Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies) plays Sgt. Odelle Ballard, a Marine stationed in Northern Africa. Her team takes out an infamous Al Qaeda terrorist leader and all are surprised to find him so far North. They call in their coordinates and are told to stand down for a private team to come in to collect the body and all evidence at the scene. Though severely annoyed that the group is stepping on their toes, Ballard’s commander thinks nothing of it and accepts it as a direct order. Ballard, however, has found documentation on a computer loaded with proof of terrorist financial transactions. When she discovers one in English, she quickly saves all the documents on a flashdrive that she then pockets. The logo on the financial records looks familiar, but she has no idea that it is for an organization back in the United States. This document could put a great deal of people behind bars for assisting terrorist organizations. As her team heads out on horseback (yes, this is still a thing in the military), they camp for the night. As she gets up to use the restroom, a drone strike hits their camp and to Ballard’s horror she watches as the private team from before systematically executes everyone in the camp who survived the drone strike. Though injured, Ballard manages to hide, send a desperate pleas to be rescued and is captured by traveling local men who plan to sell her to the terrorists.
Back at home, a young trust-fund kid named Harrison (Jake Robinson) works to separate himself from his father’s famously wealthy name and works as a protester against the G8 Summit in New York. When Ballard’s unit is announced as having been killed, the protesters rally behind the image of Ballard herself. A local conspiracy theorist announces to Harrison that he’s convinced that someone is behind all this. After hacking into the email accounts of all members of the squad, the theorist discovers Ballard’s obviously ignored message begging for rescue. Unfortunately, he is unable to deliver the message.
Peter Decker (Peter Fascinelli) has just left his job at the US Attorney’s office to become a private litigator. As he helps to prepare two companies for a merger, he discovers odd payouts in their records. After interviewing a tormented drone pilot, he discovers that the company hired a drone strike strangely close to the reported site of the supposed murder of Ballard and her team. He convinces the pilot to testify, only to have the company fight back in a horrific way.
If you’re a former member of the military, this show has Trigger Warning written all over it. Ballard is beaten, captured, thrown in a pit. People are killed without so much of a thought. US corporations are shown in the same light as Al Queda, as are certain members of the Armed Forces which will infuriate many. Rumbles from our screening audience went from loving the conspiracy theorist to concerns over how the American Government is portrayed. If you come from a proud military background, you will likely be deeply offended. If you are deeply liberal you may find yourself cheering. There is one thing we can all agree on: Odelle Ballard is going through a special kind of hell in the show and with this subject matter I can see NBC cancelling this one in no time as few people are ready for this show or this message.
There are moments of the show that are incredibly sweet but deeply naive. A young Northern African boy, Aslam (his name means “peace”) speaks to Odelle in captivity, as he has learned a little English reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban. Wait…what? Does anyone else remember when Harry Potter was shunned for it’s themes of witchcraft? The idea of a young devout Islamic boy in Northern Africa reading Harry Potter is laughable. Aslam also gives Odelle his cellphone briefly to try and call her family. When the call does not connect (the government is tapping the phone lines), Aslam takes a picture with his camera phone, sends it to Al Jazeera News and then smashes his phone. How the heck does this kid have Al Jazeera on speed dial? It only take a short time for the photo to be everywhere, and immediately people call it a hoax rather than investigate the photo. Little moments of commentary like this are poignant but feel far from what the situation would really be. At one point Aslam has a gun pointed at Ballard as she defies him to “go ahead and shoot.” Sorry kids, but I’m pretty sure for the honor of his family Ballard would be toast. This is not a dig on the people of North Africa, but rather a reminder that Americans are not the “good guys” to everyone in the World. The conspiracy theorist, Bob Offer (Nate Mooney), looks like a very young Steve Buscemi and seems to have all the same mannerisms. His ability to hack into the government seemed crazy easy and made me wonder how much we’re investing on government spending against online terrorism (not enough).
While I would love to see American Odyssey carry a female soldier to an amazing rank, show her as strong and defiant against her oppressors and bring her home to her family, this show unfortunately focuses a good deal on the conspiracy theory and places Ballard in situations that seem to go better than one would expect. A show about a female soldier is a great place to start to display the contributions of women in the military, but American Odyssey can only do so much with an audience that I fear is not yet prepared for the female soldier in Prime Time.
American Odyssey premieres April 5, 2015 at 10pm/9 CT on NBC.