Back in 2011, I would fall in love with a show a few months before its airing. It was called Smash, a show that would end up running for two seasons, and during that time, would become a much derided and quickly forgotten attempt at musical television post Glee. The thing with Smash though, was that the pilot was a masterpiece. It was one of the finest hours of TV I’ve witnessed. It was funny, it was exhilarating, it was perfect, the final song a cathartic experience. I watched it many, many times before it premiered the next year. The problem? It never lived up to that high, not even close, and experienced a very rapid decline that would see me give up by the time episode 5 rolled around.
It’s well known by now that possibly the hardest thing for a TV show to do is to live up to the hype of a great premiere with an equally satisfying follow up. It’s a fine line to walk. You don’t want your first episode to be your finest hour of the show ever, otherwise you have a steep decline and rapid lost of interest effect; but at the same time you don’t want it to be the worst, otherwise no one will come back for more. After being pretty much totally (and somewhat unexpectedly) blown away by X Company’s tense and fast-paced opener last week, I was naturally concerned that this show that I’ve quickly fallen in love with would be like Smash, dying a quick death in regards to my interest towards it. While the second episode of CBCs eight part first season of X Company starts to show some potential weaknesses for the show, it’s nevertheless a very satisfying follow up.
After the very contained, single narrative of the premiere, Trial by Fire separates the agents into more narrative strands. After the disastrous mission that the first episode unfolded within, Aurora, Harry, Tom, and Neil have been sent with new recruit Alfred (Jack Laskey) on a mission to France. Their intention is to recruit civilians for the resistance movement, however that clean, ideal plan is foiled when they have to make an early drop into the area, having to split up before reconvening for the second part of the mission – breaking into the office of a German agent.
Trial by fire indeed. The episode title may be literal, but by once again putting the characters in an impossible situation, this time separated after the collectiveness of last weeks narrative, they’re thankfully given an opportunity to develop more outside the direct influence of the rest of the team, taken even further out of the tight knit unit and comfort zone. While it’s not quite as tense as the opener, it thankfully maintains the forward momentum and lack of exposition established then, which looks to probably continue to be one of X Company’s biggest assets.
But from that arises my pressing concern as X Company heads into its following 6 episodes, because it’s the one time that the show has broken this rule it thankfully has abided by strictly thus far. It’s something pretty small and petty, but needs to be addressed. In a show that has so far excelled in being subtle in terms of character exposition and even surprisingly brutal at times, the final scene this week was a disappointing mess. Now, I’m not talking about Alfred and Aurora themselves, how their burgeoning relationship is acted (quite the opposite, actually, I’m very interested to see where this is going, despite it being a cliche, and Evelyne Brochu and Jack Laskey have chemistry), but instead the small matter of that.
Yes, that. The most unnecessary and obvious special effects I have seen this side of Winter’s Tale. What is that, exactly? What purpose does it serve? Why must we see the colour in that manner? I understand that some representation of the visual aspect of Alfred’s synesthesia (another form of which is being revealed every week in a harrowing flash forward) is required as it is explored more, but this? In a show that has put so much stock in not being obvious and has been so handsomely produced so far, it’s disappointing and groan-inducing just because of how downright silly and well…cheap it looks. It’s completely inconsistent with how Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern have presented the rest of the narrative so far.
The verdict: While lacking the breathless punch of the opener and showing signs of potential weakness, packing in less action and more establishing more character arcs (including its first romantic storyline), X Company‘s second episode is gripping and entertaining, the 45 minutes flying past extremely swiftly. No jumping out before episode 5 for me. B+
Bonus: check out the episode debrief.