Scorpion: Pilot review

A team of misfit geniuses try to prevent an airline disaster from happening on the first episode of Scorpion, directed by Justin Lin.

“Take a deep breath and reset.”

There’s a scene about halfway through the pilot episode of Scorpion where head of the eponymous group, Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel), has a conversation with a waitress where math is weighted against human life and in the middle of it, he is clunkily told to “reset.” This, of course, makes him realize resetting the TSA’s system is the key to their problem and propels the plot forward. Conveniences are currency in this world, and they just keep on happening to build and relieve tension.

Scorpion is the most procedural of procedural shows that is loosely based on the true story of real life, self-proclaimed genius, Walter O’Brien. A fact that is pushed in our faces right as the episode begins, as if to give all of this more gravitas by proving that this is all insanity that actually happened! Believe us!

Created by Nick Santora, who cut his teeth on Law & Order, Prison Break, and Breakout Kings, he’s coming from a procedural world. He did write The Sopranos episode, “Watching Too Much Television” and this pilot feels exactly like you’re doing just that, as you’re given a bland, by-the-book procedural show in an already over-saturated market. If you’ve seen a commercial for Scorpion, or even glimpsed at the poster, you’ll more or less know exactly what you’re getting here. It never justifies its existence or earns its right to continue. It’s like Agents of SHIELD’s earlier episodes, but with none of the Marvel connections that you were watching for in the first place.

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The aforementioned Walter O’Brien leads off the cast of misfits that he helps solve problems with. There’s a human calculator, a psychology professor, a mechanical expert (who’s a woman, gasp!), who all fit together to form a puzzle of alleged awesomeness that is team Scorpion (and of course we get a scene where each of them get to show off their abilities). Of course, all of them are brilliant, but equally basketcases in all other regards. We see them solving lost algorithms while forgetting to pay the power bill and work in the darkness, accordingly. Isn’t that cute!

We even get to see Walter as a child, still beyond genius, as he not only hacks into NASA (to make a wallpaper for his room from the blueprints), but having a treaty at the ready to secure his freedom. We keep getting told this rather than just letting us see it happen. Naturally, we smash cut to him in the middle of breaking up with someone, the show telling us he’s having trouble connecting emotionally with people, just like every other character of this nature that we’ve seen before.

The rest of Walter’s group have enough chemistry with each other, and at least them as a collective kind of works. We don’t get a deep enough look at any of their personalities or who they are, instead just seeing their skills and how they operate under pressure. We see these quirky guys intermingling with the stone-faced FBI and NSA authorities (headlined by Robert Patrick, who it’s more than nice to have back on television). I get the dynamic they’re going for, but it just feels half-baked. Nerd lingo and geek speak are used constantly as a means to appeal to a demographic the show is out of touch with and just feels like pandering. I guess it’s appropriate that this is airing after The Big Bang Theory so people getting a faux-geek fix there can make the smooth transition to this. There’s logic there at least.

The pilot sees the team being hired to stop a blackout caused by a faulty system update that will cause 54 planes to drop down, and kill 20,000 people, which is a modest enough way for the first episode out of the gates. The plot machinations and pseudo-obstacles involving the airline disaster are problematic enough, but things get really ridiculous when Walter sees a kid that’s exactly like he was and wants to help him because this is television and because of course. The kid and his mother, Paige (the waitress from before), are made into an extraneous plot point for some reason, too. Later on we watch Walter explain Paige’s own child to her and that he is a genius, and it all feels extremely on the nose. These dots were long ago connected. The fact that Walter even asks Paige to join their team at the end of things, purely because of her son, is going far too for and bordering on nonsensical. It’s such a heavy-handed way to get this obvious relationship put together.

Justin Lin (of Fast and Furious fame) directs the pilot, and does so adeptly, but it’s not enough to elevate the material (look at his Community episode, for instance, which is magic, for all intents and purposes). It’s unfortunate that Lin, who is such an action director, is mostly directing fast-paced conversations and exposition rather than chases or action showdowns. Granted, we get to those placed in the back end of the episode, but Lin still feels wasted here. 

The big set piece that marks the end of the episode, involving a car flying under an airplane to link a laptop to them, is the only thing that kind of succeeds, but it’s so steeped in apparent CG that it loses a lot of its impact. If ideas this large are happening on a weekly basis, that should prove to be somewhat entertaining. If this was their big impressive dance for the pilot though, there’s going to be even more trouble ahead.

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A scorpion is a dangerous insect with a lethal tail and deadly venom. You notice a scorpion. A scorpion stands out. This show can’t be more pedestrian though, as it blends in with everything else that’s been done hundreds of times before. Scorpion won’t kill you, but it may put you in a coma.

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2 out of 5