TV review: X Company 1×01, ‘Pilot’

Over the years of being a fan of various actors and making it my mission to watch their filmographies, I’ve seen some weird, crazy, and sometimes not very good stuff. Initially interested in X Company only because of Evelyne Brochu’s involvement, my interest in the show itself piqued with the building of positive buzz and reviews that suggested that maybe this was not going to be just another fan-driven viewing experience. I was not disappointed.

By the time time the first commercial break rolls around, it’s welcomed. Not because you are marking time until it ends, wishing it would be over, but so you can catch your breath. Thrown without introduction right into the middle of a mission that seems to be on a collision course with tragedy, there’s been mysterious and disturbing maybe-flashbacks and a child has been threatened with death by Nazi officers. In the middle of it all, hidden away in a church bell tower, there’s five yet unnamed people, obviously the agents behind the mission. They’re transmitting morse code messages from the tower as a Nazi signal detecting van circles the area back to Camp X in Ontario, Canada. Having gotten the clearance to strike in the area, they quickly disperse, one agent, Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) trying to escape through a church. She sits in the pews, feigning normality as officers charge through the door. In her eyes you can see fear and dread, but she remains composed. You could hear a pin drop. A gun clicks behind her, pointed at her head. “Who are you?” a voice asks.

Show, don’t tell. It’s an old adage, but one that is rarely remembered in practice. The secret to X Company‘s exhilarating introduction, what sets it apart from the rest, is that it nails the need for immediacy from its first scene. Without lengthy context or exposition, it throws itself in the deep end from the very beginning, placing itself in a high stakes situation with a foreboding sense of dread. It’s a sure fire way to have immediate emotional involvement and quick character set up, putting them in an extreme situation and having them work out of it. The actions they take and how they react speak more than any lengthy expository speech could. Under pressure, their true nature, personality, and history is shown, simultaneously progressing the narrative quickly, offering much subtler observations, and letting the audience immediately get attached. 

The show (which runs for the next 8 weeks), hot on the heels of The Imitation Game, is the latest in the recent string of World War II set dramas, espionage where one mistake could potentially cost thousands of lives. It’s a somewhat fictionalised account of North America’s first spy training facility, established on the shores of Lake Ontario in 1941, and kept a secret until late last century, an (until now) relatively unknown part of wartime history. The camp  connected Britain and US when the latter was forbidden to be directly involved in World War II, training every day people with exceptional abilities to be agents. The show centres around 5 such people: Aurora Luft (Brochu), a trilingual journalist; Tom Cummings (Dustin Milligan), an advertising executive; Harry James (Connor Price), an engineering and chemistry student; Neil Mackay (Warren Brown), a former police officer; and new recruit and synesthete Alfred Graves (Jack Laskey), tactically valuable because of his perfect memory, but also a liability due to his uncontrollable sensory reactions. It’s anchored by emotional performances from its cast of five – deeply felt, and united with great chemistry. It’s clear that Brochu and Laskey are going to be the leads here and they are more than capable, commanding their scenes. 

In a world where a single finger slip or second wasted could mean death, X Company is tightly wound and appropriately tense, something that its contemporaries haven’t achieved, having become too preoccupied with set up. Period dramas are a dime a dozen these days, but what most of them lack is relevance needed to fully resonate. X Company possesses the urgency, the speed, sharp editing, the small time frame, the immediate human connection, and forward momentum, to really show how much is at stake with even the smallest action, just how nerve-wracking it would have been. Created by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, who were also behind Flashpoint, like the Toronto-set police drama, it doesn’t try anything unconventional in terms of presentation or style, but it is executed with such energy and precision, it’s easily overlooked. 

The verdict: Conventional design is much outweighed by breathless intensity and a strict adherence to the show, don’t tell adage that intensifies the raw suspense and intensity. No standing around, superbly entertaining and packs a real punch, I can’t wait for the next seven episodes. A-

Bonus: check out the amazing behind the scenes material.

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