"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eleventh Hour: Savant

A girl stands in the middle of the street in Chicago before dodging traffic to get to the sidewalk. There she falls to her knees, grabs a piece of chalk, and begins to draw (with both hands!) an amazingly complex drawing. Meanwhile, Jacob is doing something that requires much less brainpower. He is being chatted up at a fundraiser. Rachel saves him (sorry Jacob, no girls for you!) and whisks him away to their next assignment.

It seems that several autistic children in the Chicago area have been abducted, only to return a month later with symptoms of Savant Syndrome. These kids now all have spectacular abilities. Jacob, of course, explains the differences between normal brains, autistic brains, and savant brains to Rachel with an analogy about the neatness of suitcases. Jacob’s examples are the most entertaining parts of this show.

Teresa, the autistic girl they focus on in this episode, has returned home to her mother with extraordinary artistic abilities that she did not have before. Jacob sits down with her for a little doodling and learns that what she’s been drawing are MRI machines and brain waves. A quick look at the newfound abilities of the other children who went missing reveals similar patterns in their talents. Someone has been giving them unwanted medical attention.

Jacob and Rachel head to the Autism Institute of Chicago where Dr. Bonatelli assists them in looking at the children’s brain scans. They discover that the brain scans of all the children who went missing are almost identical, so they go looking for more of the same scans. Sure enough, they find two more. One of those children, Cameron, is currently missing.

They hunt down the other matching scan, Scott Butler, and find him at his apartment, playing piano. He begins to bleed and they take him to the hospital. He dies from brain trauma there. Jacob notices an interesting pattern: the piece that Scott was playing on the piano matches the blips of an anesthesia machine perfectly. He decides to go rooting around in Scott’s brain a bit and finds some sort of wiry implant. Hmm.

They return to Teresa, who miraculously is speaking. They inform Teresa’s mother that Teresa needs to go to the hospital, as she may be in danger of ending up like Scott. Teresa’s mom resists, but Teresa wants to help, so she goes with Jacob and Rachel. They make a pit stop along the way at a rest stop, and some very interesting graffiti and Teresa’s drawings lead them to the license plate number of Dr. Bonatelli.

After some brief dealings with the CIA, Jacob and Rachel have Dr. Bonatelli’s cell phone number and track her to where they believe Cameron may be held captive. Well, evidently Dr. Bonatelli wasn’t quite as involved as they originally thought, because a bomb goes off and kills her. Looks like they’re looking for some other evil doctors!

Now they have no choice but to look in Teresa’s brain to try and track the kidnappers through the wires in her head. However, when they’re at the hospital they run into Dr. Fisher, one of the doctors who was attempting to save Scott. He’s about to operate on Cameron! Evidently his son Noah has autism as well, and he believes that the only way to cure him is to dig into other autistic children’s brains to learn more. Jacob talks him down and everyone gets to live another day.

I thought this episode was a little less complex than some of the others, but no less interesting. I was intrigued by the idea of some people seeing autism and savantism simply another step in the evolutionary chain, and I would have liked to see them play that up a little more. However, I admire the writers for making this crime more personal, parents simply trying to save their son, rather than a mass conspiracy.

Rachel is growing more and more tolerable to me as I’ve allowed her to fade in the background. I appreciate her for asking the questions I cannot. And Jacob likes having her around so he doesn’t have to talk to himself.

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