Bookburners S02E11: Shock and Awe
by Andrea Phillips
5 out of 5
When We Last Left Our Heroes…: The Network has launched their magical test, enveloping the town of Middle Coon, Ireland. Team Three, at odds with each other and with the Society, heads to investigate / fight back.
Case of the Week: With the clock running down, Team Three must come to terms with the magical attack on Middle Coon – and decide who and what they can reasonably save.
How It Went: Picking right up from the end of the last episode, Team Three is preparing to enter the magical bubble around Middle Coon. Everyone is pretty on edge, except Frances, who is super into it. Seriously, she’s annoyingly giddy about the whole thing – getting to see magic out in the real world as opposed to just studying it in a lab. She finally gets shut down by Grace, who tells her that this is “not a toy” and, as action-movie-cliché as that line is… it’s pretty spot-on. Frances, suitably, shuts up.
Asanti and Menchú, seeing the situation in the town, are meanwhile arguing over the next step. Menchú wants to bring in Team One and Team Two right away – but Asanti wants to hold off, arguing that she can “end them here” and also prevent the wholesale destruction of the town that would inevitably come from calling in the big guns. Menchú begrudgingly agrees but makes it clear: they’re in life-saving mode, not hero mode. Get people out if you can, don’t do anything stupid.
Sal, Menchú, and Grace actually breach the barrier first and they’re almost immediately put on edge by both the totally surreal images before them and the fact that there’s nobody to be seen. The town is completely divorced from anything we’d consider reality at this point, with unexpected strange things popping up without rhyme or reason – like Miéville’s New Paris without the rationale of the actual Surrealists behind it. For example, they see a strange beast that is both covered in ears and made partially out of brass instruments. They also then, surprising nobody, fight it – or, well, Grace does.
Meanwhile, Frances and Asanti are cooking up a small locating charm, the idea being that they can use it to track the source of the Network’s magic. Liam, understandably, is nervous – and then he gets even more nervous when they ask him for his hair (or blood) to achieve more accurate results. They do convince him, though, and they cast the charm… which gets them off to a good start but then the needle on the compass, as it were, begins to go haywire. They can’t quite figure out why, but the Network’s hub goes from being trackable to being… well, kind of all around them.
Meanwhile, the other half of the team finds a good chunk of the population hiding in a bar – but Sal quickly notices that something is wrong in here too. They all try to address the crowd in varying degrees of forcefulness, including but not limited to Sal’s NYPD voice, and none of it works. That, of course, is because they can’t be seen: the people are caught inside the magic whereas the team is, for now anyway, on the outside. They decide to get physical and attempt to drag a guy off his stool… and the result is one of the most disturbing incidents the show has conjured up yet. It’s Clive Barker-level horrifying, the way this guy has sort of melded with the stool and the result of breaking him off of said seat. They quickly beat feet from the bar, realizing that their mission of trying to save people might be moot at this point.
Sal can’t help, as they then continue knocking on doors, thinking about why those people would still be there – and as she casts her mind back to some of the cases she’s dealt with in the last two or so years, she realizes that there have been moments where people chose to stay or couldn’t leave even if they wanted to. Something in this echoes with the non-magical world too, the world that Sal was policing long before she came to work for the Vatican, and it grounds this town more deeply in our reality than it might’ve otherwise been.
As they’re wandering through the town, they hear church bells and so dash over – only to find the priest and a small segment of the congregation apparently untouched by the magic, due to the silver cross on site. Father Menchú is more of a badass than I’ve maybe ever seen him as he takes control of the situation and the team starts to make a plan to get these people out of town. An elderly busybody points out that she saw some unsavory types at the bed and breakfast – but Sal, Grace, and Menchú decide that the other half of the team will have to find that on their own. After all, they’re here to rescue people.
