Warehouse 13: “Secret Santa”


Warehouse 13

“Secret Santa”

Written by Bob Goodman

Directed by Jack Kenny

“I got you something very special, and I think you’re gonna like it”. —Claudia

I’m always wary of Christmas episodes. There’s always a danger that nostalgia will flop over into treacly sentimentality, that television’s tendency to homogenize everything will result in turning beloved holidays into something beige and corporate. That almost happens in this Very Special Episode of Warehouse 13, but not quite. And we can thank the witty dialogue and sardonic humor that characterize this show for saving it from that disgrace.

“This is not the holiday counter at Woolworth’s!” —Artie

Forget Myka’s tearful departure at the end of the last episode. This hour ofWarehouse 13 is an hour out of time, divorced from all the other issues that usually trail along. There is no sign of Mrs. Fredericks, or a Regent, or H.G. Wells, or any other supernumeraries. The case has a Christmas theme only in the sense that a shopping mall has a Christmas theme—there is no reference to any overtly Christian message. “The holidays” are noted by Christmas trees and a discreetly placed Hanukkah menorah here and there. We start with a reunion of sorts, as Myka and Pete enter the Warehouse to find that Claudia has “decorated” it with artifacts: a mug that contains marshmallow-flavored “snow”, twinkly sparks that drift through the air, and “the original mistletoe”, which not only tempts Pete but causes Artie to kiss Joshua (Tyler Hynes, Flashpoint), Claudia’s brother. The dialogue in this first five minutes sparkles like new tinsel. Pete is at his goofball funniest, Myka at her wide-eyed best. Claudia is looking forward to a holiday with her “family”, and is disappointed to learn that both Pete and Myka plan to go home to visit their families.

“I’m rich, successful, and thin. That usually pisses someone off.” —Larry Newley

Fortunately, fate intervenes. In sunny Los Angeles, Larry Newley (Paul Blackthorne, The Gates), an overworked, driven executive, is about to miss his family’s tree-decorating ritual because he’s too busy putting together a deal for a new shopping mall. Suddenly, he hears an intruder in his house. The intruder knocks over some artwork, destroys a painting, throws things at the astonished man. Finally, with a ho-ho-ho, a ball of glowing light zips up the chimney. Behind Larry, an invisible hand writes “NAUGHTY” on the wall and ignites the letters. Back in South Dakota, Artie interrupts Pete and Myka’s departures to tell them that they have a case, and hands them a copy of the police sketch Newley described: it’s a portrait of Santa Claus.

“Real Santa! Excellent! You know, I knew it. Seriously, it explains so much.” —Pete

A visit to Los Angeles is in order, where Larry Newley explains, with exasperation, that his nocturnal visitor “twinkled” and “whooshed”. Pete tells him very seriously that that is better than a zap and a shudder. Learning that Larry is about to close down some mom-and-pop stores for his mall, they go to interview some disgruntled moms and pops. They wind up in a joke shop run by a Santa Claus clone, who gives Larry a hard time about shutting down his store. Meanwhile, Pete is loading up on Groucho glasses, Santa hats, and the entire repertoire of your average funny uncle. Back at Larry’s office, the team is in the middle of an argument about the merits of mom-and-pop stores when the twinkly light appears. It zooms around Larry’s office, knocking over awards and models, and finally coalesces as… Santa Claus. A Santa who threatens Larry and then disappears.

“God bless us, every one!” —Josh

At this point, I finally figured out that this was a version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with Newley acting as a latter day Scrooge. Minus Bob Cratchet, he is still the overworked moneygrubber who scorns the holiday and neglects his family. The twinkle Santa turns out to wear Larry’s face, but he is still a version of Jacob Marley, warning Newley that he must change his ways or suffer a terrible retribution. The twinkle Santa calls him “Larry Noodle”, a nickname that Larry’s wife recognizes from high school—in a sense, a ghost of Larry Past. Pete and Myka try to protect Larry from his alter ego, but like Scrooge in the tale, he is carried away by his visitor. Pete and Myka figure out that Santa Larry has taken him to the place where he was and is happiest—a shopping mall. They find him there, bound to Santa’s throne like Prometheus on the rock, confronting the ghostly apparition of himself. Santa Larry is draining the life force from the real Larry, declaring that he will be the better man and better father. Young Callie rushes in to save her father with an embrace, saying that this was not what she wanted, that she only wanted her father back. Santa Larry disappears, Larry is restored to the bosom of his family, a better and wiser man.

