LIMITLESS REVIEW: “UNDERCOVER!”

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Airtime: Tuesdays at 10pm on CBS

Season 1, Episode 15 (01.15)

Tweetable Takeaway: The usually delightful #Limitless somehow makes a classic undercover spy set-up feel bland.


 

As usual,  delivers on the easy-to-enjoy procedural front, but this was -for once- an episode that could have been so much more special. “Undercover!” melded a spy movie with a “here’s how it all went down” structure, and it would have ended up stronger if it just stuck with one or the other. The thing about the “here’s how it all went down” is that you gotta hook viewers with a “how did we get to this” moment, and Limitless didn’t do that. They played it a little too nuanced in inviting viewers to wonder what “how did we get to this” moment prompted these interviews, which was intriguing until the actual events played out and really didn’t live up to the nebulous expectation they asked viewers to come up with.

On top of that, there was potential gold in riffing on and/or ripping off classic spy movies – that opening sequence got me so excited – but again, there was a lack of follow-through that was so uncharacteristic of Limitless. Don’t start playing it safe now, guys! Bring back cool dinosaur toys! Also, you really missed an opportunity to re-do your credits like a spy movie. What the hell, guys?

Let’s get down to business. A list of undercover agents was stollen and there are five in the field that need to be found. Brian finds four of them pretty quickly and has a plan to reach the fifth. Seems simple enough, but we’re getting the “how did this happen” structures, so clearly something went awry.

Per Brian, this whole thing started because he was in a bad headspace after learning that Sands maybe/probably/definitely killed that evidence clerk who could’ve IDed Brian. No offense to Brian, but that really had nothing to do with why you got in the car with the hot undercover agent. You got in the car with the hot undercover agent because she was a HOT UNDERCOVER AGENT.

Ms. HUA herself, Lucy Church, is trying to bring down two companies: The Blue Limit escort service and Cyrillus Holdings. I’m 100% clear why the writers overcomplicated things with a second company, but basically The Blue Limit is getting most of their workers through sex trafficking operations – they take away the women’s passports so they can’t escape the situation, dole out some horrifying “discipline,” and have killed some of the women, including her informant. Lucy is, not surprisingly, pissed at these low-lifes and looking to take them down. Hard.

Undercover!

Undercover Assignment #1 aka At Least We’re Not At A Strip Club

Brian poses as a prospective client for TBL, rubbing elbows with enough of the right people at a mixer to figure out who is the guy in charge of “discipline” and probably holding all the passports. Brian also befriends Sergey, who has been having problems with his delinquent nephew. After a few platitudes about how kids act out to get attention, Sergey gifts Brian and Lucy with a lovely young woman named Irina. The trio chill in a hotel room and watch some reality tv. Irina, by the way, is the best part of this episode, filled with endless childlike joy over reality tv.

Undercover Assignment #2 aka The Temp Job

Brian is back to being a temp! And Agent Boyle is trying real real hard not to do a happy dance in the middle of CJC’s office. Lucy manages to get Brian hired to temp for TBL, because even shady sex trafficking organizations need someone to file. It takes Brian all of ten seconds to figure out how to get into the locked room and then a few youtube videos guide him through cracking the safes. He gets the passports and, because he’s a genuinely good human being, puts the rest of his NZT to work at the track so he can win these women a little starting-out money.

He also recovered a ledger that points to The German Hospitality League as yet another connected company that I literally do not care about at this point. Honestly, I can’t even remember what Cyrillus’ connect was to all this. And again, I literally do not care. Somehow his detectiving earns Brian a kiss and then some from Lucy.

Undercover!

This results in a quick cut to what I guess is my second favorite things about this episode: a random Bollywood dance sequence.* It has absolutely no point, relates to nothing else in the plot, and lasts such a small amount of time that I want to know how the writers convinced CBS it was worth spending money on. No seriously, I really would like to know because that kind of mind control would be hella useful. Also, I sincerely hope the scene is significantly shorter than Brian and Lucy’s adult time.

