The Consultant S1E1 Recap: “Creator” Almost Feels Like Kafka

Regus Patoff stands at the top of the stairs in The Consultant
Prime Video/Screenshot

The following recap contains spoilers for The Consultant S1E1, “Creator” (written by Tony Basgallop and directed by Matt Shakman, based on the novel by Bentley Little)

I have to admit that I decided to check out The Consultant almost entirely because Christoph Waltz is in it. The description—a dark workplace comedy/thriller—sounded sufficiently up my alley, and it’s based on a book (which I have not read, for the record), but mostly it’s my feeling that Waltz can carry a film on his own. Even if I don’t love a movie he’s in, I always love his role in it.

Unfortunately, The Consultant seems to be asking Waltz to carry this TV series on his own, and based on the first episode I’m not convinced he’s up to the task. Perhaps no one can do that, as a television show always requires more of an ensemble to work well than a film does (though maybe that’s not a fair thing to say about film).

Regardless, I don’t mean to get caught up in waxing philosophical about the differences between film and TV. I can do that some other time. What I do feel compelled to note is that, in its premiere episode, The Consultant is a bit ham-fisted. S1E1 has moments that work and are quite intriguing, but the dialogue has a way of somehow being both too expository and too vague, and our protagonists—Craig (Nat Wolff) and Elaine (Brittany O’Grady)—don’t quite feel like real people.

This may be the curse that often befalls pilots, as they are asked to do a lot of work in a short time to set up everything that is to come. Maybe it was a good idea in this instance for multiple episodes to be released at once because I can’t quite decide if I want to keep watching this show after its first installment, but the fact that I can simply press play on S1E2 means that I probably will for at least another half hour. On the one hand I think it is sort of bad, but on the other I am intrigued.

But, so, let’s recap The Consultant S1E1 and think about the potential promise of this series.

Patoff sniffs at Elaine's neck
Prime Video/Screenshot

The opening scene is of a group of middle school kids coming to visit CompWare. Elaine shows them around and then they go into Sang Woo’s (Brian Yoon) office in order to meet the creator of the video games they putatively love. Not long after, shots ring out. A boy named Tokyo (Henry Rhoades) has pulled a gun and shot Sang Woo dead. He proceeds to say he wants his mommy.

This is powerful stuff, and there is a dark humor to the scene, though that is maybe undercut a little by knowledge of recent events in Virginia, where an even younger boy recently shot a teacher at school. All the news reports emphasize how rare such an event is, and The Consultant certainly plays on that in its fictional context, along with the immediate questions of what would lead a child to do such a thing. But children sometimes, in fact, shoot people with guns on purpose, and if we want to interrogate why, The Consultant barely seems to be scratching the surface.

Sang Woo in his chair with bloody bulletholes on his torso
Prime Video/Screenshot

The headline Craig reads says “The Devil Made Me Do It” and his conversation with Elaine implies that some are thinking that devil is in the games CompWare produces. I don’t know if there are still people out there who think video games cause violence, but both this conversation and Elaine’s later exchange with Patoff (Christoph Waltz) felt really stilted to me. The things that “family values” conservatives were saying in the late 1990s were honestly more interesting.

But perhaps The Consultant aims to play on that short circuit a bit. S1E1 ends, after all, with Patoff taking a gleeful and idiotic joy in the insipid game he is playing on his phone. We aren’t talking about sophisticated games with complex stories and mechanics—CompWare makes addictive mobile games designed to make money through repetitive use, advertisements, merch, and so on. It’s one thing to suggest Doom is demonic and causes violence; here we’re playing with the idea of leveling such a charge against the likes of Candy Crush.

To call the man who invented such games a creative genius is already part of the joke. And we have to wonder if Patoff’s apparent ignorance of the games CompWare makes is something he puts on for show, or if his quip about using such a game to train soldiers is closer to the truth. Maybe the devil didn’t make that kid kill Sang; maybe Regus Patoff did. (Or maybe Regus is himself the devil—I have no idea how far The Consultant might veer into the actual supernatural.)

We do learn by the end of “Creator” that this is definitely not the real name of the man who has shown up to be the titular consultant. We see it on the wooden soap box Iain (Michael Charles Vaccaro) almost uses to empty his desk: REG. U.S. PAT. OFF. It’s a service mark on the box, which is probably more of a clue conceptually than anything (i.e., I don’t think the clue has to do with it being a soap box in particular, though of course a soapbox is also something one stands on to declaim and so on, so there is that).

Why has this man taken this name? And who is he? What does this have to do with the U.S. Patent Office?

A wooden box that reads Sparkles Soap with Reg. U.S. Pat. Off. in the lower righthand corner
Prime Video/Screenshot

Further mystery is provided in the closing scene of S1E1: Craig and Elaine find the footage of the day Patoff came to the office. Sang made him wait for an hour, so he didn’t have an appointment, but he gets the signature within 15 minutes. And that signature is followed by a blowjob! (I take this to be a clear Mr. Show reference and I do not want to hear otherwise.)

There is no sound in that video, so we’re left wondering what the hell happened in that 15-minute meeting (pre-fellatio). We’re also left wondering who this consultant calling himself Patoff actually is and how he had a similar contract with Victor Kulzer in Moscow, who ended up being decapitated. That would be what makes me speculate that Patoff might be behind Sang Woo’s murder somehow.

Beyond this, there is the utterly harsh way Patoff is running the office at CompWare. He demands remote workers show up within an hour or be fired, refusing to budge by a minute or less for the sake of an employee in a wheelchair he locks outside. He fires Iain for smelling bad before saying that it’s up to Elaine if she wants to give him a reprieve, but if he smells him again he’ll fire them both.

So we get Iain bathing in his office with a sponge, which is hilarious.

Ian makes a pained face while holding a sponge to his bald head
Prime Video/Screenshot

And that’s the thing: I do think that The Consultant is funny and I am intrigued by its mysteries. At the same time, it just feels terribly uneven. I know people need jobs and money, for example, but Episode 1 doesn’t do a great job in persuading me that these abused employees wouldn’t quit, or that everyone would be so acquiescent to someone whom they’d never met or heard of before coming in and claiming control.

But perhaps this is part of the joke, and an aspect of The Consultant that isn’t quite landing for me personally because I have problems with authority and struggle to relate to how these workers behave. That’s OK! I don’t have to relate for it to be good.

On a conceptual level, I’m tempted to interpret what’s going on in a way that is almost Kafkaesque—the absurdity of how people will treat anyone who shows up and properly claims the mantle as the boss, and the sensibility of doing so in a world without meaningful options. But it’s not quite landing for me, at least not yet. Maybe things have just yet to get absurd enough.

Regus makes a face with downturned lips as he seems to look at a camera through blinds in The Consultant
Prime Video/Screenshot

I’m going to see what happens next. Here’s hoping that everything clicks into place a bit better in Episode 2.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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