Salvation, on CBS
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First of all, I want to say that it's a bit hard to classify this series. It has a mildly sci-fi-ish aspect, but it appears to be essentially set in the present, and it's not super-implausible, I guess. I'd like to have been able to call it a limited series, but the 13-episode first season ends on a cliffhanger. So clearly the writers were hoping for a second season. And they got one.
So, there's this MIT grad student named Liam Cole, who's been making a map of the solar system. Or rather, he made a computer program that is making a map. One night when he's out at a bar, he meets a woman named Jillian Hayes, and the two of them go back to her place to hook up. While he's there, Liam's phone alerts him that his computer program has detected an asteroid headed for Earth, which would get here in 186 days, and could cause an extinction-level event. He immediately goes to tell his professor, Dr. Malcolm Croft, who has friends in Washington, apparently. The next day, Croft doesn't show up to teach his class, so Liam goes back to the professor's house, and it looks as if Croft had been kidnapped. And when Liam calls 911 to report it, he spots a suspicious looking black SUV parked nearby, which ends up chasing him. He eludes it, and later goes to see a famous tech billionaire named Darius Tanz (whom we'd previously seen give a lecture that both Liam and Jillian had attended, before the two of them actually met). Liam shows Darius his data, which convinces him of the danger. So he takes Liam with him to D.C., to talk to Deputy Secretary of Defense Harris Edwards.
Before that meeting, we had seen that Harris is in a secret relationship with a member of his staff, Pentagon Press Secretary Grace Barrows (Jennifer Finnigan). Grace is divorced, and has a daughter named Zoe who is just graduating high school, and planning to go to college. However, Zoe surprises her mother with the information that she's planning to take a year off before college, to do volunteer work in Africa. (It seemed to me that we didn't see Zoe again for a few episodes, so I assumed she had already left, but she does show up later, because she hadn't left yet.) Also, when Darius and Liam show up at Harris's office to tell him about the asteroid, he takes both them and Grace to a secret room in the Pentagon where people have been tracking the asteroid (called "Samson") for like six months, and working on plans to deal with it. It's top secret, of course, but now that Darius and Liam know about it, Harris decides to tell Grace about it, so she can help keep the news from getting out to anyone else. However, she soon finds out he's not telling her the whole truth. Meanwhile, Darius has his own plan to save the human race from extinction. He doesn't believe the Department of Defense's plan is going to work; instead, he wants to build an ark ship that could take a select group of 160 people to colonize Mars. He tells Liam and Grace about this, but neither of them want any part of it, at first. Liam goes back to Boston to see Jillian again, and... well, in what I consider a nice touch, she's a science fiction writer, and he asks for advice about his situation (without really letting her know it's a real situation), and that leads him to return to D.C. to help Darius, after all. And after Grace learns that Harris is still keeping secrets, she also goes back to Darius... to convince him to help the DOD make its plan work. Oh, and it turns out Darius had already secretly built his ark ship, which is called Salvation. And he eventually hires Jillian to be part of a group of people he has trying to select the 160 people to be saved from extinction by going on Salvation (though it's just a theoretical thing to them, since the people debating which people from all of humanity are most worthy of saving have no idea the ship actually exists, nor that the Earth is in imminent danger). Anyway, Jillian's new job also means she gets to spend more time with Liam (though their relationship has its ups and downs).
There's also a reporter named Amanda Neel, who has taken an interest in Liam, as a possible source of information on whatever's going on with Darius. And she ends up uncovering several major secrets that the government has been keeping. And um... lots of stuff happens over the course of the season. It turns out there's a conspiracy against the U.S. President, Pauline Mackenzie. I don't want to say too much about that, but I do want to mention that one of the conspirators is the Vice President, Monroe Bennett (Sasha Roiz, whom I know from Grimm). Other characters I want to mention mainly because the actors were familiar to me include Darius's childhood sweetheart, Theresa (aka "Tess," after whom he had named his company's A.I.), who comes back into his life following the death of her brother, who was the head of Tanz Industries' security. (Theresa is played by Autumn Reeser.) And Darius has an estranged uncle named Nicholas (John Noble). Some characters who are a bit more important to the story include Grace's father, a former CIA agent named Hugh Keating (Mark Moses, probably best known to me from Desperate Housewives); and a woman named Claire Rayburn, who works with Harris; and a young man named Dylan, who is Harris's son, and turns out to be involved in a hacktivist group called "RE/SYST." Zoe ends up getting involved with the group, and with Dylan. But the DOD eventually attacks their base, and several people are killed... apparently including Dylan.
So anyway, there's lots of stuff going on, and it just gets more and more complicated, and the story seems to go in several directions (though they're all interconnected to some degree, I suppose). It can be a bit hard to follow at times, but mostly I found it interesting. And it's always nice to see familiar actors (though the main reason I watched was for Jennifer Finnigan, whom I've always liked but have seen in far too few things). I don't want to spoil all of the season's developments, but I kind of need to say at least a couple of things. At one point, Claire is about to shoot Harris, because she's actually part of Bennett's conspiracy. However, Grace shoots her before she can do so. Later, Grace's father disposes of Claire's body. Also, RE/SYST stages an attack on an American military ship, making it look like Russia had done it. This leads to the season's major cliffhanger, in which there may be nuclear war between America and Russia. And the group of people Jillian's team had been assembling are now sealed into the secret bunker where Salvation is kept, so that they can survive if Russian nuclear missiles strike.