Speaking of the other half of the team, Opie – good ol’ Opie, or, well, what used to be Opie – is calling out to the Bookburners and Liam comes running. Turns out he has started to be spread across town, his head now a part of a garden. Liam threatens Opie and finally gets some information out of him: this was a plan to attempt magic computing, to essentially connect everyone and everything in order to amplify the magic. Except there were some unintended side effects, it would seem. It turns out you can’t control the Hive; you’re simply a part of it.
To that end… Opie (or Roger, as he’s apparently really called) asks not for rescue but for death. There was “unintended leakage” from the book that the Network made (by the way, they made a magic book, y’all) and Opie realizes that Christina must’ve known. “I’m starting to think she’s not a good person,” he tells Liam in a moment that is both tragic and a little funny. He also explains that the book functions as a kind of keyboard, so that if they read it… they could hypothetically get inside, maybe do a brute force shutdown. They would, Opie thinks, be able to remain uninfected. He also tells them about the second explosion that is coming, about how like a seed pod the town will eventually pop and scatter its magic far and wide – oh and he also tells them that it’s a self-propagating magic, so that if anybody leaves, it’ll spread.
Which is bad news, considering the other half of Team Three is currently pulling people out of the bubble. They can cross back and forth relatively at will, but the townspeople find that there’s resistance as they hit the bubble’s edge. Using their force both brute and (in Grace’s case) magic, the team pulls them across the line… but the bubble then jumps forward, as though it won’t let them leave. It also transforms the priest and the pregnant lady into horrible monsters, one of which attacks and wounds Menchú.
They decide that it’s time to call in Team One and so the trio waits just outside the bubble – which continues to grow. Team One arrives and there’s this moment of wartime realization about how the people inside are already lost, that they’re already dead even if they don’t know it yet. It’s brutal, cold stuff, but truthful too. Menchú briefs Shah, whose orders are currently to contain but not yet destroy, and then goes to call Angiuli, who is working with Sansone to determine next steps. They agree to wait for Liam, Asanti, and Frances in the hopes that they might be able to still bring this to a non-deadly conclusion.
They finally make it out and Asanti explains the idea of using the book – but she’s worried that it’ll risk losing Liam for good, as he’s the logical candidate to read the book / the most likely to be able to deactivate it. Menchú says that it’s Angiuli’s decision but Liam decides to go through with it anyway – and Frances decides that she’ll volunteer to actually read the book, under Liam’s guidance. They rush back into the town and Shah agrees to hold off as long as she possibly can.
We then get a nice little private moment with Angiuli where he’s having a crisis of faith in this small little chapel, wondering whether or not it is better to do evil or let evil be done. He’s in a real no-win situation and to say that he has doubts is an understatement. But he decides that doing evil is the better choice, if it saves more people in the long run – and so he orders Team One to destroy the town.
The conclusion comes fast and furious, cutting back and forth between the two stories almost at a paragraph level. Frances gets the book but gets sucked in, leading Asanti and Liam to toss her + book into the bag and carry her out of the town. Team One starts shelling the town with freakin’ napalm, using freakin’ catapults but attempting to avoid the area where they think Team Three is. They watch as Liam and Asanti, carrying Frances, make it out of the town… and then, as Team Three rides away towards an airplane that’ll whisk them back to the Vatican, the town behind them is destroyed in a total blaze of doom. It’s a bleak ending… but I’m having the feeling that with two episodes left, there’s a lot more bleakness to come.
- Naming that ear/instrument beast Horatio Hornblower was exactly the right amount of giggles in the midst of the sheer madness of the descent into the town.
- Can I just say, Liam’s objection to blood magic felt like the sort of thing that everybody should’ve found totally reasonable? I’m worried about Asanti…
- The Network’s “Hive” feels like magic-Borg, doesn’t it?
- I liked the quiet moment between the priest and Menchú where the former asks the latter if the Society is, in fact, real – a cool moment of seeing the way stories spread not in the magical half of this universe.
- I just had the realization that we haven’t touched, like at all, on angel-Perry or any of those larger/more mystical threads left dangling at the end of S1. I wonder if they’ll play out in the last two eps or if that’s a longer game for the show…
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.