Bookburners S02E02: Webs
by Andrea Phillips
5 out of 5
When We Last Left Our Heroes…: With the Archives rebuilt and staffed up, Team Three reassembled to tackle a case of a disappearing town in Massachusetts – but more importantly, the Orb seems to be malfunctioning and no one quite knows why.
Case of the Week: What happened to Team Four? No, seriously… what happened to them?
How It Went: This episode picks up hot on the heels of the season premiere, with Team Three trying to open the door to Team Four’s… offices, I guess. There’s a lovely echo of those first moments of Sal trying to get through the door into the Archive in the last episode as they unlock and eventually bluster through this doorway that has been just straight-up sealed off. Because literally nobody knows what happened to Team Four. It’s not, like, there are varying stories or they died out or something – not a person has a clue as to what happened. We do find out, however, that Team Four was essentially magical R&D. It’s suggested although (if I read correctly) not confirmed that they even made the Orb – and at the very least they knew how it worked. Hence why we’re all on this little adventure.
And whoa what an adventure it is, because within moments of entering the Escher-on-steroids labyrinth of the Team Four offices, they’re attacked by some kind of ink-and-paper golem. Golem feels like a particularly apt term (although maybe it’s just unintentional cross-SerialBox-pollination from the golem in S1 of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold) because of the inky letter on its forehead – and because of its protective nature. They manage to fend off the thing but this is only the beginning.
I loved the way this episode veered sharply into the Weird, too: the non-Euclidean space of the Team Four offices allows for some brain-blending stagecraft, with people falling sideways and whole platforms shifting or winking out of existence. The creatures they encounter too, like books that’ve become a bit like bats (all books are affected too, not just magic ones) and clockworks spiders, feel as though they’re understandable enough that anybody can experience them… but there’s a sense lurking behind these creatures and moments that things far stranger, things out of Jeff VanderMeer’s Komodo or something, exist just out of sight in the Team Four offices. Also, let me just say: an attack by a clockwork spider is DEFINITELY now going to be an event in a nightmare of mine.
Time begins to act strangely, to the point that they have no idea how long they’ve been gone or if any of their devices are telling the truth – and then they’re split into two groups by a moving platform: Liam and Sal are stranded (because of course they are) on one side and Asanti, Grace, and Menchú are on the other. They set all off in the hopes of eventually coming back together again but also getting to the library, one way or another, and finding the text that they need. If one group can get out…
Liam and Sal find an empty dormitory, a banquet hall seemingly abandoned just as the food was set out, and… SEXUAL TENSION! Yeah, you guessed it: the two of them might not be sleeping together any longer but there’re still definitely some unresolved issues between them. I have no doubt that this will come to a probably awkward head at some point soon enough. Meanwhile, Asanti, Grace, and Menchú find a laboratory – and there’s a great moment where Asanti is described as “[seeming] to be on an entirely different mission… one that was going much better.” This is two moments in a row of Asanti really kickin’ ass in the field and I’m digging it.
Eventually, the gang reconnects at a massive solar system puzzle device thingie – John Dee’s orrery, as it turns out; a supposedly lost clockwork device created by Dee for Queen Elizabeth I that is (because of course it is) now a part of the Vatican. They manage to figure out how the thing works and it delivers them into the Team Four library… and the hands of a waiting golem. Oh and a shitton of clockwork spiders – because, as it turns out, the spiders are helping keep the books on the shelves. I was reminded of Jasper Fforde’s “Well of Lost Plots” – only way creepier.
The golem, who is not exactly a fan of Team Three (it even calls them, with some distaste, “Librorum incensor” – or bookburners), does at least willingly give over a text that – they think – will perhaps help decipher the Orb. They hightail it out of there and manage to make it back, thinking the absolute worst has occurred… and they tumble back out into the hallway to discover that ten minutes had elapsed. So clearly there’s something, uh, wrong in the Team Four offices – but, and I can’t be the only one thinking about this – what if that something wrong could help slow the drain of Grace’s candle?
Also, I’m not super optimistic about Angiuli remaining as the head of the Society – the little conversation between Menchú and Angiuli at the end of this episode has me thinking that our team isn’t going to have it so easy…
- The whole “building codes in the Bible” thing is totally for real! Check out Deuteronomy 22:8.
- Apparently the Roman Sephoras actually are amazing? People blog about them, at least. Anyway, I love the image in my head of an end-credits montage of Sal and Grace shopping for nail polish and fashion stuff.
- Just going to shout out John Dee one more time, as he’s one of those wild figures in history who we really ought to know more about. There’s that Damon Albarn concept opera, I guess…
Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. Her debut novel is Revision, an SF thriller about a wiki where your edits come true. She has also worked on iOS fitness games Zombies, Run! and The Walk; The Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones; human rights game America 2049; and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. Her nonfiction book A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is used to teach digital storytelling at universities around the world. You can find Andrea at andreaphillips.com, or on Twitter at @andrhia.