Bionic Woman: “The Education of Jaime Sommers”

Learning Better

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall

Bionic Woman

NBC, Wednesdays, 9 PM

“The Education of Jaime Sommers”

Written by Elizabeth Heldens

Directed by Jonas Pate

What a difference a week makes. This Bionic Woman isn’t even the same show I saw last week. Jaime Sommers has not only learned how to fight, she’s gained IQ points. A lot of IQ points, and not just because the Berkut Corporation sent her to college. This show is almost breathing on its own.

Jaime goes undercover to find out what local college member is selling neural implants to terrorists. She’s never been to college but she fakes her way through a neuroscience class with the help of a “phony” English accent (Michelle Ryan using her real, actual English accent) and a too-helpful teaching assistant named Tom (Jordan Bridges, Conviction). She even gets a cute roommate named Aoki (Valerie Tian, Aliens in America) to help her with her pesky lab homework. Too bad her lab homework seems to consist of watching a smart-alecky grad student named Sean (Juan Riedinger, Fallen), torture a test subject who has had an implant inserted into his head. She feels more than just a twinge of sympathy when the patient is operated like a remote-controlled puppet, yet she somehow fails to report this unscrupulous behavior to the university ethics committee. But then, this whole show is ethically challenged; I’ll get to that in a moment.

Jaime breaks into a professor’s lab, gets caught, and handsome Tom covers her with a lie. Meanwhile, Team Berkut (Antonio and Agent Ruth) clear her professor, bicker over racial profiling of a Muslim student, and get suspicious of Tom when they find that he lied about his undergrad career at Stanford. Jonas insists on pulling Jaime out of the op because it’s too dangerous (isn’t this the same Jonas who wanted to waste her in the pilot?), but Jaime insists on staying in “because you’re never gonna get anyone closer to [Tom] than me.” No kidding–Jaime Sommers is becoming a whole different kind of “action figure”.

In “Sisterhood”, Jaime is annoyed when Jonas interrupts her trying to have anonymous sex in a men’s room; in this episode she flirts with Nathan the lab rat (Kevin Rankin, Friday Night Lights) via cell phone during a break-in, then attempts to seduce Tom. She finds implants in his apartment but then learns that he’s actually a CIA agent tracking the Real Traitor ™ — Sean the smarmy grad student. Gee, why didn’t I see that coming?

Maybe because behavior that in any other context would stand out as a red flag (torturing a patient) can’t stand out in a show with noethical context at all. Forget the fact that if Tom really is a CIA agent, he’s operating illegally on American soil. Forget the fact that there is another word for a woman who is willing to trade sex for information. How about Antonio amiably assuring Jaime that the reason they (Berkut) are the Good Guys is because they cut through all the “red tape and bureaucracy”. Dude, what you call “red tape and bureaucracy”, the rest of us call “law and civil rights”. This is a particularly ironic stance for Antonio to take, considering that–with neither warrant nor probable cause–he busted down a Muslim student’s door so he could first terrorize him, then commiserate with him on the questionable ethics of the Iraq war. I don’t need this show to be an object lesson in morality every week, but I do need to know where the moral compass is pointing. Jaime seems to be (this week at least) a good person working for bad people. In a show with more reliable writing, I might think this situation is a set-up for a conflict down the road, between the amorality of her masters and Jaime’s conscience. So far, however, all I’ve seen is writing that is either confused or hypocritical. Given what she knows about the abilities of these neural chips, she’s a fool to turn the ones she finds in Tom’s apartment over to Berkut. I can just imagine the sick fun Nathan would have with Puppet!Jaime.

Despite these gaffs, however, there were some funny and interesting moments in “The Education of Jaime Sommers”. I loved Jaime finding tarragon in Tom’s apartment and commenting, “Tarragon? That’s the perfect guy”, just before she realizes that that really is too good to be true. Tom and Jaime show some excellent teamwork in a full-on brawl that finally showcases the bionics Jaime has been training with. I loved the way she took down a fleeing villain with a perfectly hurled melon. And it may have been unintentional, but I found Caring Jonas very funny. When did he turn in his Boss Prick card? The story overall was engaging and kept me guessing as to who the villain really was; that “reveal” was well hidden and refreshing. Alas, they’re still putting Jaime in those ridiculous high heels, and I wish Michelle Ryan could keep her English accent.

So, we’ve got sexier guest stars, more involvement by the rest of the Team, some backing away from the Becca angst, and a more coherent Jaime. We even get some humor. This is a bionic leap in the right direction. I hope it’s not too little, too late. NBC recently replaced show-runner Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) with Jason Cahill (Cane). This is the third set of showrunners since the show was greenlighted; I’d like to interpret this as a sign that NBC is still trying to make this show work. Ratings were down again, with the show garnering only a 4.8 share this ep. Bionic Woman has lost more than half the viewers it started with. For all the improvement this episode demonstrated,  Jaime Summers may yet have termination in her future.