Cult 1.1 – You’re Next

Pilot

Meet Billy Grimm.

It’s 2009 and Billy Grimm is being sepia-toned docu-interviewed about his hippie-dippie commune. On his tattered ’70s throwback seat you could easily mistake him for the creep next-door neighbor you try your damnedest to avoid exchanging faux-chipper “hellos” with. Behind him a group of pretty blondes frolic, well mostly pretty if you pretend you didn’t see a skeletal death mask flash across one of their faces. Billy just wants you to know that what his haven does is give people what they’re searching for.

A connection.

Present day and one of the lovely blondes from the background is cruising down a dark road headed toward Myers Woods, with man who is definitely not Billy Grimm. The man has a file open, pictures of Billy Grimm and notes scribbled. The girl, Kelly, is convinced that Billy knows what happed to her sister, Meadow, and her sister’s son, Andy. Seems Kelly is a cop and she’s working a case that’s too close to her heart.

“Well, hey, these things just snap right off.”

That’s more than just a little creepy, right? That’s what their latest victim said before he checked out for good. Kelly’s partner thinks it the rambling nonsense of kool-aid drinking weirdoes. Kelly knows better, knows that everything that comes from the root of Billy Grimm means something. Kelly knows that Billy is calculating, controlling and kinda bitter about her bailing on the commune. Their info leads them to an abandoned shanty in the woods, cluttered with junk and suspenseful as hell. There’s a poorly plastered wall that catches Kelly’s attention and there’s a living face behind it trying to catch more of her attention. Kelly rips the plaster off the wall. The man that’s telltale hearted behind it is Meadow’s husband, Douglas. Douglas is barely hanging on, but Kelly needs to know where Meadow is. No matter how much she yells his name at him Douglas doesn’t tell her anything she wants to know.

“Well, hey, these things just snap right off.”

And then Douglas is dead.

Not only are we visually aware of this, but also an off-screen voice says as much. Yes, off-screen. What you’ve been watching is “Cult”, the show inside the show. This show seems to be a pretty big deal; people are in a fandom bar watching the show and internet’ing about the show and cracking Easter egg codes directly post ep. Man, I thought “Supernatural” fandom was intense. There’s a young man, Nate, who thinks Douglas behind the wall was the key he needed to crack the next level, he tells his friend Merriam, that he’s onto something but tells her she should go home to her husband instead of heading out with him.

Next morning, Hollywood, California.

Meet Skye. Skye works for the “Cult” production department. It’s her second week and she’s still super gung-ho about it all. She’s even taking to Mr. Fisher, a big man on sound stage campus, about all the extra research she’s been doing, delving into the deepest corners of online fandom. He tells her that the fans put up some wild stuff, one can only assume he’s had more than one night where he fell into an infinite google/wincest spiral. That’s not what Skye is talking about, she’s into the real depths; the people who not only take the show too seriously, but are letting it effect their lives, their sense of safety. Mr. Fisher blows her off.

Over at The SoCal Word, Jeff is arguing with his editor about his article. Jeff has very strong, political views on the parking infrastructure. His editor needs him to tone down his pot-stirring post-Washington Post attitude. They’re interrupted by a phone call. Remember Nate? He’s Jeff’s brother and he’s freaking out, man. We’re talking full on, pull the blinds closed; don’t talk over a cellular phone connection paranoia. Jeff is oddly not super shocked by Nate’s spaz out, he does agree to meet him at a very public diner.

Nate and Jeff seem to have a rocky relationship. Possibly because Nate has junkie/crackhead tendencies. Nate is sure what ever he’s into is deep, but he’s hesitant to pull Jeff in. His sketchy behavior has Jeff hesitant to believe anything he’s saying. Nate comes clean, he’s not smoking the drugs, he’s obsessing over a TV show. He’s gone clear off the reservation and is traipsing through LARPland and Jeff is not having it. Nate plead with Jeff, begs him to help him get away from the red car that is apparently following him. Jeff declines. Nate pulls out John Winchester’s journal and tries to tell Jeff about the episode that made everything go sideways for him. Jeff doesn’t want to hear it. Nate resorts to all he has left, he shoves a pair of 3D glasses into Jeff’s hand and tells him that if anything happens to him to get in touch with Merriam. And on that note, Jeff’s out.

