You know how everyone keeps talking about certain TV shows as an 18-hour movie or whatever? Next is the opposite: a 10-hour TV show that would have been a much better two-hour film. It nailed the AI thriller part, but was forced to stretch that premise out like an all-day sucker. Each episode was broken down into simple goals to aid the viewer: Decrypt the hard drive; insert a virus into Next; and now, in the finale, blow it all up with a truck bomb.
John Slattery wasn’t trying super hard by this point, but such is his effortless charm that he doesn’t really have to. Still he is much less believable as a guy who would take a bunch of office workers hostage than he is as a guy who would infiltrate a kids’ birthday party to get access to some tech. Fernanda Andrade as Shea Salazar is the series’ actual revelation, taking the stereotypical by-the-book FBI agent (helllllllo Dana Scully) and putting her through the absolute wringer: having her have to kill her father, lose her family, be betrayed by a member of her own team, and end up in prison. By the end the shattered Shea is a but a shadow of the competent agent/mom we saw at the beginning of the series—only yet another indicator of the toll that Next will take on everyone it comes in contact with.
From the start, Next offered an intriguing cat-and-mouse game: Yes, this superintelligent AI was everywhere from car GPS systems to elevator controls, but our scrappy team was still able to attempt to trace it by going after whatever it went after. There were some insurmountable hurdles along the way: preemption by two World Series games, followed by election night, killed whatever momentum the series had (although it had already been cancelled after only two episodes). Splitting up the team midseason—with Salazar’s husband and son getting chased at a roadside fruit stand versus C.M. and Gina escaping from a hospital—really squashed the fledgling chemistry the team had going. This was evident when they all somehow clawed their way back together in these final few episodes, to their benefit; Salazar and LeBlanc should have been together this whole time, show, instead of Paul off in a creepy warehouse talking to several versions of himself.
But find their way back to each other they do, resulting in a thoroughly therapeutic climactic explosion. Gotta say that for TV, that bomb blowing up Next was pretty great. So much so that the rest of the episode couldn’t help but be a letdown. Of course Paul is still alive, sending Abby info on how to beat the disease she inherited from him. C.M. and Gina are working together (from Canada? Hard to say) to get Shea released from prison. (But if Ted was freed, why shouldn’t she be?)
Actually, the final minutes of Next offered some of the most interesting moments of the whole series. Going back to where we started, in Paul’s TED-like talk he explains that we don’t know how to imbue AI with the desire to be a positive entity. If a computer program is going to get as powerful as it possibly can, its ultimate solution will be to wipe out the human race or enslave us all. Teaching it how to be compassionate looks like the insurmountable challenge. Next definitely did a decent job of showing the inherent dangers involved with AI: not just all of the systems it could take over, and how impossible it would be to reason with, but how much at-odds governments would be fighting over it. Unfortunately, the show seemed to be more interested in grabbing that frantic 24-like tension than actually exploring the realities of an AI threat (past one unlikely gang of marauders during the series of blackouts), which ultimately would have been more engaging.
So a big cheers to Next, everyone: a show that had a ton of unfulfilled potential. Thanks for reading.
- To the end, Ty bugs as a husband who is throughly unworthy of the dynamo he’s married to: just the cheek of a guy who thinks he understands more about safety than his FBI wife (guess what Ty, you were wrong again).
- Also like how throughout it was the women who seemed to be the most aware of the inherent Next dangers: Shea, Gina, and Natalie at the NSA all had to fight thick-headed male bureaucrats to get their message across.
- Ben is the mole! Sorry you had Great Santini for a dad, Ben.
- Ted’s switch from being Next’s bitch to totally on Paul’s side was a bit sudden, don’t you think? Also add to the long list of loose ends: What happened to his coworker?
- Clunky Next dialogue to the very end: “If it was easy to break into the NSA using a dead woman’s ID, everyone would be doing it.”
- Best Next line ever though: “You know for a superintelligence, you really are pretty stupid.”
- It’s not hard to picture what a second season of Next would have looked like, especially with that ominous hard drive at the end. And certainly Paul would have resurfaced eventually. Well done, Next.