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Rabbit Hole - The Algorithms of Control - Review

2 Apr 2023


“The Algorithms of Control” is a more straightforward episode than the opening two, refreshingly so. Gone are the static flashes and, most importantly, the suggestion that what we’re seeing may not be real. Instead, we get a much more character-focused hour which teaches us about Charles Dance’s Ben, John Weir’s father, and the quest that the pair are on to save the world.

Ben – whose 1981 death was faked – was a psychologist, and developed the titular “The Algorithms of Control”. It’s essentially a thesis on the way in which someone could manipulate the people of a country to such an extent that they gain control of it entirely. The “job is already half done,” he explains of the fictional 2018, although as he outlines the chapters – undermine people’s trust in media; polarise factions of the population; marginalise experts; elect a candidate under the guise of restoring order – it’s easy to draw similarities to the real world. Commentary on this feels much more in the “Rabbit Hole” wheelhouse than last week’s race comment in passing did, although we shall see whether it can sustain such a thing.

What’s interesting about it is how easily you could apply the wider logic – if not perhaps the specific outline – to Ben’s relationship with John. Weir remarks about his father being where his own paranoia and “sickness” comes from, and he and Miles hint at a particularly bad moment for John in 2009. But if John was, to his own admission, delusional before his father returned, the reunion has seemingly allowed clarity. Significantly, it has led him to join the crusade to take down the mysterious Crowley.

But we see a couple of notable things from their interactions. First, and most obviously, though their relationship has smoothed since Ben broke into John’s apartment and received the barrel-end of a F-bomb tirade, you’d be reluctant to call it smooth. John is rightfully still not over being abandoned as a 10-year-old, and the argument between Dance and Kiefer Sutherland is a joy from start to finish.



Second: John is now a strong believer in Ben’s cause. Importantly, while the show flitters around timelines, we don’t see the moment he switches from disbelieving fury at his father’s survival to commitment to stopping Crowley. We can see the puppet strings being pulled by the mysterious nemesis even as he remains shrouded in smoke: his sole involvement in this hour is to once again instruct an Arda CEO to plunge from his balcony, an outcome that – all at once – was predictable, provoked a jumpscare in the brutality of its execution, and needs to be the final instance lest it become boring. It’s already verging on stupid.

In joining the mission, so far as we can see, John has allowed himself to be controlled. “The enemy is everywhere but he can’t be seen,” he’s told. John doesn’t trust people but he has put total faith in Ben. The in media res confession in the pilot looms large: how much of what Ben has said will prove true?

The two have their differences, not the least of which is their humanity. Ben’s has eroded against a sword of paranoia; only his son – and formerly Miles, John’s best friend from childhood, before Crowley got to him – can be trusted. John likes to think he shares the sceptic trait but he’s na├»ve: even putting aside his original meeting with Hailey, he’s too trusting of her at the safe house, and she betrays that trust by stealing a phone. He isn’t as doubting both as he was before or as his father, and in a show like this it may prove his downfall.

As for Hailey, it remains one of the big mysteries how she’s involved. After her unknown email last week, here she checks her crypto value. Miles, who we know is somehow connected to Crowley, was buying NFTs before his suicide – that doesn’t feel like a coincidence. Was it also Hailey who directed Agent Madi to Arda? Lots remains unclear but Hailey’s now-calm demeanour in what is, essentially, a kidnapping situation would suggest that she is not only involved with the conspiracy, but she is exactly where she is supposed to be.

The flashbacks do a reasonable job of establishing the friendship between John and Miles, and particularly the development of John into the man he is in the present day. Partnered with that are the aforementioned glimpses at Ben’s recruitment strategy. How much more of this timeline will the show present? It’s interesting that more than half the episode is committed to showing the past while keeping plenty hidden: already that feels like the show’s motif.

For each answer that “The Algorithms of Control” provides, five more questions are posed. That’ll probably be the case until the end, but there’s definitely more of a show now than after two episodes.