Syfy Channel, Tuesdays, 9/7 c
“Around the Bend”
Written by Bob Goodman
Directed by Tawnia McKiernan
“I think Pete is drinking again.” —Myka
About twenty minutes into this episode, I was wishing that once, just once, Mark Sheppard could play a character who wasn’t a villain. Apparently the Syfy gods heard me, because just when I thought I knew where this episode was going, it turned inside out. Sorta like Pete Lattimer in this story. This one was darker than usual, and focused mostly on Pete and his insecurities. Which is cool, since we just had a story exploring Myka and her insecurities. I sincerely hope, however, we do not get a story focusing on Artie and his insecurities. Or anything else of Artie’s. Character development is all very well, but let’s not go overboard.
“It’s Pete, it’s a win if he doesn’t lick anything.” —Myka
While searching a private museum for an elephant-headed walking cane that causes earthquakes (God, I love these toys), Pete amuses himself by playing with various exhibits: a Sherlock Holmes pipe, an ear trumpet, a telegraph key. But when he tries to chase down a fleeing thief, he encounters Mrs. Frederic, who orders him to stop. Then begins a half hour of fast-paced conspiracy paranoia, as Pete tries to hide his “mission” from Myka and Artie, while tracking down a breach in the Warehouse. He thinks it’s Benedict Valda (Mark Sheppard), and tries his level best to protect his team, rescue the kidnapped Mrs. Frederic, and avenge the murder of his former partner/lover, Kate (Tia Carrere, Wayne’s World, True Lies). Pete fights his own nature, as he tells Mrs. F more than once that “keeping secrets from his team is not his thing”. Indeed, Pete is the least secretive Secret Service agent on the planet, yet in this story he hides, lies, and misdirects the Warehouse 13 team, presumably in order to protect them.
Except none of it is real. A little more than half way through, we learn that this is all a mind game playing out in Pete’s head. There is no plot, no conspiracy, no kidnapping, and no murder. Valda is not a villain (I got my wish!), not involved. This is essentially a plot which does not resolve: the hero “falls out of bed” and wakes up. It’s tricky, and risky, to play mind games with the audience, especially for a show this new, but this bold gamble paid off in a dark, edgy episode that still maintained the tone and feel we’ve come to love. This hoary cliché of a plot paid off for two reasons: the acting, and the acting.
“Let’s leave him [Pete] in the Early Man exhibit.” —Katie Logan
Eddie McClintock showed us the extremes of Pete’s character while maintaining Pete’s integrity. From the opening scene of Pete making goldfish faces on a museum case, to the desperate, emotionally charged secret agent at the end, McClintock was convincing. We’ve seen, since the beginning of the show, that Pete has “vibes”. He runs on instinct, he uses his intuition. So naturally, when a show focuses on Pete, it shows us that those talents can also be his Achilles heel. The entire point of this story was to turn Pete inside out: Pete thrives on trust; so his paranoia makes him mistrust his own team. Pete is dedicated to protecting his team, so his paranoia puts them in danger. Even the recollection of Pete’s alcoholism (from Season 1) is a hint that not all is as it should be with Pete. This much, we can ascribe to the writing. But it’s McClintock’s performance that sells this inversion of the character. He was still the Pete we know and love, still in character, but showing us the dark and dangerous side of him.
“Even when I’m alone, I’ve still got the moves!” —Pete
I loved little touches like the waitress at the outdoor café serving Pete coffee. She keeps staring at Pete; I kept remembering that one of the Regents is a waitress. Could she have been part of the conspiracy? Was she spying on Pete? What was in that coffee? But then, when the final video feed showed us that Pete was alone at that table, her behavior made perfect sense: she was keeping an eye on a guy who was talking to himself. (I have to say, Katie’s video of Pete kissing an armful of air was hilarious.) Little touches like this, the care and attention paid to this minor, unnamed character, and her role in linking the two “realities” of the plot, are the kind of thing that lift the writing on this show out of the ordinary.
Meddling with the team dynamics could, as I’ve said, be dangerous for this show. But the glue that holds Warehouse 13 together is not just the team, it’s the concept itself. Being as how this show is focused on a warehouse full of odd objects, naturally an odd object must save Pete from himself. That much is a given. What is not a given is the whimsy, the tongue-in-cheek nature of the object: the original studio master of “Oye Como Va” by Santana. Oh, snap. (And a great counterpoint to Claudia’s expressed wish to, er, die by David Bowie, so to speak.) Myka is sensitive enough to her partner to clue in pretty quickly that something is very off, while Claudia and Artie’s interaction grows more interesting and sympathetic every episode.
Claudia: “That’s like me leaving out a piece of cake with a sign that says ‘Not for Artie’.”
Artie: “That was one time.”
The cat-and-mouse theme nicely balanced off the fact that this story was essentially a shaggy dog story, where nothing was as it seems. This sort of story sets the audience up for a payoff that is never delivered. We get all invested in the character of Katie, her past with Pete, and so forth—only to discover that none of that means anything. It takes a strong and trusting audience to accept that kind of mind game. In a weaker show, it might not be well received. If this show were a little darker, a little more “serious”, it would never work. What puts Warehouse 13 in a category of its own are the artifacts and the sibling dynamic between Pete and Myka. That dynamic was the real focus of tonight’s show, since only Myka realized something was seriously wrong with her partner.
Okay, a few character-building episodes never hurt any show. But I hope next week we get back to the artifacts, the mystery, the gee-whiz. I love the balance this show strikes between the team and the MacGuffins; too many angst-centered scripts could tip that balance the wrong way. This one was well done, for what it was, but I hope it is all for awhile.