Intruders episode 1 review: She Was Provisional

New John Simm-starring supernatural drama Intruders, now showing in the UK, gets off to a bumpy but promising start...

Intruders, created by Glen Morgan of X-Files fame (a man who knows his creeping dread), is based on the 2007 Michael Marshall Smith novel. Like Morgan, Smith is not a newcomer to the sci/fi thriller genre. Winner of the Philip K. Dick award, he is a prolific author who has been compared to both Dick and Stephen King.

Such recommendations can have polarizing effects. On one hand these are writers who have made their money churning out commercial paperbacks. On the other hand they have written consistently engaging work for decades.

What does this mean for viewers? That the series is based on a novel by an author with a proven record of success and that it was adapted by a showrunner with a proven record of success in the genre. Sure, supernatural thrillers are hot right now, but vampires, zombies, and werewolves have been done to death. It is a pretty safe bet that Morgan and Smith are going to bring us something new and awesome.

The show starts with a birthday. It is 1990 and after the party, in the dead of night, the birthday girl is visited by two strangers, Richard and Frank Shepherd (James Frain and Robert Forster). They show the girl an old-timey record spindle then stand back and watch as she begins to change. Is she possessed? The vomiting, rocking, speaking in a foreign language, this seems like possession. The elder Shepherd, who seems to be training up the younger, explains that “some people fight it.”

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Eventually the duo leave and the girl seems to come to her senses. Clearly something is still off, though, as she writes a note addressed to Gary Fischer before slitting her wrists. Shadow men visiting young girls in the middle of the night? Driven to suicide by apparent possession? Yeah, we are definitely in X-Files territory here. As the premiere continues we see several similar story lines unfold.

The younger Shepherd turns up years later, at the home of the Anderson family, claiming to be an FBI agent. He demands to know where the husband, Bill is. When the wife refuses to tell him, Shepherd shoots her and her teenage son, then sets the house on fire… all while managing to look both amused and exasperated.

Shepherd shows up again outside the home of a young girl, Madison, who just celebrated her birthday. He gives her a sand dollar and Maddie goes under the same transition as the girl in the first scene. When Shepherd returns the next day, he give her a card with the number 9 printed on it, calls her Marcus, and observes that nine years goes by pretty quickly.

He pulls his gun as if to shoot her, but Maddie starts crying and protesting and mister cool as a cucumber killer seems to have a problem shooting a little girl. That seems odd. Shepherd clearly has no issue capping kids, so what gives?

It turns out that Maddie/Marcus is not as innocent as she seems and is probably brutal enough to give Shepherd a run for his money. She dreams about choking a young man to death and then drowns a cat in the bathtub. Poor kitty. And poor Maddie, who immediately dissolves into tears over what she has done.

There’s also some business involving a young guy who looks like he came straight from X-Files central casting (Shepherd even remarks on entering his room, “What, no I Believe poster?”), and certain frequencies that if humans could hear them, would contain the secrets for immortality. Say what now?

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This guy, who runs a pirate radio broadcast from his van about “them” and rants about the people who killed Bill Anderson’s family for nefarious reasons, seems to implicitly trust Shepherd with his darkest secrets. It is no thing for Shepherd to get this dude’s trust, gain access to his fortified home, and then blow his brains out. What’s the character’s name? Who cares? Paranoia 101, dude. If you blab about shadow agencies, do not trust the tall, dark, stranger who shows up at your doorstep. Sheesh.

Easily the worst set-up of the episode; note to Morgan, go easier with the exposition next time.   

Beside Shepherd’s exploits, the action focuses on Jack and Amy Whelan. Jack (John Simm) is a retired cop who is starting to have concerns about his wife Amy. She isn’t acting like herself. He starts to notice some odd behaviour during her birthday, and almost immediately thereafter she disappears while on a business trip to Seattle. Before Jack can go hunt her down, he has a run in with an old acquaintance, Gary Fischer (remember that name?). Gary shows up looking for Jack when Amy is not around and tries to solicit his help with an estate sale relating to the Anderson murders. Too bad for Gary, Jack is a little preoccupied with finding his wife, especially since it seems like she’s run off with a new sexy-time friend. Possibly someone she is plotting to murder her husband with.

Well. That has got to suck. Divorce is expensive, but goddamn.

Overall, Intrudersis off to a wobbly start. There is intrigue, there is creepiness, but it’s also fairly heavy handed. The best scenes were the girl getting ready to kill herself, Shepherd blithely murdering an entire family, and Jack scrambling to track his wife down in Seattle. The action unfolded naturally; it wasn’t forced, and the tension flowed right from the plot. Unlike the little girl drowning her cat and the paranoid weirdo who didn’t live to see the end of the episode. Those scenes were a bit exasperating. Smith clearly gave you plenty to work with here, Morgan, don’t force it.

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Intrudershas a ton of potential. Hopefully the next few episodes will see more creepy moments and less overkill.