Losing someone close has to be one of the causes of the worst kind of hurt, and it is also something that can cloud the judgment of the best of us. “Alert,” Fox’s new investigative procedural drama series, explores that and more in its pilot episode. While the first episode doesn’t offer much in terms of uniqueness in this tried and tested genre, the show’s strength seems to lie with the chemistry of its leads – Dania Ramirez as Nikki Batista and Scott Caan as Jason Grant. However, drawbacks creep in in the form of a rather predictable plotline, exposition-filled dialogue, and some clichéd character portrayals—something that can hamper the series from gaining traction.
What Happens In ‘Alert: Missing Persons Unit’ Episode 1?
The first scene opens with Jason Grant trying to salvage a hostage situation at an ISIL base in Afghanistan. Jason is introduced as the mercenary of a private contractor assisting the US Army in their covert operations. Jason finds the daughter of a militant leader with a proximity bomb affixed to her, and to comfort her momentarily during the tense situation, Jason tells her that she reminds him of his son of the same age. Using weight replacement, he is able to rescue the girl in the nick of time as they return to their base to celebrate their victory. He receives a call from his wife, Nikki, who is a cop under the Philadelphia Police Department, informing him that their son, Keith, is missing. She adds that contacting the Missing Persons Unit (MPU) has yielded no good results, as they think that their son has been kidnapped. After Jason’s futile attempt to comfort Nikki, they hang up on each other. A devastated Nikki embraces her daughter, who seems visibly shaken, and assures her that they will find Keith.
The scene opens six years later, and we are informed through a morning table talk between the former couple that Nikki and Jason have been separated for three years since Keith’s disappearance, and Nikki has joined the MPU as a way of finding solace in reuniting people with their families. Jason has been running a private security firm with his current partner June, and the couple is preparing themselves to be parents. Nikki and Jason’s separation, however, is marked by a mutual agreement and endearing terms, as they sign divorce papers almost reluctantly. However, none of them have been able to move on from that fateful day, which actually resulted in this separation in the first place.
Before the conversation goes any further, they are interrupted by an MPU alert for a teenager named Chloe Garber. What follows is a basic procedural routine of tracking, enquiring, and investigating, which also introduces us to Nikki’s colleagues, Mike and Kemi. Mike and Nikki interrogate the girl’s parents, and her father, Roger, clearly seems unwilling to disclose something regarding his profession. However, after a few reliable eyewitness reports, they successfully track down the perps, and after a brief, well-shot chase sequence, Nikki valiantly saves Chloe. As they return to their office, Mike proposes to Nikki, getting a positive response in return.
The next scene tracks Jason at a fertility clinic, where he reveals during a conversation with the nurse that both his children, Sidney and Keith, were adopted. He receives a tip, presumably from his contacts at his security firm, with a picture of a boy who looks like grownup Keith. He informs Nikki about this revelation, almost interrupting Mike’s proposal. Despite having an inconclusive result from the technical analyst, as the reconstruction of Keith’s aged picture doesn’t bear much resemblance to the picture, Jason wants to pursue the lead.
Jason and Mike have a conversation about Keith in the midst of the friendly banter they engage in. Mike states that Keith’s case was one of the unsolved ones during his tenure, so he feels it to be his responsibility. He also asks Jason for some professional help regarding the current case of Chloe, as the perps aren’t willing to share information at all. Jason identifies the perp to be a member of a Libyan terrorist group named Triumphant and gets to know the abduction attempt will be repeated. Although they warn Nikki, who is escorting Chloe back to her parents, the assailants ambush them and take Chloe again. Upon re-enquiring about the parents, Mrs. Garber finally discloses her husband’s profession as a CIA spy.
On the other hand, Kemi uses the background imagery of the photo through Cartesian coordinates to pinpoint the origin of the image as the Blue Paradise Hotel in Las Vegas. Nikki and Jason raid the location and find the room empty; an anonymous call asks for $1 million in ransom in exchange for Keith. Nikki seems to be conflicted and at odds as to what to believe in. In the meantime, Roger Garber confesses that as part of CENTCOM, his job was to set up a list of Triumphant terrorist targets to kill via drone strike, which might be the reason for his daughter Chloe’s abduction. From the target list, Jason is able to pinpoint 20 prime suspects using his experience as a private military contractor, and they further narrow it down to the terrorist leader Ali Saad. Using minor image alteration and showing the image of Ali Saad’s corpse, they blackmail the imprisoned terrorist to disclose the next part of the plan—which is to bomb a rock concert using Chloe. After locating Chloe, Jason contacts his army buddy and disarms the bomb, and using Kemi’s access to a wide-range MPU alert system, Mike locates and kills Ali Saad.
MPU reunites Chloe with the Garber family, and Jason receives a call from Keith, or at least the same boy from the image. Upon reaching his designated location, they find him to have been freed from his abductor, although there’s no sign of them or any clue that could indicate the captors’ whereabouts. Nikki and Jason deduce the boy to be Keith, after all, using some familiar references. However, Keith doesn’t share any details about the entire situation of his abduction just yet, and the trio returns home. His sister, Sidney, remembers him, but their family dog is unable to recognize him. Kemi and Mike are happy to hear the news from Nikki, and finally, after six years, Mike is able to close Keith’s case. Mike returns to Nikki’s home to find the former couple embracing each other, and they seem overjoyed at this family reunion. Taking this as a cue, Mike leaves without disturbing them. During the ending sequence of the episode, ‘Keith’ rips out pages of a diary where details of his relationship with his family are written in a detailed way.
The pilot episode of “Alert: Missing Persons Unit'” stands on the strong performances of Dania Ramirez and Scott Caan, as their tribulations as parents coping with their child’s loss, their chemistry as former partners still having amazing camaraderie, and extremely hard case when the situation demands – is what drives the episode home. Especially Dania Ramirez’s Nikki breaking the clichéd woman portrayal of struggling to maintain personal and professional ethics as she gives a charming and resilient performance as a vulnerable mother seeking her redemption through helping other parents. She’s self-contradictory, too, as she acts like a voice of reason during interactions with Jason about the possibility of finding Keith but makes an about-turn when the boy is found and easily accepts him without much qualm. Scott Caan gives a reliable portrayal of a father in denial, so much so that the character avoids having a child with his current partner just to keep the former grief intact. Brief action sequences are fresh as long as they continue and add tightness to the generally fast-paced nature of the series. However, the ridiculous character writing of side characters takes away the immersion, and the love triangle with the former couple and present lover is anything but interesting. Although props should be given for how the series is unapologetic about acknowledging the shady practices of the country’s defense authorities, we get to know from Jason how easy it is for hired guns in the country to violate humanitarian laws by bypassing the codes and that the army takes full advantage of such loopholes in their external “affairs” on foreign soil. Jason is a former member of such a unit; his karma might deliver blowback. Lastly, Keith, or apparently whoever the boy is who is impersonating him and what his motives are, remains shrouded in mystery. How the Triumphant are connected in the larger picture—and whether that has to do with Jason’s past—remains to be revealed.