Apr 30, 2020
Minority Report: Killer Pigeons Crap All Over a Decent Premise
The Philip K. Dick short story “The Minority Report,” first published in 1956, explores a future where a governmental agency known as Precrime uses the precognitive talents of three mutants to stop murders before they happen. Much like one of Dick’s other short stories, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” which later became Total Recall, “The Minority Report” was a relatively brief tale that was significantly expanded into the 2002 feature film Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise. The movie was a huge hit for 20th Century Fox and is still fondly remembered by sci-fi fans, and it even went on to have significant real-world influence on the design of user interfaces (see: the Kinect). So as one would expect of any creative property older than a decade with this kind of name recognition, FOX is attempting to extend the brand with a TV series based on Minority Report, which premiered this Monday.
There’s no mention of Tom Cruise’s John Anderton so far in the series, but it’s more or less a direct sequel to the movie. Set 11 years after the events of the film, the show centers on Dashiell, a.k.a. “Dash” (now played by Stark Sands), one of the three precogs set free after the abolishment of Precrime. However, Dash finds himself still having visions of future crimes, and so he teams up with a police detective (Meagan Good) to prevent murders before they happen.
In the original short story, the precogs were depicted as babbling idiots, described as “deformed and retarded,” and Anderton even referred to a precog as “it.” The film went in a much different direction, showing one of the precogs, Agatha (played by Samantha Morton), being set free by Anderton and having normal intelligence and the ability to communicate. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that this show’s premise is like doing a TV sequel to Flowers for Algernon where Charlie is played by a sexy 30-something male model-type who uses his newly heightened IQ to solve crimes. (Yeah, yeah, I know; don’t give them ideas.) In fairness, the pilot does attempt to show that Dash is emotionally stunted from his time as a precog, but for a guy who was supposedly kept drugged up and isolated for a decade, he comes off as pretty well adjusted and mostly just seems like he has a mild case of Asperger’s.
But still, despite this faintly ridiculous premise, the pilot isn’t terrible. I don’t foresee it becoming a huge hit, but it could turn out to be another Sleepy Hollow for FOX that quietly builds up a fanbase under the radar and lasts for several seasons. But then again, there’s just as much of a chance of it getting cancelled after two or three months. (And if that happens, I expect the usual flood of idiotic comments on social media saying the show was only cancelled because it’s on FOX.)
We begin with a voiceover from our main character Det. Lara Vega while three kids play in a meadow. She tells us that the girl, named Agatha, and the two boys, twins Arthur and Dash, were “children of drug addicts” and born brain-dead, until scientists gave them an “experimental therapy” that revived them. But it also gave them a “gift”: namely, precognitive abilities. Someone in a white lab coat appears at the edge of the meadow holding some type of neural apparatus, and a caption informs us we’re at the Woodhaven Clinic (which was actually namedropped in the movie) and it’s 2040, 14 years before the film.
Cut to the three kids now in white gowns and sitting in white chairs as they work together to accurately predict the cards that scientists are about to draw from a deck. But then Agnes becomes panicked and starts screaming, and one of the twins yells, “Show me that pretty smile, bitch!”
The scientists say it’s happening “again” as they rush to sedate the kids, and it turns out they’re having visions of a woman tying up a man, saying the “pretty smile” line, and blowing his head off with a shotgun. And then we get a blatant swipe of dialogue from the movie when one of the boys says, “Can you see?” A scientist responds, “See what?” Agnes says, “Murder!”
Vega’s voiceover explains how the three children were found to have the ability to see “every murder within a hundred miles, days before they happened”, so they were put to work for the Precrime program, while we get stock footage from the movie of the precogs floating in their milk bath, intercut with close-ups of the actress who plays Agatha on this show (Samantha Morton reportedly declined the offer to reprise the role). Vega’s VO also talks about how the future murderers were locked up, and there’s stock footage of the detention cells from the movie, meaning this pilot actually features a cameo from the back of Tom Cruise’s head!
Vega’s VO says that eventually, Precrime was abolished, and the three siblings were sent to an “undisclosed location” to “hide them from the world,” and we get the final shot from the movie. But she adds, “They just couldn’t hide… forever.”
Cut to a bar, where a skinny white guy with a Washington Nationals cap (which bears a “World Series 2054” logo, heh) plays a holographic whack-a-mole game and wins easily. A bartender asks if he wants anything else, and he tells her she’s going to “need a mop” seconds before a waitress spills an entire tray of drinks in front of her.