” It must be exhausting to be that grouchy without even time off for the holidays.” —Claudia

Of course, if we need a grumpy Scrooge, we can’t do better than Artie. Growling and frowning his usual way through the show, he seems to take particular aim at Claudia, whom he calls “my dark imp”. Even as he researches “dark” Christmas legends, however, Claudia is doing research on him. After Leena explains that Artie’s father cut him off after Artie abandoned his piano career, Claudia decides to find Artie’s old piano. As it happens, Artie’s father Isadore (Judd Hirsch, Numb3rs) comes with the deal, but only after Claudia tells him that Artie is dying. Artie is outraged to find his father in his house, but softens when Claudia tells him that his father is dying. Of course all this lying will backfire, as Joshua warns his sister, but when it does, it does so with Artie’s typical acid wit. What could have renewed the bitterness between Artie and his father turns into a mutual how-awful-is-Claudia session, capped by reminiscences of a family that would make Gomez Addams wince.

“You’re familiar with presents, right? We Earthlings exchange them as a sign of affection and gratitude.” —Claudia

We end, of course, on a feast worthy of the end of A Christmas Carol. As Leena carries in a turkey the size of a small ostrich, Myka and Pete are squabbling over the presents. Claudia has already given everyone a T-shirt emblazoned with the artifact that tried to kill them: Leena gets the Pearl of Wisdom, Myka gets Man Ray’s Camera, and so forth. It’s not only a clever tie-in to the rest of the show, it’s good marketing. I imagine copies of those T-shirts are already on sale somewhere. Artie consents to play his piano for his father, but of course Isadore cannot resist correcting his son’s fingering technique. And as they settle down to the meal, Isadore teases Claudia, saying that the “annoying Gentile” should say grace. So she responds, naturally, in Hebrew. It’s that kind of deft turn that makes every one of these episodes a comedy of manners, so rare to find on television anywhere.

Joshua: You are going to hell.

Claudia: I know!

The little touches that decorate every episode of Warehouse 13 were not lacking here. From Pete saying “Kirk out” as he flips the Farnsworth shut, to the Grand Tetons jokes, to Joshua miming a hangman’s noose to warn his sister, every scene had at least one clever moment. The weird battle between Pete and Myka, and the animated nutcracker soldiers, was one of the more surreal scenes I’ve watched in this surreal show. Even the credits reflected the holiday mood: Pete’s picture sat behind a jack-in-the-box, Artie’s behind a dreidl, and Claudia’s next to a candy cane. Joshua’s teasing with Claudia stole the show, as did Isadore’s classic noodging of his son. Who knew there was a man on this planet grumpier than Artie? Judd Hirsch was perfect as the nagging and adoring papa too proud to admit his pride in his son. And as much as I love Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly, I have to say that once again Allison Scagliotti’s Claudia absolutely stole the show.

All in all, this episode was a little snowglobe of adorability, isolated from any continuity with the rest of the show, a one-off that amused and warmed, like a mug of hot cocoa next to a fire. The next episode ofWarehouse 13 is months away, but this was a nice little bite of candy to tide us over. Despite being a one-off, out of sequence, out of continuity, and not very heavily promoted, it still drew over two million viewers, for a 1.3/2 household rating and a 0.7/2 rating for the 18-to-49 demographic. These are excellent numbers for Syfy, and blew the usual Tuesday ratings for Stargate Universe out of the water. I look forward to the next season ofWarehouse 13 with all the anticipation kids reserve for Christmas morning.