Less Than Zero
"Subject: Fearsum" (Pilot Episode)
Airdate: October 6, 2000
Derek Barnes: Ethan Embry
Chloe Tanner: Lisa Sheridan
Jason Tatum: Karin Prince
Lan Williams: Lizette Carrion
Vince Elsing: Dennis Christopher
FOX's new paranormal series in The X-Files' old slot resembles that successful show in some ways, but plot holes in the pilot don't bode well for the future.
In the summer of 1998, Adam Barnes creates a web site to expose the paranormal, recruiting his twin brother Derek to help with research. One night while checking out reports of spontaneous combustion among lap dancers, Derek sees a horrible vision of decay in a mirror. When he returns home, the house is flooded, and the only light comes from the candles in an upstairs bathroom. At the bottom of the bloody bathtub, Adam lies dead, an apparent suicide.
Two years later, Derek is running freakylinks.com with the help of cameraman Jason and webmaster Lan. Most of his investigations concern things like severed heads in formaldehyde said to possess strange powers, but one day someone e-mails him Quicktime video of his dead brother following a woman from an ATM machine. When Derek traces the message's sender, he finds a web site encrypted with a code Derek and Adam shared when they were kids. Occult glyphs and the word "CROATOAN" pop up on the screen. Since he doesn't know what it means, Derek visits his Adam's girlfriend Chloe, who says that Adam was researching the disappearance of the first European colony at Roanoke when he died. Roanoke is the Holy Grail of American legends, she explains: every man, woman and child who settled there vanished without a trace, though the word "CROATOAN" was inscribed nearby.
Adam believed that the founder's journals were incomplete, and discovered that a local tribe had claimed the presence of a shapeshifter. Derek goes through Adam's belongings for more clues, but when he enters the bathroom where his brother died, he has a vision of the woman Adam appeared to be following in the Quicktime video, who terrifies him. He also envisions Adam's death. In a notebook, Derek discovers that Adam had been in touch with a mental patient, Vince Elsing, and pays the man a visit. Elsing says, "They're not human," claiming Adam stumbled onto a group of beings that feed on fear. The mental patient has tattoos resembling the glyphs from the CROATOAN web site and from Adam's notes.
Derek continues to have visions of candles, blood, the woman from the video, and a young girl who resembles paintings of Virginia Dare, who was born in Roanoke and vanished with the rest of the colony. He discovers an arcane symbol on the wall of Adam's bathroom, then tears down the wallpaper and discovers the same glyphs inscribed on all the walls of the house. Virginia Dare and the woman from the video appear in the yard as Derek discovers the glyphs point to a spot on the floor, beneath which Adam has hidden a box with an amulet from Roanoke. The malevolent spirits nearly overcome Derek and Chloe, but Elsing appears out of nowhere to fight them. The mysterious woman falls out a window and vanishes.
Elsing warns Derek that his web site is stirring up the deadly spirits, claiming he will end up like Adam...and there are worse things than being dead. But Derek needs answers: he still doesn't know what the amulet has to do with his brother, and hopes that by posting everything on the web site, someone may come forward with answers. He also thinks he can use Freakylinks to help others solve similar problems, which may bring him and Adam peace.
Much darker and nastier than its trailers suggest, Freakylinks almost begs for comparison to The X-Files, though the leads are closer in age to Roswell's stars. Derek becomes interested in the paranormal when he loses a sibling; his friends believe in conspiracy theories; he's come to the attention of dark computer-savvy forces that want to stop him from exposing the truth, whatever it may be. There's also the standard horror movie convention that whenever a teenager gets lucky sexually, someone dies. And there's the spooky haunted house where I guess we're supposed to assume Derek and Adam grew up, though no grownups appear to have raised them. Add to that the weird relationship between Derek and his brother's lover Chloe, a little too close for fraternal comfort, and the series becomes undeniably interesting, if a little sloppy around the edges.
Too many questions are left unanswered in this pilot -- and I mean questions of logic, not about the supernatural. How did suburban geek Adam stumble onto the only remaining relic from Roanoke? From whose perspective was the dream sequence showing Roanoke's founder getting assaulted by Virginia Dare? What's the connection between ghostly Dare and the mysterious dark-skinned woman from the bank video? How did Elsing get out of the mental institution that had him chained up?
I'm assuming the latter may get answered later, and will probably involve super-human powers. The tone so far is like an X-Files monster of the week episode, only without the quirky humor (here the best we get are hacker jokes). There's potential, but the episodes need to be more tightly written than the pilot...and more evenly filmed. Freakylinks is produced by Blair Witch Project producer Gregg Hale, and you can tell immediately; the show features grainy flashback footage and phony home-video sequences with scan lines and wobbly camera movements. While a few seconds of this can create mood on the small screen, a few minutes of it can create a terrible headache in the viewer. Stronger plot will make camera histrionics unnecessary.
Freakylinks has one other gimmick, a web site that lets viewers delve further into the show's self-created mythology. I didn't find any major answers to my questions at www.freakylinks.com, but the graphics look great and there's some fun information about the severed head that makes a cameo in the pilot. There are also links to real-life mysteries and science sites.