Warehouse 13: “Age Before Beauty”

Last Year’s Model

Warehouse 13

Syfy Channel, Tuesdays, 9/7 c
“Age Before Beauty”
Written by Andrew Kreisberg
Directed by Tawnia McKiernan

“I haven’t been benign since 1957.” —Artie

“Texting? It’s what the kids do these days instead of going to the dinosaur races.” —Claudia

When this series introduced Claudia back in the first season, my first reaction was a groan. Another teenager with Attitude? Puh-lease. But the character has become one of the wittiest and most appealing characters on this show, delivering punchlines and energy week after week. Against the lethargic plodding that is Leena, she appears like a streak of lightning. She makes even the nervous Myka look placid, yet she is never out of control. Best of all, she is humanizing Artie. My least favorite character is actually mellowing in the presence of this spunky free spirit. It makes perfect sense for the most introverted, geeky character in the Warehouse, Artie, to find common ground with Claudia the technophile. What’s better, however, is how Artie sees a younger version of himself in her, yet has the maturity not to try to mould her into a clone of himself. Claudia brings out his protective side, and suddenly Artie is looking like a real human being. Thank goodness.

Having skewered (gently) the worlds of comic books and B-movies that reflect Pete’s personality, this episode exposes some of Myka’s insecurities, as it heads off into really unexplored territory: high fashion. This is one of the few Warehouse episodes that begins with someone dying—in this case, of old age. Myka and Pete quickly (perhaps too quickly) discover that the “old lady” who fell dead at a fashion show in Milan is actually a 19-year-old Russian model who has been missing for a couple of days. How typical of this show that the identification is made by tracing the serial numbers on her breast implants. Artie tells them that models have been dying all over the world of “old age”. Even as they question a fashion promoter, another model faints and then ages forty years in Pete’s arms. Since Fashion Week will soon end, this is their one and only window of opportunity for investigation, while the world’s top models are all together. Naturally—and obviously to anyone in the audience over the age of five—the decision is made to go to Manhattan and let Myka go “undercover” as a model.

Pete: New York City! Original Ray’s Pizza!

Artie: The original, Original Ray’s Pizza? That’s in the Vault.

Pete: Which aisle—

Artie: No.

Here’s where I started groaning again. Of course Joanna Kelly started out as a model, but does that mean the producers have to put her in high heels and Valentino? It looked like just another attempt to use sex to sell the character while pandering to an ex-model’s ego. I should have known better; it was nothing of the kind. The resulting storyline is a very funny send-up of the conceits and intrigues of the fashion world, a world where the nearly skeletal Myka is dismissed as “the fat girl”. In fact, cracking jokes at the expense of superficial fashion models and diva designers is almost too easy for this show, but the running gag with Myka making Pete fetch and carry for her balanced it all nicely. Far from pandering to anyone’s ego, being held up to the gaze of the world panics Myka. Pete has to sweet-talk her into going out on the runway, and it really is a sweet talk. Too sweet, perhaps, for those of us who want to see their relationship continue as siblings, not lovers, but it came across as wonderfully sincere. And, of course, funny.

Pete: Myka… you are a stunningly beautiful woman. The day that I met you I said, ‘I… what? I won’t be able to work with her, I won’t be able to stop staring at her.’ but then I got to know you, and I realized that you’re even more beautiful than I could see… We good to go?

Myka: Oh, I am good to go!

I had figured out fairly early that something involving photography was going on, but wasn’t sure how it worked. While the timing of the “aging attacks” hinted that it was tied to developing film after a photo shoot, I could not figure out who was using film in this digital age. Of course, I should have known that Artie would figure out it was a camera from a fashion photographer of an earlier age. I was astonished that the writers picked Man Ray, and disappointed that somehow they did not exploit Ray’s ties to the Surrealists (what a theme for a Warehouse episode!). However, it explained the need for developer to process the film, and hinted at a reason the blood of all the victims contained silver nitrate. I did not see the twist, that the photographer is not only selling “renewed youth” to wealthy women, but that he himself is using the technique on himself. I loved Pete’s fiery beatdown when Myka’s life was at stake, as well as the poetic justice of the conclusion. Most of all, I liked the wicked subtext—since their invention, people have been wary of cameras stealing their souls. In fact, in this episode, that’s the one thing it cannot steal.

Of course this is a silly plot, but that’s what this series is all about—silliness. And it does it divinely. The word play alone is wonderful, and the geek references fly thick and fast. Pete quotes Yoda and Robbie the Robot, Claudia’s ringtone is a Cylon voice saying “By Your Command”. Pete and Artie go off on a fascinating side discussion about the Original Original Ray’s Pizza, and Artie cuts off Pete’s attempts to find it in the Warehouse. Nor is the show above laughing at itself: the location tags at the beginning of scenes are as funny as anything in the story itself. I loved the words “New York” crashing into one another, with sound effects, as the show announced the arrival of the agents in the Big Apple. No detail is overlooked, Project Runway meets The X-Files, and the result is laughter all the way.

Not every moment was golden—I really did not need a three-minute photo shoot of Myka, which looked way too professional for a supposed amateur. And the ending felt rushed; boy, they figured out how that camera worked really fast. The false Artifact—a Buddha filled with diet pills—was a nice, snarky comment on the perverted aesthetics of the high fashion industry, but it was also pretty predictable. But if some moments were weaker than they needed to be, there were stronger moments that teased us with hints of “off stage” dramas. If Myka is the “ugly one”, I can only imagine what her sister Tracy looks like. When we first meet Myka and Pete, they’re recovering the legendary sword Excalibur—there’s an episode I want to see! And there are hints that the picture of Dorian Gray is in the Warehouse—yikes! Best of all, there was no trace of MacPherson, and Leena kept a low profile. I’m happy with that.