Continuum: Power Hour

POWER HOUR
Directed By: David Frazee
Written By: Todd Ireland & Jeremy Smith

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Are we halfway into the season, or is the season halfway gone? I’ve been saying that it’s halfway over, already, and my rather bleak, glass-half-empty outlook has more to do with the sadness of this show being so close to its end than any unhappiness with the story. However, this episode did expose some agitations I have with Kiera’s character. And after a day or two of thinking this through, I came up with an analysis that attributes these agitations to how well her character is written (I hope) instead of it being something I just consider a personal annoyance.

Without these frustrations, I doubt we’d have very good drama! So before I dive into the annoyances, I need to discuss the philosophy behind what I’m trying to get at.

The Philosophy
Well written characters have flaws because it makes them more believable. But it’s more than flaws for the sake of flaws. Good flaws are deeply rooted decisions a person makes based on a posteriori knowledge, and not insofar that a person makes every decision off explicit empirical knowledge, but that decision is an expression of an empirical fact. Well-rounded, fully actualized people, in my own opinion, can manage decisions based upon a healthy discernment between a priori (rational intuition) and a posteriori (experience-based) knowledge.
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A huge theme in this episode was overcoming a fatalistic mindset. If this had to be Lucas’s final episode, then he served his purpose well. Julian has it in his mind that he’s destined to be the bad guy, even in spite of all the changes to the future he’s got to have been hearing around Alec’s house. Lucas’s response was awesome: “You both sound like a couple of babies. Here’s a tip: take action. Man up. You’re the author of your own destiny, act like it.” As much of the first three seasons was centered around the ultimate destinies of these step-brothers, it’s not difficult for me to see why they focus on the Darkest Timeline possibility.

The instinctive response to such a freeing idealism, as Julian demonstrated, is to take an action that directly defies that which you’re destined to become. But I think Curtis’s subtle comment late in the episode is more indicative of what actually should occur. Julian says that if he moves forward with his manifesto, he will second guess every decision he makes for the rest of his life, and Curtis says: “As you should.”

This is a perfect example of the philosophical point I’m trying to make about a well-rounded person. In real life, we don’t have the knowledge of what is to come, as Julian does. He knows that if he makes the wrong choice, he will be the cause of thousands of deaths. However, even though we don’t literally know this to be a fact about our own future (to be the cause of many deaths), the simple fact of the matter is that within each person lies the potential for great good or great destruction. We shouldn’t explicitly make decisions based on our own experiential paradigm, nor should we make every decision based upon empirical facts. We need a healthy balance of the two. It’s not about being worn down by statistics or the knowledge of what is to come, but being cognitive of the ever present warning of what might come. We should second guess every decision we make because decisions matter.

While Julian knows what his future holds and desperately tries to change that outcome, Kiera doesn’t know what the heck she wants. She wants to go home, but she clearly knows by now that the future she came from isn’t one that reveals the best of humanity. And this is where her utilitarian comment comes into play: “I want to do right by everyone, without sacrificing what I need.”
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The philosophy of utilitarian law originated from the theory that we (as humans) are motivated either by pain or pleasure, and the laws, therefore, were ones crafted to maximize pleasure for the greatest amount of people. The only elements of Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy that I actually agree with is that political reform requires an understanding of human nature. Like everything else, law requires a balance of a priori and a posteriori knowledge. Which is why we have judges in the American judicial system. At least, that’s one of the reasons we have them. Law needs to be interpreted and applied to every situation. But as far as his ideal that liberty-is-the-absences-of-restraint, I don’t really align myself with those fundamentals.

So what’s my point? Kiera’s behavior this week exacerbated some of my deepest annoyances with her character. And yet, as I mentioned at the top of this post, it appears to be keenly rooted in her a posteriori knowledge. As she seeks a balance between the newly discovered knowledge of her awakening and everything she previously knew and experienced, it is like warm air rotating beneath a cold air barrier (tornado). In the course of tracking how a person’s past has influenced their present, perceived flaws have a situational degree of severity, so I broke her annoyances down by the EF scale by which we classify tornadoes.

EF1: Favors

An EF1 tornado is typically classified as moderate damage. I’ve lived through a couple of these and they put on quite a show, can scare a young girl to death (I was, like, 11), but the damage resulting from it is pennies in comparison to the next level of severity. On the scale of annoyances, Kiera’s usage of her position to command favors is probably the least damaging. And yet, it’s still worth classifying on the EF scale because it still causes a ripple effect of problems.
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There was a time when Kiera told Alec to “get out of her head”. Remember those days? They quickly went away as she realized that Alec could help her assimilate into this time and equip her with the knowledge she needed to keep up the facade of Special Agent Kiera Cameron while also accessing information she’d never have been able to get otherwise. Instead of the proverbial man behind the curtain, there was an actual man behind the curtain.

