“There are three million species of animals living in tropical rainforests, and one of them, the rare fire ant is underground under constant thread of anihilation from flash floods. Nature doesn’t care. If a species wants to survive, it has to prove that it deserves to. When the floods come, fire ants hold on to each other, creating a living raft that can float until the water recedes, for months if necessary.” After a shot of, yes, a floating raft of fire ants greets our eyes, we see an African woman catching a pickup truck heading towards a town. “So how does a species figure something like that out? Trial and error?” A young girl in a red dress texts someone while wandering around a bunch of white tents. “Is there one fire ant who’s being swept away by the rushing water, who grabbed on to another ant, only to find that together, they could float? What if you were the one who knew what needed to be done, but you had no words?” A disheveled, nervous looking man approaches a luxury apartment complex and picks up the morning paper, arranging it carefully on the stoop. A second later, another man comes out to pick it up. “How do you make the others understand?” Clea stands on rooftop. “How do you call for help?” Finally, Jake sits in the hallway of the boarding facility, starting at the enigmatic Room 6.
We open on Martin, who is lying asleep on the couch when his cellphone rings. He answers and when no one responds, he immediately assumes that Jake is calling him. He rushes out of his apartment with a “God damnit.” At the Bording facility, he meets up with Clea who asks him what he’s doing there, in the middle of the night no less. When Martin tries to tell her about the phone call, she tells him that he can’t be rushing in there every time he thinks Jake is trying to talk to him, especially since Jake is still being evaluated by social services. She’s afraid that no matter how miraculous Jake’s situation seems to be, the state might intervene and take him away. Martin insists that Jake is communicating with him and that this trumps the state’s concerns. Clea says that anyone outside of her and Martin would think this is crazy. She insists that they be careful. Clea allows Martin to visit Jake, but they find that Jake has escaped his room.
Rushing downstairs, they find him scribbling numbers in his notebook, outside of a room marked with a number ‘6’. (This door made an appearance in last week’s episode.) This time, the numbers in the book are 3287. Martin asks if this is why Jake called. “You can’t keep jumping up every time you think you hear him calling, it’ll drive you crazy.” Clea insists. She begins to take Jake back to his room and Martin worries that he really was called down there for nothing. He calls after Jake who pauses in the hallway, giving his father a meaningful look before walking away. Martin reaches into his pocket to find a folded up piece of paper: an illustration of a dragon with 3287 written on it. “What the hell does that mean?” Martin asks aloud before walking off into another numbers-driven destiny quest.
At the Teller Institute, Martin shares his latest information with Arthur over some coffee. Arthur asks the relevant question of “What does it mean?” Martin tells Arthur of the state’s concern over Martin’s behavior and Arthur tells him he has no choice. Martin warily asks if he’s supposed to dedicate the rest of his life to fulfilling his son’s number-driven prophecies, asking if he can ignore them. Arthur basically gives him a pretty passive-aggressive response: he can do whatever he wants, but bad things will probably happen, and it will also have a harmful affect on Jake, the cosmic “pain” alluded to in earlier episodes. The disorder of the universe causes him pain until it is set right. Martin knows that it’s not really a choice at all, but he also knows if he keeps running around, insisting that his son is talking to him through numbers, the state will take him away. Arthur offers to check out the case, but Martin wants to fly under the radar. Arthur cryptically warns that because Jake has a higher purpose, Martin won’t be the only one interested in his gift.
In an unspecified town in South Africa, a woman in an orange headscarf finishes a standardized test at a computer. She appears to be one of the first done. She hands the test booklet to her teacher, who asks her how she did. Her name is Grace, and she hopes the exam will help her get a job in the city. Her teacher says he has high hopes for her, but can’t say the same for her friend Sauda. He urges Grace to go to the city to start her own life, with or without her absent friend. Outside the school, two young boys lurk in the window, waiting for Grace to leave. Once she exits, one of the boys sticks a bottle cap in the windowsill to catch the latch so that it won’t lock. “We’ll be in and out and no one will ever know.” the boy says.
