Are you so obsessed with your favorite show you could recall miniscule details from three seasons ago at will? Do you seek out an exact replica of something your favorite character wore in a pivotal scene from a Season 2 finale? Do you work iconic or sage quotes into your everyday conversation? Or worse — do you answer your friends’ burning questions with these cryptic textual capsules? Do you take notes on and concoct theories about your favorite shows and become emotionally eviscerated when the pieces don’t match up? Would your brain shut down if your series was cancelled? Well, Abed Nadir, TV critics everywhere, and the rest of you hopelessly obsessed TV fanatics, Cult is going to scare that remote control right out of your hand.
The blatantly referential show centers on a series within the series, also called Cult. (So meta, you guys.) The antagonist and lead on the pulpy faux-series (which also airs on the CW) Billy Grimm is the leader of, well, a cult and his followers are known to perform dastardly, violent acts. Slap on an escapee of the cult, throw her on the police force, give her an abducted sister and nephew, and boom: you’ve got a (fake) show. And while to our eyes, the Cult within Cult is campier than an Old Navy commercial, in the Los Angeles-based realm of the series, fans are rabid for Billy Grimm and the series’ mysterious and ever-hidden creator, Steven Rae. They’re so rabid, they’ve started to confuse real life with the events of the TV series, and when the conveniently employed investigative journalist Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis of Vampire Diaries fame) discovers his Cult fan of a little brother is mysteriously missing, he delves into his own investigation of the series and its apparently endangered fans.
Along the way, he meets a researcher for Cult, Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lucas, who’s dealt with terror before thanks to her role in Cloverfield). Skye has also grown curious about the series’ spawned subculture and just like that, Jeff has a partner in crime and a girl he’s totally going to sleep with eventually. But this romance is simply a prerequisite for a network drama and while Davis is as on his game as ever, the real value of the series lies in its ability to dislodge us completely.
As the episode careens along, we’re disgusted, shocked, confused, and displaced. The perspective constantly jumps back and forth between the realm of the fake series and the realm of our characters. Whether we’re watching scenes on TV, or hearing eerie music in the background, we’re never sure which sounds belong on Jeff’s television and which ones are part of his reality. And without divulging any specifics, each step of Jeff’s investigation brings the two worlds closer and closer together. It’s every TV fan’s dream and nightmare come true all at once.
Cult answers the question many of us have when we love a series: what would it be like to live in that world? Of course, most of us probably didn’t count on the answer being “become embroiled in a conspiracy and possibly die.” We didn’t want to get that far into the show. But in the case of Cult, it’s too late. We gave in. We’re in it. And this show isn’t about the let us go.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
[Image: Courtesy of CW]