Later that night, Skye is still working. Her friend begs her from the other side of the phone to go out with and party, but Skye would much rather stay in and “research” the fansites. Her friend is concerned and annoyed. Skye’s not even listening anymore.

Cut to Jeff, who is filling up his gas tank at a station fancy enough to have a TV at the pump. Is that an LA thing? On the screen Billy Grimm is breaking the 4th wall, talking directly to the camera about how harmless he is and how awesome his compound is and how you can see for yourself if you tune in to “Cult” on the CW. He also reminds you that while he’s perfectly benevolent, his followers may be a different story. And they’re everywhere. Jeff is clearly less than comfortable with this promo. Just then he gets a panicked, feedback filled phone call from Nate. He can’t make out much except…

“Well, hey, these things just snap right off.”

The phone goes dead.

Jeff tries to call Nate back, but it goes straight to voicemail. Jeff isn’t one to sit on his hands, so he speeds off to Nate’s place. Nate is nowhere to be found. What Jeff does find is “Cult” playing on the TV, a pile of papers and a blood soaked desk chair.

Jeff calls the cops, but he’s not making the best impression on the detective. He’s a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to crime scene details. Hazard of the job; he used to be a homicide reporter in Boston. Jeff is trying to tell the detective about how paranoid and geekily obsessive Nate was acting when another detective comes in with a bag of disco pharmaceuticals. The detectives imply that this may have been dealer retaliation. Jeff isn’t so convinced. The detectives continue to investigate the premises, but Jeff is smooth enough to spot Nate’s cell phone and five-finger it without anyone noticing. The TV is still playing its DVR’d episode of “Cult” and as Jeff watches it we’re sucked back into the world of Billy Grimm vs. Kelly.

Billy is a tad aggravated that Kelly, despite warnings from her superiors, is hounding him. Kelly just wants her family back. All Billy knows is that when Kelly was his follower she was obsessed with him, and now that she’s not under his thumb she’s still obsessed with him. Thin line and all that jazz. She blames one of Billy’s henchmen, Joey, for all this; fully believes that Billy put Joey up to snatching and smuggling her family. Billy creepily tells her that he totally supports her in her family finding endeavor. In fact he has something for her that she may need.

3D glasses.

We’re immediately back to Jeff, who is pulling his shiny glasses out of his coat pocket with a stunned expression.

Morning again and the set of “Cult” is a busy life form. Skye is watching everything. Watching as Jeff gets the grand tour from the show’s publicist. It’s all going well, he’s trying to angle for a meet ‘n’ great with the man behind the “Cult” curtain, Stephen Rae, but he’s curtailed by the fact that the publicist’s assistant has figured out the story Jeff told them about working for the Washington Post was less than honest. He used present tense; The Post was good enough to correct it to past tense. The publicist accuses him of being a psycho fanboy, but Jeff is quick to tell her that he doesn’t even watch the show; it’s his brother that’s into it. And missing. Skye is still eavesdropping. On his way out Jeff literally bumps into Billy Grimm. Or, (possibly) more accurately (maybe), the actor that plays him. He also sees the crew roll out the same car he saw that his brother swore was following him. How many walls are crumbling down? Skye is determined to break down yet another wall. Despite the fact that Nate had deleted all his old text, Skye is able to use her CSI-fu to recover the texts. Nate had been texting someone named Meadow…

Skye decides that it’s time Jeff learned what he’s up against and takes him to where it all really goes down, the Fan Domain. The Fandom Main. The Fan_Dom_Ain. Whatever. The hardcore fanbase bar from early in the episode. She shows him the serial killer-esque scrapbook wall and tacked smack in the middle is a picture of his brother and Merriam LARPing as Billy Grimm and Meadow. Skye helpfully hops onto the bar’s public WiFi and starts sniffing around the chat rooms trying to find an underground LARP rave, while Jeff watches yet another episode of “Cult” unfold more of the story on one of the TV screens. In this scene, Kelly is confronting Joey. Joey tells her that her family is in the shed in Myers Woods. Kelly’s already been there and calls bullshit. Joey scoffs at her, tells her she looked but didn’t seen.