Back at the boarding facility, Jake enters a room full of kids with a social worker trailing behind. The other kids in the room are watching a “dance battle” on a computer. Apparently this dance battle is taking place at a music festival in LA, and people from all over the world are competing against one dancer via teleconference. The audience votes in real time on the winner.
Outside the festival, a security man wands people waiting to get in, waving people forward as quickly as possible. The spacey girl texting stalls the line and the guy calls her. “Hey red dress.” She steps forward, still texting. “Why’d you call me that?” She says, distracted. ‘Because you’re wearing a red dress.” (This is what the show has for humor.) The girl, who looks distractingly like a younger knock-off Rashida Jones, asks the guard where she can find the dance competition tent. He points her in the right direction, assuring her that she looks great, sensing that she’s probably on a blind date. She walks away with a nervous but hopeful smile.
Martin wanders down the street, staring at the picture of the dragon. Behind him, a disheveled, dirty woman with a large bag runs down the street, pushing past Martin and running out in to traffic. She is nailed by a cab and Martin is the first on the scene in an attempt to help her. A woman claiming she is a nurse intervenes and Martin catches sight of someone, the man we saw arranging the newspaper, taking a red book out of her bag. He runs away when he sees he’s been caught and Martin gives chase down the street.
At the dance competition, the girl in the red dress wades through the crowd, lookng nervous and uncertain. The dulcet sounds of “Sexy and I Know It” float through the air and we rise above a sea of fist-pumping audience members to hear an emcee announce the arrival of someone named The Beastmaster, who is here to defend his title. An athletic young black man rushes the stage and pulls some dance moves that a relatively unhip person like me can only accurately describe as “good.” The girl looks around, not having found who she’s looking for. “Where R U?” she texts. The Beastmaster concludes his dance by pulling up his shirt and revealing a fine set of abs. Well, at least it’s appropriate to his choice of song?
Back in Africa, we come across a village, bustling with activity. Grace stands outside of a house, calling for Sauda and urging for her to come out. Her neighbor tells her that Sauda is with that “big, stupid man”, named Fumbe. After more calling, Sauda rushes out, urging Grace in a hushed voice to keep it down. She had a bruise on her cheek. Grace tells Sauda to take her test so that they can both get jobs and get out of the village. Just then, Fumbe, a tall and imposing man, bursts out the door, immediately threatening Grace and putting his hands around her neck. Sauda pulls Fumbe back inside, leaving Grace lying in the street.
Martin finally catches the man with the book, ending their chase. The man looks at Martin, astonished. “You can see me?” he asks. The man seems to think that he’s invisible and asks Martin if he’s invisible too. Martin asks him why he stole the book from the woman and the man insists that the book is his. The man opens the book to reveal pages covered in numbers, just like Jake’s notebook. More specifically, covered in this episode’s magic number 3287. The man calls himself “The Invisible Prince” and says that he’s late for his rounds. He says that everything is connected by the numbers and Martin flips through the book to find elaborate sketches: a castle entitled “The Mountain of Clare”, “The King”, and so on. “I only have 14 minutes,” the man says. “We have to go now, the thread is tight.” Martin asks him one more time what the numbers mean. “The dragon is loose and we have to stop it.” Martin pulls out the picture of the dragon and things start to fall into place. He runs off after the so-called “Invisible Prince.”
Martin catches up with the Invisible Prince (yes, we’ll call him that for now, it’s better than “crazy dude”) and tells him about Jake and his abilities, asking him if he sees what Jake sees. The Invisible Prince says yes, and Martin tries to better understand, but the guy is too agitated, repeating that “the thread is pulled tight” and he runs off again. Martin has no choice but to follow.
Clea sits in front of Jake, who plays with a red toy car, and tries to get him to identify some cards with animals on them. When Jake won’t pay attention to her, she takes the car and tries to get him to see her past it. Jake just takes the car back and walks away. She follows him down the same stairwell where he always seems to end up, following him once again to door 6. Jake kneels down and rolls the car under the door.
