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Eleventh Hour

Series Premiere
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Marley Shelton
Regular airtime: Thursdays, 10pm ET

(CBS; US: 9 Oct 2008)

Scientific Nature

“Dr. Hood is a high priority asset. He’s a brilliant biophysicist, but he spends most of his time in his head so I have to watch his back.” It’s clear that FBI Special Agent Rachel Young (Marley Shelton) takes her job very seriously. It’s also clear, just two minutes into Eleventh Hour, that both she and Jacob Hood (Rufus Sewell), like to explain what they’re doing and who they are—repeatedly. Thus, Hood explains, he’s assigned to solve what he calls “crimes and crises of a scientific nature.” Or, as Rachel explains, again, “You see, he’s got this annoying habit of telling the truth and the truth hurts a lot of people’s pockets.”


It so happens that Rachel is explaining all this to McNeil, a local Seattle detective played by Riley Finn (that is, Marc Blucas, here with wispy beard and not much to do). His first inclination, to claim jurisdiction, is pretty much instantly dispelled: Rachel greet him with her gun drawn (always quick to protect her asset) and Hood corrects his assessment of the case they’re looking at, namely, 19 jars dug up from 19 graves. When the cop McNeil calls the contents as “19 babies,” the scientist Hood renames them “19 terminated fetuses,” specifically, 19 fetuses with identical DNA—clones. And when McNeil suggests they’re looking at 19 murders, Hood again corrects him: “Technically,” he says, “a fetus is medical waste, it’s not murder.”


Thus establishing himself as a Scientist with a Capital S, Hood will go on to exploit the religious beliefs of a suspect in order to extract information. Initially, Will (Jimmi Sanders), arrested as the driver of a truck carrying one of these 19 jars, refuses to say where the contents came from or who hired him. Though he describes himself as a “deeply sensitive person,” Hood reveals here a rather brutal understanding of the young believer’s vulnerability, dragging him inside a (very conveniently) nearby church. “Time to clear your conscience, Will. We both know that at the heart of faith lies the truth,” Hood asserts. When the kid holds back, Hood forces him to look up at the crucifix, completely with bloody-red paint: “Tell the truth! Cleanse yourself, Will. Tell him!”


Again with the truth. Hood’s methods are unconventional, Eleventh Hour insists, but still, he’s strangely bland. The premiere episode of Eleventh Hour turns more interesting when the scene cuts to a young pregnant woman (Mother #20), in visible distress. When Kelly (Lindsay Pulsipher) starts having contractions, she’s scooped up by an ominous woman in black, Muller, (the superbly odd Diane Venora), who refuses to take her to a hospital and instead carts her off to a scary-looking site, the sort of place where evil doctors do bad things. Thus the episode sets up a contrast between two kinds of hardcore scientists, those who pursue truth with a more or less moral foundation, like Hood, and those who pursue another, equally abstract but less empathetic truth, those who seek a godlike power, like Muller and her significantly named superior, Gepetto (Kate Nelligan, and it’s good to see her, if only for two minutes). Even if human cloning is a standard sign of bad (too ambitious) science, this contrast between Gepetto and Hood is not simple. It even suggests that the series, based on a British miniseries of the same name, has something on its mind beyond copying other police procedurals or the familiar teamings of a “brilliant” mind and an admiring partner (see: Mulder and Scully, Goren and Eames, Life‘s Crews and Reese, The Mentalist‘s Jane and Lisbon).


This ordinariness is somewhat offset by the fact that Eleventh Hour is exceptionally good-looking: whether Rachel and Hood are making their way through (refreshingly un-rainy) Seattle streets or tromping through Georgia woods (in the second episode, “Cardiac”), the lighting is consistently elegant and the camera smartly angled (check the cool flashlights in long hallways shots, not only pretty, but also an apt nod to The X-Files). But so far, Hood is not nearly so interesting as his aesthetics. A strangely bland eccentric, his weirdness is in need of too much explanation and his insights telegraphed too early. He’s a Quirky Detective for viewers who aren’t paying much attention.


Consider the presentation of Hood’s unusual intellect. When Rachel isn’t proclaiming it for local cops, Hood is displaying it via obvious narrative devices. In the series’ second episode, “Cardiac,” Hood and Rachel arrive in a small Georgia town in pursuit of a serial killer of 11-year-old boys. As they drive into town, they go through the file and explain the case: “This town is desperate for answers,” judges Hood. Noting the visible absence of children, now kept inside by their parents, Rachel chimes in, “Something’s put the fear of God into them.” Hood shakes his head dourly. “It has nothing to do with God,” he intones. “People fear what they don’t understand and what they don’t understand now is healthy 11-year-old boys dropping dead of a heart attack.”


As the teams goes on to describe this scenario a few more times and chase down a few suspects, Hood underscores his cerebral background by knowing every bit of science dropped by a local natural healer, Lizzie (Erica Gimpel, yet another terrific actor who doesn’t get enough work) or literary reference made by a teacher, Sam (Henry G. Sanders). The show, to its credit, complicates Sam’s role: he’s not just this small Southern town’s first black teacher (that is, burdened with a history of abuse by his fellow citizens), but he’s also a voracious reader and intellectual, which gives Hood a chance to bond with him over his book collection. Still, the show can’t leave well enough alone. When Hood notes Sam’s copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra, he has to explicate: “Somebody around here is killing off the weak to make way for the Ubermensch,” he says, pausing briefly before he adds, “the Overman.” Got it!

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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