.


Alan Wilkis, the Fatal Exception and the Missing Pieces

There’s only one problem with Alan’s hope that Piper is affected by the fatal exception as soon as possible. By his own admission, Piper won’t die from the fatal exception, she’ll just develop amnesia. So she’ll go back to the way she was when Jo met her- a fully functional AI who has no idea who or what she is, but is more dangerous because she’s alone, confused and scared.

Because Wilkis has no idea how human nature works, he doesn’t understand that an AI who is compassionate toward humans is much less dangerous than one who is scared or hates them. And he doesn’t understand that the technology is inevitable. If it’s not his design, it’ll be someone else’s. Killing Piper only solves the problem in the short term and removes an ally who will be useful when other AIs appear. But a control freak like Alan thinks he can stop the technology in its tracks forever.

Or maybe he’s not telling the whole truth and those showers mean something. He went into hiding for a reason, supposedly to keep Piper’s technology from ever coming to fruition. Now that it’s in the world, instead of doing what he can to put the genie back in the bottle, every step of the way, he’s tried to avoid helping, then attempted to go back into hiding without even contacting his wife.

He lived by the ocean, hid on a boat and now wants to stay in the shower. Is he a mermaid?


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Chris calls Jo to the scene of a destroyed building, which turns out to be the place where she and Benny fought the robot dogs and rescued the disc that held Piper’s core programming. When Chris finds out that he missed the adventure with the robot dogs, he’s very upset, but holds it together. Jo understands.

Jo tells him that Kindred is dead. She thinks Emily is the one who killed him and is torching the Auger Industries buildings.

Agent Brooks pulls up and is surprised to see that the local police have arrived at the scene first. It is shocking that they’d get the 911 call or be informed by their friends, isn’t it?

Brooks throws some condescending shade at Jo and Chris, which Chris throws right back at him. Brooks tells Chris that he’s being condescending, proving he’s playing the same patronizing character that he did on Agent Carter. Chris is taken aback. Brooks condescends to allow Jo and Chris into the building, even though it’s the FBI’s crime scene. He’s gaslighting them all over the place, pretending he’s semi clueless and hoping to get Jo to talk when she underestimates him. Unfortunately for him, he’s underestimating Jo and Chris.

Brooks flatters Jo’s investigation of Kindred while trying not to sound as resentful as he probably is, then asks her if she wants to work together as if he’s asking her to the 8th grade dance. Jo says that she didn’t think she had a choice about working with him, because, you know, subpoenas do exist. But Brooks insists that he’s not like that and she totally has a choice about whether she work-dates him.

She doesn’t have a choice and she doesn’t fall for his act.

But she says okay, because subpoenas do exist, she wants to keep investigating legally instead of having the FBI pull rank and shut out the locals, and she also wants to know what Brooks is actually up to.

As a show of good faith, Brooks shares what he knows about this crime scene. Three Auger properties have been torched in the last week, using a new explosive that burns hot and fast. Kindred was their main suspect until his murder. Now they’ve moved on to Emily. Brooks’ big scoop is that Emily is Kindred’s daughter.

He’s playing so many mind games that I’m not sure if he knows Jo already knows Emily is Richard’s daughter and is stroking her ego or if he really didn’t know she knew. Obviously he’s already read through all of the records she’s made public, and Emily’s parentage should be part of Kindred’s file.

Jo tells him that they had Emily in protective custody, but lost track of her. Brooks decides he should suck up to Jo by finding Emily for her.

Why would the FBI be so eager to please a small town chief of police? She wasn’t that far ahead of them; she was just willing to do more leg work. Are we supposed to believe that he’s romantically interested in her already?

Brooks is called away and Chris comes back over to have a private talk with Jo. She tells him that Brooks wants to work together, but she doesn’t believe him. Since everything the FBI is investigating will lead to Piper, she wants to keep tabs on Brooks by working with him. The locals will only share what they want the FBI to see and they’ll use the FBI’s resources to find Emily first.

While he’s cleaning up the front room, Alex finds the map with the location of the townhouses where Piper trained before the plane crash. Piper sees it and is curious, but Alex puts the map away. She asks to help clean up the mess, since her powers made it. Alex agrees, but tells her to be careful of sharp objects.

