Emergence Season 1 Episode 1 Review: A Compelling Mystery

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If you're looking for a show to fill your sci-fi void, Emergence is that show. 

At the conclusion of Emergence Season 1 Episode 1, there are enough similarities to make comparisons to shows like Netflix's Stranger Things and NBC's Manifest.

There is a supernatural occurrence involving a plane, a government conspiracy, a young girl with powers that harnesses water and electricity, and a loving and protective mother who gets drawn into the center of the mystery.

Protecting The Girl - Emergence

But some moments set it apart -- this mystery is more grounded without the flashiness, 1980's nostalgia, gray-areas, or monsters.

Emergence delivers on the promise of providing answers more rapidly than Manifest Season 1 while still leaving plenty to the imagination. 

The pilot episode moves swiftly from scene-to-scene, sometimes making you feel as though you overlooked something. You haven't. 

It also provides enough jumpy moments and backstory to leave you hooked by the end of the hour.

But the key takeaway is that looks can be deceiving, and no one should be fooled by outward appearances.

Lost Girl on the Beach - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

Piper, the name given to the little girl found at the crash site by small-town cop, Jo, and her daughter, Mia, remains an enigma throughout much of the episode while concurrently seeming familiar.

We don't know any more about her by the end than we did at the beginning. Who is she? What is she? Where is she from? Was she on the plane? But we are left with a suspicious feeling that she may not be as good as she's led Jo to believe. 

Alexa Swinton on Emergence, Her Love of Friends, and More!

Moreso, she might not have amnesia at all. 

There's enough evidence to argue that sweet little Piper remembers everything, and whatever that everything is could be the reason she's not telling Jo the truth.

Alexa Swinton on Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

A few stand out moments trumped Piper's sweet smile and doe-eyed look to clue viewers in to her possible deception.

Minutes into the episode, Piper escaped from the hospital after the fake NTSB men went looking for her.

It was more than just a frightened little girl running away from the unknown; she knew exactly who she's running away from and why they wanted to take her.

That latter is proven when she steals Ed's box cutter shortly after being entranced by some glitchy symbol (some kind of calling?) on the television screen. 

Searching for Tools - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

She uses the box cutter to cut out a chip from behind her ear after triggering some kind of water memory. Is she drowning?

Jo: Those people, they're gone. Forever. Okay? And they can't ever get to you again.
Piper: I know.

Was she in some kind of sensory deprivation tank like we've seen with Eleven on Stranger Things?

Everything points to Piper's memory being intact if she remembers precisely where the chip is located. 

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The chip she flushes down the drain has the same symbols that were on the television and similar symbols to the metal plate found with the "fake parents" who went around to collect her. 

Snuggled in a Cap - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

The act of cutting through skin and barely flinching also means that her timid, scared persona may be an act.

As does the face she makes at the end of that same scene which could allude to her sweet, innocent disposition being a front for some greater purpose. 

Is there a chance that she's the evil one?

My guess is that whoever is after Piper isn't entirely good, but neither is she. 

Quite possibly the biggest clue of the episode is Piper's question to Jo of whether she thinks she was responsible for crashing the plane. 

Lost Girl on the Beach Still - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

Piper seemed pleased to hear that Jo didn't believe she was to blame for the accident as if she was confirming what Jo really thought of her. 

Jo brushes off the question immediately, whereas I'm left wondering how a child could ever think that they're capable of something so sinister -- unless they know more than they're letting on. 

There are plenty of quality moments within the pilot, which lend hope to a promising drama, but Jo's presentation as the heroine works best.

Allison Tolman infuses Jo with plenty of emotional layers making her an equally captivating and unlikely television lead.

Alexa Swinton and Alison Tolman - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

Jo is strong, but her strength isn't overbearing; she's drawn to Piper because she sees her daughter in Piper. Yet, she knows when to lay down the law. 

Jo's not broken despite being divorced and gets along with and respects her ex-husband, Alex.

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And she's a cop that follows her gut but allows her maternal instinct to take charge when connecting with Piper and forming a bond. 

Even when she knows what she's doing is wrong (in this case, kidnapping a child without turning her over to the system), she can't fight her instincts because it's what feels right. 

Piper Smiles - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

Jo's approachable and caring demeanor explains why Piper is drawn to her, why her ex still drops everything to drive out into the middle of nowhere for her, and why Officer Chris will go against his better judgment agreeing to aid her in harboring a child without hesitation. 

At her core, Jo is a good person; no one has ever doubted her or her decisions. 

But these softer qualities are also what make her slightly naive and easily manipulated.

In a very short amount of time, Piper saw that Jo would do anything to protect her and used that to her advantage. 

She could have easily manipulated her way into Jo's life by taking advantage of that very maternal soft spot. 

