Bookburners S02E04: Ghosts
by Margaret Dunlap
4.5 out of 5
When We Last Left Our Heroes…: Asanti jetted off to a Thaumaturgical Symposium that ended up requiring intervention by the whole team. Monseigneur Angiuli waits in the wings to be named head of the Society. The Orb is still acting up and the tension between Asanti and Menchú continues to rise…
Case of the Week: Reports of strange sightings of a man with a donkey, along the old Silk Road.
How It Went: This one opens like an snappy episode of TV might: eyes flicking open. Grace’s eyes. Asanti wants to talk to her but, because it’s not an emergency, Grace resnuffs her candle and crashes – only for Asanti to relight it. She wants to know if Grace would ever go back to living a normal life, if she could. Grace is flustered but keeps it inside.
CUT TO Hilary Sansone (head of Team Two) grabbing Menchú in the hallway and bringing him to the selection committee meeting for the Head of the Society. He, understandably, is convinced it’ll be Angiuli in a walk and doesn’t understand why he’s been brought along… until Fox (head of Team One) shows up and delivers a no-nonsense assault on Team Three’s decision to breach the Team Four vault, blaming Angiuli for letting it happen. It was rather unexpected (and Margaret Dunlap handled it very well) to see the political machinations brought out onto the page – we’re often stuck with Team Three and rarely get sight of the larger picture that is the Society and its place in the Vatican. This scene felt like, with a bit more swearing, it could’ve fit right into a later season of The Thick of It or Veep – although that version of the scene would probably be following a hapless cardinal who got drafted into sitting on the selection committee, not those who actually have skin in the game.
Anyway, Asanti finds out about the meeting and is kind of pissed that Menchú didn’t come get her. Sansone reminds Menchú that a) she dragooned him into going and b) he did the right thing. This, of course, doesn’t matter too much to anybody. Luckily, Liam digs up a case in Antakya, Turkey – formerly known as Antioch, one of the major hubs of the Roman Empire and Ancient Christianity – and so off they go… only to discover, no joke, what appears to be a ghost.
Ghosts, it seems, are so far completely unverifiable in this universe of demons, angels, magic books, etc – and so there’s both skepticism and extreme curiosity. As they follow this ghostly man-with-donkey, more ghosts start showing up and the whole thing is a bit of a head-scratcher until (or perhaps even more so once) Liam disappears. Just straight-up vanishes.
Liam turns around and realizes the team has vanished – and that he can still see the man-with-donkey ghost. Who apparently knows him. Things start to click in one of the more delightfully bonkers reveals of Bookburners so far: they’re on a literal manifestation of the Silk Road. Not the historical one, but the online dark-web one – the one that has been shut down a few times but which now, apparently, exists magically off-the-grid. It’s a brilliant idea on the part of Margaret Dunlap and the Bookburners writers room and I’m pleased to see that their inventiveness continues to expand as the series progresses through this second season.
On the Road, as it were, Liam meets someone else who knows him: somebody called Christina. She’s out of his forgotten years, a memory he can only barely recall… but he’s drawn to her. And she still definitely remembers him. She asks him to meet her “again in Shanghai” and scrams before really anything can be answered at all – but we learned a whole damn lot about Liam in the space of just a few lines with the promise of even more to come down the line. I like this kind of character development.
Meanwhile, the trail of ghosts in the real world have started to circle a building in the city – and the team is getting worried. More people seeing ghosts equals a harder-to-facilitate cover story, apparently – and this sort of real-world ramification angle is one that fantasy novels often elide. But what does happen after a whole swath of the population encounters something they previously thought to be fake? I take it to be an unpleasant-at-minimum kind of experience and so the team gets to work, racing the clock as the Turkish police descend on the site and start to muck things up.
The building, as it turns out, is a server farm – and there are tell-tale signs of technocultists all over the place. A group of them manages to get the drop on Team Three once they cut the power to the servers – but Liam escapes and returns to our world and they manage to scatter the technocultists and foil this latest plan… which, admittedly, was a little unclear. Their plan, that is. But I don’t think this’ll be the last we see of the technocultists – because, after all, something is happening in the world and the magic is rising.
Changes are coming for our group, too. Liam decides, as they return to the Vatican, to once and for all sort out his past – and Grace, closing the loop on that opening scene, comes to Asanti for help: she wants to be normal again.
- “I am an adult. I know how to send a text message.” – out of context, this line of Menchú’s sounds hilarious, but in the episode? Utterly heartbreaking.
- So apparently the Society can’t go certain places – like China and, apparently, Egypt? Or they need to check in with Alexandria (they’re an archive, that’s a library) at least… which is intriguing and I want to know more. I was expecting a “we don’t really mess in Greek Orthodox territory” but I don’t think that’s what this was…
Before joining the Bookburners, Margaret Dunlap wrote for ABC Family’s cult-hit The Middleman in addition to working on SyFy’s Eureka. Most recently, she was a writer and co-executive producer of the Emmy-winning transmedia series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and co-created its sequel Welcome to Sanditon. Her short fiction has previously appeared in Shimmer Magazine. Margaret lives in Los Angeles where she taunts the rest of the team with local weather reports and waits for the earthquake that will finally turn Burbank into oceanfront property. She tweets as @spyscribe.