The bartender gives him a stunned look, and the guy just shrugs. But then he suddenly jerks back on his barstool and gets a vision of a woman being thrown from a window. As you can probably guess by now, this is our main precog Dash, and he’s seeing a future murder.
Dash runs out of the bar and also gets glimpses of a clock, letting him know the murder is going to happen in 40 minutes. He opens up a notebook and draws a sketch of the hooded assailant he sees in his vision. He also sees a sign that tells him the crime is going to take place in “Bartlet Plaza” (a shout-out to The West Wing, which shares a producer with this show).
Dash races to the subway, and as soon as he sits down, he gets hit with a video ad featuring an animated marijuana leaf telling him he looks “stressed” and that he should try “Hart’s Totally Baked Goods,” clearly presaging the eventual legalization of pot.
The levitating subway train takes him to his destination, which according to the caption is Washington, D.C., in the year 2065. He runs out of the Metro station into what is, for lack of a better description, a very Minority Report-esque future, with video walls and advertising everywhere. He’s arrived at the scene of the future crime with three minutes to spare, but he can’t figure out which building the woman gets thrown from. He guesses the wrong one and bursts in on people doing tai-chi in VR glasses, because why not?
By the time he figures out the right building, it’s too late. He can’t bring himself to watch, and he turns away just seconds before a woman comes flying out of a window and goes plummeting down to a tour bus below. Which is a pretty awesome shot, actually.
After the title of the show, we meet Lara Vega in person, and it seems she’s the police detective investigating the murder we just saw. She puts in a high-tech earpiece and sticks a high-tech contact lens in her eye, and flails her arms and spins around as she creates a computer-generated reenactment of the murder. This is clearly meant to be a callback to Tom Cruise doing all those crazy jujitsu moves on his computer screens in the movie, but it looks more like she’s training to become a mime. Also, it appears that in the year 2065, police detectives will be required to wear the tightest jeans possible, not that I’m complaining.
Her sidekick here is a police tech expert named Akeela Scott, who’s wearing face paint (which will apparently be all the rage in 2065), and the two share this totally natural dialogue.
Vega: Can you believe we used to stop this stuff before it happened?
Akeela: Unfortunately, Precrime was way before our time, girl!
That’s right, girl, Precrime was fierce! Vega eventually figures out the victim allowed herself to be killed because she was “protecting someone,” and she uses the infrared setting on her contact lens to find a little girl hiding in a kitchen cabinet. As she carries the girl out, Dash looks on from the crowd.
Dash decides to follow her, but first, he disguises himself by putting a silver device to his chin that makes his felt look all melted. You might recall, though probably not, that Tom Cruise briefly used the same disguise in the movie, and both here and in the film, it’s the result of a “paralytic agent” that relaxes the muscles in the face. And in fact, the show has a lot of these obscure callbacks to a film released 13 years ago that I doubt very many viewers will catch.
But Vega instantly senses that she’s being followed and gets the jump on Dash. So he gives her his drawing of the murderer, and then injects that same paralytic agent into her legs and runs off. Vega has been temporarily paralyzed, but it turns out that—oh, come on—Dash left his bag behind, containing his notebook full of drawings of murders he saw before they happened.
In the next scene, we meet Vega’s boss, Lt. Blake, who’s played by Wilmer Valderrama in a rare dramatic role, but that goofy accent isn’t just something he put on to play Fez, so it’s bit hard to take him seriously. He says the murder victim was a nurse who worked in a clinic treating “halo burn,” a mental disorder “common to former Precrime prisoners.” Which means the suspect could be anybody, since the victim worked in a place full of “future murderers.”
But Vega has that drawing from Dash, which she pretends she got from an “informant.” Blake puts it on a futuristic table, which is somehow able to scan the drawing and match it to a real person, in this case, Sahm Adrangi, an “illegal bio-weapons dealer with priors for Clarity possession” before he was arrested by Precrime. And “Clarity” is the inhaled drug that Tom Cruise was addicted to in the film, in another rather unnecessary callback. It’s almost like the writers were determined to prove they actually saw the movie.
The police are somehow able to track Sahm Adrangi down to a steel mill, where he’s just hanging out and inhaling Clarity (using what looks like an asthma inhaler). There’s a big action scene with cops rocketing across zip lines to apprehend him, and they’ve even got those sonic guns from the movie that shoot out concussive force instead of bullets. But it all ends when the suspect kills himself by… stepping under a steel beam that a mill robot just happens to accidentally drop at that exact moment, which squashes him in a bizarre moment straight out of a Road Runner cartoon.
A shot of the futuristic DC skyline (the Washington Monument now has some sort of glowing translucent sheath) takes us to Dash at home, talking to his sister Agatha.
