Overall my first impressions are mostly favourable, and the show has lots of potential. It’s superficially akin to any number of FBI shows in the Without a Trace vein, but tonally comes across more like a TV version of Silence of the Lambs or even Seven1. Clarice Starling even gets a tongue-in-cheek namecheck. The show freely borrows any number of stylistic tricks from Minear’s earlier work on Angel, but deploys them effectively to create a dark, grim police-procedural atmosphere leavened by the effective characterisation.
It’s the characterisation which makes it interesting, in fact. Unlike the Law and Order franchise where the plot is king, the focus of The Inside is equally on the characters. The central triad of Virgil Webster (the amoral boss), Paul Ryan (the conscience) and Rebecca Locke (the brilliant but damaged main character) is interesting. In many ways Webster and Paul are the Devil and the Angel fighting for possession of Locke’s soul: one ruthless and manipulative, the other emotional and protective. Even better, this characterisation is inextricably linked to the FBI work, meaning that instead of feeling soapy the programme feels like a well-written dramatic thriller.
There are some flaws. I found the pacing somewhat bitty and uneven, and there are moments throughout the episode when dialogue which must have sounded portentous on paper hovers on the brink of over-written cliche on film. Many of the supporting characters are given short shrift, although Adam Baldwin’s character gets a few nicely humorous moments, coming off like a more educated version of his character from Firefly. And lastly, although the plot is full of dark and unusual twists and turns, it ultimately still feels a little too familiar – especially the final jeopardy sequence. Mostly these are flaws which are familiar from many pilot episodes, where characters, story and exposition always vie for attention in a crowded space.
Broadly speaking this episode lays solid foundations of character and setting, and exhibits a great deal of promise. The next few weeks will be the real test of the show’s longevity.
1Only really anally retentive people write this as Se7en. 🙂