La Brea is NBC’s latest sci-fi mystery box show, but despite the many inevitable comparisons to Lost, this series places its cards face up very early as to where and when its survival storyline unfolds. Even though the characters take awhile to figure things out through geographical details, carbon dating, and the presence of prehistoric creatures, the audience immediately understands, aside from the how and why, that everyone has traveled back in time. However, last night’s episode, “Day Two,” adds a few secondary mysteries that are slightly more intriguing.
First of all, there’s the question of why the father of the separated family, Gavin Harris (Eoin Macken), is able to see what’s happening on the other side of the rift. Initially, his visions seemed to be a convenient narrative device with little internal logic, but this week’s La Brea ties his concussion and subsequent clairvoyance to a similar sinkhole in the Mojave desert, which opened on the same day as his plane accident. While we, like the DHS agents, are wondering what caused the link, the sci-fi correlation at least gives us something to work with.
The next mystery appeared first in the premiere in the form of a hand print painted on the rock where the necklace of Eve Harris (Natalie Zea) was found. This week La Brea adds a sabertooth tiger trap and a larger version of the hand made of carefully arranged stones. The placement of the corpse of the Castillo sisters’ father within the artwork seems ritualistic, indicating that a tribe of early humans may soon appear… or perhaps some fellow castaways from a different sinkhole event who have gone primitive.
Other questions linger more subtly in the background, such as why the cars’ engines won’t start. If the long descent pulverized their parts, then why weren’t the bones of the humans who fell in the rift shattered as well? And then there are more character-driven questions: how strict are the Castillo family’s religious morals? Is the relationship between Louisiana cop Marybeth Hayes (Karina Logue) and her son Lucas (Josh McKenzie) redeemable? Is the failing health of Ty Coleman (Chiké Okonkwo) terminal?
These questions are actually more compelling than the central mystery itself in some ways. It’s great that the DHS can use Gavin’s visions as a way to justify a rescue mission after years of trying to convince the military that there were survivors in the sinkhole, but the characters are what will really keep La Brea viewers tuning in. Even the muted relationship drama unfolding between Tony the lawyer (Pacharo Mzembe) and Billy the actor (Stephen Lopez) has its appeal.
La Brea is far from perfect. Many scenes contain stilted or predictable dialogue, and the time travel survival premise could quickly become stale. However, the show overcame its initial derivative feel with some passable character development in its second episode that could draw viewers in. A few characters are still woefully flat (Zyra Gorecki’s Izzy in particular needs help), but in an ensemble show like this, as long as progress is being made, viewers can hopefully trust that further fleshing out is on the way.