Kiera has a way of presenting a request as though it is a civic duty required from the requestee. Whether it’s Kellog or Alec, or even Carlos sometimes, she often firsts demands that someone fulfill a request, before softening it up and justifying her reasons for that request in a way that make it seem like she’s asking, but she’s still demanding. It’s a bold personality trait, one that I don’t have, and one that comes in very useful, I imagine, as a CPS officer.

As a friend, partner, or confidant, it makes her hard to deal with sometimes. Looking back, I don’t blame Alec for going back to save Emily instead of helping Kiera. I don’t blame Carlos for getting so upset over the dead body of Kiera’s other self. I don’t blame Gardiner for going after her so resolutely. Much of this has to do with how she communicates, which I will get to next, but moreso it seems to come from this deeply rooted place of carrying out duties as a CPS officer.

Everything was more cut and dry in CPS, wasn’t it? Laws were laws. We saw Kiera stand against her mother in at least two situations where the law said one thing, but her mother’s personal philosophy said another.

Asking for Alec to do her a favor, seconds after he sits down at Betty’s old desk, made me realize just how much I dislike this part of her character. She’s taking advantage of Alec’s friendship, his desire to help, and a fear he has of messing up again. She believes she should be trusted implicitly… because why? Because she’s proven herself? Because she believes in desiring a “good” outcome?
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Carlos nailed it when he said that Kiera’s behavior seems to indicate a deeper trust in Brad than in him (Carlos). And by asking Alec to tip her off on the van’s, or Brad’s, whereabouts before telling Carlos would seem absolutely insulting if I were Carlos. It’s not like Carlos doesn’t know what’s going on with Brad and the time marines, but this newfound desire to do right by everyone without sacrificing what she needs is most certainly a misguided notion that she deserves preferential treatment. I don’t know why she suddenly decided to stop including Carlos.

I can see how easily Julian and Alec’s roles are reversing themselves through this lens alone. How easy it now seems to go from being the mastermind of the new technological age to leading an underground rebellion which ultimately brings about the death of thousands of people. Their roles, as presented at the beginning of the series, could do a complete 180 by the end of this season. Just as Kiera’s seems to be. Her favors serve no end game but her own.

EF2: Communication

An EF2 tornado is considered to wreak considerable damage, with winds up to 135 mph! Death isn’t uncommon as a result of EF1 tornadoes, but they’re much more likely at this level. And I absolutely believe that Kiera’s poor communication skills led directly to Lucas’s death.

This is an easy one to target, because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with her past as a CPS Officer. Or, maybe it does! In a world where there were no secrets, were nothing was implied, where open communication took place between comms, there was no need to relate specifics because everyone had access to them. I’m assuming this based on the way Kiera’s CMR operates. I’m thinking of that scene from S3E03 when Kiera’s CMR is overridden and whoever is controlling her executes the informant. My assumption is that the execution was officially sanctioned, so even if she disagreed morally, the decision-making is swift and the orders explicit.
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But she’s the only one linked to Alec through her CMR in this episode. The conversations aren’t explicit and it is up to her to be the mediator. First between Alec and Carlos, then between Alec and Garza.

The first time I noticed my irritation over Kiera’s poor communication was when she showed Carlos her own dead body in the trunk of her car (S3E02). Carlos asks something like, “Which one are you? Which one of you have I been working with for the last year? Which one of you is my partner? My friend?” Well, OK, we don’t actually get to see her respond to this question, but seriously, she traveled back a week. They’re both his partner, they’re both his friend. Unless he’s asking whether the Kiera who is alive was the one who traveled back again. But even so, I still don’t get why that question was relevant. She didn’t travel back to manipulate him or change anything about his destiny. And the absence of dialogue after his question is totally frustrating because it implies something negative that could have been resolved right then!

In this episode, I knew her poor communication was going to be a problem when Garza said: “I hope your plan is better than your communication skills.” I know: you’re wondering how in the world I deciphered that. She tells Alec not to tell Carlos about what he found, either about Brad in the van or about the building Kellog bought $2 million over market value. Slap in the face to Carlos. And Alec hasn’t even had a coffee break yet and Kiera is having him compromise for her sake. What if he said no? Can he say no to her anymore? He basically owes her his life.

But the real problem occurs when Alec finally figures out what the future marines are building in that giant warehouse. He calls it a highly concentrated anti-matter fusion system and then suggests it could be useful in getting her home.