Undercover Assignment #3 aka Kidnapping-Lite

Brian is off NZT at this point, and he’s not nearly as useful but at least is still competent. He and Lucy have staged an internet problem at the German company, and they’ve kidnapped the tech sent to fix it so Brian can go in. He plays with a bunch of colorful wires that any millennial with half a brain would at least kinda be able to do something with, but let’s go with the “stalling” story. He doesn’t get the receptionist talking, but does get a name off a magazine: Gudmund Friedrich. He’s the guy, or he’s gonna lead to the guy. Good job non-genius-Brian.

Undercover!

Unfortunately, Lucy’s picture leaks along with a handful of other undercover agents. Lord knows why the press would report that information. How in the hell is that responsible journalism? But it burns Lucy and sends her into a bit of a reckless rage. She storms her way into Friedrich’s office and tells him she’s got proof that he works with TBL – now he has 2 options: Talk in exchange for leniency, or get shot in the face by a crazy-pants Lucy. This is ridiculous. I wish I could say I felt confident the real FBI did a better job at psych-screening potential agents than TV FBI, but I’m 100% sure they don’t and that troubles me.

Brian, idiot-not-on-NZT-Brian, manages to talk Lucy down by threatening to testify against her if she kills Friedrich but promising to back up her story – whatever her story is – if she calms the F down. So she shoots Friedrich in the leg. I’m cool with it. Back at the CJC, Brian keeps his word about backing her story, which is a “struggle” that doesn’t really convince anyone in IA. He also easily proves all the criminal connections between these companies whose names I’ve already forgotten. “You haven’t seen a lack of backbone until you’ve questioned a bunch of guys.” Thanks, Brian.

Throughout this whole undercover walkabout, Brian is trying to come to terms with the evidence clerk’s maybe/probably/definite murder. He blames himself, but Lucy is there to be his sounding board (You are better than this, Limitless writers!) and remind him that people die in this business but unless he ordered the hit, he’s not responsible. In the end, she reminds him that he’s a good person – drug or no drug. Not everyone would have taken the time to give those women starting-out money. Lucy also advises him not to compartmentalize like she does, which is advice that is coming way late but will hopefully leave its mark.

In case you’re wondering what’s up with Rebecca during Brian’s escapades, she’s been meeting with Sands. He offered her a job working with Morra’s team even though Brian says Rebecca is the last person who would take a bribe. Sands, of course, believes “everyone has a price,” but Rebecca’s price is probably world peace or something he could never offer. She dug around Sands’ background to learn that he was MI-6, which seems like not a big shock.

The real shock is that she more or less point blank says to Sands that she knows this job offer isn’t out of genuine interest in her skills but is really about stopping her investigation into Morra. I love you, Rebecca, but that might not have been the smartest move you’ve ever made. So Sands has a minion bug her house – a guy who recognizes Rebecca’s dad from a picture in her home. That’s interesting. We close on the question of what’s to be done if the minion “sees a window of opportunity.” Per Sands, he should “take it.”

This was a filler episode if I’ve ever seen one. Brian is getting over the death of the evidence clerk, but I’m sure he’ll continue to brood about it when necessary for the story. Rebecca is slightly more confident she’s on the right track, but really she knew that already. And I would be totally fine with all that non-movement on the season arc if the show had had some damn fun with the classic spy movie set-up they started out doing. The movie posters from the initial hunt for the undercover agents were a great touch, but there was nothing else. Brian never even asked for a code name or cool gadgets! And then the Bollywood scene that was…pointless would be an understatement. I am, though, hopeful that next week’s “Sands, Agent Of Morra” episode will deliver some big season arc developments and will make Sands more of a character and less of a well-dressed henchman #1.

*Fully admit, I only like this scene because I love Bollywood.

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 | Staff Writer
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Still quiet here.sas

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