Last night, Resurrection premiered and valiantly tried to put its mark on the "loved ones back from the dead" idea. And, thanks to the cast and a commitment to a exploring these ideas in depth, it mostly succeeds.
The episode begins with Jacob coming to in a field in China. He makes it to a town, where he speaks English and then convulses. We're then introduced to Marty the lackluster ICE agent, who is tasked with picking Jacob up from the airport and dropping him off with another agency.
There's no missing person report matching Jacob's description, and we're told he hasn't spoken. The only reason they know his name is because it's written on his shirt. Marty takes Jacob out to eat, and hands Jacob his phone to play a game on. The kid picks Donkey Kong because he died 32 years ago (I googled this: if the show takes place in 2014, and he died in 1982, that's right when the arcade game first came out).
Jacob manages to also write out "Arcadia" on the phone, which leads Marty to the conclusion that Jacob's from Arcadia, Missouri. I would really like to know where a kid who has been dead for 32 years managed to figure out the modern touch screen cell phone. Anyway, Marty decides not to take the kid to the agency he's supposed to take him to, but instead they go to Arcadia, where Jacob directs him to the house of his parents.
Kurtwood Smith is Henry Langston, who goes to answer the door with a line that's amazing for the lack of context: He said he'd return that chainsaw. I know there are legitimate reasons to own and use chainsaws, but I prefer to imagine that just off-screen of this show is a guy doing some weird shit with his neighbor's tools.
I have to hand it to Kurtwood Smith: This scene's been all over the trailers, but his knee-jerk response to the "What's green and goes a million miles per hour?" is uncut dad joke glee, and the way his face falls after he sees Jacob is full of pure grief, as is Frances Fisher's shock and utterance of Jacob's name. Actually, her best scene is later, when she's making Jacob a never-ending supply of grilled cheeses, looks down at a pile of cut-off crusts, and says, quietly "You can have anything you want. As long as you don't run away again."
Fred exposits that Jacob was playing by the river and fell in. Jacob's aunt Barbara was walking her baby, Maggie, nearby and tried to save him. Both of them died.
Mr. Langston's sheriff brother, Fred, shows up and he screams at Marty for harassing his brother, just in time for Jacob to go into a seizure. They take him to a hospital, where the doctor who examines him is, of course, his cousin. If there's a problem with this premiere, it's that the Langstons are very nearly the only family in town.
Dr. Maggie Langston is very creeped out to be told by Jacob that she looks like his "Aunt Barbara." Jacob tells her that he heard Barbara drowning, and went to help. Since this is the opposite of the story that the Langston's have been telling for 32 years, it naturally throws Maggie for a loop. Jacob also says that he saw a man grabbing Barbara's arm that day.
In the hall, Lucille Langston is refusing to leave, because she's fully willing to believe that this is her long-dead son. She calls Pastor Tom Hale, and tells him it's a miracle. Pastor Tom gets his faith-shaking encounter when Jacob tells him that he can't be Tom Hale, because that's Jacob's best friend's name. Poor Pastor Tom. He can't even deal with the religious implications of these people's return on a theoretical level – it's got to be his childhood best friend that came back.
Jacob breaks out of the hospital, goes to the Langston's house, sees a creepy man in a baseball cap and a hoody, and starts running. Henry runs after him, through the yard and into the woods. As he does that, everyone flashes back to happier times of Jacob and a younger Henry playing outside. Jacob, it turns out, is just going to get a GI Joe he'd hidden in the woods all that time ago, which triggers another flashback too when Henry first gave it to Jacob.
While Jacob is essentially retelling the story he told Maggie to everyone else – he went to the river to find arrowheads, heard his aunt calling for help, tried to get to her, fell in to the river, saw a man grabbing Barbara's hand, and then she fell – Maggie and Marty have teamed up to investigate... I don't even know. Maggie wants to know what happened to her mother, because she always thought that her mother died because she was taking Maggie for a walk. Marty is just determined to find answers in general, I think. They read Barbara's autopsy report, which shows marks on Barbara's arm which may corroborate Jacob's story. Back at the Langston's, Jacob identifies the man as being in a picture of Henry's business associates by the piano.
Unlike Lucille, Henry's having real problems with Jacob, so he leaves to hang out at his family's tomb. Like you do. Marty meets him there to tell him that the DNA test revealed that Jacob is their son; Henry's still torn, and Marty says that the correct question may be "Do you want to believe?" At which point, Fox Mulder appeared out of nowhere, screamed "YES!" and went to investigate the resurrected boy, leaving dropped guns and sunflower seeds in his wake.
Okay, not really. But disaffected ICE agent Marty and his piss-poor investigation are the worst parts of this show so far. He tells his boss that the DNA evidence hasn't come in yet and that Jacob is staying in the hospital, when he's demonstrably staying with the Langstons. They really need to explain Marty's plan, or I'll continue to imagine the X-Files team working on it instead.
Later, Pastor Tom is giving one of those exactly on point sermons that fiction thrives on. Just as he talks about miracles, Lucille walks in with Jacob (I hope she was waiting outside for her cue). Their entrance derails the pastor, causes murmuring. Pastor Tom then delivers what I imagine will be this show's central thesis: Man has the tools to ask the questions that we may not to know the answers to. This is the price of human understanding and the definition of faith.
Before the episode ends, a few lingering mysteries have to be set up for next week. First, Henry tells his brother that his wife, Barbara, was having an affair with someone he worked with, and he just kept quiet about it for 32 years. He's only talking about it now because Jacob identified a man from work as the man who was there when they died.
Second: Maggie's best friend, Elaine, gets a call from her very agitated brother. He's screaming and waving a gun at their shed. In the shed is the creepy man Jacob saw, and he's another resurrected man... Elaine's father.
It's actually really hard to get across what works about this show in a recap. In fact, writing down everything that happened made the flaws much clearer, which are: 1) At least at this early stage, a lot of the characters seem like archetypes. The desperate to believe mother, the skeptical father, the cuckolded sheriff, the child searching for answers about her mother's death, and the faith-shaken pastor. 2) Marty the ICE agent's sudden quest to find answers. To what questions, I have no idea, but he's looking for answers. 3) The occasionally super-blunt writing. Pastor Tom's sermon, Marty and Henry's tomb chat, and Maggie's little speech about only ever knowing her mother was a hero are three perfect examples.
On the other hand, the atmosphere really works. The town itself is a perfectly normal slice of Americana, and Jacob's appearance causes ripples throughout everyone's lives. It's not explosive drama, but the kind of slow-burn more appropriate for both the mystery and the more metaphysical questions being asked.
While it's likely that Pastor Tom and his religious faith is going to get a lot of attention, I actually really liked the idea behind Maggie's story the best. For 32 years, her family's all believed that Barbara died saving Jacob. Maggie didn't know her mother, but she was comforted by the story of her death as a hero. Now, that belief is upended by Jacob. who brings out that: A) He died going after her, not the other way around and B) Barbara's death may have been related to her adultery, not heroic impulse. Add to it the complication that Maggie losing the image of her mother as a hero but may also get to lose the guilt she's carried around all her life, and there's a lot of very complicated, and interesting, stuff going on with her.
Finally, the cast is great, with Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher as the Langstons as true standouts. I only noticed the dialogue when I was writing it down, the actors pull it off when you're watching them. And characters which should seem like archetypes are imbued with depth through their performances. The question is whether the show can sustain any of the good parts, or if it will reach a point where its ideas and cast can't save it.