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Seven strangers wake up in an abandoned town, with no way to leave, cameras watching them, and deadly hoops to jump through. "Persons Unknown: Season 1" has a rather simple premise, but it builds up plenty of claustrophobic, nightmarish tension and a looming conspiracy theory -- the only problem is the disappointing ending.
Seven people wake in the bedrooms of a hotel in a dusty ghost town, with no idea how they got there. They are provided with food, shelter, medicine and clothing, but are closely monitored by microphones and hidden cameras. And if they try to leave the town, they are either knocked unconscious or shocked with a microwave gun.
So the people have no choice but to try to figure out a way out of the town, only to discover that "The Program" has anticipated every one of their plans. Even worse, one of their number vanishes and is replaced by a new arrival, while another one turns out to be a plant by The Program.
In the meantime, the ex-husband of one of the abductees becomes obsessed with finding out where these people vanished to. He and his editor/lover end up racing across three continents, searching for someone who can lead them to The Project. And at the same time, the abductees make a final desperate bid for freedom.
"Persons Unknown" is a little like "Lost," except with no magical island and a much more malevolent, terrifying organization. There are lots of plot twists, mysteries and weird things that are going on, and you won't see most of this stuff coming.
The writers do a good job balancing the two main storylines, one about the abductees and the other about the people searching for them. They paint it with a gritty, grimy atmosphere, with plenty of bloody violence and sudden outbursts of powerful emotion. And the Project's constant monitoring of everybody gives the series a very claustrophobic, paranoid feeling.
The downside? The ending answers a few questions, but it definitely doesn't answer ALL of them... or even most of them. Instead it sets up a brilliant, hair-raising cliffhanger that is almost certain to never be handled.
And the actors all give good performances, slowly revealing all the darker layers of their characters -- Tina Holmes as a peaceful mental patient, Chadwick Boseman as a mellow Marine, and Kandyse McClure as a violent ex-con are especially good. Unfortunately, Daisy Betts' Janet is painfully annoying -- you'll want to scream every time she whines about her daughter.
Best performance of all: Jason Wiles gives a brilliant, star-worthy performance as a man with dozens of layers and facets, whose conscience is reawakened by his love for Janet. He's tragic, strong, sensitive and smart.
"Persons Unknown: Season 1" produces some brilliant twists and turns, and it's just a shame that we almost certainly won't get the full array of answers. Horrific, dramatic and twisty.