Back in the village, one of the young boys we saw jamming the window dances around a crowd of kids, while another drums out a beat on an enamel pot. Grace approaches them and admonishes them, asking what they’re doing. They tell her that a boy, named Thabo, is going to put them on the map by competing in that online dance competition. They want to sneak into the computer lab so that they can use the webcam and Thabo can beat the Beastmaster. Grace says that her little brother, the one banging on the pot, needs to be putting more effort into learning to read and write. The other boy says that Thabo will make them proud. Grace fires back with “There is nothing to be proud of here.” She takes the pot away. “You used to be one of us.” her little brother says.
The Invisible Prince rushes into traffic, darting about conspiratorially. Martin follows closely, utterly confused. They duck into a doorway. The Prince appears to be waiting for someone, mumbling “where is she.” Finally, “she” appears, a business woman in a white coat walking down the street. The Prince counts down “3…2…8…7” before darting out and hitting the crosswalk button. The light changes and the woman is able to cross the street. The Prince seems to think he’s on some sort of deadline and that his tardiness was unacceptable. “I have to keep them together.” he says before rushing off again. “What did I miss?” Martin asks, as the Prince steals a carnation from a flower vendor on the street. He leaves it on a bus stop bench, counting 3287 all the while. Martin asks him what the number means and the Prince replies that Jake wants Martin to stop the pain. He looks back to see a woman sitting on the bench, admiring the red carnation. Martin doggedly follows the Prince who is stopped outside The Claremont Hotel, looking up at it. The address is 3287. Martin asks the man if he lives there and the man shakes his head “no” but it’s definitely one of those looks that seems to imply a connection.
Martin asks the Prince about the dragon. The Prince launches into a monologue about how he tried to kill it and that he had a magic sword that should have done the trick, and he offered it to “the king, but the king thought it was a trick and buried it “in the Mountain of Clare behind the wall of stones.” Martin, bless him, takes this all at face value, asking him if he could get it back. The Prince says he can’t even touch it or get near it. He says that the “final battle” is tonight. Martin is beginning to get tired of these puzzles and asks the man to level with him. But as he watches across the street, he realizes that the two women he interacted with are now entering the same building, at the same time. Martin looks up at the building to see a giant red dragon emblazoned on the glass walls. It’s a financial corporation: Morton Starling Financials. Martin rushes into the building.
The girl in the red dress checks her smart phone at the bar of the dance competition. She pauses over the picture of a cute young couple on facebook, next to one of those always-agitating updates “So and So is now in a relationship.” Looking up from her phone, she’s flanked by the Japanese Girls (!) from last week’s episode. (I’ll admit, I was earnestly excited to see them.) They ask her, using a Siri-like smartphone translator if she’s alone or waiting for someone. Of course, feeling dejected, this does nothing to improve her sullen mood, and she tears up a bit. The girls are immediately concerned and she politely brushes it off, apologizing for being bad company. They ask her what’s wrong, and she says that she’s been stood up and feels stupid. Apparently she traveled across country to meet this unknown jerk she met on the internet, and that he seemed “so perfect.” They drink from very large pink martinis, before the Japanese girls leave before their favorite band takes the stage, but not before one of them cries “Girl Power!” in solidarity. The girl turns to find that one of them has left their phone on the bar, and not making much of an effort to chase after them, immediately begins looking through it. On the phone, she finds videos of strangers, telling them to pass it along and pay it forward. The girl smiles, suspecting that the phone was left there for a reason.
