Warehouse 13: “Breakdown”

Critical Mass

Warehouse 13

Syfy Channel, Tuesdays, 9/7 c

Written by Michael P. Fox and Ian Stokes
Directed by Eric Laneuvillee

“Who would you have control the Warehouse? Kings? Popes? Politicians? Be nothing left of it.” —Regent Valda

Two things intrigue me every week about this show: what kind of trouble will Claudia get into with the toys, er, Artifacts in the Warehouse, and which of the Artifacts shown in the opening credits will appear? Because as far as I can see, every major plot-centric Artifact that Myka and Pete have pursued is in those opening credits. Since we only have a couple of episodes left, I anxiously await the ones involving the Moon Rock and the living scarab.

This episode featured more interesting Artifacts than the previous four or five episodes, from Claudia’s soda-cooling snow globe, to the dodgeballs from hell, to the M.C. Escher house in which they get trapped. Playing Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Claudia traps herself in the Warehouse, and when Pete and Myka go in after her, they get stuck as well, in a doppelganger of their boarding house. Meanwhile, some Silly String of supernatural strength has blocked the purple-goo machine, which threatens to explode and destroy the Warehouse. Artie can’t rescue them because he is in a very high-level meeting with the Regents.

The Syfy website has a page summarizing the history of the previous twelve Warehouses, and mentioning that the entire weird project is overseen by the mysterious patrons called the Regents. Even Mrs. Frederic is in awe of them—despite the fact that we discover them to be comprised of a waitress, a truck driver, a nurse, a teacher, and that staple of Syfy casting, Mark Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica). They’ve convened in a pie shop (too bad it wasn’t the Pie Hole from Pushing Daisies) to grill Artie on the performance of his agents and his search for McPherson. I found these scenes very satisfying, as Artie sweated and babbled. Despite his persistent refusal to adequately inform his agents of the dangers in each mission, he claims to trust them implicitly. Maybe he does, but so far Pete and Myka have precious little reason to trust him. Sheppard is suitably menacing, and Artie spends a lot of time trying to justify himself (which conveniently recaps the first ten episodes of the series). By the end of their tête-a-tête, Artie turns the tables on the Regents, accusing them of fearing McPherson. This conclusion rang totally false, and seemed to be only an attempt by the writers to save Artie’s reputation despite the lines they write for him.

Back at the Warehouse, Myka’s powers of observation, coupled with Claudia’s curiosity and Pete’s intuition, help them get out of their trap. As Mrs. Frederic’s recorded voice counts down to disaster, they race to fix the neutralizer dispersal system.

Myka: “It’s chapter 197 in the manual”

Pete: “That’s a thousand pages long; I’ll wait for the movie.”

The most direct route takes them through The Dark Vault, which is full of extremely dangerous objects, including the stone pseudo-Toltec head Pete found in the pilot episode. I love it that one of the super-dangerous Artifacts is a clown painting—I knew there was something inherently wrong with clown paintings. I was not at all surprised to find an accordion in a special containment field. They make it almost all the way through before the fields fail, trapping Pete, who stands gazing forlornly at a Royal manual typewriter that once belonged to Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar. The attached warning states that it drains people of energy and the will to live (Plath committed suicide). This is a level of black humor we’ve usually not seen on this show, lightened by the ludicrousness of the ebullient Pete reduced to heavy sighs and lachrymose replies. A quick-thinking Myka shoves him out of the circle, as Claudia fixes the goo machine at the last second.

There were some great camera tricks in this episode, with Pete looking out of a door even as he looks in at himself from another. The Artifacts are, as usual, funny and ingenious. McClintock, Kelly, and Scagliotti deliver solid and funny performances. By the end of the episode, I even had hopes that Artie was mellowing a bit. Claudia is more fully integrated into the Warehouse team; I am hoping that she becomes a permanent member of the cast next season. She has added a new and energetic dimension to the show. The best part of this episode is that it broke from the prevailing formula, which is Artie sending Pete and Myka on a mission. This time, the mission came to them, and it was a refreshing change.

The series is still finding its feet—I love the humor, but it is sometimes artificial. Artie is a pebble in my shoe. Claudia is sometimes just a little too on-the-nose, as if she had “bright teenager” flashing in neon green over her head. The Artifacts are sometimes menacing (that stone head!) but more often just silly (dodgeballs? really?). The series has many of the false starts and halting steps of a new concept show, but it’s still must-see TV for me every week.