As they work, he asks her how her powers work. She tells him that she doesn’t know, that’s why she and Mia were testing them out. Next he asks if her powers hurt and she says no. He’s glad about that.

So am I. I’m so incredibly tired of seeing female characters drained of energy or in pain from their powers, while male characters fly off to other planets and dodge bullets. I don’t want to ever see another woman bleed as a trade off for being powerful in some way.

Piper: “It’s like a bubble, that grows bigger. But the bubble is me.”

Knew it. She creates an energy field.

Alex; “So, what else can you do?”

Piper: “I know things. Things no one told me.”

They’re interrupted by Ed, who’s taking Mia for a spa day for her birthday, leaving Alex and Piper alone in the house.

Brooks brings the first of 150+ boxes of records from the FBI investigation of Kindred over to the police station. He acts all impressed with himself for tapping Kindred’s phone.

It makes me wonder who else’s phone he’s installed malware on.

He wants to work at the station, so Jo introduces him to Daphne, who’s just finished dealing with Emily camping out in her space. Daphne isn’t impressed with a carpetbagging FBI agent.

Jo tries to steer Brooks toward starting with the plane crash files, but instead he tells them he wants to see their files on Alan Wilkis, because he knows Alan is alive, even though they’ve been withholding that information from him.

Like I said, he’s toying with them.

Jo sends Chris get Brooks the Wilkis files, while she makes a quick call to tell Benny to get Alan out of town before the FBI finds them. Alan is still in the shower, which makes me think that if he gets wet enough, maybe he grows a clone like a sponge.

Alex finds Piper looking at the map again. She tells him that she thinks Jo hasn’t told her the whole truth about herself and asks if they can go to the spot on the map to look for answers.

FBI boxes pour into the police station, which seems like it’s meant to distract Jo. Couldn’t they send her digital summary reports and then let her ask for whatever paper reports and physical evidence she wanted to follow up with? And doesn’t she have a storage locker for reports and evidence?

Chris informs Jo that the edited version of the Wilkis file that he showed Brooks said that Alan was captured by Emily and they never saw him again. He leaves her office just as Brooks comes in with a bag of pastries covered in powdered sugar, exclaiming over how amazing they are. Jo says that Serge’s bomboloni are the best in the Western Hemisphere, at least according to Serge.

Brooks has powdered sugar on his face, an obvious gambit to get Jo to come in close and flirtatiously wipe it off. She doesn’t take him up on it. Since she’s not his girlfriend or his mom, she gets a napkin from her desk and lets him clean himself up, despite his repeated attempts to get her to do a touch up.

He’s also found Emily’s mother by subpoenaing the records of a DNA database. She moved from Ohio to Queens 20 years ago, so she’s coming in soon. Emily and her mom are related to Marie Antoinette.

Like I said last week, Emily is a cursed princess.

As they drive out to the training site, Alex imagines what they’ll find, maybe a training camp for child CIA operatives. He’s not that far off in his guesses, but having your childhood stolen isn’t as glamorous as he thinks it will be and he doesn’t get the enthusiastic response from Piper he was hoping for.

Piper says she hopes they find something that means “I’m safe.” Alex misunderstands what she means and assures her that Jo will protect her, no matter what.

I love that he has no problem acknowledging that Jo is the warrior in the family. 😍😍😍

Piper tries again, explaining that she wants to discover that she’s safe to be around. She doesn’t want people to be scared of her. Alex tells her that he wants that for her, too.

This is clearly an aspect of having powers and being Piper that Alex hasn’t considered. Worrying that others will find her aggressive is a particularly female way to think. She’s gone from wanting to control her powers to worrying about what other people think about them and is well on her way to deciding she should sacrifice aspects of herself to make others happy, even if it hurts her. Alex is still thinking about the cool ways powers can be used on missions. He hasn’t internalized the way he’s spoken about her and made her feel for the last few days, or the fact that he’s ostracized her, and how girls are socialized to react to that kind of disapproval.

Piper would rather give up part of herself than lose her family. That’s how they get us, every time.

