“My name is Jake. I was born 4, 165 days ago, on October 26th, 2000. I live on this planet with 7 billion, 80 million, 316 thousand other people. This is a story of some of those people.” We see images of huge populations, theaters emptying and filling, mothers with their children. The general stuff of our universe. “Today the average person will say 2,250 words to 7.4 other individuals, they’ll send over 300 billion emails, 19 billion text messages.” A young man waits for a bus in India. He has a solemn expression. “All adding to the giant mosaic of patterns and rations, all mathematical in design, these patterns are hidden in plain sight, you just have to know where to look. But only some of us can see how the pieces fit together. It’s all been predetermined by mathematical probability. And it’s my job to keep track of those numbers.” We see another young blonde kid in some other part of the world, practicing a magic trick. “To make the connections with those who need to find each other, the ones whose lives need to touch.” The last image we see is an older man, staring down at a form, the only definable words being “CANCER SUPPORT GROUP.” But of course, the voiceover belongs to Jake, the young mute savant whose seemingly mystical connection with numbers drives the overall plot of ‘Touch’.
“I was born on October 26, 2000. I’ve been alive for 11 years, 4 months, 25 days, and 13 hours, and in all that time, I’ve never said a single word. But that’s okay, I have someone who hears me now.” That someone is Martin, Jake’s father, played by Kiefer Sutherland.
The story kicks off on Martin’s face as he smiles at Jake, who is arranging popcorn kernels on the coffee table in Martin’s apartment. There is a knock on the door. Martin answers it with a heavy degree of uncertainty, the chain lock dividing him from Clea, Jake’s social worker. “I’m not taking him back there.,” he says firmly. He lets her in. Clea tells Martin that she covered for him but that Jake will need to return to the guarded boarding facility where Jake was supposed to be staying in before he escaped and ended up saving a bus full of children. Now that Martin knows what Jake is capable of, there’s no way he’s letting Jake back into the hands of social services. Clea agrees that Jake’s powers are incredible, but that their situation hasn’t changed. Clea reminds him of the facts: Martin’s a single working parent, there’s no mother in the home and Martin’s salary barely covers Jake’s needs. Clea wants to keep Jake and Martin off the radar so that the state doesn’t take him away for good. Martin doesn’t budge. Clea warns him that she will call the police. “You do that.,” he says quietly.
Clea walks away without a word and Martin panics. After a moment, Martin kneels beside Jake and tells him calmly that Clea is going to take him back to the boarding facility, promising that he will be taken care of and that Martin will see him every day. Jake stares forward before extending a pen towards Martin. Martin reaches out to take it, but before he can, Jake scrawls a series of numbers on Martin’s palm before walking towards Clea. Martin looks down at his hands. 718 673 5296.
At the airport (Martin is a baggage handler), Martin uses the Reverse Phone Directory to look up what he presumes to be a phone number. It turns up a result: Arnie’s Pawn Shop. He is interrupted by his boss, who briefly chides him for using the internet during his shift, before grabbing him for a special delivery, which leaves for Moscow in 30 minutes. The package in question is revealed to be a black and white dog in a carrying crate. Lyov, to be exact.
A redheaded flight attendant bustles through terminal traffic, exclaiming several panicked “Excuse me’s!” trying to push her way through. The young Indian man we saw earlier wanders through the crowd, looking up at what’s around him, instead of what’s in front of him. He carries a statue of the Hindu God Ganesha under his arm. The bustling, curing flight attendant runs straight into the kid, and the statue smashes on the ground, a brownish powder scattering all over the floor. At first she’s frantic, yelling at the kid for “coming out of nowhere” while the kid tries to clean up the mess. She apologizes and tells him that she’ll call someone to help him clean the “dirt” off the floor. Of course, it’s not dirt; it’s his father’s ashes. She looks both horrified and exasperated.
Martin drives Lyov (the dog) towards his destination, where he is intercepted by the Redhead Flight Attendant, who gives Martin some attitude before saying that she’s supposed to hand deliver the dog because some “Russian guy paid extra.” Martin wishes her luck and resumes his duties. She turns to see an empty dog carrier and a black and white dog running down the tarmac. She chases after him.
