Monday, July 26, 2010

Eureka - "All the Rage"

Review by Matthew Rasnake

Season 4 - Episode 3
"All the Rage"

'Eureka' season four continues to burn brightly in this third episode. A touch of the steam from the first two episodes may be cooling down, but that seems weird to say considering the breakneck pace and adrenaline-filled plotting of most of this episode. There are still a ton of little threads they’re following as a result of the timeline alteration, but they’re doing a good job of it by weaving quick scenes, off-hand comments, and even subtle character interactions into the show. The number of things that are in flux would overwhelm and derail a lesser show, but 'Eureka' seems to take it all in stride, while continuing to put out entertaining and engaging stories.

It seems that one thing they’re attempting to do this season is to pay homage to influential pieces of television or film history--which for this episode is the George A. Romero-style zombie thriller. I’ve also enjoyed this season when they toy with the 4th wall a bit... when they make some acutely self-aware comment on their situation that makes you think they get the ridiculousness of it all. Perhaps they’ve done this all along, and I’ve simply not noticed, or forgotten, but I’ve noticed it at least three or four times in these three 4th season episodes.

There are two particular instances in this episode... where Carter himself makes the George Romero connection with the dilemma of the moment, and then again when Henry and Grant are discussing their little problem in his garage, and Henry says something like “it happens all the time in Eureka... but never to me!”

Before I go further in this review, I should point out that Wil Wheaton has a guest starring role as the inadvertent instigator of the episode’s main threat. I would love to say that Wheaton is a highlight of this episode, and must admit that his appearance here does bring me a special bit of joy--seated largely in my enjoyment of his current personal efforts, his Star Trek connection, and his general enthusiasm at getting back into the acting thing, especially on properties as fun as 'Leverage', 'Big Bang Theory', and now 'Eureka'--but his performance, while good, doesn’t quite reach the level we generally see on the show.

As I said, however, he’s an enthusiastic and whole-hearted actor, and while he gives to the performance whatever it needs physically and emotionally, he still has that sliver of self-awareness that differentiates an actor who becomes a character, from an actor who plays the part of a character. Still, I enjoyed his performance, and felt that the only times his self-awareness got in the way were during his first scene with Fargo, and then later during their sparring match. Again, in these scenes I saw Wil Wheaton the actor, not Dr. Parrish the non-lethal weapons researcher.

But perhaps it’s my fault. Perhaps my familiarity with his off-camera life--through his blogs, essays, books, and podcasts--and with his youthful career as Next Gen’s Wesley Crusher, has made it difficult for me to see past the person I “know” to the character he’s portraying. That’s a hard one to quantify, if it’s even possible. At what point does his responsibility as an actor to disappear into his character end, and my responsibility as a viewer to see beyond the artifice and immerse myself in the story begin? Perhaps this is a philosophical question best discussed in a different forum... Wil, if you’re in Louisville, look me up. I’ll buy you bourbon or two, and we can talk it over.

All that being said, I was glad to hear the news reported from this weekend’s Eureka panel at ComiCon--that Wil will be reprising his role as Dr. Parrish a few more times this season. I like Wil Wheaton, and I’m the forgiving sort, so in my book, more Wheaton is a good thing.

This episode's focus was on Fargo’s role in the new timeline, as the director of GD. I enjoyed the repeated references to “our Fargo” and “the other Fargo,” driving home the point that in this timeline, Fargo had followed a much different path than the one we know. It seems that none of the other time-travelers have such a dramatically different personality between timelines as Fargo has. Still, “our Fargo” seems to be handling his new responsibilities with only a smidgen of abject terror, so there may be hope for him yet. I even think that, given time and a bit of respect, “our Fargo” could become a competent leader. His nature as the clumsy, bumbling, over-zealous geek shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance when other people are doing most of the work.

They also dealt, with some finality, with the Jack & Tess relationship. I didn’t particularly care for the way they handled it, but I haven’t really been the biggest Jack & Tess fan in the first place. Still, I think they nailed the human angles pretty well, as I’ve been on both ends of that equation more than once myself. It’s almost as hard to be the one causing the hurt as it is to be the one getting hurt, and I think they really played that bit well.

The Henry and Dr. Grant scenes--the away from the main action b-plot, as it were--were interesting but somewhat dull. Still, I was cackling when the tools started disappearing, and it really sent my brain down some complicated rabbit-holes as I considered the implications. It turned out to not be as big a deal as they were playing it, but it was fun to watch the two men squirm.

The dynamic between Henry and Grace (his wife in this timeline) is still very engaging and human. I loved the little moment where she acknowledged that Henry was not quite acting like “her” Henry. At some point, you think someone (other than Andy, anyway) is going to catch on and call them out on some of the weird vibes the time-travelers are giving off--someone’s going to notice, and things are going to come to a head. Also... Grace still kind of gives me the creeps. She’s obviously a very intelligent and sophisticated woman, but even so, she makes me think she knows more than she’s letting on. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’m keeping my eye on her... so to speak.

Aside from the dullness of the Henry & Grant scenes--more a plot problem than a scripting or acting problem--James Callis again gets to have some nice meaty moments, emotionally speaking. His appeal to Henry feels genuine, and if there’s some ulterior motive there, Grant is hiding it well. I did like Henry reiterating that Grant can't go back to his own time now--with the knowledge he has of the future, he could cause even greater damage than that caused by his removal from the original timeline. He and Henry seem to work well together, and while their relationship doesn’t feel as rewarding to me as Henry and Jack’s, it still is a nice counterpoint to the episode's overall tone--having two brilliant men sharing their mutual respect, and trying to think their way around what seems to be an intractable problem.

In the end, this is a roller-coaster of an episode, very high-tension and high-stakes through a major chunk of it. There are plenty of scenes with substance, not just tension, and those, as usual, are what really make 'Eureka' a show to watch.

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