A Very Old Kind of Hero

Charlie Jade was a South African/Canadian import that SYFY chose to run at 3 AM on Tuesday mornings.  It was 21 episodes, all incredibly bleak.  Produced by Chris Roland (who emigrated from the US to SA) and Robert Wertheimer, who is now producing ‘The Bridge’ for CBS.

It starred Jeffrey Pierce, Michael Flipovich and South African actors, whom I’ve never seen anywhere else.  That alone got my attention.  The backdrop was Capetown, South Africa.  The architecture, sunlight, proximity to a different ocean, and sense of space was enough to rearrange my brain.

The premise was this: three universes, alpha, beta and gamma.  Alpha is technologically advanced and has fouled itself unspeakably, as well promoting a social order that is dystopic, divided in to alpha, betas and a third group which is unregistered, unchipped and is killed with impunity.  Beta resembles contemporary SA, technologically, socially and environmentally.  Gamma is a pristine, socially and politically just ‘verse.

Vexcor, a multinational in the alphaverse has discovered, through its founder, Brion Boxer, a way to bridge the universes and plans to establish a permanent link to gamma through beta to funnel water to save its dying ecosystems.  Unfortunately, if the plan is completed, it will collapse alpha and gamma together, completely eliminating beta and billions of lives.  Boxer, his scheming wife (Essa) and his  loathesome son (01 Boxer) are aware of what will happen and proceed anyway.  Charlie Jade is a missing persons detective in alpha, who, while investigating the trail of a woman who has turned up dead, comes to a mysterious desert facility and is caught up in an explosion, which transports him to betaverse.  The explosion was triggered by forces from gammaverse, who are onto Vexcor’s scheme and the explosion successfully postpones the process, but the explosion also strands Reena in betaverse.  She struggles to find a sanctuary.

Charlie is confused when everyone refers to ‘Capecity’ as Capetown.  He is offered a refuge, resources and assistance by Karl, who is a reporter tracking down an outlandish idea that a multinational is conspiring to do something that no one understands, but which has personnel which are mysteriously appearing and disappearing and getting murdered.

Vexcor has employees in each of the verses, operating link facilities, which are pivotal in transferring water from gamma to alpha through beta (evidenced only be extraordinary fluctuations in water levels).  Their employees can only go through the link, but Boxer’s son, 01 can travel between verses on his own, simply by pouring water over his head.  And the reason that Charlie was transported from alpha to beta, was that he also has this ability (genetic), although it takes him 15 or so episodes to figure it out.  Vexcor has a problem in that its beta executive hates Essa and 01 and all three are struggling for sole control of Vexcor, because Brion Boxer is dying due to his verse-flipping and needs regular transfusions from 01 (and/or from employees who have been through the link).  Each regularly plays political and law-enforcement, as well as private security to effect its strategy.

Charlie has known about 01 for some time (he’s the alpha of the alpha’s) a drug addict, womanizer, fuck-up, and untouchable.  Charlie’s own history is: he started out as an orphan, unchipped and scrabbling for existence in junkyards.  He worked for Vexcor as part of their private army, regularly murdering the unchipped.  He’s achieved a beautiful apartment and a beautiful girlfriend (who’s still unchipped), friends in questionable places and the police.  Bodies are turning up in strange places and a blonde woman turns up dead; Charlie knows that 01 has killed her, but can’t prove it.

Story arcs: Charlie finds out that there are three ‘verses, that Reena is from gamma and trying desperately to get home, Karl will help him, but is vulnerable himself, that his girlfriend from alpha is beautiful, but slightly stupid and helpless, that there is a woman detective (Blue) who is strong, smart and a possible partner, that 01 is not purely evil, and that he is (somehow) a linchpin between the three verses.

Reena is initially lost in beta and running from the law; she is captured by a terrorist organization and turned into an assassin; when she figures this out, she escapes and is taken in by a dying woman.  She helps the woman (gently) end her life and assumes her identity to re-enter Vexcor and begin to subvert it.

Essa uses her position as Brion’s wife to run Vexcor and gain ultimate power over three ‘verses.  She struggles against 01 and the beta exec, beats the beta exec, but is taken down by 01, who imprisons her permanently.

01 is unregenerate.  He’s pissed that his stepmother has control, but after the explosion, he is the only conduit for information between the ‘verses and crosses the boundaries when it suits him to play beta-exec and Essa against one another.  At a completely unexpected point in the proceedings he visits gammaverse, where we find he has a wife and two children whom he loves desperately.  He knows what will happen.  So, what are his motives?  It’s clear that in order to save his family, he has to gain control of Vexcor in alpha.  To that end, he does, says and becomes whatever he has to do.  At first, he taunts, frustrates and baits Charlie; yet they work out an odd alliance once they understand that their ultimate goals are in synch.

How does it end?  Once 01 has gained control of alpha vexcor, he begins the repair of the link, and water begins to flow from gamma to alpha.  (important plot point: Brion Boxer has used one of his rare periods of good health to cross to gammaverse and murdered his son’s family)  Blue, Reena and Charlie are in beta, and they realize that at the confluence of the verses is a space, which if Charlie walks into it, will permanently destroy the link, but open the pathway between the verses, so that Reena may go home.  Walking into the space (synapse?) will transform Charlie from a man into a What?  But he will die (as Charlie).  He does it.

What kind of hero is he?  He grew up nameless.  Worked for Vexcor and saw from the inside the corruption and soullessness.  Found his own way in a morally ambiguous ‘verse, loved a woman.  His professional curiosity triggered the events of the story (his destiny) and his struggle.  He lost his love (an illusion) and found a possible other love; discovered that his mortal enemy was his ally and that his self-sacrifice would save an entire universe, and turn him into a metaphysical something.  But no reward.  ‘Good dog, no biscuit’

I’m still amazed at how this story is so antithetical to american ideas of heroism and victimhood.  These characters are defined by different standards, cultural and storytelling.  Corporations, which by definition are agglomerations of people are, when too large and encompassing, anti-human.  The US thema doesn’t recognize this very well, Michael Moore notwithstanding.  Corporations are still seen as some sort of stabilizing, securing force in the culture.  In our love affair with individualism, we embrace the triumphal.  Charlie, who is the apotheosis of individualism, is intimate with nihilism and embraces his personal death as part of the collective good.  We don’t see that in America.  This is an ancient view of a person’s life.  There is truth in both views; it’s just that embracing one view over another is an invalid choice and will rot the culture to destruction.

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