In 2011, before Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper, Bradley Cooper starred with Robert De Niro in a “little” thriller called Limitless, based on Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields. Now, Cooper executive produced a CBS series of the same name about the powers of mind that one man inherits when he takes a special pill (think The Matrix with less machines and less… kung fu). Starring Jake McDorman as Brian Finch, the show revolves around Finch’s unlocked mental prowess as it’s applied to helping FBI agents Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) and Spellman Boyle (Hill Harper) stop crime.
The film received reasonably high marks from critics but it wasn’t … mind-blowing. The series substitutes the drug NZT-48 for some kind of Buddhist enlightenment (see, Neo?) and implies that humans are much smarter than they think they are, even though they depict Finch as pretty unmotivated, mindless, and unlikable as a super slacker in the beginning. While the film is supposed to lead into the show (yes, Cooper makes a cameo), it seems more like a reboot that drags through the premiere. (Honestly, that’s what I’m finding to be true for many pilots these days – everything is set up, so you almost have to discount that first episode.)
The premise for Limitless is interesting enough that I was willing to forgive the exposition of the first episode. What I would like to see is whether or not, over time, Finch gradually understands his world and his powers any more clearly without NZT-48. Can Finch actually adapt over time, or is he merely a drug user in need of a fix? In the pilot, the crash off off NZT-48 was pretty devastating…
In the third episode, while FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter) is tracking an assassin using Finch’s specialties, Finch is wrestling with an old flame who he reconnects with while on the drug. As his ex-girlfriend responds to his genius, energy, and mental capacity, Finch struggles with whether or not she likes him for his personality or for what the drugs bring out in him.
Too often, our lives are a series of small steps forward and giant steps back when we fail to see our potential and only see our shortcomings. Finch doubts that his girlfriend can love him the way that he is, and assumes that it’s only the power of NZT that makes him attractive to her. Ironically, it’s Harris who helps him believe in himself and his own possibilities. Of course, this will reoccur throughout the series – how can Finch know for sure who he really is?
What makes us doubt ourselves or believe that we lack the personal attributes necessary to succeed or to be loved? Where do the lies come from that tell us that we’re unlovable or not worth it? This isn’t how God wants us to see ourselves!
In Psalm 139:13-16, David says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Jesus takes it a step further in Matthew 6:25-34 when he tells his disciples that God cares about them in ways that they never expected: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?… See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”
Finch can’t figure out his self worth by himself, and sometimes, neither can we. But the words of Scripture remind us that we matter in ways we never imagined, and that the Creator God of the universe thinks we have limitless potential.
Overall, the production was terrific, and the acting was well done. Finch’s internal monologue is hilarious, and the scenes where the different aspects of his brain talk to each other was a solid presentation of the idea. Unfortunately, the show from Craig Sweeney (The 4400) was cancelled and this collection is a one-season deal.