Going Viral: Unpacking the “Mystery” behind the “Society”

Samantha Apanasewicz
Pop Trends Columnist

“Most people care about the truth. But most people, given the proper persuasion, can be diverted from it,” as Mr. Benedict says in the season premiere of “The Mysterious Benedict Society.”

Directed by James Bobin, the show premiered on Disney+ on June 25. This TV series, set in the 1950s to early 1960s, mirrors the original 2007 young adult sci-fi novel of the same name by Trenton Lee Stewart.

The series is set in a small mainland named Stonetown in which the audience is thrown into the middle of what the locals coin “The Emergency.” While not a tangible catastrophic event, people everywhere on the mainland are consumed with an overwhelming and crippling sense of fear and anxiety to the point where jobs are lost, families are torn apart and every day begins with a renewed sense of dread.

Four children are recruited through a series of character-defining tests and tricks determined by a Mr. Nicholas Benedict, a man residing on the outskirts of the mainland that obsesses over the art of truth-seeking. Mr. Benedict has been working tirelessly to pinpoint exactly what is causing The Emergency.

Reynard Muldoon, George “Sticky” Washington, Kate Wetherall and Constance Contraire all come from unexpected places, but they are united by one attribute: their empathy. Together, these four are tasked with an undercover mission to discover and destroy the source of the misinformation that affects their society before it’s too late.

“We are in more danger if we do nothing,” Mr. Benedict implores the children in the pilot episode. “Everyone is so anxious that it’s throwing our society apart … messages designed to divide us, all stemming from the (seemingly innocent) voices of children. Our psyches are under siege, which makes us all more susceptible to change.”

Reynie, the child to whom the audience is introduced first, questions Mr. Benedict on the necessity of this dangerous mission. If Benedict has the proof, why not expose it? Benedict replies solemnly, “Proof is useless unless it’s something people already want to believe.”

The question I find myself asking is “why now?” The novel by Trenton Lee Stewart was published in 2007. Although a very fascinating and engrossing plot, the original story came out almost fifteen years ago. And with the current social and political climate, one can’t help but draw eerily similar parallels to the present pandemic.

Something rendered almost indescribable due to the number of different sources covering the pandemic and The Emergency alike weighs heavily on the thoughts of our society today, much like the people of Stonetown.

Over the past year, our way of life has been forced to adapt to a “new normal,” even though the term “normal” changes depending on where you look. In intensely high-emotion environments, our guard is let down, shown by the people of Stonetown and by those in our world.

As soon as a precedent is established, it makes it easier to categorize feelings, ideas and procedures in that specific schema, or “mental bucket.” It takes less cognitive effort for us to add new information or adapt our schema of the way the world works than if we were to try and separate each new experience in a new schema. This explains the idea of how social precedents are established and maintained.

It takes passionate truth-seekers, in both Stonetown and in the real world, to discern the truth and form rational decisions for the betterment of the team or, in our case, society. Despite what mainstream ideologies might promote, the individual ability to question what information we are consuming is important.

That is not to say that we must only communicate with each other using Morse code and flashlights like Sticky Washington, but regardless, the message still stands.

“The Mysterious Benedict Society” skates the line of “just realistic enough” entertainment to move the plot forward while simultaneously drawing in the audience. This aspect of production also heavily contributes to the high level of intrigue from the first few seconds of the pilot episode.

Jam-packed with curiosity-arousing and psychological details, “The Mysterious Benedict Society” communicates to Stonetown and the real world that “there are no rules until you break one of them,” as characters Jackson and Jillson say.