Episode 1 of Them begins with a flashback to a crucial moment in time. Lucky Emory is approached by a crazed woman demanding she hand over her son. Suddenly, she awakens with a start.
Driving with her family, they intend to make a new start, away from the horrors in North Caroline. While all of them are excited and enthusiastic, Lucky forces a smile after her dream. This is the Great Migration, where many black men and women pursued a better life by moving to California.
The neighbourhood they’re moving to is Compton – East Compton to be precise. As they head up the driveway to their new suburban home, all the neighbours head out to catch a glimpse, including Queen Bee Betty Wendell. They’re all shocked when they find out the Emory family are black.
The kids start looking around their rooms but Sergeant – their family dog – is preoccupied by the basement. Barking at the door, Gracie opens it up… but is immediately stopped by Lucky and Henry, who arrive and usher her away. When they do, they see the housing contract specifically states “no negro blood.” However, realtor Helen assures them this can easily be rectified.
And so our family move in and prepare their new lives. Red expository text flashes across the screen to let us know this is day 1. Lucky finds it hard to sleep, but Henry does his best to reassure her that these feelings of uneasiness will pass.
Night turns to day and a whole group of neighbours set up chairs outside in the street, intent on antagonizing the new neighbours with a cacophony of loud music.
Lucky is having none of it and keeps her chin up, walking her girls to the bus stop. There, they receive some snotty looks from the different school girls. Despite that, Lucky heads home and starts unpacking boxes. The music outside continues to blare, as Betty leads the charge to wind up Lucky.
Well this music doesn’t work. What does however, is Gracie returning home from school and singing a familiar eerie song. This harmony happens to be the same one Lucky heard in her visions during the early parts of the episode.
At work, Henry shows up for his role in Engineering. As he walks in the room, heads turn as he struts confidently to his seat.
Simmering under this flatlined surface however, are the men and women of East Compton. They scheme together, intent on driving the Emory household out of their neighbourhood as quickly and effectively as possible. Clarke and Betty are the ringleaders for this antagonization.
That night at the house, Gracie awakens to find someone sitting at her kitchen table. She creeps toward them, when this figure suddenly bolts up and jumps at her, strangling the girl. Annoyingly, the entire scene is ripped of its ensuing tension by an artistic fade shot rather than leaning into the horror.
Anyway, in the morning Gracie is in bed but finds a strange burn mark across her neck. She whispers, telling Lucky that Sergeant has gone and someone has taken their dog. Henry frantically looks around the house, eventually noticing that the basement door is open.
The ominous sound of keys jangling sends him down, where he finds Sergeant dead on the floor. Lucky is enraged, heading out into the front garden with a gun, screaming at the neighbours to stay away from their house.
The Episode Review
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and in the case of Them, it’s hard not to draw parallels to Get Out. Unlike Get Out though, this idea of racial inequality backdropped against creepy horror is not new and this first episode really struggles to step out Jordan Peele’s horror shadows.
The camera work and musical spikes are both nigh-on identical, which at times doesn’t do this show any favours. The creepy woman in the house at the end is easily the best moment though, armed with an effective jump scare too. It’s just a pity that was ruined somewhat by a fade edit.
The acting from all involved is inspired, and the show definitely has a slick aesthetic. It’s still early days of course, but we’ll have to wait and see if this series can deliver something new rather than feeling like a clone of what we’ve seen before.