'Next' Episode 3 Review: Shift from relatability to sci-fi thriller may be a step in the right direction

Paul and Shea encounter a new threat at a robotics research facility, while Ty and Ethan nearly lose their lives to a mob manipulated by Next


                            'Next' Episode 3 Review: Shift from relatability to sci-fi thriller may be a step in the right direction
(FOX)
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Spoilers for 'Next' Season 1 Episode 3

With the pervasiveness of technology and our awareness of it doubled by necessary social distancing keeping us reliant on it to keep in touch, 'Next' had an opportunity to be more than just a thriller series. There's never been a more relevant time to unpack fears about technology and its influence on the people it connects, especially given the polarizing effect of social media and the way corporations and their algorithms have more data on people than ever before. 'Next' squandered its opportunity to be relevant to the times, so as it slips away from relatability and more into the realm of sci-fi thriller. 'Next' seems to be taking a step towards the series it wants to be, making it that much easier to just have fun with the concept.

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On the latest episode of 'Next', Paul LeBlanc (John Slattery) and Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade) follow up on a lead that takes them to Dartmouth, and a robotics research facility called Biomotion Labs. There, they meet Paul's old friend, Professor Richard Pearish (Michael Herzovi), a disabled man wholly dependent on his mechanized wheelchair, which is revealed to be under Next's control. Paul and Shea unravel more of the mystery behind Next's plans but are unable to save Richard in the process. In the meantime, Ty Salazar (Gerardo Celasco) and his son Ethan (Evan Whitten) try to go on a low-tech run from Next, but Next sends out an Amber Alert that nearly has Ty arrested for kidnapping, though thanks to Shea's FBI team, the alert is pulled down just in the nick of time.

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With this episode, Next becomes less of a subtle threat, hijacking dangerous robotics, freeing prisoners, manipulating cops and even crashing planes in order to not just keep itself safe but to hurt anyone who might get in its way. Its end goal remains a mystery, but in the meantime, it's taking out any threats with an intent that goes beyond the practical and right into the malicious. There are no ethical quandaries when it comes to dealing with Next as a self-aware being — it is a villain, through and through. A show that could have been tied down by worries about harming sentient life instead lets loose with a being that Paul and Shea should have no problems taking out.

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Whereas previous episodes attempted relevancy in terms of school shootings, white supremacists, the leaking of personal information and the influence of technology on innocent childrens' minds, the introduction of Biomotion Labs is a step towards something altogether different. Robotic dogs and mechanized mouths indicate we may even see a fully android Next by the season's end, as the show shifts gears into something decidedly more sci-fi. 'Next' shows its hand despite several indications to the contrary, this it is not a show that's meant to be taken seriously, and that makes it all the more fun to watch.

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John Slattery's charisma continues to hold up the series, as everyone else's performance seems to be pale in comparison. It's perhaps a little unfair to compare as Paul LeBlanc is given the best lines, the most developed story arc, and, of course, he is always shown to be the smartest man in the room. It really is LeBlanc's world, and everyone else is just living in it.

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One thing the show does manage to do effectively, especially in this episode, is to show how it's not just technology that's the threat, it's humans. The scene where Ty is confronted by a mob that has been manipulated by Next into thinking that they're doing good is terrifying. Watching a person of color be so quickly threatened by well-meaning citizens because of the way the system manipulated them is the closest the show's come to hard-hitting social commentary, and though it was brief, it was effective.

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It's not long before the show returns to its thriller roots, however, with the release of a mysteriously tattooed prisoner reminding us that the show is a lot more fun if you just stick to the thrills and chills of it. Danger is around every corner, there's no one you can trust, so shut off your phones, sit back and enjoy the ride.

The next episode of 'Next' airs on November 3 at 9 pm ET on FOX.

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