Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Chris Carter's The After: Exploring Four Mysteries in the Pilot


I hope by now everyone has had the opportunity to watch the extraordinary pilot episode of Chris Carter’s The After (2014), available for free streaming at Amazon.com.

I wrote a review of the episode here, but today I want to discuss in detail some of the mysteries the drama establishes.

So if you haven’t watched the pilot yet, and you plan to do this, this post will spoil your sense of discovery. 

Stop reading!!

Go watch the program and then come back after an hour or so, and read this, okay?

Now, for everyone else, I want to elaborate on some of the series’ mysteries as they appear in the pilot. If and when the pilot goes to series, then we’ll have other aspects of the central mystery to discuss, no doubt, and some of the implications discussed below may also be moot.  As we learn more, some theories will gain traction, and others will become inoperative.




Mystery One: Missing Time

About mid-way through the pilot episode, Gigi (Louise Monot) seeks assistance from a harried and distracted policeman in the city proper, and he informs her that communications have been down for a day. 

This comment does not seem consistent with Gigi’s time-line as we experience it, suggesting that, somehow, time has been altered for her and the other individuals in the parking garage. 

Later in the program, if memory serves, Gigi repeats this information to the others as if she can’t understand why the policeman said it. The implication, I believe, is that they share her perception of time. The group of eight has been through something different, therefore, than the rest of the world.

We know that Chris Carter is familiar with the concept of “missing time.” 

It featured, for example, in The X-Files pilot in 1993. Basically, it is a phenomenon in which alien abductees “lose” time because their memories have been tampered with. They have been abducted, forgot the abduction (or rather, had the memories of the abduction erased….) and when they return to Earth, feel like they are missing a piece of their lives. Clocks and other time-pieces also reveal a discrepancy.

In The After, we might assume that the survivors we meet in the parking garage and elevator have been singled out by the strange phenomenon -- whatever it is -- and they have similarly seen their reality altered. They remember time differently than the rest of the world remembers it, or at the very least differently than the police officer Gigi encounters, who has been “out” in the world dealing with the crisis.

So when did this group of eight lose time?  When trapped in the elevator? When in the parking deck?

And why were they singled-out, targeted, and abducted, if that is indeed what occurred?



Mystery Two: March 7th

We learn in The After  -- after all eight people in Gigi's group gather in Francis’s (Sharon Lawrence’s) house -- that every individual there share one birthday in common: March 7. 

This could mean a couple of things, if we delve into the mystery.

The first possibility is one that a friend of mine in California e-mailed me about, and is based on a similar revelation from the movie Identity (2000). 

To wit: what if in The After, we are not dealing with eight separate people in a group, but actually one person with multiple personalities and a splintered sense of reality?  All the personalities -- essentially being just one person -- thus share a birth date.

The second possibility is that these survivors are part of a laboratory experiment of some unknown (alien?) sort. They have all been selected to be trapped together (and perhaps experience missing time..) because of their birth-date. 

They are the March 7th experiment group, in other words.

This would mean that the Dark Shadows group people not in terms of actual date of birth -- because the characters are clearly different ages -- but by astrological sign, perhaps.

The third possibility is very similar to the preceding speculation. The survivors in The After who gather in the house share a birth date because they have all ended up in Hell, purgatory, or some alternate spiritual dimension. 

In other words, this is the Hell of People Born on March 7th.  

If the Dark Shadow is a demon, he has been assigned to monitor them, and their actions. 

He has even been “branded” with their specific tattoos (like the 888, or the snake eating its tail) because he must keep track of them, and perhaps (with those red eyes…) he sees them differently than humans see each other.  His vision is different, in other words.  

So he keeps track of them, observes them, or perhaps even hunts them based on these identifying markings…which he also keeps on his body as a handy reference to his prey.




Mystery 3: The Dark Shadow

This intensely creepy being revealed in The After's denouement may either be an alien or a demon, but he certainly seems to be watching the survivors of the apocalyptic “event” very closely. Humanoid (meaning biped....) in shape, the creature seems to be able to re-shape himself at least to some degree. His bones and muscles re-form, and he skitters away in a kind of spider walk. 

