Forget Disney Plus, it’s shows like The I-Land that will be Netflix’s downfall. If Netflix wants to blow a bunch of cash on constant content and not make a profit from it, it’s going to need to come up with shows better than The I-Land if it ever wants to get in the black.
The I-Land is an astonishingly dumb seven-episode mystery-box limited series about 10 people who wake up on a deserted tropical island with no memory of who they are or how they got there. But that central conceit is quickly resolved by Episode 3, as The I-Land spins out of control, rolls over, and wraps itself around an entirely new and equally stupid story. I guess mystery box isn’t an apt description for this indisputable disaster, as mysteries come with some intrigue to see them solved and boxes are actually useful.
There are spoilers coming, but you’ll thank me so you don’t have to sit through the show in order to find out its twists, and I’ll try to explain the show for those of you whose minds went numb trying to piece together what was supposed to be the plot.
Though The I-Land begins with 10 people washed up on a beach, only two matter: Chase (Natalie Martinez, who has experience in television’s equivalent to huffing keyboard cleaner as Officer Linda from Under the Dome) and Cooper (Ronald Peet). The others are only there to argue with each other and do things that aren’t the smartest option for castaways who must learn to survive together, like sunbathing or swimming in what they discover the hard way is a shark’s feeding trough. You can ignore them altogether, even Kate Bosworth‘s villain K.C., and you may as well because that’s what the show does halfway through its made-up-as-it-went-along story.
What you’ll first notice is that everyone on the island is a world-class jerkface. The combative attitudes over everyone involved leads to constant fighting and high tension, manifesting in arguments about where to camp, who gets to hold the knife, and multiple sexual assaults, committed by the same guy, no less. He says stuff like this:
It’s cool though! She got him back:
But you came to The I-Land for this: There are clues that the island may not be all it seems, including a raft holding medical supplies and a gun inside locked suitcases, some numerology (Lost had 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, The I-Land has… 39), and a book that is literally called The Mysterious Island, which the sunbathing castaway finds and then immediately tosses aside as trash. The book is never brought up again.
Well, we find out in Episode 3 that the island is a virtual-reality simulation, which the trailer for the series spit out five seconds in, so I guess there really is no such thing as a spoiler in The I-Land. But why are they in this computer-generated hellhole? Because they are prisoners on Death Row, each incarcerated in one of Texas’ baddest prisons for all sorts of murder and stuff. One shot up a mall, another euthanized dying patients in a hospital against orders, another is — you guessed it — a very rapey dude, and the best backstory of them all belongs to Bosworth’s K.C., who Susan Smith’d her two young boys by driving them into a lake (her given simulation name is K.C., which stands for “Killing Children,” for real). We learn all this through clunky exposition and pointless flashbacks that occur as the castaways slowly regain their memory — though they have no memories, they kind of do have memories when it’s convenient to move the story forward — and The I-Land isn’t even subtly thieving the popular backstory device of Lost, it’s shamelessly announcing its larceny with a blowhorn. That episode of Lost where we figured out what Jack’s tattoo meant was like poetry compared to this, no matter how much suspenseful music the show uses.
F— it, I’m going all in and telling you everything I can about The I-Land; if I had to suffer through seven episodes of this, I’m taking you all down with me. Chase was the first to start remembering her tragic backstory. In glossy, soft-focus flashbacks that unfold over several episodes one small detail at a time like someone telling a lie that’s spun out of control, it’s finally revealed that Chase killed her own mother. It’s also later revealed that Chase used to be in the military. It’s also later revealed that Chase used to be in the military with Cooper. It’s also later revealed that Chase and Cooper were/are married, and Chase’s mom disapproved of their marriage, because she’s an alligator-skin shoe-wearing elitist and probably racist — Chase is Hispanic, Cooper is black. (Also for some reason the mother hangs out in a dingy basement drinking wine on a plush red chair.)
It’s also later revealed that Cooper was the one who actually killed Chase’s mom (his mother-in-law), meaning Chase was wrongly convicted of murder. It is not explained why Chase had a memory of killing her mom when she never actually killed her mom, which probably would have cleared a lot of things up from the get-go but would have destroyed any of this poorly manufactured intrigue over Chase’s backstory and the mystery of why she killed her mom. (To reiterate: She never killed her mom, which we find out after wondering why she killed her mom for six episodes because we watched her remember that she killed her mom over and over.)
I haven’t even mentioned that after Episode 2, a lot of The I-Land takes place in the prison, where Chase finds herself after getting wailed on by other castaways after her rapist is found murdered. (If you die in the simulation, you die in real life, too.) In the prison, a council of “neural architects” are conducting this experiment on Chase and the nine other criminals. The idea is to put the criminals in the simulation to see how they behave and test their possibility of rehabilitation. Supposedly, if they behave well in the simulation, then they are a candidate to be let out of jail, which sounds like questionable conditions for release, if you ask me. Also, it’s not clear why Chase is the only one of the test subjects who gets to escape the simulation and spend time in the prison. Also, she’s kept in place by an invisible forcefield, until she isn’t, at which time she beats the snot out of many guards and yet they still don’t put her in chains or restraints or even that dumb forcefield for most of her time out of the simulation.
In the prison, there’s a whiskey-swigging live-action cartoon character of a warden — think Foghorn Leghorn if he said “f—” a lot — who is a personification of the Texas justice system and says things like:
Those in his “care” are guilty no good meat for the electric chair until proven innocent, so it’s no surprise that by the end of the series, it’s discovered that he’s been manipulating the simulation to make all the participants seem incapable of rehabilitation by giving their avatars guns, adding sharks, and putting a — wait for it — cannibal on another nearby simulated island. We don’t ever see the cannibal, but we do see one of the inmates eating what she thinks is chicken soup until, after she gulps it up, looks at her hand and notices that her fingers are missing.
It is highly implied that she ate her fingers. This is by far the best part of The I-Land.
By the last episode, The I-Land shifts its sights to exonerating Chase for the crime she never committed and incriminating the warden for his treatment of the criminals. I’ll remind you that the show started off as a mystery-box sci-fi drama about amnesiacs stranded on a deserted island, and just four-or-so hours later becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Chase and the warden in a futuristic Texas prison where “neural architects” debate nature versus nurture by literally saying “nature versus nurture.”
There’s one more twist in the final 15 minutes: Chase was actually old! It turns out that she had been in prison for 25 years, but was put into the simulation as an avatar at the age she was when she arrived at the prison. There’s nothing of consequence from this tweeeest, she’s just old, and she’s let out the prison gates where she can walk down the road to future Houston and freedom. There are no reparations for her improper incarceration, there’s no closure with her husband (who is still in the simulation), there’s no conclusion to the experimental simulation, and there’s no bow put on anyone else’s story, except maybe the warden, who finds himself on the island in the final seconds of the show in a real display of cosmic karma.
I didn’t even get to the part about the rogue guards named Bonnie and Clyde who entered the simulation to help the warden out, or that the “neural architects” were trying to rehabilitate prisoners because global warming had made the oceans rise which increased crime because the “oceans took the land,” or that the I-Land isn’t actually pronounced EYE-land. The “I” is actually a Roman numeral, so it’s called ONE-land and the island that the cannibal is on is called TWO-land. Even the NAME of the show was a mystery! Also it doesn’t f—ing matter at all that it’s called that.
This one’s a stinker, guys.
TV Guide Rating: 0.5/5
The I-Land is now streaming on Netflix.