Warehouse 13: “The 40th Floor”

Artifact War

Warehouse 13

Syfy Channel, Mondays, 8/7 C

“The 40th Floor”

Written by Benjamin Raab & Deric A. Hughes

Directed by Chris Fischer

“You’re killing Warehouse agents.” – Pete

After several light-hearted episodes of fun and games, things get very serious very quickly for the Warehouse 13 agents in this episode. We begin with a gruesome torture scene, as Agent Sally Stukowski interrogates a captive Regent, using an Artifact stolen from Claudia two weeks ago. Artie informs his agents that Sally has abducted and killed other Regents over several months, stealing Artifacts and generally compromising the security of the Warehouse. As the team splits up to protect the remaining Regents and capture Agent Sally, we learn once again that an Artifact used as a weapon is a two-edged sword (so to speak) and that power corrupts even those we admire for their integrity.

“We’re stuck on this roof until the building disintegrates or a helicopter arrives. I’m pulling for the helicopter.” — Artie

There’s precious little levity, and a whole lot of intensity, in Pete Lattimer in this episode. Gone are the wisecracks and the boob jokes; he’s all business as he and the other agents corner Agent Sally. Myka has to zap her with a Tesla before they can interrogate her. She braces herself (as we remember her merciless opening scene) but Artie uses Henry Morton Stanley’s map to passively capture her movements over the last few hours. The team sets off to find Agent Sally’s partner, leaving her in rookie Jinks’ custody, a move that proves to be ill-advised. As it turns out, the address they reach is the secret rendezvous of the Regents, who are meeting on the 40th floor of the skyscraper. Artie warns them that they are in danger of their lives, but it’s too late. Sally’s plan has matured, and the building begins to disintegrate around them. Cut off from escape, Artie, Myka and the Regents are forced to the roof.

“Take the next left. Proceed 100 feet. Prepare to be captured.” — Claudia

Pete and Claudia track Sally’s accomplice, hoping to find a way to reverse the disintegration and save the Regents (not to mention their fellow agents). In a brilliant demonstration of ultimate geekery, Claudia deploys a device she built herself, which allows her to take over the quarry’s GPS. Speaking in a robotic monotone, she diverts the accomplice into byways and alleys and detours, and finally makes him drive into a blind alley, where they corner him. It’s a wonderful scene, all the more entertaining because Claudia is not using an Artifact, but a device she concocted herself. I love smart heroines. Having recovered the Artifact in question, a can of spray paint once used by protesters at the Berlin Wall, they race back to neutralize its effects.

“We don’t have to torture people to get information.” — Artie

We learned quite a bit about Regents in this episode, perhaps too much. I would have preferred that they remain shadowy and nebulous. On the other hand, the Warehouse is a government agency, and what government agency is not top-heavy with bureaucracy? I wonder what department the Regents answer to, since their agents are drawn from NSA (Artie), the Secret Service (Pete and Myka) and the ATF (Steve Jinks). Maybe there’s a couple of fish and game wardens in there, too. I understand why the writers would not want to get too specific about the Warehouse, and want to keep it mysterious. But the effect is to make it look like the Warehouse answers to no one, that it plays by its own rules. And as we should know by now, people who don’t live by rules, even good people, are a threat to everyone.

“Mrs. Fredericks has no trouble crossing the line.” – Agent Sally

Both sides in this Artifact War abandon all semblance of rules, and descend into barbarity. We witness that, when Steve is joined by Mrs. Fredericks, who tortures Agent Sally for information. Steve protests, and when Mrs. F overrules him, he pulls a gun on her. That’s the end of Agent Jinks’ tenure on the Warehouse; Sally escapes and Mrs. Fredericks fires Jinks. I knew Aaron Ashmore had a limited tenure on this show, so I was prepared for his departure. I’ve grown to like his character, and was glad his exit was peaceful, if not stress free. On the other hand, Fredericks is revealed as a ruthless opportunist; the fact that she’s on “our” side does not make her any more trustworthy.

“This is not a democracy, Mr. Jinks.” – Mrs. Fredericks

Indeed it isn’t. She’s not only reinforcing the chain of command, she’s describing the very agency she works for, and the principles it upholds. Mrs. Fredericks, like so many government agents, fails to understand that one cannot fight an enemy by becoming that enemy, that when you adopt the methods of evil you become evil as well, at least in the eyes of many who would otherwise support you. The writers do make some effort to address the controversy over torture – such as whether it works – by employing Jink’s arguments, and by the fact that Sally does, in fact, confess information which proves useful. And I can acknowledge that there may have been some effort to “justify” Sallys’ mistreatment, by serving her with the same treatment she served up to the Regent in the opening scenes. But two wrongs do not make a right, and we are still left with a nasty aftertaste, even if Mrs. F’s method worked.

“What you are about to see, no Warehouse agent has ever witnessed.” – Regent Kosan

Another thing we learned about the Regents is that they have an uber-Regent, a “Guardian”. Another layer of shadow bureaucracy? Did we need one? In any event, one Regent winds up trapped and dying. In his last seconds, he insists on transferring a mysterious shackle that once belonged to Genghis Khan to Regent Jane (Kate Mulgrew, Star Trek: Voyager), who has already bonded with Myka over quips and attitude. So she’s now the Guardian, a secret not even other Warehouse agents know. Cut off from Artie, Myka and Jane must rescue themselves, which they do when Jane leads the way in rappelling down an elevator shaft with a fire hose. Hmm. Where have we seen this go-for-broke attitude before? The final, most delightful Regent secret is saved for the final scene. After they are rescued, Myka introduces Pete to her new friend, Regent Jane. When Jane turns around, Pete’s grin turns to astonishment, as he blurts out, “Mom??” What a great twist!

“Never underestimate the denizens of Warehouse 13.” – Wheelchair Man

Of course, what’s torturing me is the identity of the puppet master behind Agent Sally. Having failed in her mission to kill all the Regents, he accepts her apology in the usual manner—by having her killed. The dirty deed is done by his henchman Marcus Diamond (Sasha Roiz, Caprica), who calls him a “good friend”. Whether he means a good friend to him, or to the woman he just killed, is left to the viewer to decide. I’ve heard theories that the man in the wheelchair is Dr. Moriarty, Claudia’s brother Josh, an injured Warehouse agent out for revenge, or even H. G. Wells in disguise. The latter makes more sense than any of the others, but I don’t suppose we’ll find out for sure until the season finale, two weeks from now. Part of me wonders if it’s Benedict Valda (Mark Sheppard), having survived his fall in Warehouse 2, but I refuse to believe Sheppard can erase that Cockney accent.

“I’m in extreme emotion right now.” — Pete

With Syfy calling Warehouse 13 “the most successful series in Syfy history, there’s little doubt it will be around for a long while. In its third season, it has achieved a good balance between mystery and whimsy, between comedy and high drama. This episode was a first-rate blend of good writing, good directing, and good pacing. We lost two characters, Steve Jinks and Agent Sally, but we gained a new and potentially very interesting character, Regent Jane. And we learned some very dark, potentially destructive things about Mrs. Fredericks. I can’t wait for next week.