Pilot: “Max Black - String Theory Detective”
A reclusive technophobe with the mysterious ability to find missing objects partners with a charismatic hacker to infiltrate a college crime ring after a flash drive leads them to a dead body.
Max Black started finding lost objects when he was in high school, but this unexplainable sixth sense is difficult, even for him, to understand. The science is unclear, but the results are not. He can find just about anything once he’s made a connection to it, as long as it has some kind of metal in it. But there’s a side effect, a big one – electronics cause him physical distress, so Max avoids technology, at all costs. Electronics hate him back. He causes them to glitch and crash, so even if Max wanted to, he couldn’t use them.
So Max has no computer, no TV, no cell phone, and, well, no real friends. The exception is Max’s ex-lover, Gian-Carlo, his college boyfriend who was there for him when Max began to spiral (and started collecting research monkeys, long story). Max was committed to a mental health facility and has been in and out of institutions for years. This last time was voluntary, but when Max leaves, he’s thrown into a tailspin when Gian-Carlo announces he is marrying a woman.
But Max has a benefactor who provides him a place to live and a car. He also draws Max into a seemingly mundane search for a missing flash drive that unfurls a mystery on the local college campus. Max meets a charismatic hacker, Caulfield, who has secrets of his own. But the weird thing isn’t Caulfield’s fake identity or nosy personality— it’s the fact that he provides a natural anti-dote to Max’s electricity intolerance, which makes Caulfield Max’s only link to the modern world.
Anna, a graduate student in physics takes an interest in Max’s “gift”. She’s determined to uncover the scientific explanation behind his power, and starts a series of tests he agrees to — because he’s hoping to find a cure.
MAX BLACK (late 20s): Max was adopted when he was only six, after his real parents were killed in a car crash. He was raised on the coast of North Carolina. His adoptive, conservative parents began to suspect there was something wrong with Max when he was young. His intolerance to loud noises became worse as he got older. Max was accepted to the North Carolina School of the Arts when he was sixteen, but his adoptive parents refused to let him go. He emancipated himself. Art school was the first place Max was able to express his sexuality, and a kiss with another boy mysteriously coincided with the first time he saw “strings” — and connected objects to people.
Now Max lives off the grid — alone in an airstream on the beach, miles from civilization — a gift from a questionable real estate mogul, Gunther Bradley, who Max met inside the mental institute.
CAULFIELD (21): This skate-punk grad student is not actually a doctorate student. He dropped out of his undergraduate classes two semesters ago, and started sitting in on advanced level physics. But Caulfield’s not just a curious thinker — he’s up to something. By using a “free flash drive giveaway” program on campus, he collects meta-data illegally, phishing his way into the closed system being used by someone on campus to provide test answers to athletics students. (Not because he’s on a moral crusade – but because whoever hacks a system is then paid handsomely to protect it.) And Caulfield is more interested in notoriety than a degree – he wants to prove himself to his wealthy father.
After their rocky first meeting, Caulfield becomes enamored of Max’s strange ability. Caulfield can bring a lot to the table – in this case, an all-access technological pass. But is Caulfield the kind of kid who can be trusted? After all, the college crime ring keeps getting more and more convoluted and it’s starting to look like Caulfield could be the mastermind behind the whole thing. But Caulfield makes it possible for Max to exist in the real world, which Max can’t resist. Caulfield persuades Max to team up with him to solve the murder of the frat boy he’d been trading information with.
ANNA (25): This actual physics PhD candidate is pissed when she finds out her part-time lover Caulfield has been selling her tests on the campus black market. But her real interest quickly turns to Max. How does Max find things? Can she prove it scientifically? If she can figure out Max’s ability, she might have a groundbreaking dissertation that could make her an overnight sensation, possibly even proving elements of String Theory. She’s determined to get to the bottom of it, and Max reluctantly agrees, because he hopes there’s a scientific reason why his brain works the way it does – which means there might be a way to undo it.
What Anna knows, that Max doesn’t, is that she is getting paid to study him. This free-spirited young woman has a stable of admirers, a long list of professors who depend on her, and more than a few sexting partners in her contact list — but even she’s not entirely sure who she’s reporting Max’s activities to. But a paycheck is a paycheck, because making ends meet while pursuing a PhD isn’t easy if you’re a poor girl from the mountains of North Carolina.
GIAN-CARLO (30): Max’s ex-lover, now friend. He’s also the police detective charged with investigating the dead body Max finds. Gian-Carlo realized long ago that Max would never be a normal, stable, life-partner – and even though he still struggles with his feelings for Max, he isn’t willing to give Max up completely. He helps Max out because Max has no family and no one else to take care of him. But Gian-Carlo wants a family, and he reluctantly confesses to Max that he is engaged to a woman named Paige.
PAIGE (32). A therapist who has been treating Max, who believes Max’s “gift” is a result of his psychosis, and isn’t real. Gian-Carlo’s fiancée, Paige isn’t pleased to learn that her life-partner and Max are close friends. She’s even less pleased to discover that Max is living in the RV of another patient at the mental health facility, Gunther Bradley. Paige is set to testify in the murder trial against Gunther, but a missing murder weapon makes impossible to convict him — not to mention he’s successfully avoiding jail time using the insanity plea. When Max decides to hire Paige as his therapist after his release, she is torn between providing Max with much needed treatment, and using Max to get information that could lead to Gunther’s arrest. What she doesn’t know is that Gian-Carlo still fights his desire for Max.