Agatha chastises Dash for running off to crime scenes like “some kind of action hero,” and she thinks it’s a mistake to go to the police, especially because the precogs swore not to interfere in the affairs of mere mortals after Precrime ended. She says he’ll never be able to stop crimes anyway, because without his twin brother Arthur, “your gift is incomplete.” She just wants him to “come home,” so he says he’s “hanging up.” It turns out Agatha is not really here and is just being projected onto some sort of CGI cloth balloon that sinks back into a chair seat-sized device.
Back at police headquarters, we learn that with Adrangi dead, the only lead that Vega has left is her mysterious “tipster,” a.k.a. Dash. But Akeela says they don’t have any record of him in the system and he’s like a “ghost,” but they’re eventually able to use security cameras to track him down at a diner.
Cut to the diner, where Dash is sitting at the counter as robots serve up burgers and fries. Vega suddenly sits down next to him and starts eating some of his fries. “Do you believe these used to be unhealthy?” she asks. “Thank god for the genetic revolution!” Oh, right, it’s the future! I almost forgot.
She says that “drones” place him at the scene of “at least a dozen murders,” and she threatens to take him in. But eventually she admits she knows he’s not a killer, especially because he’s the one who came to her. But before the conversation can go any further, he has a vision of another murder, where a dark-haired woman is puking up blood. He collapses to the diner floor and we get yet another repeat of the “Can you see?”/“See what?”/“Murder!” dialogue.
Finally, Vega figures out that Dash is one of the former precogs. She knows he just saw a future murder and wants to know who the victim will be. She says she’s tired of “mopping up the messes” and wants to stop crimes before they happen (not fully grasping why Precrime was shut down in the first place, I see). But Dash says he can’t get names, because he and Arthur are like “one mind, split in two.” Arthur can get the names, but Dash can “only see what happens.”
So at Vega’s prompting, he starts drawing the murder he sees and ends up with a super-realistic drawing of a man rushing to the victim’s aid. He then looks up and realizes the man’s face is on a glowing banner being flown by a drone. The guy is Peter Van Eyck, a former deputy chief of Precrime who’s currently running for mayor, and the victim is his wife.
And so, Dash and Vega team up to go talk to Van Eyck and his wife. Dash has to keep his precog identity a secret, but the whole time, he keeps blurting out things he shouldn’t, like when Van Eyck talks about his wife joining him at a “rally” tomorrow, Dash yells out, “She shouldn’t go to that!”
The couple just laughs this off. Van Eyck says he isn’t aware of any threats against him, but he knows that due to his prior position at Precrime, he has a lot of enemies. Vega says Precrime is what inspired her to be a cop, but Van Eyck wants to start a new program called “Hawkeye,” which is “predictive policing based on hard data, not the psychic instinct of some genetic freaks!” Dash, still brilliantly keeping up his cover, goes, “Freaks?!”
Van Eyck takes his leave, but not before Dash mutters under his breath, “You lose by a landslide.” A moment later, however, he admits to Vega that he can’t really see that far ahead.
(And I should note that “Van Eyck” is a name that shows up in the movie, but it seems to be used here as more of an homage than to suggest any relationship between characters. Sort of like how Vega’s first name is “Lara,” which is a reference to the name of Tom Cruise’s wife in the movie.)
Based on a tip from Van Eyck’s security guy, Dash and Vega decide to pay a visit to that “neural rehab clinic” where the victim worked, which maybe a police detective should have thought of on her own, and which is really just a mental hospital full of patients who were arrested by Precrime and set free when the program ended. Dash recognizes all of them and is able to recall their full names and future crimes just by looking at them. He feels responsible for their current incapacitated state, but Vega assures him it’s not his fault that “the containment system fried their minds!”
Eventually, they get to Adrangi’s bed, where they meet a woman named Liz Rutledge. She didn’t know Adrangi, but her father is a patient here and occupies the bed right next to his. Vega starts to suspect Mr. Rutledge is actually the one behind the future attack on Van Eyck, but Liz assures them that her father “only cares about his hobby.”
She takes them up to the roof, where her father is using what looks like a Nintendo Power Glove to direct a flock of pigeons. Liz says he controls the pigeons with a “brain-computer interface… wireless signals to an implant embedded in the skull!” What’s more, these are in fact passenger pigeons, which went extinct until “My father brought them back!” Liz says he’s a “brilliant man,” and I guess he’d have to be, if he brought back an extinct species all by himself.
