Warning: SPOILERS for Emergence Season 1, Episode 3
From the very start of ABC’s Emergence, audiences knew they would be in for a mystery filled with twists and turns, all starting with a nameless young girl possessing extraordinary powers. But what they didn’t expect was the MASSIVE twist dropped in just the third episode, changing what kind of science fiction story audiences have been watching all along.
The premiere of Emergence set up the questions audiences knew needed to be answered. Starting when a young girl named Piper (Alexa Swinton) appears next to a plane crash without a scratch, the police chief who takes the girl in winds up in the middle of a vast conspiracy. Soon police chief Jo Evans (Allison Tolman) is asking the same things as the viewers: where did Piper come from? What was the crash? Who are the mysterious people trying to recover her? And when Piper is kidnapped… what causes their car to violently flip, allowing Piper to walk free? Most of those answers were just delivered. So needless to say, SPOILERS for Emergence ahead.
The unraveling of the show’s secrecy begins when journalist Benny Gallagher (Owain Yeoman) finally lets Jo in on his entire story. Previously, it was unclear if Benny was truly on Jo’s side, working with those people trying to take Piper, or on a mission of his own. But once Piper falls ill, Benny is pushed to explain that he is actually investigating a corporate billionaire by the name of Richard Kindred (played by Lost‘s Terry O’Quinn), rumored to be carrying out… questionable science. Pursuing help from Kindred is a dead end, but one employee (Maria Dizzia) agrees to help. A small bit of adventure with robotic guard dogs later, and Benny and Joe are gifted a small disc from Kindred’s top secret lab.
A disc promised to heal Piper because contained on the disc IS Piper. It’s hard to believe, but with no other choice Jo follows the instructions: by placing the disc on Piper’s wrist and watching as it begins to upload. Revealing Piper isn’t a girl at all… but a robotic imitation of one.
Yes, Piper is a robot. Or at the very least, partly robotic (hence the injections of copper advised by yet another mysterious figure). After offering a preview of the episode during New York Comic Con, the Emergence cast confirmed that even they were surprised that creators Tara Butters and Michelle Fazekas intended to reveal such a significant twist in what is effectively still the first chapters of the show’s debut season. That includes series lead Allison Tolman:
I thought this reveal would be a season-long arc. They told me, ‘Here’s what she is.’ And I was like, ‘Oh great. Then how many episodes?’ And they were like, ‘Thirteen… but we’ll find that out in maybe four or five.’ I was like, ‘Beg pardon?’ I thought this would be the whole season, I was shocked.
The confidence in storytelling and hints of even more twists incoming was a common refrain across the cast, especially in an age when primetime TV show mysteries can decide whether a series sinks or floats, relying on suspenseful cliffhangers to keep audiences coming back to know the secret. When it’s handled perfectly, it might just make TV history. But as co-star Zabryna Guevara explains, the show’s creators Butters and Fazekas decided that shocking audiences was better than the risk of delivering answers too slowly:
The reveals are really fast. They didn’t want the audience to get ahead. I remember they were telling us, they’re so frustrated when they’re watching a show and they’re ahead of the plot. They didn’t want our audience to be ahead of our story. and I think people were already starting to sleuth this.
With good reason, too…
Look, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a mysterious billionaire famed for nefarious experimentation believes a young girl to be key to the future in both the most recent Jurassic World movie and Emergence. Granted, the little girl who appeared in Fallen Kingdom wasn’t actually a robot in disguise (spoilers for Jurassic World?), but the true nature of Piper is still somewhat unclear. What viewers do know is that Richard Kindred will do just about anything to get her back into his custody without alerting anyone to the science she truly represents.Is his connection to Piper based purely on a robotic breakthrough in artificial intelligence? Or is she something more emotionally valuable to the aging industrialist? Only time will tell.
What we can say for certain is that life has gotten a whole lot easier for the young girl in question–actress Alexa Swinton–who has been keeping Emergence‘s biggest secret for months. Her relief was evident after screening the episode during NYCC, and co-star Owain Yeoman gives her special credit. Not only for not spilling the reveal, but for embodying a much larger theme of the show, now able to be embraced and enjoyed by the entire audience moving forward:
[Alexa] does an amazing job of keeping secrets, I don’t think my ten year-old self would have been that composed. To have the amount of spoilers she has… I mean I can’t tell you what a relief it is to share, that you guys finally know who and what she is. Because that’s exhausting as a cast to hang onto!
I also feel like Benny in this episode is kind of like the audience. Because don’t we all want to believe? Don’t we all want to think that there is something cool–like maybe someone sitting in this audience right now is half A.I. or something? Just that willingness to suspend your disbelief and think, ‘Well the technology is out there, it is capable.’
With this twist down, audiences finally know just what kind of show Emergence will be in terms of its science fiction. But the cast maintain that the family drama at its heart will remain the constant, no matter what other twists and turns are still in store.
Emergence airs Tuesday nights at 10pm EST on ABC.