As the gorgeous credit sequence to the new Kiefer Sutherland vehicle Touch unfolds, Tim Kring reminds us, “I did Heroes!” by bringing up that Red String of Fate idea again. A child’s voice tells us a thread connects all those whose lives need to touch—”this thread may stretch or tangle but it will never break.”
Okay, so the original red thread in East Asian myth connects people who are going to be soul mates, lovers. Touch gets rid of that orgiastic possibility of complicated international more-some hook-ups and makes the thread signify how people all over the world can influence one another’s lives, joys, and sorrows, all revealed through numeric patterns. Plus, Touch teaches us, all of this numinous number-theory fueled influence apparently must happen in a period of 72 hours (-ish) and involve lots of cell phone conversations. That’s some speedy mystical tech-enabled connecting, y’all.
We open on airport baggage claim worker Martin Bohm, collecting cell phones from Lost and Found to take to his son. One of the phones rings—the owner complains it’s being passed around from country to country. And he wants it back, because he’s British, it’s his daughter’s birthday, he’s in Mumbai (as one is), and he needs photographs on the phone immediately. Who wants to bet the daughter’s dead? Martin completely forgets about the British guy when his son’s school calls: “Again? You’ve got to be kidding me.” Angst-ridden British dad is left talking to the conveyer belt as Martin drops him there and rushes off to save his son.
Cell phones are important. Have you figured that out yet? Cell phones, important. Next scene discovers Jake Bohm, Martin’s autistic mute eleven-year-old son, hanging out on top of a cell tower. He heads there always around 3:18pm, one of the workers notes. Oh, and “Don’t touch him!” Martin yells at everyone who is, you know, not trying to touch his son. So someone’s done their research on certain more severe manifestations of autism, like aversions to touch, and we figure out the kid who reveals everyone’s lives touching can’t himself be physically touched. Also, cell phones are important.
At a gas station, a bus load of kids draws Jake’s attention, oh my god, they’re probably going to blow up later, because I swear Jake’s attention is a marker of doom! When he slips out of the car, I breathe a sigh of relief as I realize the bus isn’t going to blow up just yet while he and his dad note the bus number: #318. I’ll tell you, I started to get anxious at first about keeping track of the random numbers on Touch, but then I realized they will be repeated over and over and over, so it’s okay if you happen to be gulping your gin and tonic when they’re first mentioned.
Jake heads into the convenience store at the gas station, and to the background of a television news graphic, “The Children of 9/11” (who wants to bet Jake is one of them?) gets an orange soda and steals someone’s lottery ticket. “You ought to keep that kid in a cage,” the lottery man rails at Martin (because it’s awful when children borrow a piece of paper and then hand it back to you seconds later), and Martin lunges for him but gets quickly creamed in a fistfight.
In Dublin, a chanteuse covers Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” presumably so we can focus on the “this is my message to you-oo-ooo!” But wait, how are we supposed to convey a message with out a—oh, there’s the cell phone, recording her performance! The singer’s pal tells her he’s going to make her a star, because he’s got some phone being passed from country to country, and rather than uploading her fine performance thing to YouTube right away, he’s going to give the phone to a random businessman to carry on to the next international destination. This seems an unsound promotional strategy, but Red Thread, people, Red Thread! *swirls fingers in mystical fashion*
That mean guy from the gas station stares at the lottery ticket as he pins it to his wall—already covered with previous lottery tickets featuring the exact same number. Oh, he must be obsessed with that number for some significant reason! Or he’s just playing the same number daily, like how many, many people play the lottery all the time.
Martin steps over the circular pattern his son’s arranged his new-to-him cell phones in on the floor and yells at him, because everyone ever is reporting them to Child Protective Services. He apologizes, and then the son silently gives him a “back on message, people!” reminder by somehow making all the circled-up cell phones ring in sequence with the same digits as that lottery number from earlier.
In Baghdad, a boy’s dreams of hitting the comedy circuit by stealing Chris Rock’s act is crushed because his dad’s oven is broken, and the whole family is instantly in dire financial straits.
Back in NYC, a social worker shows up at Martin and Jake’s ah-may-zing Manhattan loft. See, she’s somehow skipped every appropriate procedure in these sorts of cases (different school programs for special needs kids; various occupational, physical, language, and psychological therapy programs; in-patient after-school programs; and the list goes on and on) and demands Martin turn over his son for two weeks assessment/possibly permanent move to a State Welfare Is Evil Facility.
The series also brings the 9/11 barge-full of emotional issues round about once again by noting that Martin’s stock-broker wife died in the north tower of the WTC, and that’s how they have this fabulous apartment even though, as the social worker scolds, he’s a single dad, and doesn’t make much money. I sure can see why this is a point to criticize; everyone else in the world with special needs children are all in nuclear families and have healthy 401Ks!
