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The Mysterious Benedict Society - Run Silent, Run Deep and The Dance of the Celestial Orb - Review: The Disney+ Effect

Here’s the thing: The Mysterious Benedict Society remains consistent as it trucks on toward its finale, but if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll recognize that consistency, in this case, is the key to monotony. Read on for my review of “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “The Dance of The Celestial Orb”:

After their encounter with Miss Perumal, Milligan tries to sneak onto the island to rescue the members of the Society and abort the mission. The longer the show focuses on questioning the idea to put children in danger, the less the show can get away with it. Had they left us to suspend our disbelief on the matter, I honestly think it wouldn’t bother me that Mr. Benedict had left this world-altering, extremely dangerous mission to a group of children. But once the show begins to question the decision - and they spend a lot of time questioning it - I, too, begin to wonder why there wasn’t any better solution (a problem that does not similarly plauge the book series).

As Mr. Benedict’s team plan the childrens’ rescue, the Society makes plans to storm the Institute’s off-limits tower and dismantle the Whisperer. But Sticky is called back to Messenger duty, and it is not-so-subtly implied that he enjoyed his time in the machine so much that he doesn’t want to see it destroyed.

Kate, having threatened to go off and complete the mission on her own in every episode since the first, finally puts that idea into action. First, she convinces Martina, who has recently gained Executive status (and access to the server room), to show her around her dorm room so Kate can secretly copy her passkey. Reynie, meanwhile, befriends Curtain’s son S.Q. in an attempt to get him to take him into the restricted forest around the tower. Kate gets the code, completing her mission, and Reynie discovers that the forest is full of antennae. S.Q. explains that he doesn’t know what they do, but that Curtain told him that they’ll be dangerous once they’re turned on...in only 22 hours.

Constance, meanwhile, with nothing to do, sneaks off the island to head back to Stonetown. While we don’t initially know why, when she arrives, we get to see the true effects of the Whisperer in action. Curtain is testing the full power of the Whisperer machine, subconsciously convincing the people of Stonetown - and Constance, who we’ve already seen is sensitive to the Whisperer’s effects - to go into town and buy a blue beret. When she returns to the island and explains what happened, the Society become concerned that Curtain’s true plan will influence people to do much more than just buy hats.

At nightfall, Kate sneaks out on her own to finally investigate the server room with the key she copied from Martina. She gains access and sneaks through the vents, but her presence is sensed by Jackson and Jillson, who sound an intruder alarm. In her escape, Kate shakes suspicion by hanging off a cliff outside the tower, but she becomes stuck there when she loses her bucket. She tries to make it back up, but falls (in a display of truly awful CGI - I try not to criticise individual shots but...this is Disney of all companies). Just as it seems she’s about to meet her doom, however, she’s caught by Milligan, who survived the perilous destruction of his submarine and made it to the island. Kate is safe, but her bucket is gone (weird nitpick: did Kate ever use the bucket onscreen before she lost it? Even once?) .

Milligan explains that he’s there to take the children off the island before it’s too late, even with the danger of Curtain’s “Improvement” plan on the horizon. While Kate is hesitant to leave, Milligan does convince her that she shouldn’t have tried to go against Curtain alone, and she gains a newfound respect for the rest of her team.

Reynie and Constance confront Sticky, who is initially uncaring about Kate’s disappearance. The school is being searched for whoever tried to break into the server room, and Kate is nowhere to be found. However, after hearing how severely the culprit is going to be punished, Sticky finally comes to, feeling guilty for his devotion to the Whisperer putting Kate in this position. Luckily for him, this is when Kate returns to the cafeteria like nothing happened, completely unharmed.

S.Q. is caught for taking Reynie into the forest, but he lies about it, protecting Reynie. However, Curtain still suspects, so Reynie is called to Mr. Curtain during the investigation into the server room break-in. Curtain interrogates Reynie, and is nearly convinced that he was the culprit, until the forensic analysis of the break-in (they did FORENSICS on this?) came back with a positive result - not for Kate, however, who was careful not to leave fingerprints, but for Martina. Here’s a question that wouldn’t stop bugging me: if Curtain suspects Reynie so much, how and why does he not suspect all of the Society, who hang out with each other exclusively and all the time?

