April 28, 2015

SVU Thriller, Channel X: Red Light, Green Light

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 8:15 pm by Jenn

Good book, lame cover

Good book, lame cover

Summary: Nina and Bryan are boring. No, wait, sorry – Nina and Bryan are bored. They never do anything fun, and even if they found fun things to do, they can’t afford to do them. So when they find out that a psychology experiment on campus is looking for paid volunteers, they decide to give it a try. After all, they just have to watch some ads for a couple hours a day, and they walk away with $50. For some reason, neither thinks there is anything suspicious about this, even though $50 is a lot of money for a university experiment, let alone one that ends up having almost a dozen participants.

The students report for the first session, where they meet Dr. Akre, the professor running the study, and his assistant, Christian. Christian is hot, and Nina can’t help staring, which makes Bryan mad. Oh, shove off, Bryan. Like you’ve never admired someone attractive. A group called EFC is funding the experiment, supposedly to learn how to design ads around what people respond to when they watch them.

Everyone is separated and hooked up to wires. Nina chats a little with Christian, who’s very nice. Everyone watches the commercials, which are for a variety of products like food and makeup. Afterward, Bryan’s mad at Nina for checking out Christian, so they don’t talk. It doesn’t help that Akre implied to Bryan that Christian was hooking up Nina’s wires. At the next session, Bryan spends half the time watching ads and the other half fuming over Nina, who, let’s remember, hasn’t even done anything. He decides he can’t trust her. Well, sure. Girls who allow their eyeballs to drift toward guys they’re not dating are always deceitful.

Nina doesn’t have much time to think about what’s up with Bryan, because at dinner, Kerri, a girl from the experiment, starts acting weird. She eats a bunch of food and causes a scene, getting herself thrown out. Nina thinks she just has bulimia. Then Elizabeth encounters a guy who seems to think he has bugs all over him, and is scratching himself to get rid of them. Liz thinks he’s on drugs (a fair assumption).

Bryan watches more commercials, fixating on one about a sale, with the phrase “everything must go.” He’s getting angrier and angrier. Nina runs into another participant in the bathroom and sees her putting on a brand of makeup they saw an ad for. Nina’s starting to see similarities between the ads and the actions of the people who saw them. Things get even weirder when she runs into Kerri again, and Kerri pulls some self-defense moves on a guy who hassles her. Kerri then says that Nina must have sent the guy after her. Another participant holds a snack-bar employee at knifepoint while Elizabeth is present.

Nina tries to talk to Bryan about the weird things going on, but he’s too far gone now to listen to her. Later, there’s a fire in her and Elizabeth’s dorm, and Bryan and the girl who set the fire (who is, of course, from the experiment) get excited about watching the building burn. Nina tells Christian everything that’s been going on, but he tells her she’s paranoid and implies that she needs psychological help.

Later, though, Christian asks Nina to meet him at a diner. Neither of them know that Bryan’s stalking them. Christian tells Nina that there’s definitely something wrong with the experiment – it’s not monitoring people’s reactions to the ads, it’s altering them. EFC wants to make people crave products by stimulating their adrenal glands. The violence, paranoia, and other weird behaviors are unfortunate side effects. Christian was afraid to confirm Nina’s suspicions on campus because there are cameras around. He assures Nina that he didn’t know about this until just recently, and tells her she hasn’t been affected by the experiments. Bryan’s not happy that Christian is working against Akre.

It’s too dangerous for Nina to drop out of the experiment or to confront Akre with what’s been happening, so she pretends everything’s totally fine. But when she goes in for the next session, Akre, not Christian, hooks her up to the wires. She asks about Christian, and Akre denies that he exists. He tells her that she must be confused – Akre has always been the one to hook up the electrodes. Nina plays along, but later she asks the other participants if they’ve seen Christian. No one knows who she’s talking about.

