“My best advice to you: don’t trust anyone.”
Following up on previous original series like American Gods and the recently cancelled Counterpart, STARZ once again delves into the strange and wondrous world of science-fiction/fantasy with The Rook, a story that combines the intrigue of covert agencies with the superhuman abilities often seen in super hero dramas.
Based off Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel of the same name, The Rook follows Myfanwy Thomas (Emma Greenwell, The Path, Shameless), an agent of the covert British agency, the Checquy, an organization whose members possess unique talents of the supernatural variety. Myfanwy’s introduction in the series possesses the typical tone of mystery espionage-thrillers are built upon, with the added trope of amnesia thrown in for good measure. Myfanwy awakens in the rain-soaked streets, surrounded by dead bodies and having no idea who they are and, more importantly, who she is.
Though the ‘amnesia’ plot line has been an overused crutch in entertainment, The Rook makes it work. All throughout “Chapter 1”, Myfanwy works to piece together her identity, with a bit of help from herself.
It begins with a letter she finds in her pocket, written by herself prior to the memory wipe. It offers her the red pill/blue pill choice: leave all this mystery behind and start a new life, or take the challenge of diving into this dangerous pool of espionage and murder in the hopes of discovering what exactly happened to her.
Initially, she selects the first option, only to be attacked once more when trying to access her previous self’s safety deposit box. It’s during this attack that Myfanwy accesses her power, one that causes severe internal injury to those in the vicinity. This seemingly unprovoked attempt on her life causes Myfanwy to re-evaluate her initial choice. Memory gone or not, she realizes that it’d be better to be informed of what she’s facing instead of turning a blind eye and hoping for the best. This choice becomes the driver for “Chapter 1” as Myfanwy gains a foothold on the spiraling uncertainty a wiped memory would give and is her first step in discovering who was responsible for her condition and why.
Like most series premieres, The Rook’s maiden expedition has a lot of ground to cover in establishing its world. One of the pitfalls of a premiere episode is the tried and true info dump, where all the important points are spilled (more often than not in a wholly inorganic way) that, even if for a moment, takes viewers out of the immersive nature of the narrative. This is where, despite an overused concept, the amnesia angle actually helps things along in “Chapter 1”.
Myfanwy is the audience’s proxy and in that, the amnesia helps create an emotional bond between her and viewers. We’re learning things along with her and that sort of kinship makes it easier to become invested in the character. Add to that the secretive nature of her job, the Checquy, and its operatives, and the table is set for a thoroughly intriguing time.
Though not perfect by any stretch, The Rook premiere does the most important thing a show can do for an audience: it gives us just enough information to pique our interest while promising there’s much more intrigue hidden behind the curtain. And, like Myfanwy herself, we have no idea who to trust.
Up/Down the Exchange
- With so much kept close to the vest, “Chapter 1” leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions but opens up so many interesting possibilities. In Myfanwy’s video message to herself, we get the brief yet pertinent info dump that gives a concise breakdown on the Checquy and its primary operatives. Though Myfanwy initially is given a message to help her fit in, she also gets a letter that warns her not to trust anyone; a tall task for someone walking on baby deer legs.
- Linda Farrier (Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck, The Tudors) is the ‘King’, the head of the Checquy and Myfanwy’s mentor. There’s no hint on her abilities and, despite the initial intel in the video message from herself, now Myfanwy doesn’t even know if she can trust Linda.
- Conrad Grandchester (Adrian Lester, Mary Queen of Scots, Hustle) is the number two (the ‘Queen’) and can control the atmosphere. Whether his affair with the Home Secretary, Jennifer Birch (Gina McKee, Bodyguard, The Borgias) is a vital plot point to this season remains to be seen.
- The Gestalt—I couldn’t help but think of the Cuckoos from the X-Men comic franchise and The Gifted, with a slight dose of Multiple Man thrown in. Though the show doesn’t give us much to go on, the Gestalt is one individual who inhabits four separate bodies. Myfanwy’s one-night stand with Robert (Ronan Rafrety, Mortal Engines, The Terror), a no-no between agents, will undoubtedly cause issues, especially considering the fact that if one of the Gestalt knows, they all do.
- Though not a part of the Checquy itself, Olivia Munn’s character, Monica Reed, is from the BVU, the US-equivalent, or so it seems. She was obviously close to Marcus Kevler, one of the bodies found where we first meet Myfanwy, who was also a fellow agent. Also, from her smashing of the canister when she ID’s his body, Monica’s working with some bit of super strength. What will Monica do when she discovers Myfanwy’s role in her fellow agent’s death?