A hell of a lot of things happen this season, and I'm sure I'll relate some bits out of order. It really gets pretty crazy, but it's fun. Kind of.
The 160 people in the bunker include Grace, Harris, and Jillian. Another is a woman named Fiona Lane, with whom Harris had met last season and hooked up with. (I don't think I mentioned that at some point before that, he and Grace had broken up. Also, Grace and Darius became a couple, sort of.) At the time that Harris met Fiona, she was a bartender, but he now learns that she's also... I forget exactly, some kind of scientific student, I guess. Which explains why she was selected as one of the 160. The bunker is eventually sabotaged by someone from within, and a gas is released that nearly kills everyone inside. However, Darius opens the bunker in time to save them, and we learn that he is now Vice President of the United States. Then we get to see how that came to be. Um... the war is averted, but RE/SYST hacks... I think it was two... of Russia's missiles, and takes control of them. They use them to make demands, including forcing Darius to let them use Tanz Industries as a base of operations for an international team of scientists they select, including Liam, to come up with a plan to stop the asteroid. President Mackenzie makes Darius her Vice President, and Harris Secretary of Defense, and makes Grace her senior adviser.
The team that RE/SYST has assembled includes Malcolm Croft, who I guess I didn't reveal some things about last season, including that he turned out to be working for the Russians, which led to a serious falling out between him and Liam. Another member of the team is Alycia Vrettou, who used to work with Darius, and had helped create the Tess A.I. However, when she tried to make the code for the program public, Darius had fired her, so now she holds a major grudge against him. Also I should say that last season, after nearly getting married, Liam and Jillian sort of broke up, and now Alycia becomes a potential love interest for him. However, he eventually discovers she's actually a member of RE/SYST. And then things get complicated between them. Also, Jillian begins working as Darius's assistant in the White House. This leads to her reconnecting with an old acquaintance named Nate Ryland, who also works there. He later takes her to a meeting of a sort of support group called COPE, the head of which is a guy named Bass Shepherd. They're all about accepting the impending end of the world, and making peace with it. Or whatever.
Also, a police detective named Alzono Carter begins investigating the disappearance of Claire Rayburn, who we soon learn was his sister. Meanwhile, throughout the early part of this season, Grace keeps having hallucinations of Claire, brought on by her guilt over having killed her. And her guilt becomes worse when she has to start lying to Alonzo about Claire. Eventually, Claire's body is discovered, so it becomes a murder investigation. And later, Grace's father confesses to the crime, to protect Grace. However, she eventually admits the truth to Alonzo. But he eventually comes to believe Grace's claim that she was part of the conspiracy against President Mackenzie. And... in the later part of the season, he works with Grace and Harris and everyone to help deal with other problems that arise. Um... I need to mention that last season, the conspiracy made it seem that Mackenzie had died, and Bennett assumed the presidency. But Harris and everyone eventually found Mackenzie and restored her to office. This season, Bennett resurfaces and claims that the presidency had been illegally taken from him, and he tries to get the Supreme Court to rule in his favor. But he also has taken control of part of the military, in case he needs to stage a coup.
Meanwhile, Darius gets a scientist friend of his (in Iceland, I think) named Dr. Rosetta Stendahl to put together a team to build a railgun, to shoot the asteroid and nudge it in another direction. At the same time, Liam and RE/SYST's team of scientists start designing a solar sail to do the same thing. Eventually, the two projects will work in tandem.
Bennett is eventually stopped, and arrested. But later he's somehow killed. And Mackenzie is also killed, which makes Darius the acting President. Harris discovers that Fiona is working for some mysterious group that may be connected to the murders of Bennett and/or Mackenzie. The group turns out to be Q17, a sort of intelligence agency that works for some of the richest people in the world... including Nicholas Tanz. When Darius learns about this, he does all he can, with the help of his friends, to stop them. But his uncle is determined to acquire Salvation so that he and his allies can escape Earth before the asteroid hits.
Um... man, there must be so much I'm forgetting (in addition to the countless details I've left out to avoid spoiling). At one point, Zoe returns home from Africa, and we learn that she's pregnant with Dylan's baby. Also, COPE turns out to be a major threat, for reasons I don't want to spoil. And there are some recurring characters I haven't mentioned, including White House Counsel Roland Kavanaugh (Jonathan Silverman), and FBI Director Evelyn Davis (Samantha Ferris), and Congressman (later VP, then President) Trey Thomason (James Lesure). And probably any number of others. Anyway, I guess I don't want to reveal any more of what happens. But I will say that the season ends on another cliffhanger, and if there had been a third season, I might very well have been forced to move this review from "drama" to "science fiction."