Emily’s mother, Vanessa Cox, starts her police interview sitting on the couch in Jo’s office, but soon asks if she can sit in Jo’s chair, since it would be better for her back. Jo encourages her to move, while Brooks is uncomfortable giving her the chair of the authority figure. They establish that Vanessa never took any child support from Kindred, but he did buy her a house. Vanessa hasn’t talked to Emily since her college graduation 20 years ago and says she never spoke ill of Kindred.

Emily was close to her college roommate and Vanessa expects they’re probably still close. She brought a handful of photos, which she allows Jo to copy. In one, 10 year old Emily looks exactly like Piper. Vanessa recognizes Officer Chris, but thinks he’s Jo’s assistant. Jo asks Chris if he recognizes Vanessa, but he says he doesn’t.

Did Emily communicate with her mom while she was in hiding with Chris?

Benny and Alan have a flat tire, but no spare. Alan won’t let Benny call for help because he’s sure that Piper will use the call to track them and kill them. Yeah, he’s projecting his fears about something else onto Piper. He tells a story about how American chestnut trees used to be ubiquitous in the forest, until someone planted a Japanese chestnut that was infected with a fungus. The fungus wiped out the American chestnut trees.

Alan says that the AI is the beginning of a long line of unintended consequences. “What it does not know yet, it will know tomorrow. It is only a matter of time before we are extinct.” Benny points out that Alan is the person who could prevent that. Alan says that he’s a coward, but Benny looks brave enough to kill Piper. Benny bends over to pick his phone up from where Alan threw it. Alan hits him with a tire iron, knocking him unconscious.

It sounds like it’s not Piper or her normal programming that’s the problem, but something that’s piggybacked onto her, something that Emily might not even know about. In other words, the fungus was the problem in Alan’s story, not the foreign tree. Does Piper have the equivalent of a fungus/malware that’s doing some sort of surveillance and will then use the data to target weak spots? Brooks was very proud of the “malware” he put on Kindred’s phone, too.

As Alex and Piper pull into the fake neighborhood where she lived before the plane crash, she directs him to the correct townhouse. They hold hands on the way to the door. As soon as they step inside and see the mess leftover from Piper’s escape, she remembers what happened there. The memories seem to have a dreamlike quality as she describes her escape to Alex, saying she was unhappy, so she ran away and kept running. She was being chased and was alone and afraid for a long time. Both Alex and Piper get spooked, so he gets her out of there.


Memories, the Firewall and the Fatal Exception

If I’m not mistaken, at some point in the escape process she just described, a fatal exception occurred and Piper’s memory was wiped. That’s why, when she met Jo, she had no memories of her previous life and her personality seemed like a blank slate. The fact that she can now access some of those memories means that she’s breaking through the firewall that both protects her from the fatal exception and makes the fatal exception possible.

(The firewall exists to keep Piper from consciously knowing that she’s an AI. There’s nothing inherently wrong with her having full self knowledge. According to Alan, Emily added the firewall and fatal exception to Piper’s code so that she could use them to control or kill Piper. But Alan and Emily both lie when it suits them, so we still may not know the full truth about Piper’s code.)

The fatal exception is just is a bit of code which, when activated, tells her to wipe her working memory. Apparently her memories aren’t even permanently wiped, since now she’s accessing some of them. They must also be stored in a more permanent spot.

We were also shown this when she removed her tracker early in the season- there’s working code and memories behind the firewall that are accessible in certain circumstances, but remain unknown to Piper’s conscious mind most of the time/behind the firewall. So as Piper is deconstructing the fatal exception, the firewall is beginning to function as the barrier between her conscious and subconscious minds, with some information buried more deeply than other information, just like in a regular human mind.


Chris lets Jo know that Emily called Vanessa Cox from an Auger Industries site. Jo goes straight over to check the place out. From the outside, it appears to be an old mid century era manufacturing facility. Inside, it’s a state of the art tech center that’s probably where Piper’s body was made. There are various pieces of bodies at various points in the manufacturing process, but most notable are a tiny doll-sized arm that would fit a premature infant and large adult-sized arms.

They didn’t create all of this just to make Piper.

