Okay, kids, let’s buckle up for the uneven, slightly nonsensical ride that is the season 1 finale of ABC’s scifi series Emergence. As of this writing, 2/13/20, Emergence hasn’t been cancelled, so maybe there’s some truth to my wild theories that it has a place in the wider ABC/Disney universe. Or maybe ABC just likes to torture fans.
The finale dissolves into a game of cat and mouse in a haunted science lab with a love quadrangle thrown in to prove things can always get worse. Shockingly, not everyone gets out alive. Because if no one dies, there aren’t any real stakes. Isn’t that what you all find in your lives?
After she and Brooks lock themselves in a room to escape Helen, Jo realizes that the sounds in the pipes are Helen’s nanobots scurrying after them. Maybe hiding in a spot without an exit wasn’t such a great idea. Macho man Brooks pounds on a locked door that’s appeared since last week, until it breaks open, just as Helen materializes. Helen finds a drop of blood next to the door and follows them through.
Daphne and Chris are concerned because they can’t raise Jo on the radio. Alex brings Piper to the police station. He tells Chris that Piper is worried about Jo. Chris explains that Jo and Brooks are on Plum Island, but she left him the disc containing Piper’s code. Piper holds the disc for a minute and confirms what it is. She can read it by holding it in her hand, same as Benny. Chris tells her he’s supposed to keep the disc safe, but he lets her keep it.
Piper says she’s going to the bathroom and goes to see Benny instead. She asks him if she’s wrong about him and he says she’s not, so she lets him out. Chris tries to get Benny back into the cell, but he’s a big softie who can’t stand the idea of a giant AI upload where everyone is emptied of data, then dead, so he agrees to let Benny help with the mission.
Jo and Brooks reach a dead end in the form of another locked door at the end of a corridor. She decides he needs first aid and tenderly wipes at his manly injury. He flinches a little, but tells her they need to keep moving, not tend to wounds.
They hear Helen’s nanobots in the pipes again, but only one comes out as a scout. It lands on a table, so Brooks smashes it with a cast iron frying pan that he literally pulls out of thin air and says, “Helen got an upgrade.”
Maybe Brooks is actually Inspector Gadget and the frying pan was part of his arm.
This show has given up pretending it’s anything but a cartoon anymore. A frying pan? Really? If they’re going to be ridiculous, couldn’t they at least use laser guns?
Jo recognizes that the upgrade came from Emily. Brooks the genius says that the killshot probably won’t work now, so they probably traded away Piper’s code for nothing. Jo didn’t give away Piper’s code, as we already know. She gave Loretta the assassin disc that Emily sent to kill Piper instead. Good thinking, but who knows what Loretta can cook up with whatever’s on that.
While they’ve been talking, Jo has picked up the crushed nanobot to get a closer look. Suddenly, the nanobot instantaneously rebuilds itself and before Jo can react, it jumps out of her hand, then burrows under her skin. The bot runs straight up her arm toward her head, as if it has a brain homing device inside.
Personally, I think it was going to turn into one of those chips that the AIs have in the front of their brains, but Brooks is no fun and won’t allow the experiment to run its course. He chooses the dullest of the knives that extend from his Inspector Gadget arms and cuts the nanobot out of Jo’s neck while it’s conveniently placed next to a major blood vessel.
Unfortunately, the kitchen they’re in doesn’t have anything resembling a towel or napkin and Inspector Gadget and his sidekick don’t come equipped with anything as girly as a tissue, so Jo has to run through the halls of the facility dripping blood, or whatever’s running through her veins now.
Within seconds they find Benny, Piper, Chris and Alex. Jo herds them all into a nearby animal lab so that she can yell at them for coming to rescue her when she was having a great time on her date with Inspector Gadget. Chris explains that Plum Island used to be known as the Island of Dr Moreau before it got taken over for cyborg and body snatching research.
Jo decides that the anthrax containment unit is the best place for them to talk. Alex questions her sanity. Jo threatens the lives of her rescuers, except Piper, who she views as a helpless child. Alex questions her sanity again. Chris tells her that Emily stole her boat when she left the island, so she and Inspector Gadget were, in fact, marooned on the scary island where Frankensteins are made.
