Please. Just take a moment and drink in that title. We’re very proud of it. Unfortunately, our minds turned to mush not long after composing it and the rest of this review will be nonsense, more or less. Sorry.
But we have a good excuse! See, after the premiere episode, which was one of the trippiest television viewing experiences we can ever remember having, last week’s second installment became a lot more coherent and linear, as David was introduced to Summerland and the mysterious people who inhabit it. We probably should’ve written a review then, because things were momentarily making some sense. Now? Who the hell knows?
Sure, the storytelling is more or less coherent and linear in comparison to the first episode. We can track what everyone’s doing, in what order they’re doing it, and why – on the surface, at least – they’re doing it. The mysterious Melanie needs to “train” David for the upcoming “war,” by proving to him that he isn’t crazy, just crazy-powerful. But in order to do so, she needs to travel inside his memories and unlock some things because reasons-reasons. Sure. That tracks. And then there are bad guys who have David’s sister and are torturing her because, they tell her, he’s not mentally ill; he’s the most powerful mutant ever and they need to shut him down. Meanwhile, Syd is there to always say the right thing, always offer the right response, always stand by him without touching him. And there’s a yellow-eyed demon who lives inside his head and turns his memories into dangerous traps and nightmares. And Dead Lenny won’t stop bothering him by letting him know that pretty much everyone’s lying to him. David, possibly in response to this, is reacting very badly to having his weirdly disturbing memories probed and demonstrates increasingly impressive abilities, from telekinesis to astral projection to teleportation.
So there’s the plot, more or less. And yet we can’t shake the feeling that everything we’re seeing and hearing is a lie somehow. We keep waiting for a massive rug-pull. Maybe that’s not fair and maybe we’re setting ourselves up for a major disappointment when the story continues as it’s currently being told, but literally no one in this tale, including the protagonist at the center of it seems to have a healthy relationship with the truth. “That bitch’s secrets have secrets,” Dead Lenny warned David, but she could’ve been talking about anyone in the story. Everyone is so insistent that David doesn’t have schizophrenia and isn’t suffering from mental illness, but honestly, there’s no reason for us to believe that – and every reason, as presented, to believe otherwise. It’s quite possible he’s both an Omega level mutant AND schizophrenic, which could explain just why so many people are keen to get ahold of him and never let go. The fact that everyone keeps presenting it strictly as an either/or position makes everyone sound like they have an agenda.
Melanie is clearly not telling David everything she knows about their adversaries or this war. She sidestepped the question of whether her husband, who found Summerland, is dead. There’s a bizarrely beautiful scene of a Rube Goldberg-style coffee machine that tells fairy tales to her in her “dead” husband’s voice. But that coffeemaker, with its tale of woodcutters and talking cranes, sure seemed to land on one story that perfectly served as a metaphor for what she was doing – trying to find out how the magic being ticks – with a warning that she could be destroying it.
The show clearly wants you to question whether certain characters are existing as David sees them. It makes a point to show that only David and Syd could see the Yellowed-Eyed Demon and of course no one but David can see Dead Lenny. But we’re starting to think there’s some misdirection going on here. We don’t think those two characters are the only ones that only David can perceive or only David is perceiving in a certain way, if that makes sense. We don’t really have a theory here; just a vague idea that the people we’re seeing might not always be the people we’re seeing. So much of the show is shot in first-person perspective, using things like fish-eye lenses and focus-pulling tricks to give each scene a “through David’s eyes” kind of feel. Then, at various points and without any explanation, we’ll switch to a monitor screen or a video-ized image of a scene. This has yet to be explained, but it tends to make everything seem somewhat suspect. We’re seeing this story through the eyes of a man with corrupted memories, paranoia, and perception issues – except for when we’re seeing it through mysterious TV screens. Something is definitely up with perception and reality here. No idea what, but we’re putting it out there.
Other motifs to look for:
The Xs and Os that appear throughout Summerland. While the X implies an X-Men connection, the circular motif that appears just as much makes everything here feel like a game of tic-tac-toe.
Another: Trees. Not just real trees, but fake ones, plus trees etched in clear glass or outlined in stained glass or appearing in artwork or sitting on windowsills. Trees are everywhere in the art direction.
And another: Look for “Departures” magazine which appears in scene after scene in offices, waiting rooms and even David’s explosive kitchen. Does it mean anything? Do any of these little repeating themes and items mean anything or is it all misdirection? All we know is this: we are twitchy as hell after watching an episode of this dreamy, weird, addictive show and we probably shouldn’t do so if we’re close to bedtime. Especially when Angry Little Boys chop off their mother’s heads or mangle someone’s hands.
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