Ah time travel! If one could turn back the clock, and do something different to alter the course of events, spend some more time with a loved one, say that one thing you did not, secure in the knowledge that you had all the time in the world — even James Bond suffered for that fallacy.
So Tom Rob Smith’s Class of ’09, with its three timelines, seemed to be the very definition of a binge-able thriller. Alas and alack it is not. While engaging enough, Class of ’09 does not push the envelope enough to be a crackerjack. After the involved set-up, it softly unravels into a pile of grey wool on the floor of our expectations.
Class of ‘09
Run time: 38–48 minutes
Creator: Tom Rob Smith
Starring: Brian Tyree Henry, Kate Mara, Sepideh Moafi, Brian J. Smith, Jon Jon Briones, Brooke Smith, Jake McDorman, Rosalind Eleazar
Storyline: The story of the brightest class of FBI recruits, the decisions they make and its consequences
FBI’s special agent recruits in 2009 are a mixed lot from different backgrounds. We follow the careers and lives of five students who become friends. There is Poet (Kate Mara), a nurse, Tayo (Brian Tyree Henry), an insurance adjuster, Nazari (Sepideh Moafi), an MIT graduate, former lawyer Lennix (Brian J. Smith) and Murphy (Jake McDorman) a policeman.
There are three time-frames, the series uses to tell its story. The past, 2009, when the recruits are undergoing their training, the present 2023 and 2025, when a series of events clear the decks for AI into the criminal justice system and the future, 2034, when the consequences of the decision to use AI to track crimes are revealed.
We start in 2034 and go back to 2009 where the trainers, Gabriel (Jon Jon Briones) and Drew (Brooke Smith) put the recruits through their paces, and then land in 2023. Incidentally, the fact that real actors are used in the training simulations was quite fascinating. Through the series, we learn about the recruits and what drives them. Poet wants to help everyone while Tayo is angry at the racial discrimination he has faced and wants to level the playing field and Nazari hopes to make sense of her parents’ persecution in Iran working with the FBI.
Nazari creates a data base collating all the information every agent in the field has ever collected and fashions a program that can run through all the data to identify likely suspects. She intends it to be a tool to help agents, an algorithm to sift through all the terabytes of data and come up with probable suspects with the power to act on the programme’s suggestions always supposed to be in the agent’s hand. Tayo sees the attraction of the programme, which will not be swayed by human prejudice. When he and his wife, Vivienne (Rosalind Eleazar) are attacked in their home, Tayo uses Nazari’s programme to track and arrest the person behind the attack.
Despite Nazari’s warnings, Tayo takes the help of technocrat, Amos Garcia (Raúl Castillo) to run the data base using AI. By 2034, the FBI has changed drastically with predictive arrests being the order of the day. The system perceives anyone straying from the preordained path as a threat and there are drones ready to take off at a moment’s notice. “We cannot be reduced to code and then be judged by the code we have been reduced to,” as Vivienne says.
We have seen preemptive arrests in The Minority Report and machines becoming self aware in The Terminator movies among many others. While talking of very real dangers of machines running our lives, Class of ’09 seems not willing to commit fully to its ideology and is poorer for it.
The switch between three time lines (yes it is not exactly time travel) seems to be a tad gimmicky as the story could have been told just as well linearly. The mini-series is rescued from being a crashing bore by great acting and excellent production design—those smart houses are prescient and icy cool. Class of ’09 is middling entertainment and a fair enough way to spend the evening.
Class of ’09 currently streams on Disney+Hotstar