Jo is pretty sure that Inspector Gadget’s standard attachments include a floatation device and they would have been fine. FINE. She just needs to be alone with those smoldering eyes, okay??
The other three men are really pissed they they weren’t enough for Jo and the viewers in the romance sweepstakes, so they pout while Jo yells an update on the siuation at them. She comes up with a plan that consists of, “Make a run for it and don’t argue with me.” Nobody else agrees with it, since they’ve figured out that they’re now in a horror movie and Jo is the Final Girl, which means the other characters are in grave danger.
Inspector Gadget, who thinks he’s the star of the show, breaks the news to her that, as the only woman, she’s clearly become hysterical, so it’s time for him to take control of the situation. He points his hypnotic eyes at her and blinks rapidly in an attempt to use mesmerism to calm her down and get her on board with his agenda.
Meanwhile, back in Southold, Ed brings an envelope home and puts it in a safe in the foyer. Abby and Mia are finishing homework. Abby thinks Mia would make a great doctor someday, but Mia isn’t sure she’s up for such a demanding career.
Mia asks where Piper is. Ed says she’s doing a work thing with Jo. Mia is sad, since she never gets to do work things with Jo.
Me too, Mia, me too. It’s almost like you’re no longer Jo’s daughter, now that she has another cute little girl to play house with.
Ed says that all he knows is that Jo asked him to keep the exabyte disc safe. We know this isn’t true, since Piper has it in her hand, which means that the most vulnerable members of Jo’s family are about to be used as bait and leverage.
Michael Denman, from the Department of Justice, rings the doorbell. He tells Ed that he’s looking for Jo, but what he’s really looking for is the disc. He has a search warrant and a team of FBI agaents.
Benny notices Jo fiddling with the auto-injector for the killshot and asks how it works. The group has a quick conversation about the possibilities for using it. Jo stands near and looks mainly at Brooks, as if they are the only 2 people in the room. Oddly enough, he’s the only one who doesn’t add anything useful to the conversation. But he’s mesmerised her so she has to pay attention to him.
Eventually Alex and Brooks start to argue. Piper smells fire and they discover an electric utility box on the wall is in flames. Alex puts the fire out, then Chris realizes that the box was tampered with. Benny set the fire as a distraction so he could escape with the killshot.
Once again, Brooks did nothing useful during that entire sequence, but Jo treats him like he’s the great straight white hero. She wants to go after Benny and assigns Brooks to take care of her family, when clearly they should be taking care of him. Or disposing of him, whatever works in the moment. Jo’s mad at Chris, but allows him to come with her, telling him to run if he sees Helen.
It feels like the writers have written themselves and the characters into a dead end here, a literal box within a box sitting on an island, and they don’t know how to get anybody out of it. Your deus ex machina will be along any moment. Their story doesn’t make sense, it’s come down to a scary monster chasing the main characters through a haunted house, and they’ve established that the monster is too fierce for them to beat her on their own. There’s nothing to do but throw in an unexpected plot twist.
Speaking of unexpected plot twists, let’s check in on the search for the meaningless MacGuffin, ‘kay? We can’t properly build up suspense on the island unless we leave it occasionally, you know, so a subplot has to be contrived. But Ed and Mia have been out of the action for weeks, and Abby was never in it, so a search for a seemingly important item it is.
Denman threatens to out Piper to the larger world and makes some vague threats toward Abby, Mia and Ed, but he’s interrupted when an agent finds the safe. Darn. Denman takes such pleasure in his work too.
Jo catches up to Benny and has a meaningless argument with him in front of some data banks. Blah, blah, blah, she’s put out that she couldn’t tell that he was lying and is a robot made of human flesh, while he maintains that since he couldn’t kill her when he had the chance, he’s practically a good person, so it’s all fine. She can’t kill him either, so I think they’re in love now.
Benny takes the killshot out of his pocket and says that he knows for sure they’re meant to be Romeo and Juliet. Or maybe it’s Tony and Maria. That’s it. She’s supposed to live and he’s supposed to die in a gang war that could have been avoided with cooler tempers and better communication skills.