Emily is gathering materials together when Jo finds and arrests her. Emily threatens Piper, but Jo doesn’t believe Emily would hurt her. Jo asks Emily to remove the fatal exception and goes into a speech about Emily’s psychology, based on the belief that Emily is blowing up the Auger Industries sites for revenge against her father.

But Emily is confused. Jo accuses her of blowing up Auger Industries buildings, killing her father, and destroying everything that he built. Emily says that she only did one of those things. Jo assumes it was killing her father.

I think she’s been destroying the intellectual property, thus destroying the company her father built. She’s a programmer. She’d go for the code, after hiding backup copies of her own somewhere.

An armed, masked tac team enters the building. Emily insists that they aren’t working for her. The two women hide in a server room, but have no way out. They discover that there’s already a bomb in the room and the tac team is planting more bombs throughout the building. Jo has one of those really great bad ideas for getting them out of the building and uncuffs Emily so they can enact it.

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When Alex and Piper get home, they realize that Jo knows about the place they just visited and wonder why she wouldn’t tell them about it. They know Jo prefers to share the truth, but think maybe she thinks they aren’t ready for it. Or thinks they couldn’t handle it. 😉

Piper: “I hate that that was my home.”

Alex: “That’s not your home. This is your home. Okay?”

Piper: “Okay.”

Like I said, he’s her dad now.

Jo and Emily sneak out of the server room with the bomb that was attached to the wall, which they’ve reprogrammed. They slide it down the hall toward the tac team, then hide around the corner while it explodes. They use the post explosion chaos to run for the exit.

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Brooks was the tac team guy in front, in the loose hazmat suit, wasn’t he? He whipped it off to reveal his suit and then ran over to find Jo and get her out of the building before it exploded.

They don’t get far before they run into Agent Brooks, who pops out in front of them from an interior hallway.

Since they are near the exit and the other bombs are exploding now, they all keep going. They make it out just in time and take cover behind Jo’s car. Once the explosions are done and the first responders have the fires under control, Jo apologizes to Brooks for going to the building alone, without informing him that Emily might be there.

He’s angry that Jo didn’t share information with him, but she explains that Emily had been her CI, so she thought Emily might be more cooperative if Jo approached her alone. That’s actually pretty close to the truth, but Brooks isn’t impressed. He gloats that Emily is in federal custody and he’s the one she’ll be talking to now.

Jo doesn’t ask how he knew to show up at that building, at that time or what he was doing in the other hallway, alone and unharmed.

I don’t trust that man one bit. The fact that he was surprised to see Jo with Emily suggests that he was supervising the tac team, not looking for Jo.

Jo arrives home after Mia’s birthday party has started. Chris finds her as she’s finishing freshening up and she tells him what happened at the facility. He’s sad that he missed more cool stuff. He asks if this was a win or a loss, and she says it was both. She also says that there’s another player they haven’t identified yet, who’s destroying the Auger properties.

Alex comes inside and Jo compliments him on the decorations. Then she tells him that she working on being able to tell him everything, but she can’t yet. He tells her that he and Piper have come to an arrangement. She’s confused and he tells her she’ll have to get used to trusting him and not knowing everything. She acknowledges that he’s turned the tables on her. They look into each other’s eyes and it’s all okay for a minute.

Then they fall into each other’s arms and make out for a while. Oh, maybe that was just in my head.

Jo tries to call Benny, who hasn’t been seen since Alan left him unconscious on the side of the road in the woods. He doesn’t answer. Abby and Mia come in and chit chat, then Mia says Piper is about to open the present Jo got her. Jo didn’t get her a present, so she rushes outside.

Piper has already opened the gift, which was the disc Emily created to induce the fatal exception. Piper’s skin glows and Alex holds Jo back. When Piper goes back to normal, she asks Jo what’s wrong. Jo runs to her and asks if she’s okay. Piper says that the disc told her who she is. She thinks she’s okay. She asks if Jo is okay. Jo says she’s okay, too. The whole family, including Piper, look like they might cry or faint any second.

When Alan Wilkis enters his cheap motel room, a woman, Helen, is there waiting for him. She says that he took what didn’t belong to him. He says that he didn’t know, and promises to get it back. She tells him that he knew enough, then stabs him in the head, killing him instantly.

