by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
The Reflection ?
If viewed as an episodic story, a lot of The Reflection's creative choices don't really work. There are concessions made to include the expected cliffhangers and Big Reveals™ that drive so much long-running television drama, but in The Reflection's case, they've always felt out-of-place. In most episodes of this series, very little tends to actually happen in terms of plot, and this episode is a perfect example. After the opening car chase that picks up right where last week left off, with the Anti-Reflected agents pursuing Eleanor's captors, most of the remaining runtime is spent in the agency's giant featureless warehouse, before our heroes simply break out and leave to find Eleanor on their own, with Ian in hot pursuit.
When taken as a self-contained narrative that's meant to contain rising action, climax, denouement, and all the rest of the usual trappings, this episode is just one of many that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There's too much time spent focusing on extended scenes with minimal plot advancement and even less dialogue. Bringing back my Twin Peaks/David Lynch comparisons from last week, the scene where Lisa chastises her adult companions for failing to go after Lisa is a perfect example of this. Most other shows would use this scene as an opportunity to have the three characters get into a heated exchange, where we learn more about their personalities and the way they play off each other, while also keeping the emotional momentum up between action set-pieces. But The Reflection, in true Lynchian fashion, chooses to linger on the scene's bloated silence, where each of Lisa's admonitions is paired with a lengthy look at X-On's blank face or Warren's lazily swaying bottle of whiskey. It's a challenging scene, and the general lack of a soundtrack only highlights the uncomfortable atmosphere. When an episode only has about twenty minutes to get its point across, scenes like this can feel an awful lot like wasted time.
However, I've realized that The Reflected is structured less like a traditionally episodic narrative and more like one long film that's been broken up into pieces. Or perhaps a more salient comparison would be to a single graphic novel, where each episode is a chapter that's been ripped out and padded out into episodes. The inconsistent action sequences, the almost arbitrary variations in pacing, and the general lack of concern for traditional three-act-structure in each episode support this idea, as do many of the more “big picture” writing choices. For instance, only in this ninth episode of the show do we finally get any official terms for the villains (Dark Reflected) and the heroes (Brightstar Reflected). Any traditional superhero series would have outlined this from the very beginning, since clear delineations between the heroes and the bad guys are paramount in the kind of Silver Age stories that The Reflection pulls from.
The delay of information as to the Dark Reflected's motives make a bit more sense when you look at The Reflection's narrative as a single unbroken strand, one more in line with what might happen if a film director made a five-hour arthouse version of a comic-book movie. The treatment of the Japanese girls feels much the same. Every week, we get perhaps a minute of screen time for them, and nothing they do has any relevance to the plot whatsoever. It's a baffling decision for most any television show to make. If you string all of those scenes together as the piecemeal buildup of a side-story that will eventually pay off in the decisive moments of a single viewing experience, it makes a lot more sense.
This is what makes it so difficult to write about The Reflection's individual episodes without eventually just talking about the whole thing every week, because not much actually happens in each chapter of the story. This week, Eleanor is kidnapped, there's a car chase, the other Reflected have a somewhat pointless conversation with the government, and then they all leave to chase after Eleanor again. There's no real central focus to discuss in either character or plot development. By the time Lisa is flying through the streets of LA at the episode's end, we haven't gotten much farther in the story than where last week left off. All this episode serves to do is provide a somewhat decent chase scene and establish the fact that Ian is chasing after Lisa and the rest of our heroes, while Eleanor finally runs into Not Stan Lee, who seems to be Wraith's second in command.
Despite The Reflection's flagrant disregard for television episode structure, I still find myself enjoying the show. There are undoubtedly many viewers who will be frustrated with the series' inconsistent pacing and artwork, and I absolutely sympathize with them. The Reflection has turned out to be much more about mood and individual character beats than super-heroic action scenes or plot details. It's a very particular frequency that Nagahama and his team are tapping into, and it doesn't always work, but I'm caught up in its rhythm all the same.
The Reflection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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