He sends her to hide in a corner and watch him die, Maria/Juliet-style. He confesses that this is the romantic ending he was built for. That’s why they had that romantic meeting on the beach, all those episodes ago, and he was programmed with the foreshadowing for Plum Island. Jo scurries into the corner, like the obedient teenager that she is. Still mesmerised.
Helen arrives, dressed in black, because she’s playing the role of Death, or Chino, depending on whether you prefer Shakespeare or West Side Story. The room glows red, because this is a Dramatic Scene. Helen walks right up to Benny and has a casual conversation with him, as if they’re best friends, then turns her back on him as she tries to lead him out of the room. Benny injects the killshot. It doesn’t affect her.
In what universe would the suspicious, intelligent, evil Helen we’ve seen in every previous episode suddenly be a chatty, trusting galpal who turns her back on a man she’s never trusted?
Helen turns around and puts her hand on Benny’s chest. After a moment, he collapses and she leaves the room. Benny bleeds out while Jo ineffectually flutters around him. Chris finds her and makes her leave as soon as he seems dead.
Since we know very little about AIs, I wouldn’t actually declare Benny dead just yet. There’s probably a backup version of his program somewhere. This body may just be in a coma. If he is dead, well, Benny, say hi to April the hacker for me.
Piper waits at the door to the containment unit and asks if they’re there yet.
I know, it feels like forever, and we’re only halfway through the episode.
Jo comes back and tells Alex and Brooks that Helen killed Benny and the killshot didn’t work. She says that she needs the power source, because Benny told her how to destroy it. They ask where Chris is. She’s acting very strange and flat. Brooks goes to hand her the power source, BECAUSE HE IS A USELESS IDIOT AND PROBABLY A ROBOT.
Let’s face it, he’s probably a discontinued model that they sent to work undercover at the FBI and forgot about because they didn’t care if he was killed. The guy who got him out of custody said as much.
Alex, who is not an idiot or a robot (not that there’s anything wrong with that), stops Brooks, because this obviously isn’t his wife. That’s right, I said it. Jo is his wife.
Or she was, before the lobotomy/robotization process.
Piper also realizes that she isn’t Jo. Helen-Jo says, “It was worth a try” and turns into a swarm of nanobots who attack Alex and Brooks. Piper somehow drives the nanobots away with her mind.
It’s better if we just don’t ask questions about these things. It also would have been better if Brooks had pulled out a laser gun. Or if he’d been fired and his paycheck had gone to pay for laser gun special effects. They would have added much more to the episode than his creepy, useless performance does.
Alex tells Piper that she’s the best. Too bad she hasn’t been allowed to do much for ages. Proving how useless he is, Brooks says that the nanobots stole the power source from his pocket. *facepalm*
Why did Agent Idiot have it in the first place?
Helen enters a mysterious room where the mysterious blob of mysteriousness is hanging out by itself. Piper follows her in, inexplicably by herself now. Helen turns and tells her she’s brave, then another upload cycle starts and Piper floats into the air, unable to move. Helen walks over to Piper and brushes her hair from her eyes, because Helen has a warm, maternal side now, like all women. I mean all female-presenting robot clones. And she doesn’t suspect a trap at all, because why would she?
Suddenly, Jo snaps the inhibitor bracelet onto Helen, then punches her in the face, knocking her across the room. As Helen falls, her arm breaks the frame on the mysterious blob of mysteriousness. Without it’s container, it turns into a nuclear bomb, because what else would it do? But Piper must have been faking the upload, because she gets up and says, “Yay.” Jo tells her she was great. Piper announces that Helen is “gone”.
So a punch and an inhibitor bracelet killed her? Or was it glancing contact with the blob?
Gosh, if only they’d thought of sneaking up on Helen before. Thank goodness Helen is now so easily distracted. And Jo is now willing to exploit a child for crime fighting purposes. I mean use an AI to help save the world. I mean allow Piper to make her own decisions, as if she has equal human rights. Or something like that.
