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The Mysterious Benedict Society - The Art of Conveyance and Round-Trippery - Review: The Falcon and the Trapdoor Boulder

It took 5 episodes, but The Mysterious Benedict Society has finally begun to show us its cards. Just when it seemed like all of the 60’s aesthetics, plotless plot, half-evoked concepts and half-constructed characters would sink the whole affair, out comes “The Art of Conveyance and Round-Trippery,” an (unfortunately late but) exciting sign that maybe there is some thought in this adaptation after all. Read on for my review:

After their appointment in the last episode, Sticky and Reynie are initiated as Messengers. When he expresses anxiety as to why he still made Messenger after being caught cheating, Curtain tells Sticky that his unwillingness to snitch on Kate was what convinced him to make Sticky a Messenger at all. Bullet sufficiently dodged, the Society are given a new encoded mission by Mr. Benedict. But before they can decode it, Martina draws Sticky and Reynie away to sit at the Messenger’s table. It’s here that the duo find out that Jackson and Jillson are on the trail of Mr. Benedict’s secret messages.

Reynie and Sticky are soon called away for their first “Messenger duty.” They are given sight-impairing goggles and led to a mysterious room containing what Mr. Curtain calls his “most-prized invention”: The Whisperer. Reynie is given the first turn in the mysterious machine, which seems to be nothing more than two chairs and two helmets - one for Reynie, one for Curtain.

Suddenly, the Whisperer begins to ask Reynie questions. Although Curtain is at the other end of the machine, the Whisperer seems to have a voice of its own, gentle and feminine. The questions start out innocuous, like “What’s your favorite color?”; “What’s the last book you read?” Then, however, the session grows more sinister as the Whisperer asks: “What’s your greatest fear?”.

“Spiders scare me a little,” Reynie responds.
“Oh, they're just terrible. But what do you fear the most?” The Whisperer asks.
After a moment of hesitation: “Being alone,” Reynie says.
“Thank you for that. Don't worry, Reynie. You’re not alone anymore,” the machine says.

After the initial questions, The Whisperer asks both Reynie and Sticky one more thing: “Shall we begin?”

Meanwhile, Kate and Constance try to decode Mr. Benedict’s last Morse message, about “copper waves” and “the bane of Sisyphus” leading to the entrance to the tower. However, Kate soon gets pulled away for tetherball practice, so Constance ends up solving the riddle by herself. When she is rejoined by Kate, she has found the “bane of Sisyphus” (an enormous fake boulder hidden on the edges of the campus), but can’t figure out the passcode to the secret door the boulder hides. Kate figures out another clue - “News” - means “North, East, West, South,” - a directional code. Working together, the two girls gain access to the bunker underneath L.I.V.E.’s secret tower.

Kate and Constance traverse the underground tunnels and discover Curtain’s “Brainsweeper.” However, they are almost caught and have to escape before they can do anything else of importance. As they're exploring the bunker, Constance begins to hear the voices again - but this time, the voices are Sticky’s. He’s spouting the same nonsensical phrases as the voices from before; “the missing aren’t missing, but only departed…” etc; etc;.

After Reynie and Sticky leave the Whisperer, they try to keep themselves from believing they enjoyed it. But the validation it gave them when responding to them was enough to make both of them want to go back, even though they knew the messages they sent in the machine were causing The Emergency. Overall, each of their individual encounters leave the four children with questions they can’t answer and problems they can’t solve.

Meanwhile, the Benedict team are trying to find another way to send messages to the Society, now that the Morse code method is compromised. They try to train a falcon to deliver encoded messages, but are soon sidetracked by the arrival of Ms. Perumal, searching for Reynie. Mr. Benedict explains to her about The Society and his plans, to her shock and disgust. Ms. Perumal is initially resistant to the idea that there’s a grand conspiracy behind the Emergency, but when she tries to call Child Welfare Services to report on Mr. Benedict, she discovers that the number has been disconnected, and begins to wonder if there is something sinister going on.

Slightly steadier and more interesting than anything in the first half of the season, I feel like this show has been stingy so far with allowing the audience anything to really chew on. Finally, here we’ve gotten something that makes me see some kind of inherit merit in the soulless stylism of this adaptation - that "something" being The Whisperer. The depiction of The Whisperer is spot-on perfect, and the overbearing 60’s aesthetics finally feel in-place in the context of that one scene - oozing Stanley Kubrick, Jr. vibes from head to toe, and finally making one part of the plot actually intriguing enough to still think about after the fact. There’s still so, so much fat that desperately needs cutting, and a lot of characters that yearn for a re-tooling. But even still, as things get worse for the Society, they get marginally better for their television debut.

What did you think of “The Art of Conveyance and Round-Trippery?” Are you any more sold on the show now that something of substance has finally come to light? What are you looking forward to in the coming episodes? Let me know in the comments!

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