Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe
Deception is a show about an undercover cop trying to solve the murder of a wealthy socialite and party girl.
It is a bit odd in that I normally don't like it when a series starts with a murder. It's an annoying decision, almost as bad as beginning with a missing or kidnapped character. This is because the pilot has a tough job. It has to set up how a typical episode is going to function, the premise of the show, and the characters. In setting up the characters, it also has to do the hard work of establishing the relationships between them. A good pilot is one that thrusts the viewer into the world before quickly orienting the audience into the universe. Starting with murder complicates this for two reasons. The first is that we don't know who that character is and we're given no reason to care. The only way to connect with a fictional character is to spend some time with them. If they die before we can spend any real time with them then the murder loses any emotional impact. What's worse is that it can hurt a pilot's work in establishing the status quo. How are we supposed to get to know the characters and their relationships when they're all concerned about a dead body? It can even be worse when we know who the murder is and all of their actions are dominated by trying to get away with it. Starting with a murder can often hurt a pilot in setting up the universe because it's too big of a change when we don't even know what's being changed.
I bring this up because Deception begins with a murder but it gets away with it for two reasons. The first is that it's built into the very premise of the show. It simply can't exist with the murder and therefore it is necessary to start the story with it. The second is the way we're drawn into the world. This is through the protagonist, Joanna. She's a police officer who goes undercover into a family that she had grown up with. She becomes sort-of a guide for the audience as she's able to properly introduce us to the family and start unraveling secrets. The murder actually manages to set up the show's universe without compromising it's integrity. This doesn't come with some pit-falls as the murder mystery remains central to the series. The pilot is hinting that it might be related to false drug tests but we can only hope that's a red herring. That's simply been done too many times on television before and it would be a massive disappointment. I bring this up because the mystery has the potential to disappoint any fans that it gets. A major problem is that it also can't wait too long to solve the murder or people will start to lose interest in it. The murder might have been properly utilized to begin the show but it might also be the achilles heel of the series.
Deception is a soap built around a wealthy family with many secrets to hide. The person who is investigating them is Joanna. She's the daughter of their former maid who has become a cop. When her best friend is killed, Joanna is sent undercover to try and figure out which family member was behind it. She's a great guide into the show but Joanna has two problems. The first is that I didn't really find myself rooting for her simply because I found her to be a little bland. The little personality she seemed to have was largely self-righteous. The second problem relates to her job. I'm interested in following the sins of the wealthy family but not Joanna's career. It's fine if her profession sends her into this world and if she has a personal connection with her handler but I'm not really interested in her actual life. Joanna is a decent character to show the audience the world but she's really lacking as a protagonist since I'm not interested in her story.
The other characters were much more interesting. The most that stands out is the person seemingly most affected by Vivian's death, Mia. The biggest secret to come out during the pilot is that Mia is actually Vivian's daughter but who believes that her grand-parents are mom and dad. Mia is a good character with potential to go in interesting places. Vivian's father is Robert, a wealthy CEO who is distraught with his daughter's death. He's currently married to Sofia. While the jury is still out with Robert, Sofia is this show's version of Victoria Grayson. Edward and his reputation and relationship with his wife make him a troubling and potentially great character that can lead to promising drama. Will and Julian are two characters who are in a love triangle with Joanna. Will is her partner who is now interested in pursuing an actual relationship with her but isn't happy that Joanna's cover is bringing her closer to childhood flame, Julian. Will is charming enough but Julian needs to be more interesting if this love triangle is going to succeed.
Deception is a show with a lot of promise but it does have it's share of problems. It's going to need to find ways to make Joanna more interesting without resorting to giving her romantic partners. How am I supposed to care who she dates if I don't care about her? It's going to need to have a fulfilling murder mystery that is properly paced and allows the show's premise to survive after it's solved. It's a competent soap at the moment with the plot twists and turns but it's going to also need to further develop the characters to make them matter to the audience.
My problems with Joanna aside, Meagan Goode did a great job with what she was given. If only it wasn't such a drab character.