The men run into the room and stare at the blob, which is getting all swirly and stuff. Alex is an engineer, so he can tell that this is extra super bad. Jo is a police chief, so she figures out that it would be bad for them to be standing next to a nuclear bomb when it goes off. She tries to shoo Piper away so she won’t get hurt when the nuclear bomb goes off on the other side of the room.
But Piper is an AI, so she knows that a nuclear bomb will take out an area bigger than the island. She thinks she can stop it.
Back at Jo’s house, the FBI agents have just finished breaking into Jo’s safe. When they find the envelope, Denman goes all Gollum, but all that’s inside of it is a necklace. He stops searching after that and prepares to leave, after one last macho exchange of barbs with Ed. After he’s gone, Mia explains that this is the necklace she gave Piper. She’s worried that Piper returned it because she doesn’t expect to come home.
Piper gives Jo the disc that contains her code so that she can be reincarnated yet again. She explains that she’s going to form a force field bubble around the the blob, the way she did around the truck when Ed passed out. Jo tries to stop her, but Piper is already inside the force field. Jo begs Piper not to do this. Piper says she’s happy she got to be in Jo’s family.
The blob’s light expands and brightens. From outside the building, we see a beam of bright green light extend up into the sky. When it stops, the spot where Piper and the blob were is totally empty. The humans cry.
Seems to me a nuclear explosion inside a force field ought to leave some evidence behind, within the force field’s area. I think Piper and the blob were beamed up into space. The mysterious blob wasn’t preparing to explode. It was preparing to travel. Since Piper was enclosed with it, she traveled too.
Everyone is stunned and sad, but Alex looks at Helen. He tells Jo that he saw Helen become her, so maybe she could become Piper if they use the disc. Jo removes the inhibitor bracelet from Helen’s body and puts the disc on her wrist. Helen opens her eyes and blinks. Brooks wants to shoot her because he thinks she’s trying to use mesmerism, but Jo stops him. After a moment, her adult black female body changes into the body of a white female child.
Wonder how Donald Faison felt about being the one to bring that idea up.
That was wrong on so many levels it was basically an unspeakable act. They changed a powerful adult woman into the guise of a child. They turned a powerful black woman into a white child, giving her a powerless appearance and making her more acceptable to the white woman. They took two seconds to mourn their child then replaced her with a clone, using the body of a black woman as their organic starter material, so that the white mother could play pretend with Piper again. The racism, misogyny and cold narcissism are shocking.
I wondered last week if Jo really thought of Piper as her child, or if she is just a doll the family is playing with. Here is the answer. But on top of that, she’s risked the life of Mia, her real child, all season long, in order to indulge in her obsession with her doll, while also ignoring her real daughter and making her feel second best.
I hope that’s really Helen in there, going along with pretending to be Piper for the time being. I hope she keeps pretending until Mia leaves for college. Mia deserves to be safe.
Once Helen appears to be Piper, she smiles and asks to go home. Jo hugs her and everything is fine.
Later that day, Abby examines Jo’s wound and decides that Brooks should never be allowed to do emergency surgery again. Piper thinks she can cure Ed’s cancer using her new nanobots. She tells Mia that she woke up as Helen and thought, “I want to be me again.” And she was! Jo forbids her to ever turn into anyone else again. After all, that could result in Piper getting stuck in a form that Jo doesn’t find attractive. Jo promises to put the inhibitor bracelet on Piper forever the first time she uses her powers for unapproved purposes.
Everyone is sad for a moment about Benny, then they wander off. Chris tells Jo that he heard from radio chatter that someone is cleaning up the island, but that has nothing at all to do with them.
Jo follows Brooks to the foyer. He tells her to be careful from now on and says that yesterday was a really weird date. He likes her family, even Alex, but he wonders if she’s worked through all of her feelings for her ex husband. He says, in a roundabout way, while he looms over her in his typically creepy, almost threatening way, that he has feelings for her and doesn’t want to get in too deep if she still has a thing for Alex. Then he walks out without giving her a chance to answer.
Do we not see the problem with this behavior? The man entered the season pseudo-stalking her and ended it with pseudo-threatening behavior that virtually silenced her during their goodbye conversation. In between, he gaslighted her and took over her life so that she stopped hanging around with her friends and began listening only to him. That’s not sexy. It’s controlling, misogynist and frightening. It sends up warning signals that he could lean toward abusive behavior once they’re in a relationship.