In an effort to protect this chance at getting home, Kiera doesn’t explain to Garza why they need to abort…just that they need to abort. Garza has already accused Kiera of being soft, but now she thinks (as she could only assume because Kiera hasn’t told her anything) that Kiera is trying to protect Brad. Instead of relaying Alec’s discovery, she engages in hand-to-hand combat with Garza to try and prevent her from blowing up the compound.
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Even if she didn’t want to tell Garza right then about the potential energy source being built and its potential to bring her home, there’s the small case of wanting to use C4 on an concentrated antimatter fusion system! Correct me if I’m wrong, but blowing up antimatter would be a devastation, wouldn’t it? Speaking of which, why is there SO MUCH C4 in that room? And why do they store it so close to the antimatter fusion system? I must be misunderstanding what this means in context.

What’s worse, in my mind, is that clearly Kiera eventually does tell Garza about the energy source Alec hypothesizes they are building in that warehouse because they have a discussion about it in the escape van. So because Kiera couldn’t give Garza any sort of reason for aborting the mission on the spot, they waste time subduing Rollins, which sets into motion a chain of events that causes Lucas’s death.

It makes for excellent drama, but boy is it frustrating to watch!

EF3: End Game

An EF3 tornado is described as causing severe damage. I remember reading about an EF3 back in June hitting a town in Illinois, where farmers wouldn’t be able to farm due to the damage from debris. There was a particular article in which a local student was interviewed and said that she didn’t realize just how much damage an EF3 could do. And I think that really gets to the heart of this section. When it comes to Kiera’s end game, there’s just no telling how much damage it can really do.

In 2077, Kiera’s employment required no common sense. A CPS officer operated based off the law, not off philosophy. Her attention to political dogma is derived from the Corporate Congress. As her philosophy changes and the mission objective becomes more…subjective, the effect of that attention in how she carries out the law becomes much less predictable. Like, her instinct is still to react by carrying out the letter of the law, but then her gut comes into play and she stops playing by the rules and starts playing for herself.
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When Kiera arrived in the past, she was so dependent on her tech that, at one point, I remember Carlos asking her if she ever just trusted her gut on something. Up until midway last season, her actions seemed largely to tend toward preservation (of the future). And when her awakening hit, her decision-making became erratic and emotional. I want to assume that this “do right by everyone without sacrificing what I need” is eluding to upholding the Liber8 vaccine, but still managing to return home to her family.

And yet, when Travis asks Kiera what she needs, she responds with: “It doesn’t matter.” Which is exactly what she told Kellog when he asked in the previous episode. The fact is that it matters very much, because she took the time to tell Travis that she wants to do right by everyone without sacrificing what she needs! The difference in Travis’s and Kellog’s responses is awesome. Kellog immediately knows that her response indicates her desire to go back. Travis, on the other hand, tells her that there is no surrender in this fight, enlightening her to the fact that there are bigger issues than what she might have to sacrifice for herself. Lucas and Sonya died for those bigger issues.

In spite of her awakening, Kiera still wants to go home. She still wants to return to that craphole of a future they all came from. And that, I believe, is what makes Kiera the most dangerous person right now. More dangerous than Kellog, maybe, in a certain sense, because what she wants out of this whole thing is an end game that will put them all right back to where they were when this all started.

Closing Thoughts
1) No Dark Alec! I was genuinely concerned after Emily left, wondering how Alec would deal. But Lucas beat him in enough games of Pong, and shouted SHABOOF! enough to help him deal with his break up.
2) Theseus has an opportunity to become Mother Teresa! I love Alec’s confrontation of Julian and the writings that were made available on the interwebs. Julian has a unique perspective, and perhaps now that Alec isn’t on the road to becoming SadTech Sadler, Julian’s manifesto won’t be taboo, but gospel.
3) LUCAS! I sat with my mouth open for several minutes. Victor Webster said at DragonCon that someone would die in every episode. I was hoping he meant the extras.
4) After Brad reacts to Lucas shooting Marcellus in the head, and subsequently kills him, shouldn’t it be telling to Garza that Brad lets them both walk out of there? Didn’t it also seem like Brad immediately regretted his gut instinct to open fire at Lucas? Just a thought.
5) Kiera seemed uncharacteristically physical with Kellog at the end of the episode. Did she plant something on him? Or was she just trying to get his attention?
6) In honor of Mike and Dave, my nitpick for the episode: When Kiera and Garza are trying to escape, Nolan shoots some sort of EMP that makes their suits sizzle and disengages Kiera’s weapon. It disables their tech. So how was Garza able to use her suit to storm the barricade, deflect bullets and take down a couple of the guards? Is it like the force field in the building that only allows them use of cloaking for a couple minutes and doesn’t have a permanent effect? If so, why didn’t Kiera just use her weapon?

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More Resources
Liber8: A Continuum Podcast with Mike & Dave Episode 104: Power Hour

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