It's possible the girl is as innocent as she claims, but where would the fun be in that?

Jo's naivety came into play when she insisted that Piper was safe because her "fake parents" were no longer a threat. 

Jo: I'm not, I'm not putting her in the system. I'm keeping her with me, which is very much not legal. And I'm going to ask you to do something equally illegal and keep it to yourself.
Chris: Done. Easy. Don't even worry about it.
Jo: Thanks, Chris.

A shady government entity wants Piper, so how could Jo not consider that more dangerous people would likely be coming for her?

She's proven to be smarter than this on many occasions; there's no explanation for such an oversight. 

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And then there are all the borderline supernatural occurrences that Jo wholly ignores.

Piper sneaks into her car as all the car functions go haywire, the parents disappear into thin air when she becomes suspicious of them, all the tools in the cabin basement move when Piper's upset and scared, and obviously, the car randomly flips upside down killing the "parents" while Piper emerges unscathed.

Whenever Piper gets put into a traumatic situation, her magnetic powers are activated, and somehow, Jo doesn't connect any of these moments.

However, what is blatantly obvious is the massive cover-up happening by folks pretending to be the NTSB. 

Jo picks up on that almost immediately. 

Frightened Piper - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

She then meets a reporter named Benny Gallagher at the crash site who seems to know that it wasn't a mere accident through his "sources."

In fact, he knows exactly who they're going to blame it on -- an "unmanned drone" that crashed while mapping forest coverage. 

There's no doubt that reporters have sources, but usually, cops have them too.  

The way that Benny tells Jo how this will play out makes it seem like it's happened a multitude of times before. 

Ed: Piper? Piper! Did you forget your new name already?
Piper: Oh, I didn't hear you, sorry.

Whatever Benny knows, it isn't because of some inside source, it's likely because he's been following this story and similar occurrences in previous towns. 

It's entirely possible that Benny isn't even from the area. What are the odds that a police chief of a small town doesn't know everyone especially reporters?

Their paths would have likely crossed through other cases.

Alexa Swinton and Clancy Brown - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

On Emergence, there's the overall mystery and then sub mysteries, and it's into the latter Benny's character falls perfectly. 

It's not the bulk of the episode, but we're given just enough about him to care enough to conjure up our hypothesis. 

Similarly, telling Jo where the plane departed from -- an island three miles away that's home to the homeland security research facility -- and Jo agreeing that "everyone knows what's on that island" means that they have reason to believe in the possibility of a government conspiracy.

Otherwise, what did Jo mean by "everyone knows"?

Benny Gallagher: I know what the report is going to say. They're going to say it was an unmanned drone. Monitoring pollution. Mapping forests. Some rubbish like that.
Jo: How do you know that?
Benny: I have sources. Sources that you don't have. You and I can share information.
Jo: I doubt very much that you'd have any information that I'd want.

Hopefully, Benny doesn't become wrapped up in some dreaded love triangle that every series believes is necessary for success. 

What's on the TV? - Emergence Season 1 Episode 1

There's still some unresolved feelings between Jo and Alex (we don't know why they divorced), and the introduction of Benny gives Emergence a plausible second love interest. 

For all of our sakes, Emergence should take a different route when it comes to Jo's love story if there even is time for one once the mystery kicks into high gear. 

All in all, Emergence has all the makings of the fall's hottest show.

They need not focus on character development -- they characters are fleshed out enough to draw us in at this point -- but instead, at how they unravel the mystery. The pacing and information given will determine whether or not this thriller has legs to stand on. I think it does.

And on the heels of Lost's 15th anniversary, it's only fitting that this genre is what has TV Fanatics buzzing this fall TV season.  

Emergence Poster

Other Mysterious Musings

  • Piper told Ed that he wasn't getting better by taking pills for his cancer. Is she able to sense that? Why is it important that we know he's a former firefighter?
  • What was the importance behind Jo telling Piper about her mother? Will we find out she exhibited powers? Was she taken? Is she involved somehow?
  • Piper has clearly been through this before if she knows that "remembering" will make her leave Jo's home. What defines her past?

What did you think of the Emergence premiere?

You can watch Emergence online to see if you missed any clues and let us know if you agree or disagree without our conspiracy theories in the comments below! 

Pilot Review

Editor Rating: 4.3 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0 (29 Votes)

Lizzy Buczak was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in June 2021..

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Emergence Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Ed: Piper? Piper! Did you forget your new name already?
Piper: Oh, I didn't hear you, sorry.

Benny Gallagher: I know what the report is going to say. They're going to say it was an unmanned drone. Monitoring pollution. Mapping forests. Some rubbish like that.
Jo: How do you know that?
Benny: I have sources. Sources that you don't have. You and I can share information.
Jo: I doubt very much that you'd have any information that I'd want.