At Morton Starling, the two women from the street stand in front of an elevator waiting, while Martin inconspicuously stands behind them. One of the woman, an older redhead tells the other that she’s going to “settle”, claiming that she’s lost her house and is now working two jobs, having been pretty thoroughly screwed over by this company. The other one urges her to hold out. The three step off the elevator and head for a conference room. Martin follows and tells the receptionist that he’s representing one of the plaintiffs in this case. “I thought no press was allowed.” Martin turns to see a younger, well-dressed man looking at him. He outs Martin as a reporter (now a former reporter, if you’ll recall.) His name is Rush Middleton and he used to serve as an intern under Martin while he was a reporter. Rush worries that Martin is there to outscoop him, apparently having no idea that Martin now schleps bags at the airport. Rush has interviews with all but one of the plaintiffs in this case, namely, a Roger King. Martin tells him that getting King to talk might be hard but it’s not impossible. Rush challenges him to do better, giving Martin King’s phone number and address and promising to share is byline with Martin if he succeeds. Martin realizes that Roger King must be “the king” alluded to in the Prince’s ledger.
Clea is standing around, watching Jake when Sherri approaches. Clea asks Sherri who the patient in room 6 is, since Jake keeps wandering back there. Sherri says that the room is empty. Clea persists further when her cellphone rings. She takes it out, seeing that the caller is “Mom.” She answers, looking confused and shocked, expecting to hear her mother, but instead someone on the other line asks her to verify her name. She says “she’ll be right there” before hanging up.
Martin finds the Claremont and rings up to Roger King’s apartment. A man answers and tells Martin that Roger King is dead, but that he is his son, Charlie. Martin tells him that he’s come regarding the class-action suit against Morton Starling and Charlie says he wants nothing to do with it. Martin tries to persist, and realizes that the Claremont is the “Mountain of Clare” in the ledger and asks Charlie if he knows anything about the Invisible Prince. After a long pause, Charlie buzzes him in.
At Charlie’s penthouse apartment, Charlie explains that the Invisible Prince was a character in a bedtime story that his father used to tell him and his brother Walt. The Invisible Prince did good deeds in secret, otherwise they wouldn’t count. Martin asks about Walt and Charlie says that he was a good kid, very shy and good with numbers and eventually became an accountant for Morton Starling. Walt developed a financial product that made the company billions. Martin asks if he could look up the story on Charlie’s computer, and Charlie is forced to interrupt his young son, who appears to be using the computer to compete in this LA dance competition.
Grace’s little brother and his friend sneak into the computer lab late at night and begin setting up for the competition. Because Charlie’s son had to drop out, they find that they are up next and that Thabo, the one who was supposed to dance, is not there. Grace’s little brother is going to have to compete in his place. In LA, the Beastmaster remains the undisputed champion of the competition.
Martin looks up the fraud case at Morton Starling (on a search engine called finderspyder, did they spend the show’s budget on time lapse photography?). Charlie explains that Walt convinced his father and other investors to invest their savings at Morton Starling because he saw others making money, but the firm exploited a loophole in their contracts, allowing them to take millions from the investors. Roger King lost everything, save the apartment, went into a deep depression and eventually died of heart failure. Walt disappeared after that and Charlie feared he might be dead. Martin reassures him that Walt is alive and is trying to make up for everything that happened. Martin tells him that they need to do something before 6 pm, when the plaintiffs settle. They only have one hour. Martin asks about the “sword” Walt was talking about and Charlie says it’s the magic sword of truth from the story. They’ll have to dig around in Roger’s effects to find out what that might be.
At the ER, Clea walks with a nurse, who tells her that the woman admitted had been living under a bridge. Clea tells the nurse that her mother is schizophrenic and is unsure if she’s on medication. Before the other day, she hadn’t heard from her mother in six years. The nurse says that the woman may have traumatic brain injuries. Clea asks if the accident took place near the Queensborough Bridge, near the train tracks. The nurse says yes. Clea tells her that her mother used to take her there to wait for the train, and when the train would pass, her mother would scream at the top of her lungs over the sound. “Scared the hell out of me.” she concludes. The nurse takes Clea into the room and Clea realizes that the woman in the bed is not her mother. The nurse says her number was the last one dialed and that maybe the phone was stolen.
