Warehouse 13: “Don’t Hate the Player”

Fortress 13

Warehouse 13

Syfy Channel, Mondays, 6 PM
“Don’t Hate the Player”

Written by Ian Stokes

Directed by Chris Fisher

“True heroes you are, to take this brave test.

Now will you accept your dangerous quest?” – Rhymin’ Artie

This may have been the funniest, most daring, most innovative episode in the entire Warehouse 13 series. All of the elements are recycled from stories we’ve seen elsewhere, many times: so what? A good artist can assemble art out of garbage. In this case, writer Ian Stokes crafts a brilliant homage to games and gamers, in an episode that is surely that cliché of clichés, an instant classic. It’s so well done, that even if you don’t “get” every in-joke, every nuance, every reference, it’s still a fun ride and a giggle a minute. And if you do get them, it’s a feast.

“The league of evil British writers strikes again.” — Pete

Myka, Pete and Claudia answer an SOS from a friend, and find Doug Fargo (Neil Grayston) of Eureka and his BFF enthralled by some kind of headset. They have been designing a video game, and to enhance the effects, have imbibed some tea brewed in Beatrix Potter’s teacup. The author of Peter Rabbit turns out to have a very dark side to her imagination, and the gamers get trapped in the game. I can hear you now, groaning. Yes, I had the same reaction when I realized where the story was going. We’ve seen this idea – live characters inserting themselves into a video game – for decades. From Tron to The X-Files to Fringe, it seems to be one of those hoary plot devices beloved of bored writers. But art is in the details, and the execution of this particular version of the plot lifts it far above the ordinary, or even the excellent.

“We’ll go in, find them, and boogie on out to reality.” — Pete

When Pete and Claudia enter the game, they turn into game characters before our eyes. Pete’s avatar is a gladiator; Claudia appears as an elf. And they’re not even well drawn; the artwork depicts them as cheesy knockoff renderings, unfinished characters literally in search of their author. Even better, it turns out Doug based much of his game design on the Warehouse itself, transforming it into Fortress 13, complete with a rhyming version of Artie. The best in-joke of the many here is that this game is so amateurish; Claudia and Pete not only recognize every “classic game trope”, they anticipate them. The program is simple and easy to figure out; what makes it dangerous is the spin imparted to this world by the introduction of Beatrix Potter’s twisted psyche.

“Let’s go save us a princess!” — Pete

Each lovingly crafted detail is an homage to classic video gaming. When a character pulls out a key or a sword or some other game-object, we get ancient Commodore 64 game sound effects. As the “players” go from level to level, the camera occasionally switches to game-player POV, with Pete’s sword or torch or whatever leading the way. Claudia squeals with delight when a chime indicates that she’s earned a high score. And when Pete goes hand-to-hand with the Big Bad, the score switches to the classic fight music from the original Star Trek. Any Trek fan will recognize it instantly as the theme that played anytime James Kirk got into fisticuffs. To use it here, as part of a beautifully tacky gamer story, is sheer genius.

“Copy that. Crash Bandicoot out. Come on, Toto.” — Pete

No one could appreciate this quest more than Pete, who is at all times more boy than man, who has every gaming, comic or skiffy reference at his fingertips. Pete is at his best here: too boyish to take seriously what everyone else does, he bounds from adventure to adventure with all the eager anticipation of a puppy chasing a toy. He calls the trapped game designers the “Parker Brothers”. He introduces himself as Petus Maximus, and calls Myka (who has remained ‘outside’ to monitor them) “Mykamus”. This is a milieu made for him, and he embraces it with his usual exuberance and love of boob jokes. Claudia is not far behind him, with her snarky wisecracks, quotes from Trix commercials, and her wry observations. Pairing these two smart-asses is always pure gold.

“You have to take down your own fears.” – Myka

It’s the sober half of the partnership, of course, who has to figure out the solution: the game magnifies everyone’s deepest fears into concrete threats that must be confronted. Talk about slamming a metaphor. Myka backs up her theory by entering the game herself, in a dominatrix outfit that has Pete going bug-eyed. It’s Claudia, however, who has to face up to old, cruel memories, as she relives her time in a psychiatric ward. Up against a veritable Dr. Frankenstein, she turns his own instruments on him and wins her (psychological) freedom. From there, rescuing the trapped game designer from his personal nightmare is a cinch. If we had to have this whole face-your-fears motif, at least it was well done; Claudia’s screams will echo in my memory for awhile, as will her happy ending.

“This isn’t burglary, it’s creative snagging.” – Artie

Meanwhile, Artie and Steve are off on an artifact hunt, trying to figure out what caused a museum curator to do a Greg Louganis out a two-story window. The culprit turns out to be a long-lost Van Gogh (wasn’t this onLeverage a couple of months ago?) that causes a windstorm. They are up against Agent Sally Stukowski (Ashley Williams, Saving Grace) again, who forms a temporary alliance. The artifact Artie uses is, suffice to say, both unique and hilarious. Agent Sally disappears with the painting, then rescues Artie and Steve from the cops. This behavior raised all kinds of alarms with me, but Artie doesn’t even double-check the painting when he gets it back. Hung in the Warehouse, it emits a swarm of bee-sized nanobots, which swarm through the storehouse. Who is Agent Sally really working for?

“The game is complete.

And now, let’s all get something to eat!” – Rhymin’ Artie

Warehouse 13 has enjoyed stratospheric (by SyFy Channel standards) ratings this year, averaging 2.3 million viewers per week. The cable net easily renewed it last week for a fourth season. SyFy has ordered thirteen more episodes for next year, according to Hollywood Reporter. And there’s talk of a spinoff of the H. G. Wells character, as I suspected. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if Aaron Ashmore’s Steve Jinks character isn’t being groomed as her sidekick. It will be fun finding out. See you next week.