By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
NBC, Wednesdays, 9 PM
Written by Kerry Herin
Directed by Alex Chapple
There’s something seriously out of whack with a show which shows us the hero protecting a torturer and a murderer, while her partner gets killed off by an assassin acting in the interests of justice. If “Trust Issues” had been intended to play off Jaime’s emerging moral fiber against the impersonal and mercenary Berkut Group, it misfired badly. Her assignment this time around is to protect a bloodthirsty dictator who has come to the US to watch a horse race (what, they don’t get cable in his homeland?). I suppose the State Department has the day off, because the Berkut Group, a private outfit, gets the job of protecting this slimeball. Jaime’s mild protest is shrugged off because it would “look bad” for the US if he were killed on American soil—as if the image of America once again protecting a murderous thug for political gain weren’t soiling enough. Is there a grownup in charge of the writers’ room on this show?
Not that plot means much here. It’s all about the love story. Or the family dynamics. Or something equally emotionally drippy. The original Bionic Woman of the Seventies had a steady boyfriend from the get-go. This time around, Jaime loses her Dr. Boyfriend in the second episode, runs through a few boy-toys in anonymous restrooms (to grieve, apparently), flirts with (and loses) a subject in Paraguay, and finally makes a real connection with CIA agent Tom Hastings (Jordan Bridges) in the last couple of episodes. Now that their relationship is getting more serious, so are the issues involving them. At the same time, Jaime’s mentor Antonio is forced to deal with some old relationship issues out of his own past, as the two of them are assigned to protect the visiting Idi Amin. Tom must learn to trust Jaime, Jaime must learn to open up to Tom, and Antonio, well, I don’t think he learns anything in this episode.
The ostensible “plot” of this episode gets lost mere minutes in and re-emerges only when needed to punctuate the real story line, which is all about partnerships both professional and personal. Jaime screws up again—fingering Antonio for a traitor when he isn’t—and then runs to Tom to sob on his shoulder about how she “can’t do this.” True dat. Maybe she should go back to bartending; at least she wasn’t getting her partner/mentor killed. The irony is that Jaime is integrating her bionics much better as the season progresses—this time she jumped, ran, and used her bionic eye/ear much more effectively than in recent shows. Her physical prowess, even in those ridiculous high heels, is now something she and we can take for granted.
I’m glad to see that we’re out of the awkward growing-into-it phase of her development. But Jaime still seems to be a sow’s ear that Jonas and Berkut have not yet turned into a silk purse. They need to take Jaime out of the field and put her through a crash course at Langley or some other spy school. She still can’t follow orders, follow a suspect, or figure out that Antonio is hiding a secret rather than sabotaging her mission. Jaime’s emotional immaturity is now thrown into even greater relief by her physical abilities—in her interview with Ruth, she pouts and whines like a kid. In a solo mission, she is so busy chatting on the phone she misses a crucial handoff and saves the day only by using her bionic powers to kill the subject. I’m supposed to be rooting for this petulant, incompetent adolescent? It’s embarrassing. Thank God they don’t give this woman a gun.
One of the more bizarre amusements of this show is tuning in every week to see what version of Jaime’s sister Becca we will get. From week to week, she morphs from rebellious computer hacker to insecure teenager to spoiled brat to loving, supportive sister. I don’t think her problem is adolescence; I think it’s multiple personality syndrome. This time around she offers to cook dinner for Jaime and Tom, pulls it off despite such faux pas as trying to grate an uncooked egg on a cheese grater, and finally behaves with responsibility and a certain world-weary resignation when Jaime is inevitably called away, leaving Tom and Becca tete a tete. When the most interesting conversation of this show takes place between the love interest and the sidekick, something is very wrong with the storytelling.
Certainly the emotional temperature drops fast in this episode. Every time Antonio (Isaiah Washington) is onscreen, icicles start to form. For crying out loud, Jonas was the warmest figure on my television—that’s just scary. Nathan’s whining was off-putting rather than funny. And why was Jaime so upset about Antonio’s death (assuming that he’s in fact dead, and not off somewhere being bionically reconstructed)? She couldn’t stand the guy. Was she feeling guilty for calling him a traitor? But as usual, we get no clue to Jaime’s real emotions, only the opaque façade of Michelle Ryan’s expressionless stare. The only actor who really warmed up the screen was Jordan Bridges; the man could evoke onscreen chemistry with a potato if necessary. His scenes with Jaime were the only ones that kept me awake.
Matters are not helped with the cheap ShakyCam techniques, either. The antidote to audience boredom, guys, is not inducing motion sickness in your viewers. Why are directors of photography still doing this? Not even The Office—a “documentary”—tries that hard for “realism.” Buy a dolly already and hold the damn camera still.
If I sound more than usually annoyed at Bionic Woman, it’s because I hate waste, and I see a lot of waste in this show. The premise is still an attractive SF trope—nanobionics, anthrocytes, whatever you want to call them—and in an age of widespread biomechanics is of more compelling interest than thirty years ago. The hint of conflict between Jaime’s conscience and the always-fluid ethics of the Berkut Group could set up some intriguing battles. The personal tensions in Jaime’s life might enhance, rather than dominate, the stories, as her personal growth influences how she reacts to her prosthetics and her changed circumstances. But all of this potential has dribbled away under the impact of revolving-door producers, network reshuffles, and just plain poor choices in acting and writing. With all due respect to Ms. Ryan, her onscreen presence to date has been less than compelling. Whether that is due to turmoil behind the scenes or atrocious writing is beside the point; a great actress can rise above a mediocre script. This has not been happening. There is the pervasive feeling that no one really cares what’s going on with this show, that offscreen politicking and unfocussed vision have undermined what would otherwise have been NBC’s best new show of the season.
The viewers are not fooled. The show’s ratings have been plummeting every week, and reached a new low on Wednesday night. The fast national ratings (pre-official Nielsens) charted it at a measly 4.0 rating/7 share, fourth in its time slot. For God’s sake, it was beaten by Kitchen Nightmares. Apparently more people want to see Gordon Ramsay screaming at kitchen gnomes than Jaime Summers (almost) leaping tall buildings at a single bound. Stick a fork in this series; it’s dead.