La Brea Season 1 Episode 4 Review: “The New Arrival” Is Breathlessly Weightless
If I were to pick out a group of buzzwords from the various plots of “The New Arrival”, it would seem obvious La Brea is a show of some intrigue. I mean, who would turn down an episode with giant water snakes, a hidden village, and a bunch of angry looks exchanged over missing heroin? The details are in the execution with La Brea, unfortunately: “The New Arrival” is aggressively boring television, skipping from plot point to plot point without hesitating to take a beat and give anything meaning. It’s television that feels written as a checklist, rather than a coherent creative expression; as one might expect, the result is a muddled mess of middling drama.
“The New Arrival” starts off in a strong place (once it gets past Scott and his bullshit astronomy musings), quickly setting its stakes; Levi’s plane has crashed, and a rescue team is going to find him. Though simple (and quite obvious), it sets clear markers for “The New Arrival” to meet on its way, sending its largest group of survivors yet into the strange, dangerous woods to hunt down the plane everyone saw come through the Time Gash.
Almost immediately, however, La Brea can’t avoid its own nonsense; the Silent Sister (after getting slapped by her bitchy older sister) sees a dead body left out in the open, triggering a fresh round of paranoia through the rest of the group hanging out on the beach. How did it happen? Who might be out there?… Unfortunately, La Brea is not really interested in those answers, at least during the course of “The New Arrival”.
The water snake sequence is as fitting as any to describe the flailing emotional and dramatic voice of this series; as some of our group members cross a body of water, Riley is grabbed by a massive water snake (I guess? We only kind of see it, since this episode apparently had zero special effects budget), in what can only be described as a poorly filmed, incoherent mess. As the camera jerks itself back and forth across the water’s calm surface, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing a metaphorical moment of clarity; and for the rest of “The New Arrival”, I was unable to shake the feeling that La Brea is just shaking a camera at a bunch of nothing, even in an episode ostensibly filled with the most narrative bread crumbs to date.
La Brea struggles to make this all matter because it refuses exploration; like the fearful characters clinging to their small rabbit-and-vegetable meals back on the beach, “The New Arrival” feels too afraid to look beyond the obvious, to offer something interesting (and potentially risky) to distinguish its characters and narrative. Eve and her ambivalent feelings towards Gavin and Levi would be an interesting one, but there’s some real “Lori-Rick-Shane” vibes, where the show’s masturbatory commitment to family predetermines the nature of their relationship. By the time Eve was dropping “I thought about calling a few weeks ago” line, it already feels like this storyline has sailed (despite the fact they’ll probably have a pity fuck in the next few episodes).
After all, Gavin gave Levi Eve’s wedding ring to return to her, and he has visions of her that break the boundaries of time and space; even though La Brea clearly wants to punish her a bit for being unfaithful (which – yikes), their love and family is still being defined as the central story to be invested in – at least, it’s the only one with any semblance of character, so it must be the most important (wait.. unless you’re into the “Murder Cop Man and her Drug Dealer Son” storyline, because I’m certainly not!).
The rest of “The New Wheel” is remarkably thin; on the other side of the Time Gash, Gavin walks through a number of expository scenes that mistake “vague” for “intriguing”. The fourth incident? A second plane? A doctor and government official on a secret mission? Other people trapped on the island? Gavin has more visions?… It’s almost laughable how little these scenes aim for coherency, instead nakedly existing solely to inch forward the story of brain-damaged military veterans and heroin-crazed Time Gashers – which at this point, just continues to rip off LOST‘s early seasons without much else to offer (we’re already moving into the story of Danielle and The Others at the same time, for a point of comparison).
That narrative propulsion would be fine, if La Brea were able to accomplish one of two things; 1) have an interesting story with some inkling of realized dramatic stakes, or 2) give us reasons to be interested in its characters, beyond the very meaningless mystery of “who” the survivors are in the ‘real’ world. That balance is difficult to find (which is why so many shows fail at this kind of big, bombastic and complex storytelling), and instead of leaning into that challenge, La Brea shies away from it, embracing any cliche it can cling onto, and relying too heavily on its very mundane soundtrack to give voice to emotional beats neither text or performance is capturing.
There’s also just no stakes to it all; led by Bailey’s four seconds of danger (before Levi pulled out a gun, and SHOT IT UNDERWATER OFFSCREEN MULTIPLE TIMES – what a bunch of horseshit that was), La Brea never commits to a moment, comedic or dramatic, in order to give dimension to its characters or world. Every moment is there to explain something, or to be captial-d Dramatic. Not only is it imbalanced, but the few times La Brea slows (and quiets) down to try and find itself a bit, it leads to some awful television (the Eve/Levi conversation is brutally painful, in how badly that dialogue is written), which means it should really be doing more capital-d Dramatic things, in order to distract from its shortcomings with character.
But with a bad plot and a cast of characters as exciting as soggy cardboard boxes, “The New Arrival” flatlines until the final five minutes, when the script remembers it needs to have some kind of driving tension. That tension? There are more people around – some of them are through the Time Gash and have built a town, while a few remain on the normal side of the universe, ready to take a second plane (which – can you put one fucking spare part in the plane? You’d think Levi’s trip being a repeat adventure, they’ll plan for issues a bit more) through the Time Gash, so we can experience the awkward love triangle nobody on (or watching) La Brea really gives a shit about.
As Scott grips his vape pan and Eve longingly gazes into the distance considering a better, more sexually charged future, La Brea‘s fourth episode feels like it is stalling until it can tease next week’s “The Fort”, which looks to finally start to expand the audience’s knowledge base on what the fuck this show is really about (at least, the premise of understanding those hand symbols might be useful? I’m trying here, folks) – it probably isn’t going to make Izzy a less annoying character (or Veronica the shitty older sister any more engaging), but hopefully a bit of clarity can at least bring out a little more drama and passion in the show’s (un)remarkably flat writing.