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Mysterious Benedict Society - Depends on the Wagon + A Whisper, Not a Shout - Review: Waiting...

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If you, like me, wanted more substance out of the third and fourth episodes of The Mysterious Benedict Society, you certainly got more of something (questions, mostly). But if you were in search of the same lighthearted, youthful introspect that the source material provided, you’ll find that the Disney+ show continues to half-commit to everything it does, leading to a fun, colorful, and engaging but unfulfilling experience as the series reaches its freshman halfway point.

Coming off of last week’s reveal that the school’s headmaster, Dr. Curtain, has a striking resemblance to the titular society’s eccentric leader, we hop right back into the action. Mr. Benedict’s young recruits, thrown for a loop by the discovery, suddenly find themselves confused as to what exactly lies before them in this mission. Unlike his doppleganger, Dr. Curtain seems cogent and, at times, almost too rational. The Society get word to Mr. Benedict about his “gemini,” which he confirms is his twin who was separated from him at a young age.

The kids determine that they need to fast-track their mission and shut down the Institute’s transmitter as soon as possible. Kate reasons that the device must be hidden in the school’s mysterious, off-limits tower (Really? Noooo). Because the tower is so heavily guarded, the team decide that the best way to gain access is the on straight-and-narrow path - they must become Messengers, and fast.

Doing well at their schooling proves to be a problem, however. As it turns out, the L.I.V.E. doesn’t teach math, science, art and other conquerable subjects so much as classes full of impossible riddles and nonsensical challenges. Reynie and Sticky fare well, but Kate and Constance lag behind in school rankings. The kids discover if their ranking goes into the red, they’ll be kicked out of the school.

On top of the mounting stakes, eerie things also begin to happen around the foursome. Constance starts to hear voices that no one else can. Reynie recognizes a member of the school’s janitorial staff from his time at the orphanage, Mr. Bloom. But in talking to him, the man doesn’t seem to recognize his own name, or that he had ever met Reynie before in his life. The kids realize that the school might have brainwashing capabilities on top of their evil doom-message transmitter - greaaaaat!

After a polarizing first few days of classes, Curtain invites Reynie into his office and tells him that he is on track to become a Messenger faster than any other student at the school. Curtain also asks for information on Reynie’s opinion of Sticky, and confides in Reynie that he was once betrayed by his own brother, seemingly incidentally warning Reynie of his friends’ fidelity - and Mr. Benedict's.

Expressing via Morse Code their fears about Kate and Constance’s place at the school, the MBS are shocked to see the reply from their contacts. Out of better options, Mr. Benedict encourages them to cheat to stay ahead of the class. None of the kids are particularly keen on the idea and Kate, in denial, instead tries to find a way to sneak in the tower by finding the transmitter loading bay. Constance tags along as they seek it out and are caught by Jackson and Jillson, cutting off yet another hope for remaining academically honest during their mission.

Next, the Society realize that Curtain’s private journal could be full of enough information that, were they to get their hands on it, they could end the mission right away. As Reynie distracts Curtain, Kate helps Constance and Sticky to record what is on the pages of the journal. Unfortunately, the pages were written in many layers of code, meaning it’s back to the drawing board yet again.

Stuck and running out of time, the kids reluctantly decide to begin to use Morse Code during class to slyly provide Kate and Constance with the right answers. The ploy goes well enough for Reynie and Constance, but when Sticky attempts it during a test with Kate, he is caught and sent to “The Waiting Room,” an extranormal-seeming space of solitary confinement.

He is finally saved (?) by Curtain, who brings him into his office and (after Sticky immediately confessing to cheating), presses him for information on who he was helping. When Sticky doesn’t snitch, he is sent back to The Waiting Room, again and again, subjecting him to the most hellish torture one can endure - being alone in a quiet room with your own swimming thoughts.

Although Sticky was caught, when the next day’s test results come out, Sticky, Constance and Reynie all are revealed to have passed with flying colors. Kate’s name, however, is in the red, meaning that she’s to be brainwashed and booted from the island posthaste. By providence, however, Martina challenges Kate to a match of tetherball before she reports to Curtain for “brainsweeping,” and Kate wins handily. Martina requests Kate to be on her tetherball team, and Kate is allowed to stay at the school on a tetherball scholarship.

At the end of the duology, Reynie and Sticky are suddenly made Messengers in the middle of class, providing the crew with their first major win. Teeing them up for another in the next few episodes, Benedict’s team also finds the secret area of the island that Curtain is building on, hesitantly tasking the children to investigate it.

It would seem impossible scientifically, but after these two episodes, my feelings on this adaptation have only gone from “lukewarm” to “more lukewarm.” There’s plenty to love here - the cast is charming, the story fun, the scenery heavily aestheticized. But there’s also plenty to be indifferent about. For one, there’s a reason the book never cut to Benedict and his crew while the kids were on their mission. The side-storyline about Rhonda and Number Two’s mini-feud was so barely fleshed-out it seemed like it might’ve been added last-minute as a pad to the runtime, and continual cuts to Mr. Benedict thoughtfully explaining all of his questionable behaviors away moments after the children discover them demeans from the book’s purposeful calling into question his trustworthiness. In general, the scenes at Mr. Benedict’s cabin have simply been uninteresting; just the same information we learned from the Institute plotline being spit back at us, but in a way much less entertaining. Despite all the actors - youth and adult alike - being very good in their roles, the existence of anything other than the Society’s storyline in this part of the plot feels redundant at best.

In all, I can hesitantly see that the story is certainly getting somewhere, but it’s sloshing all of the water out of the bucket as it goes. The comedic beats still aren’t quite funny, and the dramatic ones still not quite impactful. Even so, I’m still in this for the long haul, so that’s most certainly saying something, at least. It may actually be my fandom of the original series that is saving me thusfar - I know what’s to come, so I’ve been game throughout these setups in hope that the second half of the season will pay off in some way.

Let’s hope I’m right.

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