'Crisis' premiere: Kidnapping, conspiracies and Gillian Anderson in the pilot episode

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"Crisis" marks NBC's final midseason premiere and one of the first truly engrossing episodes of new network programming seen in months. Plot twists, real tension and surprising emotions make this one of the best pilots of the year -- let's just hope that a semi-buried arrival doesn't kill the "Crisis" before its full potential can be reached.

When the tuition just isn't worth it

The show begins with the Ballard School. It's one of those ultra-high-end, D.C. academies that most of us only ever hear vague rumors of, the kind of place where Presidents and diplomats send their kids for education and around -the-clock protection.

Why so much protection? Let's just say that "Crisis" makes that all too clear.

A group of particularly important kids are going on a field trip to do community service in New York. The group includes class-president Amber, US President's-son Kyle, smart and fat boy Anton, angry scholarship kid Beth Ann and a host of other rich-kid types. They are chaperoned by skeevy (but young and handsome!) teacher Mr. Nash and Beth Ann's father, Thomas Gibson (Dermot Mulroney).

What starts out as basically the makings of a teen drama goes horribly wrong when a group of militants stop and hijack the bus. The head Secret Service agent assigned to Kyle is in on the plot. His backup ends up shot on the ground. All of the kids and their chaperones are herded onto a truck and disappear.

The beginning and end of an odd couple.

Actually, not all of the kids end up on the truck. Marcus Finley (Lance Gross), the downed Secret Service agent, isn't actually dead, and a freaked-out Anton collapses before getting to the truck. This provides the opportunity for a "Crisis" odd couple sadly only destined to last for this episode.

Finley and Anton escape into the trees, followed only by a single goon. After several hours of running through the woods and pep talks for Anton, the pair finds an abandoned cabin and decide to make their stand. Finley kills the pursuing goon and Anton finally finds a cell signal to call for help.

One kid is safe!

Too late

Unfortunately for those hoping to stop the kidnappers from doing whatever it is they want to do, Anton's father has already been compromised. He is sent to disable a tracking drone that might have actually found the kidnapped kids.

If he doesn't, Anton is doomed. This seems to be the kidnappers' preferred method for achieving their mysterious agenda: Get the rich and powerful to use their influence and abilities to restructure the world. Not a bad idea, really.

Not the hero

Whose idea is it?

At some point around the middle of the episode, the audience -- unlike most of the characters -- learns that wimpy, unemployed Thomas Gibson is actually the grand mastermind of this elaborate plot. He has a notebook filled with plays, everything from taking out the drone to cutting off his own finger.

Why is Gibson doing this? A flashback shows that, a few years earlier, Gibson had been a CIA analyst fired as a scapegoat for a mission gone wrong. The kidnapping and mysterious greater plot seems to be either for revenge or retaliation or to find the truth or to bring down corruption or ...

Honestly, who knows what Gibson is doing? It's obviously the point of "Crisis" that we spend most of the season figuring out the crime and its meaning.

More family drama, more twists

Law enforcement is, of course, all over this crime. The FBI is heading up the investigation, and the main liaison between the agency and the masters-of-the-universe parents is a young agent named Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor). She gets the job mostly because her older sister, Meg Fitch (Gillian Anderson), is a powerful CEO and the mother of kidnapped girl, Amber.

It's just too bad that the two sisters can't stand each other over something buried deep in their shared past.

The source of contention -- and an extra wrinkle in the "Crisis" plot -- is that Susie is actually the mother of Amber. She got pregnant as a teenager and then handed the baby over to her older sister. And walked out of their lives.

This could get very complicated.

Good guys, bad guys, neither and both

Here's the thing: By the end of the pilot episode of "Crisis," the lines between good and bad and whatever are blurred. A traitorous Secret Service agent, analysts, techies, and a room full of mercenaries? Are any of them really bad guys?

Leg shackles make it clear that Agent Albert Hearst -- a man being portrayed as the ultimate traitor -- may be as much a prisoner as the kids. Gibson has his henchmen in the playbook, which means they're targets as well as helpers. And most of the plan is being carried out by terrified parents who just want to see their kids again.

Add to this the likelihood that the kidnappers have other help on the outside, and the definitions of good and bad disappear.

Even Gibson himself is retaliating and/or setting right a wrong from years before. Obviously, he's doing bad things, but there is something else in the air. Whatever that something is, it's probably the solution to the crisis in the show's title.

"Crisis" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on NBC.
Photo/Video credit: NBC