The very term “spider-walk” might remind some horror genre fans explicitly of The Exorcist (1973), and the cut-scene involving a possessed Regan (Linda Blair) spider-walking down a staircase. 

This footage was unearthed more than a decade ago, and is seen in outtakes and some cuts of the film. The Exorcist reference or allusion may therefore suggest something important about the Dark Shadow’s nature.  

He could be a demon, like the creature in the Friedkin film. 

I should hasten to add, Chris Carter is an extremely knowledgeable person in terms of cinema and horror history, and his work often includes homage, tribute, and allusion. So we shouldn't take the manner of the creature's gait too lightly. It could be a clue.

I believe, at this juncture, that the Dark Shadow is an observer (at least at first), though he attempts physical contact with Gigi. The fact that he makes this effort suggests that he may not be afraid of being “seen” by his quarry.



Mystery 4: The Tattoos.

One character in The After – Tammy (Arielle Kebbel) -- has a tattoo: “888.”  

That number represents Jesus “the redeemer” in Christian numerology circles. By contrast, the Devil is 666.

In Chinese numerology, 888 is a number that represents good fortune. But given what we know of Tammy (that she is from the Bible Belt, and talks specifically about the Book of Revelation…), we must assume that her 888 tattoo is Christian in origin, meaning, and importance.

What other meanings could 888 have?  Well, the year 888 AD was a leap year, though I’m not certain why that would be important (except, after a sense, it could be termed a year with “missing time.”)

Finally, the tattoo has three eights, and as has already been established in these speculations, there are also eight survivors in The After, working together. So the 888 may have some secret significance, like the March 7th birthdate.

The Ouroboros tat -- the tail-swallowing-snake -- by contrast represents a repeating cycle. 

It also represents a “primordial energy” or unity that cannot be extinguished. The man who wears it, McCormick (Andrew Howard) could therefore be a former member of the Millennium Group (!), or a member of some other organization we don’t know about.  

Or, he might simply find the Ouroboros personally meaningful to him. 

However, if we put the 888 together with the Ouroboros, we get the idea of Christ the Redeemer and a Cycle that Repeats. Does this mean that The After reckons with Judgment Day, the Second Coming of Christ, and Armageddon, his battle with Dark Forces (represented by the Dark Shadows)?

We shall see, I hope.

Anyone else have any thoughts about these or any other mysteries on The After?  I’d love to read your thoughts and get a discussion going here about all of them.

I have noted before how much The After impressed me, and part of the reason why involves these (and other mysteries…), which seem highly symbolic, and related to Scripture. 

Carter's work is universally symbolic, which grants it layers, and makes it eminently worthy of a re-watch. 

 It looks like The After resurrects that same magic alchemy...

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the commentary and ideas, it's a lot to mull over. I'm perplexed by the sound the crowd kept hearing like crunching metal mixed with thunder. Very reminiscent of the noise of the smoke monster in Lost. I don't think they are in purgatory mainly because the old lady still suffers physical afflictions that would theoretically only affect her if she were physical in form and still alive. To further that, she's the only one that doesn't seem freaked out by all this, it's her house they went back to and her house where the dark spirit showed up.. Thinking she's more than she appears to be and may be a control or overseer of sorts.

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    1. Hi JWickliffe, thank you for commenting. I agree that there is a lot to mull over. These were just the first four mysteries that came to mind. I know there are others too. You mentioned the sound or noise, heard from the group in the broken-down elevator. That's another one worth mentioning. I also like your idea that Francis may somehow be involved. She seems so innocuous and nice (and frail...) and that's a perfect disguise, right? Great speculations...

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  2. Anonymous2:15 PM

    Some interesting thoughts here, John. I suspect you may be onto something with at least some of these insights. Personally, I suspect the religious links hold some weight in particular. I hadn't appreciated the significance of "888" (a number irrevocably burned into my mind as nothing but the page number of the UK's Teletext service to get subtitles in a bygone age!) but there was one moment that really caught my attention in the pilot in this regard.