At the boarding facility, Clea checks up on Jake and finds him scribbling the same numbers over and over in his notebook. 5296 over and over and over. (The last four numbers Jake wrote on Martin’s hand.) Clea asks if the numbers are a message and gets no response. She attempts to distract him by handing him a bowl of popcorn kernels, saying maybe he could guess her phone number or address. Jake quickly complies and begins arranging the kernels while Clea attempts to figure out Jake’s pattern. He finishes and goes back to writing 5296. Clea stands up to see that kernels actually form a smiley face. Trying to snap Jake out of his writing, she again tries to distract him, this time with orange finger paint. Jake takes the paint and pours it in his hand, swirling it around with his finger. Clea goes to get some paper towels to clean his hands off and looks back to see that Jake is gone. 5296 is smeared on the paper canvas.
Jake descends down the stairs and to the corridor. He stares at the door marked with the ‘exit’ sign, before turning to see a door marked with a ‘6’. He approaches it and presses his paint-stained hand to the door. Clea gives chase moments later, trying to exit through the main door, and discovering that it’s locked with a keypad. She starts to go back before remembering, entering 5296 and watching in disbelief as the door opens to a bright burst of sunlight.
Martin walks down the street with the address for Arnie’s Pawn Shop written down. At first Martin thinks that they are closed and huffs in frustration, thinking that his quest is already driven to a halt. That is until a (really slow and dramatic) hand reaches and flips the sign to “Open.”
We smash cut to two Japanese girls at the airport holding up a video camera, and “videocasting” their upcoming departure to the “Coastabella music festival” in Los Angeles (do they mean Coachella? Are they not allowed to say Coachella? Is this supposed to be some adorable mistranslation?). Their enthusiasm and ruffly pink apparel is starkly contrasted by the Redhead Flight Attendant, who passes them with a wrinkled uniform and a defeated attitude. She peeks around the corner to see the Indian kid looking at a map, confused. She apologizes to the kid about his father and wonders why he’s still there. He says he tried to take a bus but it just took him back to the airport. She’s also been wandering around, having missed her flight chasing a certain Moscow-bound dog.
She asks the kid where he is headed to, to which he replies New York Stadium. Apparently, the kid’s deceased father studied in New York and loved baseball. She says her dad is a baseball fan too. The kid plans to spread his ashes in the middle of the field. He also mentions that he has yet to cry for his father. He refuses until the task is complete. She thinks it’s wonderful, adding wistfully “some of us will never get that chance.” She directs him to the taxi queue and wishes him luck. Watching the lost, flustered kid, she decides to help him on his mission.
Martin goes into the pawnshop, and takes a look around. The owner is behind the counter, but has his back turned. There is a dramatic push-in on a baseball with a faded lipstick kiss on it. Martin calls out an uncertain “Hello.” to the man, to which the man gravely replies, “It’s okay. I’m ready.” When Martin asks what he means, the man turns. It’s the same man we saw in the intro, contemplating a cancer support group form. He stares at Martin in disbelief as Martin explains that he called earlier and that he was supposed to “find him.” Him, being Arnie. Arnie naturally thinks that Martin is crazy. Martin explains that he thinks he’s supposed to help him and that Jake led him there. Before he can get any further, a man in a ski mask barges in with a gun. “Who are you?” he says to Martin, sounding genuinely surprised to find him there. Martin tries to step away from the gun, saying somewhat pointedly that he’s just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The robber tells Martin to get down on the ground and demands that Arnie give him the money.
Arnie tells the robber that he has a gun under the counter and that the robber better shoot him before he uses it. The robber aims his handgun, intending to shoot him, but Martin knocks him out of the way right as he fires. Arnie is hit in the shoulder, and Martin tackles the robber, some of the cabinets and items in the store knocked over in the ensuing scuffle. The robber, now facemask-less, escapes from Martin and finds the lipstick-kissed ball lying on the floor. He looks at it as if he’s found the Holy Grail and escapes before Martin can do anything else. (Viewers returning from the pilot will be interested to see the 318 over the pawnshop door as the robber exits. This number seems to be, well….like this show’s version of the numbers from ‘Lost’.)
EMTs carry Arnie out on a stretcher while Arnie begrudgingly resists, clearly not wanting to return to the hospital. Martin tries to go with him, reiterating his position that he’s “supposed to go with him.” Arnie thinks Martin is crazy and that he’s screwed up his life, threatening to tell the police that Martin is stalking him. Martin is unsure of how to proceed.