This is the part where I would have gone to the police, but no, it’s Sweet Valley, and the rule in Sweet Valley is that you have to go to a Wakefield first. Nina fills Elizabeth in on all the weirdness, and the two of them try to track down Christian. He’s basically vanished off the face of the earth, with no indication that he ever existed. Then they investigate EFC and learn that it’s been accused of brainwashing experiments before, with something to do with the military industrial complex.

Nina manages to grab a tape with some of the ads on it, so she can show it to Elizabeth and they can analyze it. If I were Liz, I’d be like, “No, thanks; I saw The Ring,” but she watches it. The two of them encounter Kerri, who’s definitely off the deep end now – she pulls a gun and shoots a student in the leg. Fortunately, the police arrive quickly and take care of things. While this is happening, Akre decides to make Bryan his new Christian, and tells him all about the experiment.

While studying for biology, Nina reads about genetics and traits. This is all for us to learn that Nina is red-green colorblind. She realizes that this could be the reason the experiment hasn’t affected her the way it has everyone else. While Bryan goes looking for her, Nina does some snooping and finds the recording Akre plans to use to explain the whole experiment to EFC. There have been pulses of red and green light in the commercials that cause the participants to either crave a product or behave hostilely. Because Nina can’t see the lights, her behavior hasn’t been modified.

Bryan finds Nina and tells her that Akre filled him in, and he now knows that they’re being brainwashed. At this point I wondered how Bryan had suddenly stopped being affected by the brainwashing. It turns out that the ghostwriter has, for once, pulled off a nice twist – Bryan is faking. He’s there to stop Nina from exposing the truth about the experiment. He knocks her out, ties her up, and shoves her in a room (with poor Christian’s dead body).

While Nina tries to pretend she was affected by the ads, the brainwashing starts to lose its hold over Bryan. I guess his love for Nina can break through even psychological conditioning. Akre reveals that he knew Nina was colorblind (he researched her when he realized the ads weren’t altering her behavior), but he kept quiet so she would stay in the study as an accidental control subject. I love that Akre risked his scheme being compromised because he was all excited about the scientific process.

So there’s a standoff for a while, with Akre ordering Bryan to shoot Nina while Bryan wrestles with his inner demons or whatever. Bryan does eventually fire off a shot, but it misses. Bryan and Akre scuffle, Bryan wins, Akre is arrested, and Bryan is somehow miraculously cured, I guess. Nina has no problem making up with him, though if I were her, I’d probably be traumatized by the fact that my boyfriend almost shot me.

A few days later, Nina and Elizabeth go to the psych facility where Kerri’s being treated, but they’re told that there’s no one there with her name. Elizabeth is supposed to air a story about the whole experiment on SVU’s TV station (this is out of order with the regular books, since she’s working for their newspaper now), but there’s no footage. The girls wonder if there were technical difficulties, or if the EFC conspiracy is now being covered up.

Later, Nina learns that Akre’s being charged with Christian’s murder and with trying to kill Nina and Bryan, but not with the conspiracy. Nina’s torn between being happy it’s all over and being suspicious that all evidence of the conspiracy has seemingly been destroyed. Bryan’s like, “Well, sometimes there’s no happy ending.” Bryan, are you new to Sweet Valley? In this town, there’s always a happy ending. In this case, the happy ending is that you didn’t die.

Thoughts: I really, really wanted Jessica to be in this book so I could call my recap Infinite Jess. (For those not familiar, David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest has a plot about a video that changes the behavior of the people who watch it. It’s just the opposite of this book, because the viewers get all lazy and apathetic. Kind of like I felt after I made it through all 1,080 pages of Infinite Jest.)

If Bryan’s that upset about Nina just looking at another guy, wait till he finds out about her summer hookups in the Sweet Valley Shore miniseries.

Nina smells smoke, but when the fire alarm goes off, she thinks it’s a drill. Stay in school, Nina.

I’m sure there’s something in a previous book to refute that Nina’s red-green colorblind, but I don’t care enough to go hunting for it.

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