    It's the scene where Tammy is in the swimming pool and says (telling) to McCormick, "How will we pay for our sins? ... The Book of Revelation: have you ever read it? I mean, have you ever *really* read it? ... Maybe that explains everything: what it is John saw about the Serpent, and who the Prostitute is."

    This is just one character's perspective, of course, but it was the single most affecting moment of the episode for me (with the possible exception of its denouement!) and surely significant given the two characters involved. I have to wonder if all the other characters (the Lawyer, the Actor, etc.) are not symbolic archetypes in the story's wider context. It was interesting to read in Troy Foreman's interview with him, though, that Carter eschewed the term "apocalyptic" as a label. I am sure you are right in that we are seeing some of the great man's alchemy back at work, though, and I do so hope we get to see it play out.

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  3. (Forgive my handle showing up there, John. That was, as you probably gathered, Adam Chamberlain!)

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  4. That's a great write-up, John. As you pointed out, I think clues clearly seem to point towards a Biblical Apocalypse so far: the number 888 tatoo, the Book of Revelation talk, the demon, its "Alea iacta est" whisper and even the evocative/mystical tones of the soundtrack in the end. Considering Carter's knack for symbolism that's definitely something to be excited for. But...

    What about the grey alien seen in Gigi's vision/nightmare in the beginning? You can actually spot it for a really brief instant I think (analyze the sequence frame by frame), but it must be there for a purpose. What do you guys think? Would that be a sign of a full-scale (aka universal) apocalypse?

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  5. The After is a setup (either directly or indirectly) for X-Files 3...I'm calling it now.

    My logic proof:

    The show begins at the beginning of the apocalypse (and there is a subtle allusion to an element of 'missing time' for our heroes...reminiscent of the recurring X-Files alien abduction concept of missing time).

    We see that multiple members of the rag-tag group of survivors have ouroboros tattoos. Now, for anyone who remembers Carter's show Millennium, the Ouroboros symbol played a huge part. Of course, that show had a direct crossover in the X-files...its 'finale' was actually an X-Files episode. Not only that, but in X-files, Scully once got an Ouroboros tattoo, and Chris Carter has said that the connection between this icon in X-Files and in Millenium is significant. The shows X-Files and Millennium exist in the same universe and have even shared screen time.

    Both X-Files and Millennium were shows about the impending end of the world. Carter has said that the third X-Files movie will be a post-colonization story (post-apocalypse). The After is about the apocalypse.

    At the end of the episode, we see a demon/alien/non-human entity run off the screen in a creepy (but poorly CGIed fashion) crab-walk. This creature could've easily been something directly out of either (or both) X-Files or (and) Millennium.

    Conclusion - Chris Carter's show "The After" is a big set up (whether directly or indirectly) for X-Files 3.

    Aside from that, it will have strong scientific and religious implications (the alchemy being common to X-Files in the Scully=faith in God but is steeped in scientific tradition where Mulder=faith in paranormal but skeptical religiously dynamic). Their birthdays are all March 7th...which is, of course, the 66th day of the year (would anyone doubt, then, that they were all born at 6pm...etc etc etc). I see that being significant. However, I bet we'll get a scientific bend to it, too. Aliens = demons or some such connection (though it will likely always be vague and unanswered and open to interpretation by the characters).

    Am I crazy in seeing this connective tissue?

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  6. Has anyone found anything about what is being whispered when the shadow is near Gigi inside the forest?

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  7. Anonymous8:18 AM

    Hello! My name is Ric, from Brazil, and I write fiction, but in portuguese! Please sorry my english, it's not my natural language.

    I only get the chance to see the episode yesterday (and I only found this amazing website now!) and I think that "The After" had HUGE potential.

    Beside the great ones, the Pilot had many little clues that people dont realize yet...

    Just one example: Take a look at the movie poster on the wall in the french girl's audition.I will not spoiler, but just take a look, guys!

    I have some theories. Ad if none of them become the right "solution", then I will use them in my own storys! (any producer out there who wants to hear some suggestions? :) )

    Anyway, this is the thing I believe is the more important. The pilot open my imagination, but not with random stuff like in "Lost". In this regard Chris Carter's job is done!

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