Arthur enters the boarding facility, asking the security guard at the desk if he can speak to the director. Sherri catches sight of him, they seem to know each other, judging by each other’s surprised and uncomfortable looks. Arthur says he’s come hoping for a tour, to check out the facility for one of his cases. She agrees to show him around.
Martin digs through a box of Roger’s stuff, coming across a safety deposit box with a keypad lock on it. Of course, the combination is 3287. Inside, Martin finds letters banded together and a large manila envelope that’s never been opened. He opens it to find documents. When Charlie asks him what it is, he replies “a magic sword of truth” They only have 15 minutes to get back to 23 blocks. Martin tears down the street, documents in hand. Furious drumming music begins in the background.
In the village, Grace lies in bed, trying to drown out the sound of Fumbe savagely abusing Sauda. At the facility, Jake looks up from his numbers, focusing on the mysterious room 6. Sherri leads Arthur into the rec room where Jake is sitting. She asks Arthur why he’s here and why he would want another patient after everything that’s happened. Arthur says he stands by his research, starting to defend himself when they hear Jake making a strange, loud humming noise. Sherri approaches, trying to figure out what’s wrong. Jake’s humming only increases in pitch and volume. Martin continues to sprint down the street.
Grace pulls herself out of bed as the beating in the next room continues. She gets up and grabs the white enamel pot off the counter, as well as a spoon. She walks out into the yard, banging on the pot, looking terrified. Fumbe walks out, telling her to go away with all that noise, screaming at her and threatening her. Jake’s humming increases to top-of-the-lungs screaming. The screaming continues as more women join Grace in the yard, all of them banging on pots and pans, surrounding Fumbe.
In the computer lab, Grace’s brother begins dancing, as the emcee announces them at the competition as “all the way from South Africa.” The other boys shine flashlights on him, rave-style. The crowd instantly loves him, and really, for a little boy, he’s pretty spectacular. The Beastmaster seems to lose his confidence and tries to outdance him. Their votes begin to skyrocket.
The mob of women continue to beat on their makeshift drums, fearlessly staring Fumbe down. He is chased away and Sauda runs to Grace, hugging her tightly. Jake’s screaming continues as everything seems to culminate at once. The African boys win the dance competition, defeating the Beastmaster. Martin piles out of the elevator at the New York Herald, running through the newsroom. Jake’s red racecar flies back out from underneath the door of room 6 into the hallway. Jake stops screaming and it’s as if nothing ever happened. Martin tells Rush “Whatever you wrote, delete it. You’re starting over.”
Martin hands Rush the memos, telling him that Morton Starling intentionally cheated their investors because Walter King warned them of a flaw in his financial product that they chose to exploit. The “sword of truth” is the memos that Walt wrote to try and stop it before it happened. Rush is astonished that Martin gave the story to him instead of keeping it for himself. Martin says he always thought Rush would be a great reporter and tells him to keep his byline. “It’ll be our little secret, otherwise it doesn’t count.”
The girl in the red dress sits on a hill at the festival, laughing at the videos she found on the phone. The dejected Beastmaster approaches, asking her what she’s laughing at. Apparently it involves cartwheels and a dog, and she beckons him to watch. He doesn’t laugh and says that he probably won’t be laughing any time soon. She says that’s how she felt until she started looking through the phone. Apparently the phone contains videos from all over the world, and that she thinks people are supposed to find it, upload a video and pass it along. He says he’s having the worst day of his life, having lost his championship title to a little kid. She adds that the kid was pretty cute and tries to make him laugh.
Outside Morton Starling, Walt waits. Martin approaches him and says that the “dragon is dead” and that the plaintiffs refuse to settle and are going to take the firm to court. He hands the memos back to Walt. Walt asks him to kneel. Martin bows and Walt touches each of his shoulders, saying that since he has completed his quest, he will now be known as the Invisible Knight. Before Walt can disappear, Martin tells him that he has a family waiting at the “Mountain of Clare” who would love to see him again.
