“The Dark Backward” revealed plenty of twists, not all of them working too well, but at least it had the decency to provide something of a real conclusion.
This recap of The I-Land Season 1, Episode 7, “The Dark Backward”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Having awoken back in the prison, Chase (Natalie Martinez) is welcomed by Dr. Wyss and told that, thanks to Cooper’s confession, she has been totally exonerated of her crimes. Because Bonnie and Clyde had gone rogue within the simulation, the events on the island were being surveilled. While Warden Wells is obviously to blame, there’s no evidence against him. Chase is also informed that she, along with all the other prisoners who agreed to partake in the experiment, was on death row.
The warden knows his time is almost up. Ranting to Nurse Golding in his typically prehistoric way, you get the sense here in “The Dark Backward” that if his perspective had been fleshed out better it could have made for an interesting counterpoint to the simulation’s ostensible goal of rehabilitation. However, he has been presented as such a cartoon villain that it’s difficult to take him at all seriously. His threats to Golding that she will go down with him don’t land with much impact either, since we’ve never really got a sense of her either — when she reveals in this scene that she’s in AA it feels like we’re starting to scratch the surface of a character who is left completely alone for the rest of The I-Land Episode 7.
In a debriefing, mostly to ensure that Chase understood she signed a waiver that absolves the government of any liability for what she experienced in the simulation, she learns that her first name is Gabriela. Her fellow prisoners were all deemed “irredeemable” by the state, which is the only way that the experiment would be funded. KC was so-called as a gallows abbreviation of “killing children”. Taylor is still alive on the island, with the cannibal. Chase rightly calls out the fact that nothing about the island seemed to really promote or encourage rehabilitation. All of the islanders had to be deemed too far gone to even be allowed to participate. It just seems like a sick experiment.
“The Dark Backward” doesn’t end the weirdness there. After being offered a “saline IV”, which she refuses, Chase is taken before the warden, who explains in his usual way how much of a powerful, influential figure he is. Chase’s mother’s money is gone — donated to a hospital after she was sentenced. She has nothing. And with his influence, he can have her locked back up a moment’s notice. But on the other hand, he can be a powerful ally, just so long as she keeps her mouth shut about him trying to sabotage the program — something he admits to because he believes that death row inmates — mass killers like Mason — don’t deserve the money that would be better spent on someone else. Chase suggests she might keep her mouth shut, but she wants Cooper freed.
Before the jury, we see Bonnie and Clyde being told that they’re facing criminal charges — charges that they might be able to avoid by fingering someone powerful who was pulling their strings. However, despite being given the opportunity to snitch, they refuse to do so. Chase then takes her own turn before the jury. Whereas the usual process would be to evaluate her choices within the simulation, the fact she’s innocent gives the jury an excuse to turn the line of questioning around on themselves, prompting Chase to ask about the gun, and Bonnie and Clyde — elements of sabotage that they know (but can’t prove) were conducted by the warden. Chase plays along, but still expresses her reservations about the morality of the concept, especially when she learns that the number 39 is significant because that’s how many steps there are from the cell block to the electric chair — it was basically a sick joke.
During a recess break that comes about because the warden needs to make a phone call, he and Nurse Golding ambush Chase and try to execute her. However, the room is under surveillance, so Dr. Wyss is able to prove what he has been up to. In an absurd rant at the jury, the warden fully embraces his role as an outlandish caricature, before intimating to Chase that there is still something she doesn’t know.
Predictably, he’s right. The final twist of The I-Land is that Gabriela has been in prison for twenty-five years; she just entered the island, like all of the other prisoners, at the age at which she committed the crime. During her incarceration, the world has changed, drastically. In the aftermath of mass flooding and ruin, criminals are rifer than ever before, and the need for better rehabilitation is a great one. In the twenty-five years she served before agreeing to participate in the experiment, she has unwillingly helped to make progress in that regard, though it’s a small consolation. “The Dark Backward” sees Chase, twenty-five years older, walk free, and into a dystopia.
In a final scene, the warden wakes up on the island, greeted by KC and Cooper.