Warehouse 13: “Beyond Our Control”

As Seen on TV

Warehouse 13

Syfy Channel, Tuesdays, 9/7 c
“Beyond Our Control”
Written by Daniel Simkins
Directed by Constantine Makris

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

I didn’t think anything could top last week’s comic-book based episode, until I watched this irrepressible homage to the B-movies dear to every geek. A local television station is broadcasting a “film festival”, showing the entire oeuvre of B-movie actor Raymond St. James (Philip Winchester,Crusoe), in the Warehouse’s own backyard. This is causing very strange frequency interference with the Farnsworth communication machines, but worse, it is causing scenes from the movie to materialize in the middle of public streets. After Claudia confronts a Bengal tiger in a hardware store and Pete and Myka are caught in the middle of an all-too-realistic cowboy duel, they start to clue in. As the images become more frequent, they become more real, and hence more dangerous. When the crew finally figure out that the next movie in the sequence is going to involve detonating a nuclear device, they have to race to find a neutralizing artifact. And of course, the perfect neutralizing artifact is an anti-TV devised in 1947 by the father of television, Philo Farnsworth himself.

Myka: No wonder the town hates us!

Pete: I hate myself!

Along the way, Myka and Pete figure out another mystery: why the town treats them like pariahs. It turns out that the Regents have concocted a cover story for the Warehouse. They have told the town that it is a storage area for tax returns, and that the Warehouse agents are IRS agents. The layers to this world get deeper with every new story. I love it. This episode, taking place almost in the Warehouse’s front yard, lets Claudia get some real field agent experience, right down to some impromptu kung-fu moves on a hapless bystander.

Myka: What did you do?

Claudia: I don’t know! That arm thing you taught me, or maybe that leg thing.

Claudia takes center stage for much of this story, and Allison Scagliotti carries it effortlessly. From her obsession with “upgrading” every device that comes into her reach, to her witty, oh-so-courant chatter, to her wicked comebacks to Artie, she steals almost every scene she is in. Which takes some doing, against the likes of Saul Rubinek and Eddie McClintock, but every line she speaks is pure gold, and her delivery is dead-on. In this episode, she meets a young hardware clerk named Todd (Nolan Gerard Funk, Castle), who is naturally instantly smitten with this pixie. We can count on Claudia for the funniest lines of the night. Or of the week. Whoever is writing her lines deserves a bouquet of exquisitely rare roses.

I can hardly separate the performances of Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly any longer. They operate so seamlessly as Pete and Myka that any scene in which they are separated feels unnatural. His goofy brashness is beautifully offset by her smart but reticent charm, and thankfully neither of them is reduced to fumbling stupidity by the needs of the plot. I hate it when characters have to explain things to one another that they already ought to know. Pete and Myka never do this, but they are just different enough to make it necessary from time to time for him to explain Raymond St. James movies to her.

“You know what? Go ahead and touch it. Touch everything!” —Artie

Artie is mellowing. Yup, there is no doubt about it. He actually dances in this episode. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the mellowing is being done by Claudia. The father/daughter dynamic between them grows stronger with every episode, generating enough mutual respect and affection to offset the prickly natures and sharp intellect each one brings to the team. Artie, who never had a daughter, is mellowing towards the young orphan who meets his mind head-on; Claudia, who has never had a father to protect or mentor her, chafes at restraints even as she secretly welcomes them as a sign of his concern. Nor is this a relationship forged only on mutual need; I think Artie sees in Claudia the only character in sight who can inherit his mantle as master of the Warehouse. I look forward to seeing where these characters go, and I fervently pray that Artie is developing an actual heart. Certainly he cannot become any more curmudgeonly than he is.

If nothing else in this episode worked, the sight of the postmistress of Univille, South Dakota in a Snuggie would have. But we also had Claudia telling Pete to “RTFM” (my personal motto and future license plate), Claudia telling Pete a gladiator just kicked his ass, and Claudia asking Artie, who is dancing with joy, if he is having a stroke. The rapid-fire dialog built to some hilarious moments, especially when Claudia is frantically restoring a vintage, prototype anti-TV built by Philo Farnsworth himself. And the cozy ending, with everyone decamping to Pete’s room to finish the B-movie marathon on his flat screen TV, was perfect. The entire story was silly, funny, drenched in nostalgia for a childhood full of cowboy movies, popcorn, and Saturday morning TV. I loved it.

What did not work, and will continue not to work for me, is the entire Leena/MacPherson storyline. Leena has always been a very weak character, and the recent attempt to infuse some drama into her character by making her a stooge for MacPherson is not working. The bits involving Leena, her buried memories, the traces of MacPherson, and so forth, were just plain dull. I was over MacPherson in the last episode. I continue to be over him. Die, already. Arch-villains are too clichéd for this witty show. We don’t need mad scientists, disillusioned former partners turning to the dark side, or shadowy conspiracies when we have things like Jack Kirby’s belt, Rasputin’s prayer shawl, or an anti-TV built by the inventor of television. And while CCH Pounder is a fantastic actress, I don’t care much for the Mrs. Frederic character she is playing now. I liked her better when she was aloof and threatening. I am glad to see Mark Sheppard again, though. I had not seen him in a genre show for at least fifteen minutes and was starting to miss him.

The shows that we think of as “classic” SF are usually dramas: The X-Files,Star Trek in all its incarnations, Battlestar Galactica. They may work a funny episode in now and then, but the stakes are usually too high for giggles. Warehouse 13 not only breaks the mold by giving us pure comedy, it manages to make fun of beloved icons of the genre in a genuinely loving manner. Kudos to the writers and creators for letting us laugh at what we love, with no loss of respect but a heightened understanding of our own foibles. Comedy or not, this is a classic series.

Warehouse 13 pulled in 2.9 million viewers last week, for a 2.03 household rating. 1.57 million of those viewers were in the age 25-54 demographic, and 1.35 of them were in the 18-49 demo. That last is the second highest delivery for this demographic in the history of the series. If the show made that many viewers happy last week, they were probably ecstatic this week.