Bionic Woman: “Paradise Lost”

Beta Testing

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall

Bionic Woman

NBC, Wednesdays, 9 PM

“Paradise Lost”

Written by Laeta Kalogridis & David Eick

Directed by Tim Matheson

Bionic Woman still does not know what it wants to be when it grows up. Is this going to be a weekly ass-kicking showcase a la Dark Angel, or an angsty drama of conspiracies and shadow governments a la The X-Files? It’s obvious that the writers are trying to avoid the self-parody that so much underconceived SF can become, but at the same time a little self-conscious irony would help considerably. As it is, it’s a mix of elements that might work but haven’t quite jelled.

It’s never good when you open with a discontinuity. Last week’s pilot episode ended with Dr. Will (Chris Bowers) shot in the shoulder by rogue Bionic Woman Sarah Corvis. This week we open at his funeral. Say what? Hard to believe that the same guys who put Jaime Sommers back together after a car wreck couldn’t replace a shattered shoulder or whatever. Writing off Dr. Boyfriend in this obvious way was…well, obvious. Other characters were retooled, as well: Miguel Ferrer has been toned down from Chief Prick to Annoying But Human Boss. Jaime has more humor and her bratty sister has less. Well, that’s what happens after a pilot is picked up–the elements that sold it get tossed out or toned down.

The “Paradise” of the title is a small town in the Midwest which has been mysteriously cordoned off by the military; clandestine photos show Jonas (Ferrer) that everyone is lying dead in the streets. I didn’t know whether to credit “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “The Hot Zone” or “Andromeda Strain” with that visual, but it was definitely feeding my déjà vu. Jonas, who explains to Jaime that he works for An Agency Which Shall Not Be Named (literally–at no time did they even give it an acronym) whose business it is to, uh, save the world from bad guys.

Jaime Sommers, however, is too busy trying to have anonymous sex in a men’s room with a stranger. Interesting call for a woman who’s in mourning, but whatever. She manages to bust the guy’s ribs accidentally just before Jonas walks in to deliver his recruiting speech. Jaime apparently has Issues that she’s trying to work out with booze and sex in the best traditions of the Nineties, but Jonas isn’t interested. He wants her to come work for him, and she’s ambivalent. Obviously that bartending job pays better than I thought, for this to even be something to think over. Jaime thinks it over in a bookstore where she runs into a personable and charming man with a dog (Isaiah Washington, famously late of Grey’s Anatomy). After rescuing a suicidal woman with her bionic powers, Jaime decides saving people is more worthwhile than pouring shots, so she walks into Jonas’ office and tells him she’s “in”. Cringe.

The show’s only nod to the geek section of the audience follows. Jaime complains about her bionic ear not working, and we get some banter with a cocky technician who warns her not to put a Q-tip in “his” ear. There are clearly some bugs to be worked out with the hardware, however, and in true geek fashion he finds a way to fix her ear–by slapping her on the back of the head. Cute. Too bad they didn’t beta test that ear, but that’s hardware development for you.

For the rest of the hour, we get introduced to a new operative, Ruth, who seems as testy as Jonas (these folks need more sleep or better coffee). She also meets her supervisor, who turns out to be Isaiah Washington. Finally, she gets trained by the only guy who really seems to have it together on this show, Jae Kim (played by Will Yun Lee). She’s not quite through with the training when Jonas and Ruth draft her for some field work in “Paradise”.

Posing as Department of Agriculture workers, Ruth and Jaime find a lone survivor, only to discover that the soldiers guarding the town are actually killing off any survivors they can find. In a completely bewildering scene, Jaime gets the @#$* beat out of her by an ordinary soldier. Wait, isn’t she supposed to be the Bionic Woman? Even if her training wasn’t complete, shouldn’t she be able to kick the guy over the moon? This is going to be a real problem with this series, as it is with all “superheroes”: how can you realistically show them with weaknesses (and therefore humanity) if they have none? I’d have liked some explanation as to why Jaime was kicking Jae all over the gym two minutes ago, and now is fighting like, um, a girl. In a series of developments too boring to remember, the team discovers that there are some twenty tankers of poison gas set to be delivered to different cities; they stage a raid, take them down, problem solved. Too bad they never found out who these bad guys are and why they’re planning to gas half the major cities in the US. What, did they call Bad Guys ‘R’ Us for this?

Once again, Katie Sackhoff gets all the good lines. In a tryst with former lover Jae, Sarah explains her murderous rampage in the pilot: “I think someone hacked me.” Now there’s an interesting premise–can a bionic person be remotely accessed? What would a virus do to his or her software? Does Sarah have to download updates from time to time? Is there a patch for this murderous-rampage bug? ‘Cause that’s a pretty nasty bit of code. Sackhoff got to play sinister seductress, too, in a love scene with Jae. So far, these two are the most interesting characters on the show.

Despite the lurching, derivative plot and the bewildering re-conception of the characters, there are some strengths here: I do like Miguel Ferrer better in this role. Ruth was a great, crabby co-worker. If this show is intended to focus on conspiracies, they’ve got the right guys at the helm–Glen Morgan helped invent The Lone Gunmen and The X-Files and there’s never been a better set of conspiracy freaks. But Morgan’s strong suit has always been characterization over plot, and it’s showing in Bionic Woman. The producers need to ditch the clumsy dialogue and obvious plotting; we get it, we get the premise, can we move forward now and see what Jaime is going to do with all this hardware?