The Robber, still mask-less, shakes out a bag of stolen watches and jewelry onto the hood of a car, trying desperately to sell them to an unimpressed Russian man. The Russian asks him if he’s joking. Apparently the robber owes him $10,000, and that he was supposed to get it from an “arrangement”, presumably, the botched job at Arnie’s. The Russian threatens him in a series of thinly veiled metaphors, “cause and effect” he says. In a last ditch effort, the Robber holds up the baseball and tries to give it to him. The ball is “Patrick McGrath’s home run ball” from game seven of the 2009 League Championship. He says it’s worth $50,000. The Russian inspects it and asks how the man knows the asking price, and because nothing is a coincidence on ‘Touch’, he says that’s how much he got for it when he sold it. He talks about how the ball came back to him, like a magical second chance. The Russian says he’ll believe in second chances when one comes his way. The Robber has three hours to get him the money.
On a bus, the Flight Attendant asks the Indian Kid who their contact is going to be once they arrive at New York Stadium. He looks at her, confused. She quickly realizes that he didn’t make arrangements and tries to gently tell him that they probably (definitely) will not let him in to spread the ashes. He begins to panic, saying that he must do this. When she tries to comfort him and tell him that his father would understand, the kid tells her about the strained relationship he had with his father, saying his father didn’t like him and thought he was a disappointment. But he says he has to go through with it. “A child owes their father respect, yes?” The question brings the Flight Attendant to tears.
At the Teller Institute, Martin tries to explain the incident with Arnie to Arthur, who previously attempted to explain Jake’s seemingly magical powers to Martin in the pilot. Martin asks Arthur questions that he obviously doesn’t have the answers to, simply asking for these events to make sense. Arthur tells Martin that he’s making this whole journey about himself, and that what Jake sees will never really make sense to him. Arthur says that when Jake sees numbers, he sees the entire universe, the past, the present, the future and their connections. When the numbers don’t add up, Arthur says that there is cosmic pain going on that Jake feels, and sees the pain as numbers. He says that Martin must follow, blindly, if need be. Martin’s cell phone rings. Clea is on the other line, saying that Jake has escaped. (Amber Alert? Nothing?) Martin looks up to see Jake standing across the street at the bus stop, right as the bus pulls up. Martin dashes out of the house to catch up with him.
Jake sits on the bus, watching the light cast a prismatic rainbow on one of the pedestrian bars. Martin catches up to the bus, banging on the window. The bus pulls over and Martin tries to get Jake to get off the bus. Jake doesn’t budge. Martin agrees to stay on with him.
In Moscow, an older woman and a pre-teen boy sit in a car, speaking in subtitled Russian. (Upon first viewing, I could tell it was Russia by the woman’s fur hat.) The kid, named Pavel, is going to appear in a talent show, and says that he wants people to “love him.” His aunt reassures him that she loves him, along with many others. He says he meant his act, but she presses on, reminding him that his father loves him too, no matter how far away he is.
At the talent show, Pavel enters the stage to barely audible applause. A little girl wearing blue watches him with anticipation. Pavel is nervous, but smiles as he is able to make a dove fly out of his hat. He bows, and only the girl stands and claps for him. None of the other kids even react, until Pavel knocks over some of his equipment and breaks it. Some of them laugh. He exits without finishing his act, his confidence pretty thoroughly crushed.
At a magic shop, Pavel says that the tricks don’t work and that he wants a refund. The man behind the counter says there’s no such thing as a bad trick, only a bad magician and denies him the refund. Pavel seems to have been relying on the tricks to get him some new friends. He’s about to exit when he sees the girl who clapped for him. He asks her where he went wrong. The little girl says she can’t speak to him. Pavel asks her why everyone hates him, and she says that they’re afraid of him, because of what his father does. She says his father hurts people, implying that he’s a part of the Russian Mob. “Like Tony Soprano” she says with deadpan seriousness. Pavel says she’s lying, that his father is a businessman. She exits, asking him not to talk to her again.
Back in New York, Jake and Martin get off the bus and Jake plows through the traffic, taking Martin right back to Arnie’s Pawn Shop. Martin tells Jake what happened there earlier and pleads with Jake to give him some sort of sign. He realizes, looking at the stenciling on the window, that the phone number Jake gave him is NOT the number of the pawnshop. He takes out his cellphone and calls the number. Above them, a phone rings.
