The Power of Point of View

“The Enemy Within” Pilot. . .A Missed Opportunity – GARY YAMASAKI

As I was watching the pilot episode of the new NBC series “The Enemy Within,” I was hooked from the very first minute, and held captive for the whole episode. . .well, actually, for almost the whole episode, for a point-of-view move in the closing moments threw me for a loop.

The central character of the series is Erica Shepherd, the Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA. The opening scene shows her walking along The Mall in Washington D.C. As she walks, the camera catches her making a furtive glance to her left, followed by a “point-of-view” shot of what she is seeing: a man sitting on a bench reading a newspaper. But this is immediately followed by a shot of what her uber-skills of observation are picking up: the man’s eyes peering over the newspaper directly at her.

The camera returns to Shepherd as she glances to her right, then cuts to a point-of-view shot showing a municipal worker collecting trash, followed by a close-up of him also looking at her. By this time, Shepherd has slowed to a stop, and as she looks around, she spots others surveilling her. She then drops to her knees and raises her hands in the air, as a veritable army of undercover FBI agents converge upon her.

Through whose point of view have the viewers been witnessing all this? The series of point-of-view shots have provided glimpses of the action through Shepherd’s point of view. . .but only glimpses. Essentially, the viewers have been made to settle for the point of view of a third-person objective bystander, which leaves them very much in the dark.

They are not left in the dark very long, for they are immediately bombarded with a montage of media clips trumpeting the accusation against her: that she leaked classified information to Mikhail Tal, a Russian terrorist, on the identities of four CIA agents, resulting in their deaths. And then, the viewers are whisked three years into the future, into the aftermath of three terrorist attacks orchestrated by Tal, which gives rise within FBI ranks to the suggestion that the incarcerated Shepherd be drawn into the investigation.

At this point in the episode, I was excited at the prospects of this show. There had not yet been any indication that Shepherd’s trial had taken place, leaving me to wonder, “Did she actually do it, or is she being framed?” And I was eagerly anticipating a handful of episodes dropping a clue here and a clue there, working toward a resolution of this issue. And even if it turned out that she had done it, there was still the question of “Why?” And I anticipated another handful of episodes covering that issue. And all the while, I would be treated to demonstrations of Shepherd’s apparently super-human spy skills each week as she worked to take down Tal.

However, right near the end of the episode, a single scene dashed all these hopes, [SPOILER ALERT] as Shepherd reveals that she had indeed given up the identities of the four agents, and she did so in order to save her daughter from being killed by Tal. In a blink of an eye, all the intrigue surrounding her actions evaporated into thin air.

Some digging into the series informed me that my assumption that Shepherd had not yet been convicted was incorrect, and that pretty much put the kabosh on there being any on-going intrigue related to the issue of “was she being framed?”  I lament the fact that such a plot detail was not included, as well as the fact that the revelation of Shepherd’s motive for the betrayal came so early in the series. 

Both of these moves were in the service of a particular point-of-view strategy for the series, and I just happen to feel that a different POV strategy would have served the series better. The fact that for nearly the whole of the episode the viewers were given extensive exposure to the Shepherd character, but were given next to nothing on what was going on inside her head, results in the viewers coming to see her as an enigma. . .as a puzzle to solve. And this point-of-view strategy can have a powerful effect on audience engagement. However, with this episode of The Enemy Within, the puzzle was solved so quickly that a sizeable portion of the potential audience engagement was lost.

I plan to continue watching the series; it seems decent enough. But I lament the loss of what I had started to anticipate as perhaps my favourite TV series of all time.

Categorised in: FEATURE, point of view on SCREEN

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