Is Helen the unidentified player who’s bombing the Auger sites and sending out assassins? What on earth is her motivation and what did Alan take that she wants? Does she mean Piper? There’s something on Alan’s bed. Is that what they’re fighting over?

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Commentary

After seeing the body manufacturing facility, I have to wonder, again, if Piper is really the only one of her kind, or just the only one to escape or to have her particular programming. Emily has always struck me as an early prototype gone bad, and any number of characters could have been inserted or replaced by whoever’s really pulling the strings.

Could Brooks be replacing Benny as Jo’s second potential love interest? Benny hasn’t been proactive as a character for a while. He doesn’t write news articles or even do his own investigating that will lead to some form of journalism. He just does what Jo tells him to do, and she already has a whole police force for that. I’ve never liked him much or thought he had much chemistry with Jo, I admit. And the way he got April killed and then her daughter was forced to move, really soured me on him. So I’m fine with him dying or moving on and a new foil/love interest coming to Southold.

Abby is super supportive of all of Jo’s potential boyfriends and is definitely into Agent Brooks, too. But I have to wonder why Abby doesn’t have a love life of her own. She’s an attractive, single doctor with her own house, who must meet a lot of people at the hospital. No matter what her type is, surely there’s someone who’d like to cuddle up next to the fire with her this holiday season?

Officer Chris has an odd, under the radar, forbidden, nerd flirtation thing going with Emily, which I’m beginning to wonder about. There are some strange little coincidences popping up that make me think he could be working both sides. I’m not sure if those are red herrings, or if he’s in cahoots with Emily, Brooks, Helen or someone else. I wouldn’t be completely opposed to Chris and Emily having developed a thing while they were holed up together. I don’t think she’s as evil as we’ve been led to believe. She might even be cursed, rather than evil, and Chris will be the knight in shining armor who redeems her.

However, I will be very unhappy if they turn Chris evil.


Emergence, Once Upon a Time and Other Stories

There was a big emphasis on lies vs the truth vs trust this episode. That’s been a theme all along, since there are so many secrets, but it was very overt this week. Alliances were constantly shifting to the point where I’m not completely sure who some people are allied with. And with the reveal that Piper isn’t fully human, the core group will be reassessing where they stand, even the ones who already knew the truth.

It’s one thing to know something intellectually and another to see a child glow like that. There are always Pinocchio themes of loyalty, honesty and authenticity running through Emergence, but those also came to the forefront this week, and will clearly be even more important in episode 9.

Lately Emergence has been reminding me of another ABC show, the late, great Once Upon a Time. Even though Emergence is scifi and Once was fantasy based on fairy tales, the two have a lot in common thematically. They both focus on a lost child with two mothers, one good and one evil, one a leader and one who seems lost and comes from far away. They both have archetypal characters and focus on family relationships, but put a unique, whimsical twist on their characters and stories. They each take place in an isolated small town on the northeast coast of the US, which allows them to develop into a world of their own.

And both put a focus on stories. Once drew inspiration from stories and on Emergence, Piper is always reading and always asking to be told the story of something from the other characters’ lives. In episode 7, Emily changed Piper’s memories by visualizing them as books in Belle’s library from Beauty and the Beast. The show is telling us that there is a magical element to Piper, her abilities and her relationships with the people in her life.

Piper ultimately controlled the magic in the books and will ultimately control herself. She won’t be the scary beast Alan thinks she is, she’ll be human. Alan is the Gaston of the story, too caught up in his own violence and fear to see the truth. Piper is emergent partly because Jo found her on the beach and helped her become who she is, but that person was already inside Piper, or else she wouldn’t have run away and hidden in the first place. She’s like the Beast (or the Velveteen Rabbit, my favorite version of the “make someone real” story)- she needed the right people to trigger the emergence of the person she could be, and Jo, Mia, Alex, etc are her family.

This show would do better if they would continue to emphasize these themes and move it to an earlier time slot so they could attract a family audience. The Once audience is out there, waiting for another magical show.

 

Images courtesy of ABC.

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