Bionic Woman: “Sisterhood”

Girl Power

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall

Bionic Woman

NBC, Wednesdays, 9 PM


Written by David Eick

Directed by Steve Boyum

The Bionic Woman is in serious need of a personality transplant. The third episode kicks off (ahem) with Jaime being ordered to babysit the daughter of an important financial backer of her shadowy employer. This is not a plot; it’s a plot device. Trying to stretch it into anything more than a distraction from the main theme (character development) was a waste of time. Having said that, I think that this week’s episode was actually an improvement over the first two. That’s because there was much more Katie Sackhoff in it.

It’s a truism among actors that it’s always more fun to play the bad guy. Mercutio has twice the personality of Romeo; Iago steals every scene from Othello. Even rogues like Han Solo or Doc Holliday consistently offer more dramatic range than the good guys. So Katee Sackhoff, to be fair, has better lines and a more intense backstory to draw on when facing down Michelle Ryan. But even accounting for all that, the bottom line is that Sackhoff’s character Sarah is a hell of a lot more interesting onscreen than Ryan’s character Jaime. Whether she’s laying out for Jaime the hell she’s been through, realizing that she’s dying, or just shutting up a bratty kid (“Adults are talking!”), Sackhoff’s Sarah Corvus shines in every scene. It’s too bad the series can’t reboot at this point and reverse the casting.

The rest of the cast works pretty well. I would pay actual money to see a faceoff between Miguel Ferrer and Katee Sackhoff. Isaiah Washington did the best he could with ludicrous dialogue (“Bring out the animal!” What?). Molly Price, as field operator Ruth, was coldly hilarious in her “interrogation” of the nasty Canadian daughter. Lucy Hale, as Jaime’s sister Becca, is appropriately annoying, if one-dimensional. I greeted the return of Mark Sheppard, master of slime, with joy. But something has to be done with either Jaime Sommers or the actress playing her. I really can’t tell if it’s the fault of the script or the acting, but this character is falling so flat she’s approaching self-parody. I mean, she actually has lines like, “Bring it, bitch!” Cringe.

There are some plot elements here that might work: Sarah’s impending death due to failure of her bionics, the resurrection of Sheppard’s character as a creepy near-Dr.-Frankenstein pusher, and Jonas’ ongoing personnel shortage could be parlayed into some very interesting story arcs. The relation between Will Yun Lee’s Jae and Sarah is still very interesting, though I have to wonder why Sarah is not calling on her lover for help fending off her bionic crisis. The best scene was where Jaime and Sarah teamed up to defeat four hulking assassins who have invaded a nail salon. I loved the duel-in-a-female-haven idea; talk about girl power! “Canada? Do they even have an army?”–Humor! Yay! I liked the revelation that Sarah’s sister was killed in exactly the kind of T-bone collision that Sarah later re-enacted on Will and Jaime–nice pathology there. (Although I’m starting to wonder if Will is really dead, and how soap-opera-ish would that be?) Miguel Ferrer either got all the good lines, or made it seem as if he had.

“Sisterhood” focuses on the relation between the two bionic women, an interesting dynamic I’d love to see explored. If it were my show, by now this would be Bionic Women and would have a more political edge to it. And how appropriate was it that Sarah, the more self-aware of the two, is the one to see the “objectification” of their femaleness, the one to assert her right to dignity and privacy, the one to have found a way to hack out of the tracking devices implanted in them? Sarah the rebel makes far more sense than Jaime the petulant. The anti-heroine is taking on the role traditionally meant for the heroine. Confusing, I tell you.

Some of the confusion may be a trickle-down effect. Executive Producer Glen Morgan, who was responsible for some of the more memorable characters on The X-Files and Space: Above and Beyond, departed Bionic Woman only weeks into production. Laeta Kalogridis, who helped write the pilot, is gone. Shakeups like this can completely redirect the direction of a show; when it happens while the series is in production, it can mean sea-changes that leave the audience blinking and befuddled. I hope things have settled down now, and that next week’s episode will show us a more believable and assertive Jaime, more Emo!Sarah, and a more interesting mission for Jaime than babysitting a brat.

This is the third straight week the show has seen its audience shrink, to an estimated 10 million viewers, down from 11 million last week, down from 14 million the week it debuted. It’s also failing to keep the all important 18-49 demographic, settling into a second-place tie in the 9 p.m. time slot against CBS’ Criminal Minds. Ratings remain solid enough that NBC has ordered three more scripts. I have to give the network props for sticking by a show and giving it a chance to improve. And improve it must. The Bionic Womanneeds a makeover.