Cult delivers a thrilling take on television fan-followings

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I wasn’t looking to get into any new shows this season, and the CW’s Cult wasn’t even on my radar until a little over a week ago. I figured it sounded interesting enough that if I was home when the first episode aired, I’d watch it. Well, I missed it, but I caught the repeat on Friday, and it looks like I’m going to be sticking with it.

Is it because the meta-ness makes my brain hurt in the best way possible? Is it because I’m a heartbroken Jo Harvelle fan and it makes me happy to see Alona Tal kicking some butt again? Or is it because according to IMDb, one of the characters we haven’t formally met yet has the same first name as me? (Which never happens!) It’s all these things and more.

SPOILERS FOR EPISODE ONE, “YOU’RE NEXT,” START NOW.

Since I didn’t have time to brush up on the premise of Cult, I thought the show was Kelly Collins (Tal) going after cult leader Billy Grimm (Robert Knepper). That’s actually the show within the show (which is also called Cult). Tal plays an actress named Marti Gerritsen who plays Collins, and Knepper plays an actor named Roger Reeves who plays Grimm. With me so far?

Alright. So Nate Sefton (James Pizzinato) is a fan of Cult. That’s putting it lightly. Nate is a part of a whole different league of fans, who think there is something more to the show. He and other super-fans watch the show at a place called the fan_dom_ain. Anyone else wishing this was a real place? A bar where fans meet up to watch their favorite shows? I digress.

Nate gets in too deep. He tries to tell his brother Jeff (Matthew Davis) about the danger he may have put himself in by getting involved in the show. Jeff, of course, thinks this sounds absurd. The brothers both have sketchy pasts, as well as a tumultuous relationship with each other. Nate used to be into drugs and Jeff lost his job at The Washington Post after fabricating a source in a story that got some dirty cops thrown in jail. Jeff has enough to deal with without Nate’s obsessions, but he takes a pair of 3D glasses that Nate insists he might need.

It isn’t until Nate actually goes missing, leaving behind his Cult findings and a huge bloodstain, that Jeff thinks there might be something to this Cult craziness. Using his expired Post credentials, he visits the set in hopes of meeting the show’s creator, Steven Rae, who is mysterious and secretive, so we probably won’t get to meet him for a while.

Before I get to Jeff meeting Skye, I must say, single best moment in this episode (for me) was when Jeff is on the set and he bumps into Roger Reeves, and Jeff looks as confused and slightly creeped out as I was feeling. Because it’s Billy Grimm! But it’s not. He’s just an actor, and it’s just a show, right?

So just as Jeff is about to get hauled off the set by security for his fake credentials, he’s saved by our other lead character, Skye Yarrow (Jessica Lewis), who is a researcher for the show. Having already been investigating Cult’s online following, Skye jumps at the chance to help Jeff. The two of them find Nate’s friend Miriam at a roleplaying meet up, just as everyone but Miriam flees the scene. Miriam is panicking, saying people are coming for here, and tells Jeff that Nate is not okay. Then she stops, and gives us the eeriest delivery of the show’s so-far unexplained tagline, “Well, hey, these things just snap right off,” before shooting herself in the head.

Detective Sakelik (Aisha Hinds) same detective who arrives on the scene when Jeff reports Nate missing is at the scene of Miriam’s suicide. She’s also having none of this Cult business… so why does she have their symbol tattooed on her forearm? I have a feeling she’s not the only character we can’t trust. Exciting, isn’t it?

Another one of those suspicious characters is a woman who appears to work at fan_dom_ain, and also happens to be on set and then aids in the kidnapping of network hotshot Marc Segal (Andrew Leeds), who is trying to meet with Rae to help the show become a hit. I’m saddened by his grim-looking future, if only because in the universe of Cult, Segal apparently kept Firefly on Fox for more than one season.

By the end of the episode, it’s Jeff’s turn to be in too deep. He finds a disc, just like one that Collins finds on the show, which he decrypts with the help of those 3D glasses Nate gave him, and the password-tagline, “Well, hey, these things just snap right off.” The disc grabs all of Jeff’s personal information and then Billy Grimm (Roger Reeves as Billy Grimm?) appears on the screen and states, “You’re next.”

The concept of Cult is fantastically weird and has a lot of potential, so it’s a good thing the original rejection of the pilot didn’t put off creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, back when the WB was still a thing (Matt Bomer was originally cast as the lead). Now, over six years later, Cult is happening Tuesday nights at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central. I’m a little concerned it will go the same way Night Stalker did, meaning it’ll get good and creepy, and then a cancellation will leave us with a million unanswered questions. Only time will tell. Check out Cult on Tuesdays, but be careful if you get really into it – that doesn’t seem to end well for people on the show.

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