As they question the guy, Dash continually tells Vega, “You shouldn’t stand there.” A moment later, we find out why, when a bird p
oops on her shoulder. In the movie, we were told precogs could only see murders, but I guess they can see both murders and when a bird is about to take a crap.
Eventually, Vega is convinced that Rutledge killed the nurse, because the nurse found out about his plans to kill Van Eyck as revenge for locking him up. Before she can arrest him, Rutledge jumps off the roof, but lands on a fire escape below. After a brief chase, he gets away.
And so, Vega decides to take Dash home for dinner. She has a big TV screen on the wall that announces the upcoming 75th anniversary special of The Simpsons. Wow. That’s quite an accomplishment. Very few shows make it through 66 unfunny seasons. (This could be another reference to the movie, which had a brief bit that suggested COPS would still be airing on FOX in the year 2054, whoops!)
While Vega is on a video call with Akeela, Dash is going through her photo album, which he does while swiping the air near a framed photo on the wall. Eventually, he finds a bikini shot of Vega on the beach (obviously a posed modeling shot) and creepily zooms in on it, but gets busted when an old woman and a little boy suddenly come in. He swipes the photo away, but is mortified to see that he just swiped the bikini photo onto an even bigger screen across the room.
The old woman is Vega’s mom, who tells her daughter, “When I was your age, we had this thing called Tinder!” so she knows what’s up. Mom remarks that the guy is “cute,” but Vega insists Dash is just a colleague. He stays for dinner, and later he ends up perusing a stack of vinyl records that Vega says belonged to her father, who “turned her on to oldies.” And in fact, Dash recognizes the “oldie” she’s currently playing, which is “Trouble” by Iggy Azalea, because it’s the future.
Dash has Rain Man-like recall about the song (he even knows who produced it), which he explains with, “We had a lot of downtime on the island!” If you’re listening to Iggy Azalea, I think it’s a given that you have some time to kill. Vega asks if the “island” is where they were sent after Precrime ended, but then Dash notices an animated video snow globe of Vega as a little girl with her father and sees that he was also a cop. Vega says he was killed a long time ago, and that’s what got her interested in joining Precrime.
Dash says that at least she still has her mother and her son, but Vega reveals that the boy is actually her little brother. “My mom hit 60 and went off her birth control.” The future!
Dash then reveals that his brother Arthur left the “island” a long time ago, because being cut off from humanity got “old,” especially when “you know you could be helping people!” He talks about seeing lots of murders since he came back, but not being able to stop a single one of them. Vega asks if Arthur can help them solve the current case, but Dash says Arthur “only cares about himself… and everything comes at a price.”
Instead, Dash takes her to see “Wally”, who was their caretaker when they were in Precrime. Wally is played by Daniel London, who’s actually reprising his minor role from the movie. And the character’s full name is presumably Wally Page, meaning this is the only character on the show besides the precogs who originated in the original Philip K. Dick short story (though there, the precogs were called “Donna,” “Mike,” and “Jerry”). Wally greets them at the door in a wacky robe and is ecstatic to see Dash “so grown up! So human!”
Cut to them having a conversation where they fill Vega in about the Precrime program and what the organization covered up. Namely, that the future isn’t “set in stone” and that the precogs didn’t always agree on what they saw in their visions. Dash says one of the three would always have “outlier visions,” which would then be “filed in minority reports” and locked away permanently.
And now that they’ve said the title of the show, Wally pulls out his own “homemade neural interface” to get the images out of Dash’s brain. Dash screams as the device is switched on and his visions are projected on the wall behind him. He passes out, and Vega sees that in addition to Van Eyck’s wife dying, a whole bunch of other people die, too. It’s not just a murder; it’s “an attack.”
They quickly figure out that Rutledge is going to use his passenger pigeons to deliver some sort of “virus” that kills everybody at the rally. Vega notes that Adrangi was a bio-weapons dealer and he must have “supplied” the virus. So, yeah. This show is giving us… killer pigeons. That’s, uh, different, I guess.
Upon seeing all the carnage, Dash finally admits that it’s time for them to go see Arthur. They pay him a visit at his office, which Vega notes is quite luxurious for an “estate planner”. And it would appear that Dash and Arthur aren’t identical twins like in the movie, and may not actually be related, judging by how little the two actors resemble one another.
Arthur already knows everything about Vega, including her full name and address, and he can’t believe Dash brought a cop here. Vega says their secret is safe with her, even though she’s pretty sure he’s been stealing the identities of people who are “about to meet a violent end” and selling them “on the black market”. Eventually, Arthur agrees to give them more info about the attack on the rally tomorrow. Dash wonder what this will “cost” them, but Arthur says they can talk about that some other time.