GUNTHER BRADLEY (50): Gunther’s not just a harmless guy looking for attention. He’s a murderer, and a good one. He took out his business partner using a golf club that he tossed into the ocean, and he used the insanity plea to get off without prison time for an embezzling offense. But Gunther needs to make that murder weapon disappear for good, and Max is the perfect man for the job. Gunther gives Max an airstream on the beach because Gunther wants to keep Max close. As an anonymous donor, Gunther “funds” Anna’s research on Max. There’s no end to the financial gain that could come from exploiting Max’s talent, and if Max won’t do it himself, Gunther will find a way to make him.
SHAHEEN (38): Gunther’s attorney, and his voice on the outside. Shaheen’s an ambitious lawyer willing to do what it takes to make a name for himself. In this case, he took on a high-profile murder case and is working behind the scenes to establish his client’s innocence. But Shaheen’s not all bad. He just doesn’t really know what he’s dealing with in Gunther and slowly finds himself using Max as a sounding board for his personal problems.
CHANCELLOR MALLORY PRICE (55): This formidably intelligent woman has spent her entire adult life in higher education. She’s risen through the ranks, one title at a time, and she’s aiming even higher still - Washington, DC. With the campus police on her payroll, and a lucrative football program to protect, it’s easy to orchestrate a cover-up of illegal (non-existent) classes for athletes, and create a way for them to pass other classes by setting up a test answer ring. But even though Mallory’s a force to be reckoned with, she doesn’t realize how far things have gone. She’ll do anything to keep her hands clean, though, letting everyone around her go down instead.
DEAN HARDING (40’s): Another stunning professional educator, Harding is a woman who can be trusted. She wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on, but her hands are tied by bureaucratic strings. She smells a rat and won’t let it go. She probes her friends and colleagues for answers — discovering she’s the one who’s been set up to take the fall. The crime ring, that began as simple grade inflation, becomes much darker, revealing an extreme misuse of power among the campus police. The potential murder of students who might expose the truth reinforces Harding’s determination to uncover the real criminals. It also puts her in danger from the very people she turns to for help.
History – Max was a lonely and isolated child. He was never unpopular (primarily because of his good looks), but he never fit it either. In high school, at the North Carolina School of the Arts, an almost deadly experience in his dorm room crystallized his talent in a profound way.
Process – Max needs to touch something/someone that was in contact with the missing item in order to get a sense of it. By turning off all the electronics nearby, the sense becomes even stronger, and he can follow the colors he sees around people and objects. The colors are more like bouncing “strings” of light, and they are accompanied by signature sounds. Precious metals are the easiest to find, and he can hardly walk through a park without coming across some lost jewelry — a handy way to make money when he needs it.
Coffee – It makes his sensitivity more intense, which sucks, since Max really struggles to sleep, and coffee is… coffee.
Range – There’s a limit to Max’s power. It’s not like he can find something in Russia that was lost in the US. So far, he’s only ever tried to find things within a mile, at the most, and never has tried finding a living being. His power is usually very happenstance, and he hasn’t focused on it as a positive aspect of his life, or exploited it to find buried treasure, for example. Until he meets Anna and Caulfield, his power is a source of shame and confusion.
WEEK TO WEEK:
Max uses his power to find an object that links to a bigger and more profound part of the central mystery – who killed the college student, and why? A simple missing flash drive results in the gradual unfurling of a crime-ring, a murder, a suicide, and a grade inflation scheme leading all the way to the President of the University. Things are not as they seem, and object-by-object, Max Black will unravel the truth.
Ongoing mysteries slowly unfold as well – What really happened to Max’s real parents — are they truly dead? What does Gunther ultimately want from Max? Is Gunther behind the crime ring on the campus? Will Max ever find love?
After Max leaves a mental institute, a mysterious benefactor, Gunther Bradley, sets Max up with his own beachfront airstream and classic car, for reasons Max does not completely understand. A bizarre request from Gunther to help his niece find her missing flash drive leads Max on a search — that ends with a dead body. This brings Gian-Carlo, the detective in charge of the case, reluctantly back into Max’s life. Max clings to the hope that they can be together, but after Gian-Carlo rejects him, Max goes on a bender to an electronics store and melts down. Security finds Caulfield’s number on Max, so Caulfield takes Max back to the airstream. It’s not so bad, without lights and noise, and Caulfield realizes for the first time how truly difficult it is for Max to function in a society filled with electronics. Not to mention the art - Max hasn’t stopped producing (borderline-insane) pictures, and his work has only gotten more powerful over the years. In fact, there might be a clue in the drawings about his strange ability.
But Caulfield is in over his head. The campus police, and a fraternity, are involved in a rigged test scandal, and it looks like some of the top brass at the University want the problem to disappear by any means necessary. Max agrees to team up with Caulfield, partly because Caulfield acts as a natural barrier between Max and the electrical noise around him — but also because the case gives Max a purpose he’s been lacking, and he starts to learn how to use his special skill to his advantage. But they are in danger. Another body turns up, and this one definitely isn’t an accident.
When Caulfield is mysteriously offered a long-coveted job at Google, he announces he is leaving for San Jose. But when Max arrives home, Caulfield is waiting for him. Together with Anna, they use Max’s ability to get to the bottom of the murders. The college crime ring is exposed.
Caulfield sees the potential to partner with Max to solve other crimes, and Max agrees to be a detective, of sorts. But Gunther, who’s been pulling the strings from behind the scenes, has other plans for him.
END SEASON ONE