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Salvation - Pilot - Review

Salvation premiered with the inventively named “Pilot” based on a story by Matt Wheeler and with the teleplay by Wheeler, Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro. The episode was directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. The show has an interesting premise, and it offers the potential to go in a number of ways if it gets picked up for a further season after the 13 episodes we’re promised over this summer. Wheeler previously wrote and produced for Hawaii Five-O, which I never got into, primarily because of the loose writing. Kruger and Shapiro previously wrote and produced for Bull, Extant, and Necessary Roughness, and I can’t speak to all of those shows, but Bull is incredibly well written – at least from an accuracy point of view.

The premise is a lot like No Tomorrow – if you caught that on the CW last fall – only in this case a huge extinction-level event looming as a giant asteroid hurtles towards Earth isn’t played for laughs. But like the failed CW show, the cast of characters only has 186 days to solve the problem. Like all “Pilot” episodes, this one dealt with getting the basic crisis across and the cast of characters who will try to save the Earth. The cast is solid and deliver a good episode despite the need to tick off a lot of boxes. The special effects are excellent and not overdone, which bodes well for what can only be an increase as we move forward.

The episode opens with a flashback to February 15, 2013 and the actual event of a meteorite landing in Russia’s Urals region. Over 1,000 people were injured – this really happened. We even get a fun clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson commenting on it! Then we jump ahead to the present and quickly meet our cast of characters.

Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera) is an MIT alumnus and rockstar “Tech Pioneer” – think Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. He’s got the money and the brains to come up with a solution. And, like Elon Musk, he’s keen to colonize Mars.

We see MIT graduate student Liam Cole (Charlie Rowe) sail into Tanz’s Ted-talk late with no shoes, making a bad impression on Tanz and favorable one on Jillian Hayes (Jacqueline Byers) – an SF writer with a keen eye for observation. The two run into each other again later at the bar and spend the night together – at least until Liam’s phone alerts him that there’s been some action on his graduate project. Liam has been creating a live model of the solar system in real time in order to track moving objects – like the 7k asteroid now on a collision course with Earth. It’s unclear whether Liam and Jillian’s relationship will continue, but I wasn’t really blown away by their chemistry in this episode – both gave good performances, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t spark off the screen for me.

Liam first goes to his supervisor’s house – Dr Croft (Dennis Boutsikaris), who isn’t pleased to be woken up in the middle of the night by a student – can’t blame him, can you? It would appear that Liam is kind of one of “those” students, do Croft mostly blows him off – they’ll talk after class, in 5 hours or so – but he does go to check Liam’s work right away. So he may be a high maintenance student, but he’s also brilliant. Croft immediately does what Liam wanted him to – he calls his friends in Washington and at NASA.

When Liam gets to class, Croft doesn’t show, and when he goes to his house, Croft is missing, his house is a mess, and he’s left his glasses behind! When Liam leaves, he is followed by a mysterious – and clearly threatening, black SUV, so he goes directly to Tanz. I’m really hoping that we will get more of Boutsikaris as he’s a terrific actor.

Liam manages to get Tanz to let him in and listen to him, and we get the first cool effect with Tanz’s holographic projector. That is the upside to having a tech wizard as one of the main characters – cool, futuristic toys! Liam’s research proves that the asteroid has a 97.2% chance of being a planet killer – he’s got Tanz’s attention, and Tanz takes Liam with him to Washington. When they get to Washington, Tanz tells Liam, “Sit. Wait. Trust.” I really do like the chemistry between Rowe and Cabrera.

Tanz is in Washington to see Deputy Secretary of Defense, Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale) who we’ve already met. The question is whether he’s going to be the bad guy of the series or not. My gut feeling is that they are setting him up as a good guy doing the wrong things for the right reason, and he’ll eventually end up on the good guys’ team against the evil government, but maybe I’m wrong about that? Thoughts?