Then he blows his brains out.

Just at that moment, Skye scores the info they need and the two of them follow the lead to the LARP event. During the drive they get to know each other a bit better, Skye’s father was also a journalist; TV though, not print like Jeff, but Jeff’s heard of him. Her dad also went missing years ago, so y’know, Skye and Jeff totally have a lot in common.

They finally pull up to the event venue. Skye remembers it; they shot an episode scene at the same location. Jeff recognizes it; it’s from the scene he just watched in the bar. A flood of LARPers come running out of the motel room so naturally Skye and Jeff go into the room. Huddled against the wall is Merriam dressed as Meadow. She’s a panicked, snotty, tear-streaked mess. She’s rambling. She’s scared. And no Jeff, Nate is not okay. Merriam is sure they’ve got Nate and they’re coming after her next.

“Well, hey, these things just snap right off.”

And BOOM! Merriam takes the Joey way out of the situation and paints the wall with the inside of her skull.

The same detective that was shirty with Jeff about his brother’s disappearance is equally shirty now that she’s dealing with him again, only now with any actual dead body. She’s fairly tired of hearing about this TV show that Jeff is going on about, especially since Merriam’s husband’s official statement is that Merriam never watched “Cult”, she didn’t watch TV at all. Ever. Clearly he’s in on it. The detective isn’t even trying to hear that. Jeff tells her he has to believe him. Oh, really? The detective isn’t so sure about that, because she’s done her homework.

Has anybody else been wondering why Jeff is past tense at The Washington Post and present tense at The SoCal Word? Because Jeff played fast and loose with his journalistic integrity, falsifying a source in order to make a story. Never mind that the facts were true, The Post frowns upon liars.

Skye and Jeff part ways for the night and Jeff goes back to Nate’s to try to find more clues. Instead he mini-marathons “Cult” off Nate’s DVR. He watches Billy Grimm speechify, he watches Meadow get kidnapped, he re-watches Joey’s flip-out and watches Kelly re-investigate the Myers Woods shed. This time in RealD 3D. Sure enough, Kelly can now see instead of just looking and what she see’s is concentric squares jutting out from the wall. The smallest square surrounds a latch. Kelly opens the door to find a crate with a DVD taped to it in the middle of a room. Her partner grabs the DVD while Kelly opens the crate. Seated inside is her nephew. Alive, thankfully.

Jeff turns off the TV and starts going through Nate’s fanboy scrapbook. It’s filled with jumbled scrawlings about the show, however, nestled within the pages of show blather is a sketch Nate drew of him and Jeff as kids and stuck behind that is a DVD identical to the one in the show. He calls Skye to meet him. She’s not super busy anyway, just watching a scene about Kelly and her partner finding a dead body being film. She and the horde of rabid “Cult” fans that found the filming location and are diligently watching the same scene get re-shot and re-shot and re-shot. Fandom dedication doesn’t understand exhaustion or redundancy. As she takes off to meet Jeff, Skye doesn’t notice the girl amongst the crowd that seems less fangirl and more stalker.

At Nate’s place, Skye watches as Jeff puts the DVD into the laptop drive. It immediately goes Ringu on them, flashing random images that make little to no sense. Until Jeff puts on the 3D glasses. With the glasses on he can see blank spaces, he fills in the blanks.

“Well, hey, these things just snap right off.”

This is the worst game of hangman ever. Jeff’s phone rings. It’s Nate scolding him for putting the DVD in. He tells Jeff to stop looking for him and then the line goes dead as the computer starts downloading all of Jeff’s personal information.

Paralleling the show, the detective and her partner have just found a dead body in a dumpster. Young guy wearing a “Cult” t-shirt, massive blood loss. Speaking of massive blood loss, the DNA from Nate’s office chair came back. Survey says, not a match to Nate. The detective thinks Jeff is somehow involved in all of this. She gets into her car and as she reaches for her notebook we can see that she has a tattoo above her wrist. Of concentric squares.

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but “Cult” is shaping up to be everything “Inception” was supposed to be… but wasn’t.

follow Vanessa on Twitter: @nottherribbons

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