“Human beings are not the strongest species on the planet.” Jake begins his closing monologue as Clea finds the red racecar outside of Room 6. “They’re not the fastest or maybe even the smartest.” Grace hugs her little brother, who has just returned from winning the competiton. “The one advantage we have is our ability to cooperate.” Arthur puts Jake’s name on a file folder and tucks the folder away. “To help each other out.” The two female plaintiffs from the case toast the newscast about Morton Starling’s fall from grace at a midtown bar. “We recognize ourselves in each other, and we’re programmed for compassion, for heroism, for love.” Walt stands outside the Claremont, hesitant. “And those things make us stronger, faster and smarter.” Sauda takes her exam in the computer lab, looking healthy and confident. “It’s why we survive. It’s why we even want to.”
Clea enters Jake’s room as Martin tucks him in and gives Jake back the red racecar. Clea apologizes for what she said earlier, about Martin jumping everytime Jake calls. She says she knows those patterns aren’t so easy to break. “You love him and you want him to be okay.” Martin nods. “I’m learning, too.” she admits, saying that she will try to be more understanding. She exits and Martin smiles, turning off the light in Jake’s room.
I found this week’s episode to be slightly improved over last week’s sentimental escapades. Things are still pretty silly and I can’t tell if the flow of the plot and the writing has improved or I’m just…used to it. Probably a little bit of both. But ‘Touch’s supposedly interconnected series of events definitely seemed a little less arbitrary this week and a little more character driven. It’s good that the show has given Martin a better sense of purpose; he’s not just running around helping people because the plot demands him to, he’s doing it because he doesn’t want to see his son in pain, even if it is some sort of invisible “cosmic” pain. That’s a tangible desire, it makes sense, but the one thing I’m still lacking from this show is Martin’s journey. Martin is so blandly good and hardly struggles against these little quests at all, aside from the minor inconveniences they cause him, like running 23 blocks in 15 minutes. (How did he not have a coronary blow-out? He is one fit reporter.)
I’m glad the show is hinting at some sort of larger mystery and throwing out little ones along the way: who is in room 6 and why do they seem to have such an effect on Jake? Who are these “other people” who are going to notice Jake’s gift, as Arthur suggested. The tease is enough to string you along, but ‘Touch’ needs to work on strengthening it’s episodic plots. Even if it was a massive rip-off of Terry Gilliam’s “The Fisher King”, I actually enjoyed the story with Walt and the “Invisible Prince.” It had a charm without being too overtly hokey and there was a real, almost dark subtlety to it. Of course, even when a bus full of children is at stake or a man is savagely beating his girlfriend, ‘Touch’ can never quite take you right up to the edge, only kind of dangles you in mild suspense in between commercial breaks. The superfluous connections like the stood-up girl and the guy at the dance competition: cut it and strengthen the story about Walt or Grace. I love that ‘Touch’ goes global but their view of the world is so typical that nothing ever quite feels like a revelation.
But there was some good stuff this week: the mystery of how the homeless woman ended up with Clea’s mothers cellphone and how that small insight of Clea’s personal life elevated her to someone who feels real, not just the cardboard “caring social worker.” I really like Gugu-Mbatha Raw, her moments on the show feel textured. And oh, Kiefer Sutherland, they really do manage to give him some good lines in between asking “What does that mean?” for the hundredth time, and when he was dealing with Rush in reporter-mode, I saw a layer of tenaciousness that the other episodes hadn’t yielded yet. Mostly I want to see him do something better than running around and looking tired.
So really, ‘Touch’ took a tiny step back this week with its insistence on telling sappy, unnecessary stories like the dance competition story but also took two steps forward by advancing the overall plot and texturing its characters. I feel like this show’s mother, admonishing it to do better if only because (to my great surprise) I actually kind of enjoyed it.
Oh also, floating living fire ant raft? Have fun with that one next time you take a bath.
If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to read our ‘Touch: 1+1=3’ recap.