Minority Report and the Drawbacks of Foresight
Fox’s new show, set after the movie and short story of the same name, has the potential to explore thorny issues around criminal justice—but probably won’t.
In stories about people with mystical foresight, the drawbacks of divination are often more important than the benefits. Cassandra, after all, did not live happily ever after. See the future? Who wants that, really?
The world of Fox’s Minority Report is one that has apparently learned this lesson all too well. A program known as “Precrime” harnessed the power of three mentally gifted individuals—“precogs”—to stop murders before they happened. But it was discontinued sometime before our story begins in 2065. The show’s pilot doesn’t inform you of what went wrong with Precrime, but if you’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story and the prequel for this new TV show, you get it. Or if you have moral questions about the downsides of preemptive warfare, stop-and-frisk, criminal profiling, and other kinds of anticipatory uses of force by the government, you probably get it.
The main cop in Minority Report, though, does not get it. “Can you believe we used to stop this stuff before it happened?” the detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good) complains while looking over a crime scene. “All we do is mop up messes,” a partner replies. Later, she chats with a politician who previously oversaw the catch-em-before-they-kill efforts and now wants to recreate the program with algorithms instead of ESP, and we learn that it was Precrime that attracted Vega to law enforcement. Which is to say, maybe she wanted an easier gig than the one she now has (even though 2065 detectives are conveniently tricked out with computerized contact lenses, mini surveillance drones resembling Harry Potter’s Golden Snitches, nifty stun guns, and the like).
For a while, it appears that the show may subscribe to Vega’s unconflicted affection for predictive policing—which would have represented an unconscionable betrayal of its source material’s ideals. But there are hints throughout Minority Report’s pilot that the picture may end up being more complicated. The characters visit a ward for those incarcerated under the Precrime regime, all of whom now have mental problems due to their treatment by the government. A big bad plot that must be foiled results from resentments born of throwing people in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. And perhaps most damning, when Vega wants to play some “oldies” at home, she puts on an Iggy Azalea record. Clearly, her mind is not quite right.
But so far, the most important downside of foresight is of the personal kind, the psychologically trying kind. The second star of the show is Dash (Stark Sands), one of the three telepathic siblings who were released to a life of anonymous freedom once the Precrime program ended. For a decade, he was hooked into a machine, spouting out grim prophecies; now that he’s in the wild, the visions haven’t ended but have become patchier. Which is to say, he still sees future murders but is no longer equipped to stop them. The guilt—not to mention the interruptions to his day when images of stabbings and shootings enter his mind—sends him back toward helping law enforcement, where Vega teams up with him while vowing not to reveal his true identity.
The dynamic that results is familiar but, on paper at least, compelling. Dash can’t help but blurt out his premonitions, yet he doesn’t want to be outed as psychic. Vega pushes him for more and more info, which can only be obtained by him crossing certain personal lines. At various points, Dash visits with his gifted brother and sister, who want no part of working for the powers that be. The levels of moral hazard here are intriguing, as are the story’s connection with present-day issues around justice and safety.
But the show itself, while existing in a sleek future of advanced technology, is a bit clunky. It hews to the most obvious tropes of case-of-the-week shows about oddball visionaries partnered with law-and-order sharpshooters, and in the first hour at least, doesn’t pay its audience much respect when it comes to the plausibility of dialogue, character motivations, or the security procedures at a mental institution for former future-convicts. The shoddiness is typical of many a canceled network procedural, and probably won’t make viewers confident the show will competently execute upon the rich potential of its premise. Then again, no one knows the future, thank goodness.