Cybergeddon debuts today on Yahoo!
Cybergeddon, the new online “digital thriller” that debuts the first three of its nine 10-minute chapters today on Yahoo!, is not smart. Of course, that just places it in the long, rich tradition of deeply stupid hacking-driven thrillers. The jargon may be more up-to-date, and the computer graphics may be snazzier, but Cybergeddon still very much depicts a world where hacking is essentially magic, and, in the hands of a select few super geniuses, any laptop or smartphone is a magic wand. At this point, it seems almost churlish to expect anything different from this subgenre—and honestly, if Cybergeddon were an entirely authentic depiction of modern cybercrime, it would likely be deathly boring. The hacking premise is ridiculous, but it could also be a lot of fun if handled with the right touch of self-awareness. The problem is with everything else that makes up the story: implausible plot twists that rely on everyone who isn’t the heroine acting like a complete moron, dialogue that veers between clichéd and cringe-worthy, and shameless product placement to end all shameless product placement.
Cybergeddon casts Missy Peregrym, best known for her roles on the reasonably fondly remembered Reaper and ABC’s Canadian import summer cop show Rookie Blue, as Chloe Jocelyn, a one-time hacker who is now a career-driven agent in the FBI’s cybercrime division. All hell breaks loose when the most fearsome cybercriminal she’s ever encountered breaks out of a Czech prison. A Los Angeles reservoir’s computer system goes haywire, a Hong Kong bank is wiped out, and Chloe suddenly finds herself accused of engineering this new spate of viruses. It’s then a question of breaking out of FBI headquarters, assembling a makeshift team of allies—including an old hacking buddy she sent to jail and a fellow agent who’s her ex-partner in both senses of the term—and staying on the lam long enough to clear her name before her arch-nemesis’ plan to pull off the biggest robbery in human history comes to fruition.
It’s not easy cramming a ton of story into a bunch of 10-minute episodes, so there’s room for a little leniency when it comes to Cybergeddon’s reliance on clichés and characters being dumb to keep the plot humming along. For instance, when her superiors arrest Chloe and charge her with cyberterrorism, they completely dismiss her protestations that she was framed. As one agent tells her, “We have you electronically dead to rights”—the extraneous adverb being one of the more regrettable attempts to remind the audience that, yes, this is all about hacking—and that’s the end of Chloe’s argument. Of course, if there’s one kind of person who would want to frame her for cybercrime and have all the skills necessary to forge computer records and create a convincing frame-up, then surely it’s a pissed off master hacker. Even more ludicrously, Chloe’s big escape requires the audience to believe that a trained FBI agent would lack the situational awareness to notice his cell phone is no longer in his pants.
Again, in something approaching fairness, Cybergeddon doesn’t have much time, with each 10-minute chapter required to tell a discrete unit of a larger story, to devote to dealing with all possible head-scratchers and plot holes. Indeed, it would be silly to expect the show to have no such inconsistencies—hell, this weekend’s winner for Outstanding Drama Series has its fair share of logical problems, if you feel inclined to look for them. But Cybergeddon features the kind of basic, crushingly obvious plot holes that smash through any suspension of disbelief. Worse, they undermine the giddy thrills of, say, Missy Peregrym beating the crap out of a couple of burly FBI agents. The problem isn’t that Cybergeddon is dumb—it’s that it can’t manage to conceal that fact, even for only 10 minutes at a time. And it’s entirely possible that the hacking aspects are still the most preposterous parts of Cybergeddon, but that kind of comes with the territory of a story like this. If anything, the story’s treatment of hacking as a magic power makes it all the more troublesome that the rest of the plotting is so unsound.
Symantec Corporation, the people behind Norton AntiVirus, consulted on Cybergeddon and are co-presenting in association with Yahoo!, and that is not a fact easily missed. Generally speaking, I’m not as troubled by product placement as most people are—if it adds to the story’s verisimilitude to use the real product, if it’s possible to integrate the product relatively organically into the story, and if its story function is more than just extra advertisement for the product… well, it’s still not great, but there are worse things. Here, Chloe’s first stop is to get the virus analyzed at Washington D.C.’s Norton Security Operations Center, in which we’re shown multiple shots of the Norton logo and all the visual proof needed to conclude that Norton is the most awesomely high-tech place on Earth. It doesn’t help that what she learns there about the virus seem like things she could have easily worked out for herself, or she could have learned when one of her old hacking friends again analyzes the virus later in the same chapter. Even then, all of that seems downright organic compared to a sequence in Chloe’s escape, in which we’re treated to a pair of lingering close-ups on a post-it note attached to a computer, helpfully reminding its user—and, by extension, the audience—that it’s time to call for a Norton update.
If nothing else, Cybergeddon is decently well cast. Missy Peregrym is an effective action lead, and it doesn’t seem immediately ludicrous that she would be a combat expert and a master hacker—although the idea that changing her hairstyle and changing her clothes makes her a master of disguise is slightly harder to swallow. As the master cybercriminal Gustove Dobreff, Olivier Martinez doesn’t get much to do in these first three chapters, but he’s a reasonably chilling presence, and Australian actor Kick Gurry manages to keep his comic relief hacker character largely on the right side of obnoxious. Director Diego Velasco does a workmanlike job with the always tricky task of making a bunch of code on computer screens look interesting, and he’s able to wring some tension out of Chloe’s escape from FBI clutches. At the same time, he’s overly fond of split-screens and randomly uses a webcam to shoot part of one scene for no particular reason other than to again remind viewers of the “cyber” part of Cybergeddon. Velasco’s style is more hyperactive than is strictly necessary, and the dim lighting doesn’t do any favors for his digital cameras, but by the standards of online digital thrillers, he’s solid enough. All this constitutes the only reason why big fans of the cybercrime subgenre might want to stick with Cybergeddon for its remaining six chapters, which will be released over the next couple of days. The acting and the direction is theoretically good enough to at least deliver some enjoyably dumb hacking-fueled thrills, assuming the more unwieldy plot machinations and Norton advertising are now out of the way. But for those looking to be convinced of the vitality of long-form online storytelling, they’re not likely to find what they’re looking for with Cybergeddon.
- In the still further interest of fairness, the three chapters I watched are apparently only a small part of a much larger Cybergeddon whole, which apparently involves “an immersive storytelling, social media and gaming experience.” I doubt the social media and gaming aspects are going to redeem the weak storytelling, unless considerably more care went into those aspects than went into the web series, but it’s a disclaimer worth throwing out there.