[25 January 2012]
The intricate first episode of Touch opens with a monologue by 11-year-old Jake (David Mazouz), who discusses the interconnectivity of all living things. Jake can see patterns that explain everything, patterns that most people are incapable of discerning. The boy’s narration, unnervingly matter-of-fact about the nature of the universe, takes on more power when he reveals that in 11 years, he has never spoken a word.
Jake is the severely autistic child of Martin (Kiefer Sutherland). The boy tends to wander off any time an adult turns his or her back on him, and he’s often found in inconvenient places like the top of an electrical tower. Jake will not let anyone touch him, including Martin. Needless to say, this is hard on the father, who desperately wants to hold his son and can’t.
Yet Jake is the best thing in Martin’s life. In fact, Jake is the only thing. After his wife was killed on 9/11, Martin lost his high-paying job. When we meet him at the beginning of this episode—airing at a special time on Wednesday, before the series takes its regular time on Mondays in March—he is wearing the distinctive reflective vest of a baggage handler. This is a man who is barely keeping his head above water. Things get worse after Jake runs away, again, and child services threatens to take him away from Martin.
This much tragedy heaped on one character could be too much. Sutherland, however, plays the part with such a combination of intensity and subtlety that we are drawn deep into Martin’s suffering, and rather than judging him, we feel with him. Every trial is etched in his face. He imbued Jack Bauer with similar stoicism, but Martin seems less resilient, more distressed. When Martin gets punched in the stomach, he doubles over onto the hood of his car, struggling to breathe.
Just as it seems like Martin is about to give up hope, the numbers that Jake is always scribbling in notebooks start to make sense. Phone numbers and dates pop out. Those connections that are supposed to be inscrutable suddenly seem to fall into place. This effect—and Martin’s coming to understanding—are rendered nimbly here, suggesting his wonder and thrill. The difficulty for Touch as a series will be to create a satisfying puzzle each week for Martin to solve without becoming repetitive or unbelievable.
The premiere sets a high bar. In addition to Martin and Jake, we meet a half dozen other characters around the world that who out to be connected, each striking in his or her own way. An international businessman, a prostitute in Tokyo, an Irish singer, an Iraqi teenager: it would be unfortunate to spoil how their paths intersect, though the structure is complex and substantive, feeling more like the movie Babel than network TV. Though the intricacy of seeming coincidence does stretch credulity, it is poignant nonetheless, and extremely effective when combined with the intimate struggles of Jake and Martin.
The show’s creator, Tim Kring, was also responsible for Heroes, which similarly involved a large international cast of characters thrown together by fate and unexplained phenomena, and a stunningly good pilot. The danger for Touch is that its plot allows for procedural conventions. But so far, its mix of spirituality and science, familial and global struggles, is galvanizing.