...and I gotta say, this was easily one of the best episodes yet. From the very beginning, watching Cult means that you're essentially following four stories; 1) the story of the fictional television show, which we're shown snippets of, where Main Lady is trying desperately to get her hands on Billy (Pil)Grimm and make all the vile things he's done stick, 2) the story of Jeff trying to find his brother, 3) How Cult (the fictional television show) has followers, true believers and tons of hints, clues and such and finally, 4), the story of you watching the show, trying to piece together just what the hell this means and how it connects with each other. Yes, really.
The biggest problem with Cult so far is that holy shit does this show make your head spin, while simultaneously nothing happens. This weeks is no different; Jeff and his teammate gets in contact with a "de-programmer", who's all up in this cult-business yo, just not quite this CULT-business, but that's alright because it's not like you need a degree to do his kind of work (except, I dunno, maybe something psychologist-y?), especially when you have (read the next part ominously and foreshadowy) experience. So yeah. The de-programmer goes around de-programming Cult-people by shooting them with rocksalt like they're ghosts and he's the third (fourth?) Winchester, while he's trying to find this husband who went missing in the same way Jeff's brother did.
While this is happening, over in CultVille, we learn of an autobiographer (that's UNOFFICIAL autobiographer to you, thank you very much!) who's writing a book on Billy (Pil)Grimm. This autobiographer was the one who saved the Main Lady from Billy (Pil)Grimm's dirty, filthy hands, yet at the end of the episode, when they have concrete evidence of kidnapping and hand-nailing, the autobiographer denies the whole thing. What you're hearing is the collective sigh of this show's (potential) audience.
What this episode did better than any of the ones before it, however, was to mix in the CultVille and the Show World-parts. Plots were moving in both verses, you were always interested in what was going on in that other storyline when they switched and the whole thing was pretty solid. Sure, there were the classic moments of stupid - this time the main gang was slooooow at figuring things out, and needed to repeat lines of dialogue multiple times before getting their meaning - but they weren't too stupid. You know, like last week, which had some good ideas but went silly instead of fun.
The show is still building out the show's universe, mostly in terms of the connections with CultVille and the Show World (the universe where the CultVille-show airs), and these four episodes have done an decent-to-good job of doing just that. This episode reveals that Jeff's brother is alive, though the jury's still out on the whole "well" part, and they don't really get any closer to finding him. But that's alright; it's still early in the season to do such a thing anyway.
One of the things the series is doing very well is building up the cast; we already have Jeff and his teammate, along with the Claudia-Tech-Girl, and this episode adds a few (they leave towards the end, but the door is definitely open for their return). On the "bad guy"-side, the Police Woman is back again (YAY!) and she's up to no good. This time, she starts making trouble in the neighborhood, though her mom hasn't gotten scared and moved her to Bel Air yet. Hopefully, that never happens.
The show's biggest problem to this point is that I have no freaking idea what is going on in CultVille. We see very few clips of the show-within-the-show, and with such a large part of the story focusing on what the Cultville-story does to people, we should at least get a glimpse of what the whole thing is about. So far, CultVille seems like a very circumstantial show that people watch on cellphones because they're bored at work, not a must-see show with intriguing mysteries and killer cliffhangers. I have a vague idea of what CultVille is about, but I mostly just see scenes and try to force them into a scenario were they mean something to Show World.
Some of that fault is the character of Billy (Pil)Grimm. We simply don't know what his gameplan is, or even if he has one. We haven't seen him being directly evil yet, only heard about what he can make his followers do. We've been told the consequences of him and his rage, but we don't know a whole lot. The situation is similar with Main Lady who's after him; what's her story? Sure, she was part of his cult and broke out, but what happened to her? It's ghastly and horrifying, we're told, she felt used, we're told, but whenever we're shown the cult in CultVille, they drink tea and work outside on a farm. Sure, they nailed a guy's hands to a table, but we all have our shortcomings and episodes of rage, don't we?
Personally, I'd like an episode that focused on the CultVille-part of things more. For this whole meta-storytelling-experiment to work, I need to both care about Main Lady (whose name I have forgotten and not bothered to look up), wonder what Billy (Pil)Grimm is up to and what he's done, I need to be scared of him, I need to be invested in both CultVille and the Show World where Jeff and his teammates decodes the show and searches for his brother. I'm enjoying the fast-paced gonzo storytelling thus far, but it's not going to cut it anymore when we enter episode 15 (if the show makes it that far) and I still don't have any idea of how I'm going to feel about these two stories. Are the events in CultVille important for the show, or just filler? Do I need to remember that Billy (Pil)Grimm had a son? When is the "Well hey, these things just snap right off"-line coming back again? Will we find out what that was about? Will we get context for the various events and hints in CultVille?
These are the things I wonder most about; which story is the show actually telling, how will they connect and will we ever find out the deal with Steven Rea? As you can see, I don't give two horseshits whether Jeff finds his brother or not. Right now I feel like I'm still working on understanding the concept, of getting all the cards into the various players' hands so that we can start to learn the game we're playing. The show's writers are still laying up the playing field, it seems, and not having fun with their universe yet. Granted, it's still early, but after four episodes I feel like I should have an idea of where both storylines are headed, instead of one big mystery in one storyline ("where is Jeff's brother?"), no idea what's going on in the other storyline and a thousand questions on how they're going to tie this together.
But I guess we just have to wait and see. This is either going to be a very entertaining trainwreck of a gonzo storytelling experiment or just a huge mess of various ideas, and frankly, the jury's still out on which it's going to be. This episode was a step in the right(er) direction, so let's at least hope they know where this is going and that there will be some satisfaction to be found when we get there. I gotta say, I'm at least looking forward to the next episodes, especially those in a few weeks when they start getting titles like "Suffer the Children", "Devil You Know" and "Off to see The Wizard", not to mention "The Prophecy of St. Clare", "Flip the Script" and "1987", all of which sounds equally intriguing. The thirteenth episode doesn't have a title yet, but earlier it said "Meet Steven Rea", which sounds incredibly promising to me. Fingers crossed that Rea is actually the actor playing Billy (Pil)Grimm in Show World!
Which reminds me, this episode opens with the world "KILL FOR US" flashing on the screen and ends with the de-programmer saying that this whole CultVille-cult got under his skin a bit because, after all, there's a "tv in every home". This line oozes of promise, just like the show does - controlling people through storytelling that they choose to watch is just incredibly creepy - but until the whole thing stops being so vague, I gotta say it's worth watching just for those few moments alone.
Till next week!