“No Outlet” left Jo grappling with Piper’s true nature and Emily to bond with the wild as the mystery of ABC’s Emergence continues to deepen.
This recap of Emergence Season 1, Episode 4, “No Outlet”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
As a father of two young girls — both, apparently, human — I know how little sense they make. If they were robots I might understand them better. Machines are built for a purpose. All their little quirks are errors in programming or manufacturing; easy to fix with the right updates. That’s what squared away all Piper’s (Alexa Swinton) problems in the previous episode of ABC’s Emergence. It only took a couple of seconds — much better than gallons of Calpol and dreaded days off school. But it isn’t much consolation for Jo (Allison Tolman), whose house, as of “No Outlet”, she’s living in. If machines are built for a purpose, what’s hers?
And who knows better than Emily (Maria Dizzia)? It’s quickly revealed in Emergence Episode 4 that the manic techie was responsible for “part of her code”. She’s all code, too — all synthetic, which shocks Benny (Owain Yeoman), who in his surprise nicks an external hard drive from Emily’s house. It immediately fries his laptop, which in network mysteries means there’s something interesting on it. But in the meantime, the question of what Jo does with Piper remains. If she reveals to her that she’s an AI, it’ll cause a fatal exception error, essentially killing her. But if she does nothing, Piper might do… well, virtually anything.
And more to the point, she might do anything to someone Jo cares about, such as her daughter Mia (Ashley Aufderheide). You can kind of tell Piper’s a robot because she likes having her hair brushed, which is a dead giveaway in my experience. You’d think Lily Salgado (Nikki Massoud) from Child and Family Services would pick up on that straight away, but it’s her first week on the job, so we can forgive her. She makes an appearance in “No Outlet”, wanting to interview Jo about permanently fostering Piper, but it’s a conversation postponed by an offer from Richard Kindred (Terry O’Quinn), who wants to give Jo some answers — and some noodles.
Kindred used to work in the noodle spot washing dishes — now he owns it, and the rest of the building, and six whole blocks. Classic billionaire villain profile; humble beginnings, missing specialized technology, thinly-veiled threats, the whole nine. Jo insults his noodles via Yelp, which must sting a bit. Kindred lets on that he knows one of his facilities — the one guarded by robot dogs — was broken into. He also gives some sage advice about how you shouldn’t confuse your feelings for a thing with the thing itself, emphasized by a story of a family who raised a chimpanzee as though it was a human being until one day it remembered that it wasn’t and presumably ripped their faces off — incidentally this is a common enough occurrence that there’s even a Ranker article organizing the most horrifying instances of chimp-on-chump violence.
Benny goes to see an associate of his, April (Ashlie Atkinson), who you know is a technology expert because her daughter looks like she’s cosplaying Lisbeth Salander. April plugs the hard drive into her own laptop and not only does it not melt it, but she also gets started on the hacking right away. However, it has serious encryption, so she parks outside the offices of Gallant — “consumer credit reporting… or data management… I have no idea” — to piggyback on the building’s combined computing power in order to brute-force the security. How exactly she’s able to do this I have no idea — neither, apparently, does Emergence Episode 4, which just scoots ahead in the hope that we won’t ask.
Emily ambushes Jo at work and explains — under threat of major hacking attacks of her own — that the hard drive Benny stole from her was stolen by her from Kindred as an insurance policy. She has no idea what’s on it, but it must be important because he didn’t want anybody to see it. She’s also, apparently, the only person who can decrypt it. Jo enlists Chris (Robert Bailey Jr.) in getting her “off the map”, though she insists it’s a place with WiFi, a 4G signal, and an urban view — she gets a remote hideaway with none of those things, which frankly is what she deserves for being so irritating. The next morning, Chris discovers that she has attempted to fashion a communication device. Once they leave the room, the phone rings. Perhaps she was mis-sold PPI?
Back at Jo’s house, Lily interviews Ed (Clancy Brown), noting down important backstory details like his ill health and Jo’s mother abandoning her when she was twelve, then she interviews Piper, who gets irate at the prospect of having to leave Jo’s care and telepathically fries Lily’s phone. When Jo returns home she grills Piper about it, and not exactly kindly. Alex (Donald Faison) arrives and explains that he’s figured out the mysterious code from the airband radio — coordinates, identifying an unused patch of land about an hour away. Jo and Benny head there. Piper, having been told off, leaves home. She makes it three blocks before Mia finds her. They have a sweet chat about family. At Alex’s apartment, he rates the contents of Piper’s “running away from home” backpack, which includes granola bars and toy dinosaurs. And a hammer. It was a decent attempt.
Jo and Benny discover a runway that leads to an idyllic suburban street which Jo surmises was Piper’s home. While they’re exploring one of the houses, April calls to tell Benny that she has cracked one of the files — a video, which she sends him. It’s of Piper’s birthday celebrations — one candle in the tiny cake suggests this was early in her manufacture. When asked to make a wish, she wishes to leave, is told she can’t, and wrecks the place. The house she wrecked just so happens to be the one they’re in. In an eerie shot — probably the best one in “No Outlet” — it’s revealed her tantrum blew out the entire wall.
In the garden, they have a chat about Piper’s nature, with Benny insisting she’s just a machine and should be treated as such. But she’s so cute! Jo picks Piper up from Alex’s apartment, making it very obvious something’s up when she insists that Mia stays there. She has a chat with Piper in the car asking if she has remembered anything about who she is, though Piper says that sometimes she feels like she doesn’t want to remember. Suddenly, she screams to stop the car, but it’s just so she can help a turtle cross the road. And that isn’t the setup to a joke. Putting aside the fact I’d like to live in a place where turtles just roam the streets, what’s important about this moment is that Piper clearly displayed compassion — which isn’t very robotic.
It’s enough for Jo to confirm with Lily that she wants to foster Piper and insist that she isn’t scared anymore — she frames this as though she’s no long scared of trying to atone for her abandonment by her mother, but we know what she really means. She checks on Piper during the night while she’s creepily pretending to sleep. When Piper lays on her back, the glowing circuitry is clearly visible in her arm — has she never noticed that before? Or is this a clue that she’s fully aware of her own identity and is keeping quiet about it? It’s kind of unclear.
Just when you thought Emergence Season 1, Episode 4 might end without a cliffhanger, we cut to April telling Benny that the job feels wrong, so she isn’t going to hack the hard drive anymore. Fair enough — at least she’s a woman of conviction. Benny, though, can’t let it go since he thinks it might change the world. And he might be right. Out of nowhere, a man opens fire on the car.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.