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REVIEW: Limitless 1×01 “Pilot”

The good news is: you don’t have to see the movie in order to understand the TV show.

The bad news is: you don’t have to see the movie because the pilot of Limitless throws so much at you in one sitting that you might feel like a student in school trying to retain as much information as possible before the inevitable pop quiz.

So many details are jammed into the 44 minute episode that, by the end of the pilot, you’ll no doubt feel as though you yourself are experiencing the horrible after-effects of an NZT* high.

*NZT being the experimental drug that fuels the characters and the plot of Limitless.

The drug transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary by giving those who ingest it cognitive enhancements that make them capable of almost anything. It’s portrayed as a miracle, neuro-enhancing pill that is capable of giving users the ability to access every brain cell and reach the highest intellectual state possible. The notion that the brain is a miracle, yet wholly inefficient, is one that has no relevance to users of NZT. The drug makes you think faster, understand more, perceive everything, and live your life (literally) to the fullest. You go from average to genius with one small tablet and are given 12 hours to get everything, and become anyone, that you could possibly hope for.

The only side effects are, of course, withdrawal symptoms that are roughly 100 times worse than the standard hangover and… what was the other one?

Oh right.


(In two possible forms no less.)

The first being good old-fashioned murder.

Limitless follows Brian Finch as he quickly learns of the aforementioned benefits and consequences of becoming a user of NZT. As a washed up, wannabe musician with no career prospects or personal goals, Brian finds himself entering the world of NZT when a former friend offers him the opportunity to “concentrate” and leave his life as an underachieving temp.

The pill quickly takes effect, allowing Brian to finish two weeks of work in a mere two hours, and just as quickly becomes addictive. The twelve-hour high that the NZT produces is one that, as we learn in the pilot, is something that certain people think is worth killing four.

Seeking another fix, Brian stumbles upon the body of his recently murdered friend, and immediately becomes aware of the fact that someone is killing people for their NZT. The discovery of the body becomes the catalyst of the pilot’s central plot as Brian finds himself the #1 suspect of the murder. Desperate to clear his name, Brian takes his friend’s secret stash of the drug and makes it his mission to find the real person responsible for the murder that he’s been pinned for.


The murder case naturally means there is a lead detective who initially serves as an adversary to Brian. Said detective is Agent Rebecca Harris, who is tasked with bringing Brian in and determining who is responsible for the now two murders of NZT users. All signs point to Finch, but after a surprise appearance in her apartment where he tells her everything he knows, Agent Harris shifts her focus and quickly becomes Brian’s only ally… or so we’re led to believe.

Because not long after Harris begins to believe Brian, we meet another person who has been keeping an eye on the newest NZT user: Senator Edward Morra.

(For those of you who have seen the cinematic version of Limitless, you read that correctly.)


Bradley Cooper returns as the former nobody-turned Senator and offers Brian the chance to take as much NZT as he wants without having to deal with the repercussions- namely death. Morra reveals that a sort of antidote has been created, which allows the positives of NZT to remain while ridding users of the side effects and symptoms of withdrawal.

(Said side-effects include the second form of death surrounding NZT, which involves the physical toll that it takes on the body. The FBI’s previous experimental study of the drug was shut down after the second death of one of the volunteers. The drug is so powerful that the long-term destruction it causes to the mind and body is just as astonishingly vast as the brief benefits it provides.)

The offer is reminiscent of the red-pill/blue-pill conundrum in the Matrix as Morra gives Brian a choice between continuing to take the NZT or coming down from the high for good.


Which option would you choose?


Brian pops the NZT without much hesitation and willingly accepting Morra’s terms and conditions, the main one being that he is never to tell anyone of their conversation.

By the close of the episode, Brian has successfully cleared his name and established himself as a viable consultant for the FBI. Agent Harris’ suggestion that he use his pill-popping to help solve cases successfully sets the show up as an obvious procedural that will likely spend each week highlighting the benefits of NZT as different absurd cases are thrown their way.

It’s important to note that Brian’s driving force in the pilot is his sick father, whose illness remains a mystery until his son uses NZT to plow through various medical texts to figure out what’s wrong.


Of course, Pill #1’s ability to help Brian diagnose the issue doesn’t do much to bring his father a new liver, hence Brian’s acceptance of the FBI’s offer to get rid of the numerous charges he racked up in exchange for him serving as the newest test-subject for their NZT research. Bartering himself for a new liver for his father, Brian willingly becomes an experimental guinea pig for the bureau and highlights the fact that, despite the brain-enhancing drug, he acts with his heart… something that could prove to be a bad thing as time progresses.

Overall the Limitless pilot was a fun reintroduction to NZT, which, lets face it, is really a character in and of itself within the show. There’s a decent amount of action that’s paired with enough intrigue to keep viewers’ attention and, more importantly, their interest.

The mystery surrounding Morra’s involvement with Brian and NZT, as well as Agent Harris’ desire to find out what happened to her recently-deceased father (who she believes was on NZT at his time of death), will likely serve as the overarching plots of the series, interspersed with the episodic crimes that the new partners will have to deal with.

The clear negative of the show is that, much like the early episodes of Arrow, Limitless relies heavily on voiceover. As previously mentioned, there is an abundance of pertinent information that the audience can’t really be privy to without the use of voiceover. It’s necessary, especially because of the complexities within the show, but as someone who has never cared for the device, I can only hope that Limitless continues down the same path as Arrow in this regard and drops the voiceovers early on. Once we’re past the informational phase of the series, there shouldn’t be much need for the extra bit of audio, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it disappears by episode four.

Final Grade B+

+ The episode was a fun re-introduction for fans of the Limitless film.

+ There’s a lot of fun action and excellent character development.


– Relies too much on narration/voiceover.

– The episode is somewhat cluttered and a little too much to throw at people all at once.


Extra thoughts:

– Will Cooper reprise his role in the rest of the series or was his cameo just a one-time thing?


Is Limitless on your “must-watch” list for the upcoming TV season? If so, what are you hoping to see from it (besides more cameos from Bradley Cooper)? And if you were in Brian’s position… would you agree to take the pill and serve as a glorified lab rat? Sound off on Twitter or in the comments below!

About the author

Silje Falck-Pedersen