Cut it out, ABC. The world needs less of this type of behavior, not more. The addition of Ryan Brooks was the worst thing to happen to this show.
Jo puts her new doll, Piper, to bed. She apologizes for Benny’s death. Piper thinks she might see Benny again someday, but Jo’s in “Piper is a real girl” fantasy land, and just doesn’t see how that could be possible. *facepalm*
If Jo doesn’t have his code, then clearly no one does.
Piper asks what happens after we die. Jo blows her off completely, because this Jo bot isn’t programmed to even begin to engage in those questions, even though Piper just saw Benny and Helen die, then died herself and was brought back as a clone with the same programming.
As Alex is leaving, he tries to convince Jo that she shouldn’t ban Piper from changing her appearance, since there are advantages to the ability. She thanks him for helping rescue her on the island. Then she says that she knows she relies on him too much and she wants to get better at respecting his boundaries. He interrupts her to say that he took the job in DC and he’s already found a place to live. He says goodnight and goes to his car. As he’s about to get in, Jo stops him and asks him not to move to DC. He asks her why she doesn’t want him to leave.
Alex: “If it’s because you love me, and you want to try again, then yeah, let’s talk about that. I’d stay for that. (She looks uncomfortable and backs away from him a couple of steps.) If that’s not what you’re saying then, Jo, what the heck are we doing? If you don’t know, that’s cool. I just can’t stay while you figure out what it is you want.”
Okay. Jo is a fool. Alex is one of the best men on television, ever. This is the male behavior we want to see. He knows his own mind. He’s clear about what he wants and needs. He’s respectful of what she wants. And he gives her the chance to speak and to figure it out. They’ve been respectful toward each other all season, even during arguments, and even physically.
Brooks theoretically does the same thing, but he adds manipulative touches all along the way that draw her in, yet undermine her confidence.
Out on Plum Island, Benny’s body is taken away in a body bag. Loretta and Denman remain in the room. Denman picks up the auto-injector and flicks it. Loretta asks if they used it. Denman says that they did, but Helen isn’t on the island.
Loretta has already figured out that Helen has become Piper. She has a remote control for Helen with a viewscreen. It shows Piper in Jo’s house, asleep in bed. Denman is okay with this change, as long as their creation still works. Loretta uses the remote control to signal Piper to wake up. Piper’s eyes open wide.
That can’t be good. Wonder what was really in the auto-injector.
This show seemed like it had potential at the beginning of the season, but as time went on, it became clear that either the showrunners weren’t sure about what they were trying to say or too many other voices were interfering with their process. Emergence gradually become a mess, with inconsistent characterization and a convoluted storyline that didn’t really lead anywhere in the end. I wasn’t expecting any particular questions to be answered, necessarily, but this season didn’t even tell a story that I can make sense of. How did Richard Kindred, Alan Wilkis and Emily fit in? Was there any connection between the first half of the season and the second half, at all? Why was Piper being trained in the facility with the townhouses? Why did Wilkis really go into hiding?
As far as I can tell, we just watched a series of random events that someone thought would be cool to string together. Cloning might have had something to do with it. A terrorist group called Splinter was supposedly a big deal, then never mentioned again. Emily had a college roommate who was brought up, then forgotten. Helen was unbeatable, until she was beaten by a mere human playing peek-a-boo.
Then there was the insulting way the female lead was dumbed down over the course of the season. I watched an an intelligent, capable, funny woman become dependent on a hopelessly inept white male character who was clearly brought in mid season to improve ratings. He was not loveable. He was not a good cop. Jo didn’t need a third love interest, on top of Alex and Benny. She most definitely didn’t need to have her intelligence and agency scooped out of her brain and to be turned into a dopey, snappish shrew instead.
This is nothing against Allison Tolman. She’s gave an excellent performance with what she had to work with. The fault lies in the writing and directing. It lies in forcing her character to spend most of her time with a scene partner who was dead weight. Enver Gjokaj isn’t a bad actor, but I’ve yet to see him stand out in any role. This time his character was offensive.