He tells them to go check out an abandoned shopping mall. He also asks Vega to have a drink with him as a way of thanking him, but she ignores him as she and Dash walk out.
At the abandoned mall, Vega lays down a handful of silver balls that sprout wings and fly around, in what’s presumably a callback to those spider-like robots from the movie that crawled around a tenement building. These “drones” start to map out the whole place, which Vega can see with her special contact lenses.
Cut to the rally, where Van Eyck is about to speak. The woman introducing him mentions that he was MVP of “Super Bowl LXXXVII,” where he played for the “Washington Redclouds.” It’s the less racist future! While Van Eyck speaks, we get an extreme close-up of his glasses, showing he has a miniature teleprompter inside the lenses. He talks about his football career and someone in the crowd yells out, “Go Clouds!” and Van Eyck yells back, “Go Clouds!” Yeah, I don’t think that name’s going to catch on. Sorry, guys.
Back at the mall, Rutledge prepares his attack while standing in front of the usual giant transparent computer screen, and he does the usual kung-fu at the screen, which causes rows of coops to open and a flock of pigeons goes flying out of the mall.
Just then, a drone spots him, and Vega and Dash run to his location. They’re about to arrest Rutledge, but then his daughter Liz shows up with a gun. It turns out she’s also involved, and she too wants payback for what Van Eyck did to their family.
But Vega is able to distract Liz, then take her down with a sonic gun while Dash knocks out Rutledge. They’re eventually able to figure out how to work his computer and recall the birds, which only buzz the crowd at the rally and fly away. Vega starts to arrest Rutledge, but then Dash gets a vision of another murder — and this time, it’s Vega getting stabbed to death by Rutledge.
So Dash shoves the guy off a ledge, causing him to fall to his death several stories below. Vega is horrified, but he tells her, “He had a knife! I saw it!” And sure enough, there’s a knife lying next to Rutledge’s corpse on the concrete below. Oh, and it looks like his daughter Liz is dead, too, and I have no idea how that happened. Aren’t those sonic guns supposed to be non-lethal weapons? Regardless, Vega sees all the bodies lying around and advises Dash to get out of here.
Cut to after the rally, Van Eyck speaks to reporters, thanking the police for saving his life, and he uses this as another opportunity to plug his “Hawkeye” system.
Vega’s boss Blake walks up to congratulate her. He wonders who helped her crack this case, but she plays coy.
Cut to the next day as Vega jogs in the park, and she’s wearing, no surprise, a Redclouds tank top. The Redclouds logo is literally the Redskins logo with a cloud photoshopped over the Indian. I mean, it features a cloud wearing feathers.
As she stops to… stare at the DC skyline, Dash comes up behind her. She tells him there’s going to be an investigation, but it’ll all be fine. She’s thankful that he saved her life, as well as the lives of all those people at the rally. He wonders what happens the next time he has a vision of a future murder, and Vega smiles and says, “Shouldn’t you be telling me?” And then they go back to staring at the skyline.
Cut to the infamous “island,” where Arthur is paying Agatha a visit and getting annoyed by all the insects buzzing around, saying he wants to meet somewhere closer to “civilization” next time. It seems Agatha is the one calling the shots, and she tells Arthur to “find out everything you can” about the detective that Dash is working with (while also making a point of telling him not to try to sleep with her).
Arthur says, “Are you still seeing it?” It seems she’s having a vision of “them taking us again.” They think Dash might end up becoming involved, but they don’t want to tell him “until we know what role he plays.” And there’s your cliffhanger: the precogs might end up being drafted back into Precrime. The end.
There’s some good stuff in this pilot and also some silly stuff. The fact that the very first case of the series hinges on killer pigeons is a troubling sign. Also, I’m not really convinced they had to reuse any of the precogs from the movie. Given that the precogs got their abilities through an “experimental treatment,” it would have been easy enough to focus on totally new characters who received the same treatment and end up with similar abilities, and everything else could have played out pretty much the same from there. Also, I sincerely hope all the gags based around this being the future! get toned down going forward, because it’s only been one episode and they’re already getting old.
The leads are likeable enough, and I think the show’s success will mostly come down to whether or not the writers use the show’s well established world to its fullest potential, or if they fall back on making this a Dead Zone-knockoff that just happens to throw in a futuristic gizmo every now and then. But given the premise, Minority Report is solidly in that “coulda been a lot worse” category.
Join me next week, when, um, Vega and Dash team up to stop another murder before it happens! And would you believe I didn’t even need precognitive abilities or the TV listings to figure out that one?