Going Nowhere Fast
Syfy Channel, Tuesdays, 9/7 c
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg
Directed by Stephen Surjik
Pete: Is that dangerous?
Mrs. Fredericks: Where do you work?
Pete: Yeah, right.
This being the fourth episode of a new series, it’s time to consider where it seems to be going. The first thing that strikes me is the flaccid stories. The strongest, most interesting idea/artifact we have seen to date was this episode’s teleportation story, and it literally went nowhere. Previous stories have dealt with a comb, an old chair, and a vinyl record. The artifacts Pete and Myka don’t go after—the Farnsworth communicator, the Tesla gun, the football that circles the globe—have been much more interesting than theobjects de strange they are chasing every week. Artie’s ability to pull “artifact cases” out of seemingly thin air is ludicrous; the writers need to explain his “intuitive leaps” or ground him in reality. They also need to be anchored in something like real science, lest the show veer off into The Dresden Files. Otherwise, I’d rather see Pete and Myka stay home and play with the toys all day. I don’t mind an artifact-of-the-week approach; I just need more interesting artifacts and more interesting stories about them. So far, this is Sci-Fi Lite.
Right now, the chemistry of the leads is carrying this show. Pete and Myka’s sibling rivalry and the quick, light-hearted banter between them keeps me coming back. The tongue-in-cheek tone of the show, the byplay between Artie and Leena, even Mrs. Fredericks have me glued to the set. But in the long run, what will stabilize this show and keep it on track is the quality of the week-to-week stories. It’s too early to be disappointed, but I am hoping for better.
We open in what I hope will be a running feature of Warehouse 13, with Pete and Myka finishing an assignment that hints of more fun and creativity than the assignments we do actually get to see. In this case, as soon as Artie contacts them to tell them about the latest cyber-intrusion into the Warehouse, they start screaming “No more monkeys!” at him. They’re at the zoo, they’re covered in something Myka says is not monkey spit, and when a monkey screams off-camera, their terrified expressions tell us that something very, very weird—and probably funny—went down on that job. And that’s all we ever find out. I love these glimpses of other cases.
Before they can get back to the Warehouse, Artie is kidnapped by the sassiest bad girl I’ve seen in a while. He recognizes her as Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti, Mental), the grown-up sister of a researcher he was helping twelve years ago. Unfortunately, the brother was killed in an accident. Claudia refuses to accept this, however, and has apparently spent the last dozen years trying to get her brother back. Exeunt omnes, with Artie in electric handcuffs. While Pete and Myka are looking for him, they get a video call from the terrifying Mrs. Frederick (CCH Pounder), who reminds them to use the “Durational Spectrometer” (which looks suspiciously like a radar gun). This device allows them to look into the past, and they see Claudia leaving with Artie. We learn something new about Pete—he can read lips, thanks to a deaf sister. They research the Donovans, interview Claudia’s landlady, discover Claudia has been in and out of institutions for years, making her claims a little dubious.
By the time Pete and Myka track down Artie and Claudia, Artie has already had visual proof that Josh Donovan (Tyler Hynes, Flashpoint) is in fact trapped in some weird half-alive state. Artie agrees to help Claudia replicate the original experiment. Floating in limbo, Josh appears at random intervals, each time draining his sister of some kind of mystery life force. Artie uses Benjamin Franklin’s very own lightning rod to boost the power of Claudia’s jury-rigged laboratory, and hey, presto! Josh returns from a twelve-year stretch in solitary oblivion just as Pete and Myka arrive. Group hugs all around.
The good thing about this story line is that it gave us a tale about human teleportation, but didn’t actually finish up with a teleportation device. Explaining how the agents have one locked in the Warehouse, but don’t use it, would be awkward. One of the problems with the whole concept of this kind of Warehouse is the nagging question—what if the Artifact you’re sequestering could benefit mankind? What if the weird doodad in this basement could cure diseases, erase poverty, or let the Buffalo Bills win the Super Bowl? What’s the ethical excuse for hiding it away? So far, all the Artifacts in keeping have dangerous side effects, or are themselves of limited use (Marie Antoinette’s guillotine, for example). But some day Pete and Myka are going to come across something really dangerous but useful. I would love to see that episode.
As a side note, I was delighted to see that the SyFy channel once more advanced my knowledge of the obscure and interesting, by incorporating a real historical figure into the story. Josh gets himself trapped in limbo because he has not fully deciphered the oddities of a compass devised by Georg Rheticus, an actual 16th century cartographer and disciple of Copernicus. In fact, the Warehouse contains a heliocentric model of the solar system, constructed on the principles Copernicus revolutionized, which Pete takes apart to solve the mystery. Way cool. This is a love of nerd history approaching the level of Chuck.
This episode also wrapped up the hacker storyline in a very satisfying way. I was afraid this was going to be an ongoing, season-long thread, which frankly didn’t interest me much. Instead, it’s resolved fast enough to keep it interesting, and gave us a fun new character to play with, Claudia “Serendipity is my stripper name” Donovan. It’s clear by the end of the show that Claudia is here to stay, and that may be a good thing. She’s more fun to listen to than Dennis Leary on espresso. She’s also the perfect foil for Artie, and a good way to force him to grow up. Instead of giving him a parental figure like Mrs. Fredericks, the show will force him to react to a younger, hipper, but equally intelligent and quirky girl.
SyFy reports that Warehouse 13 is drawing 4 million viewers a hit, which makes it a hit on this cable network. It could be just that there isn’t much else on TV in the summer, but I’d like to think it’s because the audience has sniffed out a show with excellent potential, one that’s already fun, and might get a lot better.