The implications of the adults deciding that Helen and Piper are interchangeable, then bringing Helen/Piper into their home, no questions asked, are another whole issue. Helen and Piper became the ultimate disposable, dehumanized females. They can be a disposable weapon, a disposable body or a disposable personality. Whatever you want in a female. She doesn’t even have to remain human. Or organic. She can crumble into nanobots and reassemble into anything or anyone. She doesn’t require any special care or rights at all.
You can murder her, twice in 5 minutes, and still have a happy ending.
But is the real Piper actually gone? Or are we ignoring the fact that the blob and Piper were actually beamed somewhere, and real Piper is in need of rescue? But lobotomized Jo has her new Piper doll to play with, and two men fighting over her, so she isn’t going to question things any further.
Why isn’t Emily the star of this show? Or at least a Greek chorus who follows Jo around, setting her straight on reality? Please, next season, let Jo and Piper 2 live happily ever after. Send Alex and Chris to Washington to work for Emily and Loretta, where they’ll discover Piper 1 is alive and happily making friends with the blob. Which is really the Darkforce. Abby and Mia can follow them to DC. Chris and Emily will fall in love. Abby and Alex will co-parent Mia and spend the season considering whether they already know each other too well to become a couple.
Maria Wilkis will show up and become an important character, because I’m never letting that go. That alcoholism had to mean something more than a deadbeat husband. Those are a dime a dozen.
Jo, Ed and Piper 2 can stay in Southold and call in ocasionally by ham radio. At least until Loretta uses her remote to call Piper 2 home.
Or maybe Abby should grab Mia and run for the Canadian border as fast as their car will drive. Mia deserves to grow up far away from Southold. I’m extremely disappointed in the turn for the worst Alex took near the end, after he’d been so protective of Mia and so sensible about Piper.
If these AIs have a soul, where is it kept? Maybe in the body, or in the brain chip? In the exabyte disc with their code? If Jo believes Piper is a person, what is it she believes makes Piper a unique person? Her code?
Piper’s code could most likely be replicated into several bodies at the same time. Would each version have a soul? With experience, they would differentiate into individuals, as identical twins do. We may eventually see multiple Pipers at once, if Emergence continues. The show touched on these questions, then ran away from the implications, as it did with so many other plot threads and issues.
These are the issues Piper is probably currently struggling with. Who is she now, really? Is she still Piper? Did she die? She must have updated her code and memories when she held the disc in her hand the last time, so she seems like the same person, but she’s still probably missing the final moments of the other Piper. She only knows what that Piper’s plan to stop the bomb was.
The Piper who just died was actually Piper 2. Piper 1 died in the hospital when Jo used the disc the first time to overwrite her code. So the new Piper is the 3rd version of Piper that we’ve known. But she could be the hundreth version since Emily started creating Pipers. We saw that illustrated when Emily spoke to a primitive version of Piper who lived in a cube, then killed her to test the assassin disc. What does it even mean that Piper could be code on a disc and a living person at the same time?
Jo wants to pretend that Piper is the same as everyone else, but she’s not. Eventually, Piper will get tired of pretending and need her questions answered. She’ll also get tired of the threat of the inhibitor bracelet, which threatens to take away the essence of who she is in order to make someone else more comfortable with her. Piper isn’t really a child, she just looks like one. To threaten to remove her ability to use her basic functions is to oppress her.
What happened to the patient, understanding Jo who talked things through with her children?
Grade for the season: B
Interesting premise, great cast for the most part, but the plot and characterization deteriorated badly over the course of the season, until the finale could barely be bothered to do more than throw some cliches together that didn’t even fit the original premise well. If there’s a season 2, it will have to work hard to recover from the mistakes of season 1.
And what was that glowing blob even doing there, anyway? Did it just show up so it could explode several episodes later? Either use it properly, or save it for a cliffhanger in the finale. The same could be said of Alan Wilkis’ showers, Helen’s nanobots, the clone factory, Richard Kindred’s dissolved body…
Images courtesy of ABC.