Hey, and now we have a reason for Martin’s many jobs over the years, because of his 9/11-related trauma. We couldn’t just make him blue collar because he is, huh? Sorry, I’m just not big on this sort of lower-class status as a glass case of emotion thing, when a blue collar hero is a white collar achiever in disguise, only following his line of work out of aaaaaaangst.
Guess who won the lott-er-y? If you guessed the surly gas station guy, you’re right! He calls someone and tells them he really wants to come home now. You’re a millionaire, guy, you can go wherever you want—at least until, in the sad fashion of most lottery winners, you find yourself again destitute and in debt after overspending. Until then, though, sky’s the limit!
British phone-lacking guy calls his wife, or ex-wife, on the way to Tokyo. “I was going to try to get home for her birthday tomorrow night,” he tells her, and when a single tear runs down the wife’s cheek we confirm the guess that, yes, their daughter’s dead. Oh, and does she have any of those photos of their daughter from the last happy week of all of their lives? No? Because obviously they’re all on the well-traveled phone currently on its way to Japan.
The poor kid in Baghdad tries to figure out a way to get his folks money for a new stove. His friend jokes he can always blow himself up for terrorists to make his family cash. But no, no, he has a crazy convoluted plan involving breaking-and-entering a restaurant where terrorists like to hang out and maybe force people to take part in their schemes! Much better alternative.
Some happy sparkly Japanese prostitutes who adore music (remember how we saw a musical performance a few scenes ago?) nab the phone from the businessman who went from Dublin to Tokyo. I hope that’s all they get from him, hurr hurr. Oh, internationally-traveling businessmen, you are the disease-spreading sailors of our time.
Martin drops Jake off at the facility, telling Clea the social worker to give Jake orange soda and popcorn if he freaks out (and he’s not going to, say, demand to see the court order for this mandated containment of his son? No? Okay).
The Japanese girls turn out to have a penchant not only for stealing phones, but for starting (wildly successful, we presume) fan clubs to promote singers, just like the singer they’re watching on the cell phone! Oh, and they know a dude who can put any content they want on a JumboTron in Tokyo, because they are just that giggly and adorable (and apparently said dude won’t mind being fired to death).
The very first online site Martin visits linking cell phones and autism leads him to the Teller Institute (where someone will tell him things), which of course is located on West Tesla Street, because Nikola Tesla was all kinds of mad and unpredictable and genius-like even before we get to the whole way-cooler-than-Edison part (alternating current all the waaaayyy!).
The Teller Institute turns out to consist solely of a single spokesman for the mathematical and mystical, Danny Glover, who of course yells at Martin like a nut when Martin rings the bell, wears a bathrobe most of the time, and imparts sage words and wise theories moments later. Much as I want Danny Glover on my television set every single week—seriously, upgrade him from guest-starring right the heck now, people—if Touch doesn’t develop him into more than an exposition-spouting magical Negro character guiding the tortured white characters, well. I’m going to keep talking about how that’s dickish here week after week, mmkay?
Arthur Teller immediately guesses Jake likes to climb cell phone towers, spouts some theory that autistic kids have a sole/soul purpose, to “act as air traffic controllers for [electromagnetic energy and] interconnectivity.” Of course Jake’s somehow discovered one of the most complicated natural-mathematical patterns completely on his own, and Martin hears “your son sees everything, the past, the present, the future…It’s a road map, and your job now, your purpose, is to follow it for him.” You know, if this doesn’t encourage helicopter parents all over that their inexplicably underperforming or atypical child is in fact the mystical facilitator of world change, well. Haha, I’m just joking, those people require no encouragement for their aggressive elbowing the way to the top on their kid’s behalf! *shudders* Still, the show sure plays their tune pretty loud.
At the State Welfare Is Evil Facility, Jake arranges his popcorn into a pattern in front of Clea, who has absolutely no other cases or children to supervise except him. Just to mess with her head, Jake represents her mother’s phone number in popcorn form, and the number rings through on Clea’s cell phon. I’m guessing her mother is dead, or maybe horribly estranged from her daughter, but there’s no time for that now, because Jake has changed mediums to white-board/dry-erase markers, and is circling the date, the 18th, over and over. 3:18 again! Someone check on that damn bus of schoolchildren!
As the mean old lottery winner gets ready to travel to Lynchburg, Virginia, Martin’s apparently 100% on board with Arthur Teller’s directive to follow the roadmap his son’s laying out for him through numbers. Oh, and one of the recent numbers is based in Grand Central.