Harris is in charge of the government’s efforts to prevent the disaster. He’s also in a relationship with his divorced Communications Officer, Grace Barrows (Jennifer Finnigan). Grace is hoping to transfer to a new department so that the two don’t have to keep their relationship a secret. Grace is also concerned about her daughter, Zoe (Rachel Drance) who is graduating and supposed to be going to Duke in September. Grace is not happy when Zoe tells her she’s taking a gap year to volunteer in Kenya.

When Tanz shows up at Harris’ office, we find out he’s met Grace before, but the episode never really goes into that. Tanz tells Harris that Liam works for him – which pretty much thrills Liam. I loved Tanz bragging to Harris that Liam’s machine did what NASA did only automatically while Liam was getting laid! Hoping for more humor like this when the episodes don’t have to be as exposition heavy.

Harris takes them to the command center. The asteroid has been named Samson, and Harris tells them they have modified one of Tanz’s rockets to deploy a “gravity deflector” to knock the asteroid off course. If they simply blow it up, all the parts will still hit the Earth causing essentially the same damage. Harris tells them all the information has to remain classified and that they’ve got it under control and don’t need their help.

Tanz leaves but tells Liam that he is not going to wait around for the government to save them. Grace tells Harris she can’t leave now, and they all end up at the Embassy ball that night. Tanz pulls Grace aside. He knows that Harris is her boyfriend and that she doesn’t believe all the crap Harris was telling them either. He tells her that he has a real plan, but he needs someone on the inside to help. Meanwhile, Liam is waylaid by intrepid reporter Amanda Neel (Shazi Raja). She is clever enough to realize something is going on – and we first see her grilling Grace at a press scrum about missiles that have been moved. I thought for sure that Liam would let something slip, so I was really glad to see that he didn’t.

Tanz takes Grace and Liam to his “Treehouse” – clearly a sort of Bill Gates, fully teched-out house. Tanz has an “ark” that he wants to use to save 160 people – the MVP or minimum viable population to save the human race. It was a seven year plan that he’s now fast tracking. Grace is not ready to divert resources, spy and commit treason – and wants a plan that will save everyone, not just 160. Liam tells Tanz that he wants to help him, but there’s a girl in Boston, and he wants to live before he dies. They both leave – but of course that’s not the end of it.

Grace returns to find herself stonewalled by Harris’s secretary (Raven Dauda) as he’s off on some errand. She tells him when he returns that he has to keep her in the loop now and he agrees as he lies to her and tells her the rocket test went off without a hitch. Grace then goes to Carnahan (Bill Turnbull) to see satellite imagery of the launch, and they see it blow up. After Grace leaves, a very alarming warning notice comes up on Carnahan’s computer. And of course, he is later shot in his home.

Liam goes back to Boston and has a wild night of drinking with Jillian that ends up with him getting in a bar fight. Liam asks her if she were writing a story about a guy who could save a few 1,000 people or be with a girl, who would be the hero. She tells him definitely the guy who had to sacrifice his happiness to be a hero. The two end up at her apartment again, but Liam leaves Jillian a note before slipping out.

Grace has told Zoe that it’s her life, and she has to live it – Grace can’t make the world safe for her. She’s been inspired by Zoe’s speech, which we hear in voice over at the end: “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not come, we only have today.” Which is a Mother Theresa quote. We see Harris type and then delete a text to Grace, telling her he wishes he could tell her everything – he’s clearly conflicted.

The episode ends with both Liam and Grace arriving back at Tanz’s and pledging to help. Grace insists that they have to save everyone, however, as her daughter deserves a future.

Overall, I thought this was a solid pilot. I’m still a little worried about so many fingers in the writing and producing pot and the fact that this was kept on a shelf for a few years, but I’m definitely curious to watch more. All the main characters gave solid performances. I do hope that we are going to see more of Dewshane Williams as Diego though! What did you think of the episode? Will you be tuning in for the rest? Are you hoping they can save the earth, or are you hoping for a space opera in season two if they have to leave Earth for Mars? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!