Inside the apartment building above the pawnshop, Martin knocks on the door, but there is no response. Martin starts to leave but Jake opens the unlocked door himself and goes inside. Inside the apartment, Martin finds a handwritten note on the desk, addressed to someone named Becca, from “her darling father.” Jake picks up and inspects a pristine baseball bat, finding the numbers 5296 printed on the side. He takes it and arranges it by the sofa with odd precision. Martin sets the note down and finds some bottles of medication, prescribed to “Arnold.” (Naturally, Arnie the pawnshop owner.) A man enters, presumably the landlord, asking what Martin and Jake are doing there. Martin fumbles to explain but the man says, “You’re the guy I’m supposed to give the envelope to, right?” Martin says yes. The landlord begins to note how weird Arnie had been acting, having told the man he wouldn’t be coming back for some time before the whole incident at the pawn shop. The man later reveals that Arnie was diagnosed with cancer but is apparently denying any treatment. He hasn’t even opened his prescriptions. The man goes to retrieve the envelope.
The robber haggles with someone over the phone about the price of the home run ball. No one will give him anything over $10,000. He looks at a framed newspaper clipping of him wearing a vendor’s uniform with his arm around a blonde woman, who is kissing the baseball. The headline reads “Peanut Vendor Makes Lucky Catch.”
The Flight Attendant and the Indian Kid arrive at New York Stadium. The kid has a beaming smile on his face. The Flight Attendant asks the security guard if they could come in, and they are immediately turned down because the team is practicing. She tries again, but the kid is already defeated, thinking he failed his father again. She reminds him of the pilgrimage he made across the world and that he has his closure. “Not everyone in the world gets that.” Her attention turns to something behind him and she stares in disbelief. It’s Lyov, the black and white Russian dog of fate. She runs after him again, but he bolts, leading her on another chase in high heels and leaving the kid alone, but not before hugging him. She tells him to have a great rest-of-his-life.
Back at Arnie’s apartment, Martin looks at an old photo of a younger Arnie with a little girl on his lap. The landlord reenters with a manila envelope stuffed to the gills with wads of cash. When the landlord starts to get a little suspicious, Martin states that he’s a friend of “Arnold’s.” “You mean Arnie?” the landlord asks, before asking him to leave in a threatening tone. Martin pleads quietly with him, reminding the landlord that Jake is in the room. A fight ensues and Martin finds himself with the baseball bat in reach, hitting the landlord with it. He throws Jake over his shoulder and runs out of the building. Jake, very averse to being touched, screams loudly as Martin tries to escape. Martin throws Jake into a taxi, before apologizing that he had to carry him away. Jake hands him a pill bottle and Martin reads the label, telling the driver to go to Victory Memorial Hospital.
At the hospital, room 5296 naturally, Martin and Jake enter to find that Arnie is gone. Jake walks to the window to reveal Arnie walking down the bridge in his hospital gown.
Inside the stadium, the Robber, now dressed in his old vendor uniform approaches Patrick McGrath, who definitely seems to resent that he never got the home run ball back, having lost in a lawsuit. “Every kid dreams of catching a homerun ball. Well, my dream came true and then…I sold it.” Apparently, ever since the robber sold this ball, his life had fallen apart. He gives the ball back to McGrath and walks away. He exits the stadium, passing the Indian kid, and leaving the door to the field ajar.
The robber approaches the Russian and his men, who are waiting in the stadium parking lot, fully prepared to damage some kneecaps. He tells him that he doesn’t have the money. (It is revealed here that the Russian’s name is Yuri, and I have no idea if this is said any earlier.) The robber seems apprehensive but clear-headed. “Every man makes choices. Cause and effect.” Yuri’s phone rings. He picks up. In Moscow, Pavel is sitting on the roadside outside the magic shop; he is Yuri’s son. Yuri asks if he received the dog he sent (Lyov!), but Pavel pushes forward with the question at hand. He asks his father repeatedly if he hurts people. Staring down the man he’s supposed to assassinate, he relents, telling his son that no, he doesn’t. Pavel tearfully says that he knew he was right, and wonders how he can convince people. “People change. We’ll find a way to show them.” Yuri decides to give the robber his “second chance.”