Clea rushes over to tell Martin that Jake circled 3/18, today’s date, and it’s close to 3pm now: “He’s trying to tell us something!” she cries. Wow, the social worker jumped on board to this “Jake is a mystical prophetic force” even faster than Martin did, huh? They head to Grand Central and split up, because it’s going to be easy-peasy to find this phone in a crowded train terminal. There’s a nice soundtrack bit that sounds almost like ear-ringing, a dissociative indicator as Martin rushes through the throng of commuters, and then he hears the public telephone ring. Wait, I’m not even shocked he found the phone associated with the magical number; I’m reeling because there’s still a working payphone anywhere in NYC?
Martin tries to force the person on the payphone to hang up, repeating urgently that it’s an emergency. Oh dear, it’s the jerky guy from the gas station, and they immediate scuffle on the floor, turning an eerie moment of intersecting storylines in a weirdly comic bit of fisticuffs. By the time cops separate them and the gas station dude tries to go catch a train to start his trip to Virginia, Martin realizes, devastated, that he missed whatever was supposed to happen at 3:18pm.
For some reason the two kids in Baghdad break into the restaurant as planned but decide to measure the oven. So they can…steal an appliance that weighs a ton? Comparison shop? What? Just then the terrorists they spotted previously come in with a bunch of untraceable phones, and one of them is the British guy’s phone that’s already been in Dublin and Tokyo. By the way, I do really, really like that the show insists on language appropriateness, that as we go to international locations everyone doesn’t automatically chatter to each other in English. Plus, subtitles make everything look fancy-schmancy. Uh oh, the terrorists spot the boys, and upon learning the boy’s family needs an oven, sneer, “What are you willing to pay for it?” Guess who is about to have a bomb strapped to his middle?
Martin, disconsolate, arrives home alone to hear a phone message. It’s from a fireman who was in the north tower of the WTC with his wife, from ladder company 318 (318!). He carried Martin’s weak-pulsed wife down 31 flights of stairs, and then left her for dead. The combination of the floor number, the number of flights, etc., gave him the lottery number he plays every day and—oh snap, it’s of course the surly guy from the gas station who’s trying to get to Virginia! Anyway, he won the lottery and has money because of Martin’s wife: “I’m guessing she’d want me to give it all way.” Um. Why? She was a stock-broker, and sssshhh, insider secret here: finance workers tend not to give all their money away.
Then Martin realizes on television, that bus of school kids FINALLY went up in flames. And just who was it who saved every child on board, pulling them from the burning wreck? It was, say it with me, the mean gas station guy who left Martin’s wife for dead! “If I hadn’t missed my train, I wouldn’t have been here,” the man says in a surprised voice, so it turns out that Martin was exactly right to jump him as he spoke on the phone at Grand Central.
Martin runs to the Evil Facility, and “thank god you’re here!” Clea shrieks, because whoops, she’s lost Jake already! Someone call Child Protective Services on her, okay?
British phone-lacker calls support in Dublin, and gets connected to the Bob-Marley cover singer. Oh, and he’s calling her from in front of the JumboTron in Tokyo. “I’m six thousand miles from my home in London, on the road. I sell restaurant supplies. I know it’s a long shot, but there are some photos on the phone and I need to see them” because they’re of his daughter who died a year ago today (on her…birthday? yikes). But lo and behold, the Brighton vacation photos are playing for the world to see and the father chokes up.
Guess who has the phone now—okay, fine, it’s obvious that the phone is somehow triggering a bomb nearly ready to go boom that’s strapped to our Chris Rock loving, bakery-oven needing Baghdad boy. The Dublin phone service worker/rising star singer connects with him, and realizes he can take the battery out of the phone and halt the bombing. He had a dream of wanting to be Chris Rock, he tells her; “I love Chris Rock!” she exclaims. Of course she does. If he disconnects the battery/bomb, she knows someone—our British restaurant supplier—who can get his family an oven, and problem solved!
As Dublin singer watches herself playing on YouTube (an assurance of insta-stardom, I’m told), and British phone-lacking guy arrives home and his wife pulls off his coat for him (the international symbol for getting back together after mourning your dead child), Martin overcomes his fear of heights and climbs the cell phone tower where once again, Jake has escaped. “I did what you wanted, I followed the numbers—the kids on that bus, they were saved because of you, Jake!” he pleads, and then in a lovely bit of well-played vulnerability, “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I can hear you, Jake.” I’m already snuffling as Jake turns and hugs his dad, completely going against the “don’t touch him!” directive. But, uh, it’s just to snag his cell phone to type in a new number. I’m still taking it as a hug, people! “It’s a road map,” Martin says shakily of this new number, and dials. Poor Martin, this road isn’t going to let him rest as he continues to play Watson for his son’s mute mystically prophetic Sherlock for at least 12 more episodes.