FYI: 'The I-Land' Could Have Been Great

Sci-Fi series are becoming a trend for online streaming platforms. ‘The I-Land’ joins Netflix shows like ‘Black Mirror’ in asking not only whether technology can be used to improve society but should it. The show has a relatively green creative team and it shows. It’s the first IMDb credit for the show’s creator, Anthony Salter. Additionally, Neil LaBute (showrunner/writer/director), Jonathan Scarfe (director/executive producer) and Mike Frislev (executive producer) reunite to work on this show after working together on the Sci-Fi hit ‘Van Helsing.’ However, ‘The I-Land’ did not receive the same praise as ‘Van Helsing.’  ‘The I-Land’ received a shockingly low score of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and 4.3 out of 10 stars on IMDb. Watching ‘The I-Land’ is like riding a roller coaster on a hot summer day. There are some fun twists and loops, but ultimately, you’ll regret sweating it out on a two-hour line (in this case over 5 hours) for ten seconds of excitement.

‘The I-Land’ kicks off when ten strangers wake up on an “island” and have no recollection of who they are, where they are or why they’re all wearing the same outfits (which, somehow, no one questions). They must work together to figure out why they’re on the I-land and how to get off.

Except they don’t. Creating shelter, building hunting tools and gathering food all happen behind the scenes which is the show’s first mistake. The writers could’ve used these moments to create conflict, build relationships and meet anyone’s expectations of what one would do if stranded on an abandoned island. Instead, they lounge around the beach, flirt under waterfalls and throw a pool party in the ocean like it’s spring break. Then out of nowhere, these snooze fest moments escalate to anarchy. Waterfall kisses turn to sexual assaults. Ocean pool parties turn into shark attacks. Socializing turns into fist fights. The writers are extracting ‘Lord of the Flies’ moments out of ‘Love Island’ footage and it doesn’t make any sense. It’s clear that the writers couldn’t wait to get to the good part. In fact, Netflix apologizes for the first two episodes by revealing the central mystery in the show’s trailer. The first two episodes really are groaners and it’s almost like Netflix uses the trailer to say “hang in there! It’ll be worth the wait! We promise!”

If you didn’t catch the trailer, episode three will reveal that the I-land is a simulation. Usually revealing the mystery so early on usually isn’t a strategic move as it deflates suspense. In this show’s case, it’s a saving grace from the idiocrasy of the first two episodes. Once the twist is revealed to Chase, she is able to articulate the islanders’ purpose to them and the I-land becomes a more dangerous place. The danger takes the form of Bonnie and Clyde. With Bonnie and Clyde come the antagonists, conflict and quest for survival that this series was missing. This is when the islanders truly show which of the coin they’re on regarding nature vs. nurture and the purpose of the show becomes clear. The islanders also begin to remember their pasts through flashbacks that add more depth to each character. However, is it enough to save the show? Not really. There are too many plot contradictions, sloppy mistakes and unnecessary twists by the end of the show that drown out these installments.

The root of the problem is that the plotline is as confused as the characters. The characters are too confused about their state to make any progress on the I-land. The scientists who created the I-Land don’t even have an end goal for the people in their simulation. So while the story has some captivating moments with the characters’ backstories and the dog eat dog environment created by Bonnie and Clyde’s arrival, the story has no direction because the characters ultimately don’t know what they want.

Neil LaBute’s studied and started out his career as a playwright writing ‘In the Company of Men,’ ‘The Shape of Things’ and ‘Reasons to Be Pretty,’ and it’s very evident in ‘The I-Land.’ The first two episodes read as an ensemble theatrical piece with the ten islanders on screen at all times. This leads to messy wide angle shots that don’t work for film and television. It doesn’t lend to great storytelling either. Why have ten actors in a scene when only three of them are contributing meaningful dialogue? I didn’t even know the names of the ten original islanders until episode 5.  Aside from Chase, Brody and KC, the other seven characters seem like background roles who only open their mouths to make jokes like referring to bamboo as the “worst toilet paper ever,” point out clues and create a mob mentality.

These three central characters aren’t exactly likable either. KC automatically acts hostile towards Chase calling her a bitch after their second interaction. She isn’t much more lenient toward the rest of the women blatantly admitting “I hate women. Other girls. I don’t know why. I just always have.” Why attribute a woman this way when it doesn’t shed any meaningful light on her backstory or affect the plot in a significant way? This seems to go for all women. Throughout the course of the series, there’s only one moment when a woman is supportive of another woman and it doesn’t nearly outweigh all the unnecessary, snarky comments throughout the series. The show takes the approach of “men are aggressive monsters and women are catty victims” which only perpetuates unhealthy gender stereotypes. Brody embodies this as the antagonist. That’s his sole purpose. The creative team might as well have cast a tornado because all he does is destroy everything he touches.  He does whatever he can to make the other islander’s lives harder whether its initiating violence or rape. He’ll even contradict himself in the process if he has to. If the islanders want to stay on the beach, he wants to go inland. If they want to go inland, he’ll aggressively argue to stay on the beach. Chase is the least dislikable of the cast. She’s the only one who seems to have any common sense and desire to fight for her life. However, the writers make it clear that she’s “not like other girls” with the distance she keeps from the other women and excessive display of her combat skills. despite 75% of the episode being Chase chase scenes (wonder how they came up with that name). They could’ve reused the same fight sequence footage four times over and no one probably would’ve noticed. I could be generous and say one of the plot twists gives clarity to the islander’s deplorable behavior, but it doesn’t begin to explain the lack of depth behind these characters.

‘The I-Land’ may pack a few exciting moments that will keep you at the edge of your seat, but these are ultimately drowned out by the contradictions, dislikable characters and aimless plot. If you want a good castaways story, hang out with Wilson instead of watching ‘The I-Land.’