Pilot: The Rook
For the past few years I’ve watched almost every new pilot on TV. It’s an exercise for me — I probably won’t watch most shows past the pilot, but I like the feeling of knowing what I’m missing: if I saw the first episode and noped out of continuing watching, at least I tried it and made an informed choice.
Most pilots are in no way an indication of what a series can be, especially those traditional pilots that are shot months before the show gets picked up to series — when there’s no writers room yet, there’s no show bible yet, there’s just the pilot. [That’s been shifting lately, especially on streaming platforms, and it’s true that shows ordered straight to series from pitch instead of pilot tend to have stronger first episodes.] But either way I still find it a good barometer for me to decide on which shows I’m gonna watch.
I plan on blogging about every new pilot I watch from now on. And I intend to re-visit old pilots and see if they hold up to scrutiny.
The Rook premiered on June 30, 2019, on Starz, and before I saw the trailer, the only thing I knew about it was that initially Twilight lady Stephanie Meyers was supposed to be the showrunner [what???], and then during the filming of the first two episodes, she left due to ~creative differences~, and new showrunners, Lisa Zwerling and Karyn Usher, stepped up.
This pilot is ALL set up, but it’s very good at it.
We go on Myfanwy’s journey as she’s trying to figure out what happened to her, and except for the notes she left herself, which are read narration-like, almost all of her scenes for the first half of the episode are silent. Everything is in Emma Greenwell’s face. There’s a loooong sequence with no dialog at all that starts in the bank vault, goes through the city of London and a bus trip, to Myfanwy’s apartment and her going through the place trying to figure out who she is, while Sylvan Esso’s Die Young plays. It’s really great.
And then of course the show goes from very silent to INFODUMP! Pre-amnesiac Myfanwy left videos of herself explaining everything, and then Myfanwy’s boss Joely Richardson shows up and gives her [and us] even more information, and we’re caught up as Myfanwy realizes she has to go to work at the secret agency and pretend she didn’t lose her memories to figure out what happened.
There’s also a nifty cinematography shift — the episode starts at night, and it’s dark with splashes of color, while Myfanwy knows nothing. But as she gets more and more clues from the notes, the cinematography shifts to daylight, and it’s bright and pretty. And then at the end of the episode, she goes into the secret agency and everything is purple/lavender and sort of muted. It’s nice to watch the lights and colors changing to match the narrative.
The pilot ends in a typical cliffhanger as the last of the notes Myfanwy left for herself is at her desk at work — she believes the person responsible for taking her memories works at Checquy. Her last warning “don’t. trust. anyone.” as we get close-ups from every other character in the conference room meeting. DUN DUN DUN.
• Her name is MYFANWY [“it rhymes with Tiffany”, she tells herself in one of the notes she left]. To my Latin-based brain it just looks like a randomized password that’s not strong enough yet.
• The secret agency is called CHECQUY, which again, just looks like a weak password.
• For a people-have-superpowers story, there’s not that much superpowering in this first episode, but I’m guessing it’ll pick up as the show goes.
• The creepy blond folks whose superpower is sharing a mind were given the surname Gestalt, which, as we all know is the German psychology concept that attempts to understand our perception of the world. “When the human mind forms a percept or “gestalt”, the whole has a reality of its own, independent of the parts.” It’s very smart naming.
• Ruth Madeley, the actress who plays Myfanwy’s über-competent assistant Ingrid, was diagnosed with spina bifida as a baby, and uses a wheelchair in real life. Representation is awesome, you guys.
• I don’t know if this is a new trend of England-based shows needing an expat from the U.S. to ~mix things up~, but I watched this pilot only days after watching the pilot for Wild Bill, and there’s Olivia Munn here, and Rob Lowe there, and one more and it’s a thing.
Will I keep watching?
Yes. I’m gonna watch episode two as soon as I post this.
Trailer and image credits: Starz