There’ve been a few anthology series that have done pretty well over the last few years (Black Mirror is the first that comes to mind), but I’m not sure that “The Premise”; a new series from The Office’s B.J. Novak is going to take off, at least if the episode on gun control is indicative of the writing and style of the show.
As the Media Research Center’s Alexa Moutevelis describes, the series’ second episode (entitled “Moment of Silence”) focuses on the gun control debate, and does so with a Black Mirror-esque twist of its own. Warning: Spoilers ahead, so if you have plans to watch The Premise and don’t want to be prematurely alerted to the big reveal, you might want to skip ahead to the next article.
In “Moment of Silence”, Jon Bernthal plays Chase Milbrandt; a father whose 5-year old daughter was murdered in a school shooting. Milbrant goes to work for the National Gun Lobby, which is clearly a stand-in for the National Rifle Association and other 2A groups. At first, all is well. The NGL even invites Milbrant to lead a moment of silence during the one-year anniversary of the shooting that took his daughter’s life. But as the date grows closer, some of Milbrant’s coworkers grow concerned over his increasingly irrational behavior.
In a particularly nuanced scene, an elderly Vietnam Vet and proud gun owner, William (beautifully acted by Beau Bridges), recognizes that Chase is showing signs of untreated PTSD and could be a danger to himself or others. He tells his son, Aaron (Boyd Holbrook), who works at NGL and has befriended Chase.
Aaron realizes something is off as the day of the moment of silence approaches. He asks how Chase is feeling about it. “It’s all I’m thinking about,” Chase replies. “All I’ve been doing is preparing for this, OK?” Aaron encourages Chase to take a day off instead of leading the moment of silence, but Chase insists it’s his plan and suggests Aaron be the one to not show up at work that day instead.
Aaron finally convinces Chase to skip work and go up to the mountains with him, but when he doesn’t come to his house at the agreed upon time, Aaron rushes into work to find Chase ready for the moment of silence with a heavy bag by his desk. At this point, Aaron assumes Chase is planning a mass shooting at NGL. In the final scene, Aaron goes around to warn his fellow employees that Chase may be a threat and they all prepare, but the online webcast proceeds as planned.
With the camera on him during the live moment of silence, Chase stands up and reaches in his pocket. The employees all shoot in what they believe is self-defense. It is then revealed that Chase was reaching for a picture of his dead daughter. In the final seconds of the episode, Aaron goes to turn off the live camera focused on Chase’s dead body, then thinks better of it and leaves it on.
M. Night Shyamalan eat your heart out. What an unbelievable twist that no one could have possibly foreseen. I mean, who could imagine that Hollywood would make the “good guys with guns” the villains, because they’re so paranoid that they gunned down a coworker who was merely going to show the world a picture of his daughter? What a shocker.
There are several problems with B.J. Novak’s attempt to create a woke version of the Twilight Zone here, both from a creative and an ideological perspective. As far as the entertainment side of things, it’s difficult for Novak and his writing team to come up with a surprise twist, because inevitably we know where the politics of the creators are going to take them (and us). It’s not a shock when the National Gun Lobby turns out to be a bunch of paranoid cranks, because we already know that Hollywood generally isn’t too fond of gun owners and despises Second Amendment activists specifically, so we already expect them to be the villains in Novak’s tale.
And they most certainly are the bad guys, no matter how “nuanced” some of the character portrayals might be. The employees of the National Gun Lobby aren’t cartoonishly evil (at least most of them aren’t), but Novak makes it clear that they’re on the wrong side of the issue; selfishly fighting for their right to own a gun instead of working to implement “common sense” gun control laws. And of course when the 2A defenders get a chance to actually exercise their right of self-defense, they jump the gun (so to speak) and end up killing an innocent man. The message is simple: the “good guys with a gun” aren’t good guys at all.
Given the anti-gun attitudes in Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Premise get nominated for an Emmy or two, and you know that B.J. Novak’s going to be a guest of honor at Everytown or Brady’s next Hollywood gala. But while he may have delivered a tale of the gun control lobby’s forbidden fantasy, I don’t think he did anything to actually move the needle in the gun control debate itself.