Today’s script comes with three helpings of “double mumbo jumbo” and a side of offensive politicking [concerning the response to terrorism in the modern world]. And yet, so far, it is the most compulsively readable script I’ve come across from the 2014 Black List.
Protagonist Bob Neven is a three dimensional character. The relationship between Bob and his wife, Anna (1), is also three dimensional. The parts of the story that center on their deteriorating relationship are exceptionally well-written. I got three quarters of the way through this script with my hopes raised high that today’s author could find the cement necessary to hold his story together.
In my opinion, he did not. However, Echo was the first of the Black List Bunch that I had fun reading.
In my review of Celeritas, I noted that script was meant to be judged by its plot; the same is true for this script.
Echo cannot be taken seriously as a story. The science behind it is possible, in the sense that anything which is not logically contradictory is possible, but it is hard to imagine a world in which technology exists to clone humans and then accelerate a lifetime’s worth of human growth into six months. That much of the story “magic” gets us to Mr. Snyder’s injunction against “Double Mumbo Jumbo”.
This script then outdoes itself by ALSO pretending that a few months of indoctrination would turn one of these scientific miracles-as-clones into a psychological AS WELL AS a physical replica of the human original. The triple dose of mumbo jumbo required to make this idea congeal left me cold.
And that is all I have to say about the plot of Echo… But, what do I have to say about the politics of Echo?
Unfortunately, the author decides to have Bob be a CIA drone attack coordinator. I think he does this to create symmetry between Bob’s personal life and his professional life. It’s almost as if the author’s favorite movie is The Conversation, and he felt compelled to pay homage with a modern update. In his mind, Echo is the 21st century clone of the great Coppola script.
The problem is the subject is treated with zero [dark thirty] depth. In order for this element of the plot to become more than what it is, Bob would have to wrestle with the moral implications of his job. This never happens. The author fails to consider whether it is proper for a hero to sit in a room in Northern Virginia and order the deaths of people living on other continents.
Since there is no discussion of the dilemma, it feels as though it would have been equally as correct for Bob’s vocation to be… quilt maker.
Not exploring the issue is an inexcusable miss on the part of the author. After all, the story resolves itself by claiming the reason for the Chinese clone program’s existence was to cause public reaction against the clone program. To get this close to saying something intelligible about the merits and demerits of killing people in the name of peace [and then to not say anything at all] is a failure of the story. Don’t choose weighty topics as story ideas, if you intend to treat them lightly.
Overall, this is a script from someone who can write. I can forgive the author a lot of his missteps based on his ability to create three-dimensional characters and relationships. Were I an industry reader, this is a case where I would want to hear about the other things this guy has on his hard drive.
I’ll close with the page notes I took while reading. As usual, I’ll italicize the original notes and [bracket] my final thoughts.
Pg. 3 BOB (V.O.)
It’s important that I remember my
wife. My real wife.
Anna walks into the room. All dolled up and ready to go out.
BOB (V.O.) (CONT’D)
I owe it to her to find out who
this person is.
Okay, that is good. I’m hooked by this story now.
[I still feel like the first 10 pages of this script are very strong. The author had me after these first 10.]
Pg. 26 Bob puts his cell on speaker as someone picks up.
FEMALE VOICE (V.O.)
Hey. So, you know why I got called
into the office?
FEMALE VOICE (V.O.)
Called in? Nobody called you in.
Bob’s expression darkens…
BAM! A WHITE VAN SMASHES INTO THE SIDE OF BOB’S CAR.
Where is this going?
[In the end, nowhere.]
Pg. 27 DEBBIE (CONT’D)
Looks like shipping manifests of
some kind. Whoever sent this
highlighted a bunch of materials
sent to these GPS coordinates.
She points at the highlighted GPS coordinates.
So… It was sent here.
(off Bob’s blank look)
To this address. Addressed to
Special Activities. Who knows the
CIA is in this building?
Bob nods. Understanding now. That is interesting.
Yeah, it is. And this is a good script.
[The author manipulates the suspense in his script at a pro level. This is the main reason why I would be interested to look at other things he has written.]
Pg. 29 SENATOR
Just to be clear, you were aware
there were civilians in the truck
when you authorized the strike?
Yes, sir, I was.
There were children in the market
Maybe, we will get something serious about this?
[Unfortunately, we never did. Terrorism and Drone Strikes are left as equivalences. Everything is assumed, and nothing is proved.]
Pgs. 30-31 CIA LAWYER
I think we can wrap this up.
(reading from a paper)
Agent Neven, did you, to the best
of your abilities, conform to
article 51 of the UN charter in
yesterday’s drone strike?
Have you recently consumed any
chemical substances that could
impede your judgment?
Davis rolls his eyes. What a joke this all this.
Has anyone identified you in your
civilian capacity and attempted to
gain information from you on the
agency’s drone program?
Bob doesn’t answer immediately. The question hitting a nerve.
Has anyone attempted in any way to
compromise your decision making
process in regards to the agency’s
Bob fidgets in his seat. Should he say something? Voice his
concerns about Anna?
Not bad, even my intense liberalism wants to see where this goes.
[My intense liberalism, of course, was ultimately disappointed.]
Pg. 33-34 BERNIE
Bounced back a “no-hit”. Not
registered. Is it one of ours?
Why do you ask?
Cause that’s usually the only time
we get “no-hits”. Agency vehicles.
FBI. Spooks generally.
Bob gets up to go. Letting this sink in. Worried.
[This snippet speaks to the author’s ability to manipulate suspense again.]
Pg. 38 BOB
Freeze it on her face and enhance.
The image freezes on the woman’s face. ZOOMS IN closer…
It’s Alima. The woman they took out in the truck. The exact
Okay, that’s just weird.
[Here is where the triple mumbo jumbo, as yet unexplained on 38, began to wilt my enthusiasm.]
Pg. 78 BOB
Tell me where my wife is!
We had an affair!
This stops Bob in his tracks.
We had an affair. Alright.
Bob tries to process this. A curveball he wasn’t expecting.
I only met him today to warn him
that you might…
She starts to break down. Bob listens cautiously.
The plot points around THE MARRIAGE, are gelling nicely.
[If only the same could be said about the cloning.]
Pg. 84 Davis’ eyes drift across his desk. To the envelope with the
anonymously mailed GPS coordinates. Davis picks up the
envelope. Looks at the address written on the envelope.
He puts the envelope directly beside Bob’s handwriting in his
The handwriting is identical.
Oh my god.
I can’t wait to see how this gets explained.
[Triple Mumbo Jumbo to the rescue!]
Pg. 88 He roots through folders, financial records, internal memos.
Something catches his attention. A folder labeled PROJECT
[I don’t have anything to add because the script had nothing to add.]
After 88 the story spiraled into unlikelier and unlikelier realms. It was a shame, really, because Echo could have been a great script. As it is, I can’t go more than:
Rating: Worth Reading [but not seriously]
1. I’m sure the fact that “Bob Neven” and “Anna Neven” are both palindromes feels clever to today’s author given his story subject. In general, however, my advice is to avoid palindromes [and anagrams]… they’re never as clever as they seem when you’re writing them.