Anyway, Mr. Benedict’s falcon arrives on the island with a message, and the children, recognizing the bird as a possible signal, go looking for it. Kate runs into Martina, on the run from Executives after accidentally being framed. Kate agrees to help her, but later that night, Martina investigates the cliffs and finds evidence that Kate was in fact the culprit.

Reynie finds the falcon, but S.Q. found it first, having read the letter it held. Recognizing Reynie’s betrayal, S.Q. goes to turn Reynie in to his father. Reynie successfully convinces S.Q. of Curtain’s greater conspiracy, however, and S.Q. reluctantly lets Reynie go. Reynie reads the falcon letter, which is from Miss Perumal, who has changed her mind on Reynie’s mission and encourages him to fight the good fight against Curtain’s plans.

Thrououghly encouraged by this, Reynie gathers the Society, who must choose whether to stay on the island or leave with Milligan. With so much undone and mere hours before the Improvement, the children decide to stay at the Insititute and finish what they started.

The benefit of the doubt is a powerful idea. I could continue, forever, to say that this adaptation was the best that could be done, or that it might be holding a killer card or two up its sleeve. But with these last two episodes, the writing feels just about on the wall at this point. The Mysterious Benedict Society was always going to be limited in its adaptation; with its source material being so vastly and specifically imagined that it would be nearly impossible to properly visually realize. However, the TV series struggles from two very avoidable issues that unfortunately plague the majority of Disney+’s original content.

The first major problem is that the show tries much too hard to be what I like to call “Honest Trailer-proof.” After the rise in popularity of comedic film criticism on Youtube from channels such as Honest Trailers and CinemaSins, many films and TV shows began to become more and more self-conscious of their own believability. The biggest problem with this idea is that channels like these are meant to be entertainment-based, not legitimate sources of media analysis. However, a chilling effect on suspension of disbelief occurred nonetheless. Some directors managed to utilize the way that these channels put films under the microscope to create a tighter story (I actually stole the term “Honest Trailer-proof” from the Russo Brothers, who used the idea to improve the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Most people looking to “Honest Trailer-proof” their production, however, go down a much less thoughtful route. This is why we’ve recently gotten so many movies and TV shows (especially adaptations and remakes) that explain just about everything their characters do and say, giving a shoehorned backstory to every person, place and thing and inserting line after line acknowledging the unrealistic qualities of the story (as if it isn’t a story).

We see this “Honest Trailer-proofing” happening all over The Mysterious Benedict Society, mostly in the form of the constant cutbacks to Mr. Benedict’s team, explaining absolutely every plot point and continually acknowledging how messed-up it is to send children in to do a dangerous mission, as if we were going to choose to watch a show that is clearly about children saving the world and then question why it’s up to the children to save the world. Notably, the books don’t cut back to Mr. Benedict at all, meaning that this was an addition that the writers made, seemingly only to use as means of exposition - begging us to believe that the show about a man who lives in a puzzle house trying to stop his evil twin from brainwashing the world is perfectly realisitic. And if they needed a runtime pad, there was plenty that they could’ve done to make these Team Benedict interludes worthwhile, but instead we’re left with a solid third of the show that makes absolutely no impact on the plot whatsoever.

Also noticeable, especially in these past two episodes: this show really suffers from the “Disney + effect.” Pandemic aside, Disney+, for all intents and purposes, seems to be the streaming equivalent of the direct-to-DVD releases that Disney made in the mid-2000’s. Just like those films, the end product is well-produced enough to be considered “good,” but entirely devoid of the thought and soul that most Disney properties are known for. All of its perceived quality is simply quantity; throw enough money at anything and it can look good enough, and Disney has plenty of money to throw.

But hey, that’s just my take. What did you think of the past few episodes of The Mysterious Benedict Society? What are you looking forward to in the finale? And what are your predictions for a chance on season 2? Let me know in the comments!

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