On the bridge, Arnie stands perilously perched high over the traffic below, about to jump. Martin and Jake catch up to him and Martin tries to talk him down, saying he knows about Arnie’s cancer and that he knows that the robber was supposed to kill him. Arnie says that he’s dying and there’s no point in going through treatment, because there’s no one to care if he lives or dies. Martin brings up the note he found, the one addressed to Becca. Arnie says Becca won’t return any of his letters, and the least he can do is give her the insurance money he would have gotten in the robbery hit. Martin says that he cares whether or not Arnie lives or dies, even if he shouldn’t. “It matters. It has to.” Arnie starts to jump and Martin grabs him and pulls him over to the bridge. “I care about you. I’ll be your friend.” he says to the Arnie. Right then, Lyov runs into them, barking and prancing along. Behind them, the Flight Attendant. She stares down at Arnie. “Dad?” she gasps. The Redheaded Flight Attendant is, of course, Becca. A Nick Drake song starts to play as we pan out to the sun setting over the city. “I love my father and I love him well/I hope to see him someday soon.” the song intones. In case you haven’t caught up with the theme of this episode yet, the song is there to do it for you. It’s still a nice touch.
The episode ends with Jake lying in bed with Martin sitting next to him, trying to come to terms with the day’s events. Jake presses his hand to the wall. “Seven billion people on a tiny planet.” Jake begins to narrate. We dissolve to Jake’s orange paint handprint being sponged off the door. “Suspended in the vastness of space. All alone.” At the hospital, Becca takes her father’s hand as he begins his first round of chemotherapy. “How we make sense of that is the great mystery of our frail existence.” The Indian Kid stands in the middle of the baseball field, pouring his father’s ashes into the wind. He finally begins to cry. “Maybe it’s being alone in the universe that holds us all together. Keeps us needing each other in the smallest of ways.” Yuri descends the escalator of the airport in Moscow. Pavel is waiting for him and the two exchange a fierce hug. “Creating a quantum entanglement of you, of me, of us.” The two Japanese girls run through what looks like a party, laughing and recording it all on their video camera. “And if that’s really true, then we live in a world where anything is possible.” The robber walks through the streets of New York, with a look on his face that seems to match his new lease on life.
“There were so many things I wanted to teach you.” Martin says quietly, still sitting on Jake’s bed. “That’s how I always thought it was supposed to be. I thought that’s what being a father was. Me teaching you. Now it turns out, it’s you teaching me. And I want you to know that I’m with that. I understand now. It’s a road map.” He turns off the light and we close on Jake, who smiles just slightly and closes his eyes.
At first, it was difficult to put a finger on what bothered me about ‘Touch’. It was hard for me to look at this show, which really seems to want to tap into a kind of “wow, the world is actually amazing” attitude, and say that I hated it, or even disliked it. It felt like telling someone to give up on their dreams. But really, for all of this show’s good intentions (and they are good), there is nothing to cling to. As opposed to the pilot, which gave us a much broader idea of Martin and Jake’s relationship, as well as the personal world that the two of them inhabit, in this episode, it seems more like Martin is playing Clarence the Guardian Angel to drive the plot of the episode forward, not because of some driven need. Not to say that Kiefer Sutherland isn’t giving this all he’s got, he really is, and I do like seeing this warmer, albeit sadder side of him.
But ‘Touch’ is so wetly sentimental that more than once, it’s altruistic nature comes off as more unbelievable than anything. There’s too much to contrast: the Capra-esque nature of a speech about second chances being given to a character who, for all intents and purposes, is probably a murderer. I’d like to believe that people are that inherently good, but the writing is too loose and impersonal to successfully create that vibe.
There’s no resistance and little drama outside of the contained stories that each episode tells. I never once thought that anyone in this episode is ever actually in danger, physically or emotionally, and sometimes there’s a comfort in that, not every TV show needs to be a prolonged heart attack of gut wrenching human drama. But I never once thought that the Robber was going to get whacked by the Russians, or that Arnie was going to actually kill himself. The show has yet to balance out its use of mathematical probability with what we as an audience would consider serendipity. If there’s a philosophical point to be made about math and fate and science and the universe, I don’t know what it is yet. Both Sutherland and Danny Glover deserve better, and man, I really hope the latter isn’t in this just to intone wise words and give out exposition anytime we need some sort of pseudoscience to tie all this together.
You can’t chide ‘Touch’ for having a good heart, but you can definitely critique their execution. I wish the world ‘Touch’ inhabits, which is wide, international and impressive, would have a little sharper focus and a little bit more bite. I’m not saying that it needs to be as overtly-ironic or snarky as the real world, but maybe heighten its bad qualities to better highlight its good ones. Jake says we’re alone in the universe, and for 40 minutes out of 50, I think ‘Touch’ should make us believe that.
If you missed the pilot episode, be sure to read our ‘Touch: Pilot’ recap to catch up.