Persons Unknown Is The New LOST

07 Jul

This new show Persons Unknown is set to fill the void left behind when Lost went so ungracefully off the air, and I am attempting to learn from my previous experiences and proceed with realistic and crystal clear expectations.

It’s now on Saturdays at 8pm on NBC, and its premise is very similar to that of Lost – in fact the show itself is very similar. It’s got a surreal setting and sci-fi plot devices, a cast of strangers from various walks of life, struggling to understand not just what they are doing in their baffling predicament, but also how to come to terms with the various bits of drama from their pasts.

Right now I am on episode three, and I am about eighty percent as hooked as I was when I discovered Lost. So far we’ve got a woman named Janet who we meet at a playground where she’s watching her adorable daughter play. A hard man shows up, some kind of private detective or something, and he alludes to a conflict between her and the husband.

Shortly after he leaves, the woman realizes she can’t see her daughter, so she circles the playground frantically, gets chloroformed, and then wakes up in a strange bedroom, fully clothed and unharmed.

The door is locked and there’s a camera under a bubble of tinted glass in the corner of the ceiling, metal blinds on the window. Pretty soon a guy named Joe kicks in the door and tells her that he is also a prisoner, he’s been grabbed and awakened under similar circumstances.

From here, much like Lost, the story begins to move exactly like a Stephen King novel, but here’s the good news. It’s written by Christopher McQuarrie, the screenwriter behind The Usual Suspects. If anyone knows how to take a puzzle story and close it up like a symphony set, it’s this guy.

That is what is going to need done on this story, as it feels just as free as Lost every did to depart from normal reality and splash right into the surreal without apology.

In just three episodes, we’ve learned that the rooms are all in a mysterious hotel, the hotel is in a mysterious old town in the mountains, and the town is surrounded by a force field which is very difficult if not impossible to penetrate.

I’ve ruined plenty of movies – including The Usual Suspects – for people, so let me tell you right now, there may be Spoilers Coming. If you haven’t seen the first three episodes and you really want to watch them fresh, stop reading, go do that, and then come back.

I’m going to talk about what we know, and I’m going to speculate, so if you think that will Spoil your viewing, then seriously, stop reading.

Teleportation, that’s what’s reared its head. The one time the group manages to get through the force field, they get teleported right back. The next thing they try is tunneling under the force field – and they encounter a steel barrier in the dirt, after spending a week digging twenty feet.

Also there’s a Chinese restaurant across the street from the hotel, which is staffed and has the sole purpose of feeding the residents a delicious Chinese meal each evening. The staff claims to know nothing about their captivity – still just existing in this abandoned, force field-surrounded town is suspicious and surreal.

One of the men smothered his terminally ill wife to death before arriving, and another character sees a video of it at the television store, and now knows what he did.

Another character believes that her father – the former head of the CIA – is responsible. She finds a glass container with a butterfly chrysalis in it, in her room though the door was locked and no one has been seen hanging around.

First, let me be clear about my expectations here. This appears to be a mystery story, and NBC is saying clear as day there will be answers this summer. I think that’s a direct reference to Lost, and to anyone who found the end to be unfulfilling. Sure, Lost was also running commercials claiming that “The Time For Questions Has Ended!”

Now here’s the thing. When I decide to start watching a television program, that is not me signaling my interest in taking a graduate course on the screenplay. I have no interest in tracking down a bunch of podcasts by the writers saying, “Well, we’re not really going to answer these questions.”

Or even more irritating, podcasts of them speculating on what might have happened, in the exact same manner that you or I could speculate on it.

For instance, the most lunatic Lost defender I encountered plopped the transcript of a podcast in the comment section of one of my Lost blogs, in which the makers are asked why some characters on a certain plane on the show went back in time roughly thirty years, while the rest of them did not and instead showed up in the same timeline, when the plane went down.

The writers of Lost said something like, “Well, it was the people who were touching something who stayed in the timeline. The rest of them ended up thirty years ago.”

All of them on a plane, you know – so they were all touching something, if only the plane or their clothing.

Anyway, if this show provides me answers that would fail to satisfy my four year-old niece, then I am not going to count them as answers.

