4 out of 5
Created by: Pedro Aguilera
covers season 1
Viewed as a science fiction series, Omniscient is, admittedly, somewhat limited. It picks up on the oft-used thread of always-on monitoring – the public’s actions are recorded and tracked through little flying bug like devices, attuned to each individual, which flutter nigh-imperceptibly nearby – and promotes it forward through modern culture’s comfort with this type of monitoring (self-exposure through social media and whatnot) to propose a kind of balance where we learn to work in concert with the attention, subconsciously modulating our behaviors such that we’re still having happy and human relationships, knowing that any extreme deviation is analyzed by the system.
Ah, yes, you fill in the blanks: the ‘system’ is called Omniscient, and certainly there are “haves” who benefit and drooling slave have-nots, and the corporate fatcats at the top are all greedy slobs who don’t have to pay by the rules, and Brave New World and etcetera.
Ah, but no. Omniscient is limited, but not in this sense. Creator Pedro Aguilera and his writers have taken some of those tropes, but have tried to more realistically apply them. My issues with a lot of these setups – which are often dystopic – is that there’s no clear sense of history to them. One day, the world just subjected itself to authoritarian rule. Now, while the events of the last few years in the US (as of 2021) have shown how such things are, frighteningly, possible, there are still steps to those extremes, and many “we’re all being monitored all off the time” horror stories shed those details in favor of making their points. Fair enough, but it takes me out of the effect to a degree, when I’m brought to question how we got from A to Z. Omniscient adds some smart, clever tweaks to this formula: the “haves” are those who can afford to live in the city – such as Nina (Carla Salle), her brother Daniel (Guilherme Prates), and their father – and the Omniscient system is seen as a perk of the city, reducing crime to an absolute minimum. And there are no corporate fatcats: there’s the Omniscient company, with whom nabbing a job programming and improving the little flying buggers is ideal – and Nina has such a job – but no one has access to the recorded footage: the system is intended to be fully automated. Negative behaviors are assessed and broadcasted to all, with police rarely needing to swoop in: most would seem to regulate their interactions automatically. With no one person holding sway over this process, life in the city seems, well, normal. Yes, you have a camera floating by all of the time, but once you’re used to it – and that’s how Omniscient is tapping in to modern sensibilities, when we are pretty used to it – maybe you start to check yourself before doing something a little sketchy, and then it becomes habit, and then it becomes nothing new.
And if you don’t want to deal with that, or perhaps you’re reg’lar folk who can’t afford the city: then you live outside its walls. You aren’t monitored. What does this look like? It looks like how it looks outside right now. Yes, Omniscient (the show) pitches outside-of-the-city as more crime ridden and mundane, but it’s not a slum. And, monetary restrictions aside – which the series doesn’t flesh out very much – it’s a choice.
Now I’ve written quite a bit about this, but, eh, it’s not really the focus of the show. When it takes steps toward exploring the effects of the privacy abolishment of the Omniscient system – Nina’s friend, Olivia (Luana Tanaka), has a fling with a boy from outside the city, who’s wary of the cameras – it goes approximately nowhere, and the structure of the world beyond Nina’s city and its immediate exterior is wholly vague.
Thankfully, Omniscient is actually a murder mystery, of the classic locked room variety. The “locked room” is Omniscient itself: when Nina’s father is shot in their home, Nina and her brother are brought to question how this flawless, threat-detecting system could allow such a thing. And because it can’t, well, they’re told that their father wasn’t murdered at all. …Despite the clear bullet hole in his back. Nina, working for the very company making such denials, becomes obsessed with finding the truth, combining elements of a heist flick – her step-by-step break-ins of the impenetrable Omniscient data storage are thrilling – with the puzzle pieces of the mystery. And though the show may fall flat when poking at larger questions, it provides actress Salle with a full and rich character to explore, and gives Prates and Jonathan Haagensen, playing her pseudo-boyfriend, appreciable arcs as well, adding back in the emotional depth that’s dropped in Olivia’s subplot.
Over an extended series, the unevenness and flaws may have been more of an issue, but at six episodes, Omniscient can keeps its focus primarily on Nina’s quest, and the plotting specific to that pretty tight, and tense. It may go some familiar avenues, but the above-mentioned tweaks to this formula provide a lot of fresh air on those avenues, turning the familiar into something very engaging and exciting.