We always thought of the Rosicrucians as a vaguely pathetic mail-order "religion." "Zero Hour" disagrees, and the story begins with a portentous voice-over about the divinity and significance of the number 12 as, during the Nazi era, clockmakers hurry to complete a task.
Rosicrucians then sneak into a hospital, presumably one where the Nazis perform their terrible experiments, as they come upon a baby with psycho pale eyes. Cut to Rosicrucians, tipped to an imminent invasion, hauling some sort of sarcophagus up from the tunnels under a cathedral and loading it onto a jeep, the better to hide it from the Nazis. "It is up to God now," intones one Rosicrucian, dying of bullet wounds after the Nazis break into their church hideout and mow them down. God can't help anymore, gasps another dying Rosicrucian. "Only the 12 can."
Present day. After sharing dirty-water dogs at a Brooklyn street fair, Hank Galliston (Anthony Edwards) and his wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett) split up. Hank goes back to work at his magazine, a conspiracy-debunking book staffed by, among others, two avid young’uns named Arron (Scott Michael Foster) and Rachel Lewis (Addison Timlin). The mag's doing pretty well, it looks like, since the office is gigantic and occupying prime Brooklyn real estate.
Laila buys a vintage clock at the fair, gets the hairy eyeball from the table's proprietor, then heads back to her clock shop to call Hank in a panic during a break-in – then get kidnapped by a French terrorist named White Vincent.
This is in, like, the first five minutes of the show…and the rest of the ep moved just as fast, so if it sounds too silly to stick with, we understand. It kind of is. It's also kind of confusing and kind of too self-serious. Give it another few episodes, though; it really cooks.Twitter may not agree with us...
Hank quickly gets frustrated with the do-nothing attitude of NYPD – he snaps at one detective that the guy asked him only a few generic questions, and took pictures on "an eight-year-old cell phone" – but he's no happier with the FBI agent dispatched to track White Vincent, Rebecca "Beck" Riley (Carmen Ejogo, disgorging big chunks exposition very naturally). She implies that Laila is involved in her own disappearance somehow, which Hank resents. Then Hank, Arron, and Rachel figure out that Laila got kidnapped for the clock, which she actually left at home, not at her shop. They discover a map etched on a diamond hidden in Laila's newly purchased clock, and with a translation assist from Father Charles S. Dutton on the Aramaic, Hank decides to head to the Arctic Circle. But Agent Beck shows up at the airport and invites herself along, explaining to the accompaniment of Sad Backstory Violins that White Vincent blew up a plane and killed her husband, so she's going with Hank, like it or not.
Hank has had several fruitless ransom-drop calls with White Vincent – who has the same psycho pale irises as the flashback baby – by this time, and it doesn't look good for Laila. Father Dutton did give Hank some intel about the Rosicrucians; the language they've been using secretly for over two millennia; and the fact that, though he hates to say it, he thinks Laila is probably already dead. (Father Dutton also awesomely put the diamond in a tin of mints for safekeeping. Not that it worked; White Vincent stabbed him and took it, but we used to "play spies" as kids and we totally used a Sucrets box.) (Father Dutton does survive. For now.) But with the encouragement of the young’uns, Hank decides to try to track White Vincent and Laila to the Arctic Circle, and orders the young’uns to do more research – from the office only.
It takes them about five seconds to ignore this order and go to Bavaria to track down the clockmaker, who signed the clock on the inside and is still alive somehow. Hank is headed to "New Bartholomew," a town (he thinks) at the edge of the Arctic Circle. As Hank's being told by the charter pilot that a guy came through just the day before in a big hurry, Arron and Rachel are being told by the clockmaker that New Bartholomew isn't a place; it's a person. Clockmaker Guy breaks it down for them: 12 numbers on a clock, and 12 men – new apostles – appointed by the church "to save the world" with a secret even the Pope didn't know. (Insert Benedict joke here.) "They're looking for the clocks again," he whispers, looking haunted.
Before the kids can let Hank know that it's about to get maaaaajorly creepy, Hank finds out for himself. At the prescribed spot on the map, he and Agent Beck find a Nazi tank half-buried in the tundra. As they descend into it, finding permafrozen bodies within, Clockmaker Guy says the new apostles went to all the corners of the earth to hide the secret; each one got a clock, and this clockmaker made New Bartholomew's.
New Bartholomew is also, we flash back to see, the Nazi officer who tipped the clockmakers to inbound Nazis in 1938. Pan up to the tipster's face. It's Anthony Edwards.
Cut to Anthony Edwards staring in horror at his own frozen body, basically hung on a meathook inside the tank, and then rushing outside to have a full-on panic attack while Clockmaker Guy explains about the sarcophagus, and the Nazi's figuring out "the first steps to eternal life."
Fade out on Hank trying valiantly not to hurl while Clockmaker Guy Vincent Prices in VO that, if blood has been spilled, "The storm is coming," and names the storm.
…Okay, seriously: "Zero Hour" does a lot of sepulchral droning, grand pronouncing, and urgent whispering. It could stand to get more campy, and rely somewhat less heavily on funky contact lenses. But the show's creators have sworn that the first-season mystery will get solved at the end of the 13-episode order. We like Edwards and Ejogo a lot, and the kids initially look like they're going to be annoying, but Rachel's grumpy "'Goonies' was not a B-movie" got us on their side. (It totally was, though. Just saying.) And we're not going to rush off to join the Rosicrucians or anything, but the pilot of a show always has a crap-ton of explaining to do, so we're willing to forgive it some squishy writing and see how it moves forward.
Did you watch the premiere? Will you keep watching? Tell us why, or why not, or complain about how FBI agents on an active case don't really just let you stomp off because you're irritated, in the comments. Hope you'll join us for the rest of the season!
[UPDATE, 2/15 at 10:30 AM ET: The "tank" is actually a Nazi U-boat. That should have been obvious. Sorry for the confusion and thanks to @MrWhyt for the correction.]
"Zero Hour" airs Thursdays at 8 PM on ABC.