So here’s what I’m expecting from this mystery show which is billing itself as something which will give us “answers this summer.” I expect actual answers.

I expect to find out why this is happening, where it’s happening, who is responsible, and also how things like teleportation and underground steel barriers are possible.

I think these are pretty reasonable expectations. I don’t think I need to go and find an article by McQuarrie expicitly stating that he intends to resolve his plotlines. And I have a few ideas about what the resolution is going to be, which I’ll talk about in the next Persons Unknown post.

Anyone, blogosphere, people of the Internet – please let me know if you think that these expectations are reasonable, and if you haven’t checked out the show, you really should. I’m probably going to be talking about it a lot this summer.

I really don’t mean to be so negative, but I feel like I’m just now getting into a new relationship, and my last one was full of selfishness and abuse. I just don’t know if I’m ready to get hurt again, Persons Unknown.

But I know I’m dumping you like a load of gravel, at the first sign of any sloppy, posturing nonsense. It’s going to be a low-tolerance situation, and I’ll apologize in advance.

Please be worth it, Persons Unknown. I’m absolutely starving for a cool new show to watch, and you seem like we could be really great together.





Later:  Persons Unknown – The Big Questions

And:  Persons Unknown: The Program Is Literally A Program

Also:  Making My Peace With Lost


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8 responses to “Persons Unknown Is The New LOST

  1. Bill V

    July 7, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I have been tuning in since everything else I watch is in reruns. I like the show so far. Looking forward to your future blogs on it.

  2. puredieselbc

    July 8, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Great blog Tom. However just an update, Persons Unknown is moving to Saturdays starting July 17th.

  3. osofine

    July 11, 2010 at 8:26 am

    “This appears to be a mystery story, and ABC is saying clear as day there will be answers this summer.”

    FYI: “Persons Unknown” is being broadcast on NBC, not ABC (thank goodness!). I have been upset with ABC for a number of years, and try to stay away from their programming – though I did watch the final season of “Lost”, which I got into about 3 seasons in…. Here’s hoping that NBC can make a comeback. It’s best chance is to learn from ABC’s mistakes, and the successes of CBS and Fox!

    [Sorry that I can’t share any of my theories about “Persons…” right now, but I’m too sleep-deprived at the moment. I’ll try to come back another time.]

    • thomaschalfant

      July 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm

      Yes, you are right – I had it right in two places, but must have had ABC on the brain when I started talking about Lost.

      I’m caught up on the episodes, and I’ll be putting some theories up in a day or two – definitely I would love to hear your theories as well!

  4. blondannas

    August 4, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Gad! I thought I was looking at my own blog! Until I changed the theme last night, it was identical. I loved Persons Unknown from the beginning as a slow recovery from Lost, but not as a carbon copy by any means. I loved Lost and even loved the ending. But I will not go into detail about why it really did make sense here. I talked about it on my blog enough. Look it up.
    I do agree with you about McQuarrie. Usual Suspects is one of the great ones. I have real expectations for Persons Unknown but am definitely worried about NBC’s commitment to the show. It is not scheduled for August 14 and I wonder if we can do anything about that. It would be a crime to leave it hanging at this point. It really makes me mad that an intelligent, well-written show cannot be given a chance at a desirable time slot even in the summer, and not receive enough publicity ahead of time so that people are aware of it. The shows on USA and TNT publicize their shows on the networks more than NBC did with Persons Unknown.
    Oh well. Maybe I should shut up and just go to my own blog.

    • thomaschalfant

      August 5, 2010 at 12:22 am

      I would prefer that you not shut up, but I’m going over to your blog next so that part works.

      I loved LOST though I definitely did not love the ending. I’m a little bit infamous with regards to the ending, but I’m genuinely pleased that a lot of people got what they wanted out of it.

      I was just talking about how Persons Unknown actually caught a bit of LOST fatigue as a handicap – LOST left a lot of people exhausted, and committing to another mind-boggling cliffhanger serial story, I’m thinking a lot of folks didn’t have it in them.

      I’ll talk to you soon, thank you very much for commenting!


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