Monday, August 30, 2010

Eureka - "The Ex-Files"

Jack (Colin Ferguson) wrestles with a problem while Stark (Ed Quinn) soaks up the... SCIENCE!
Photo Credit: Syfy
Review by Matthew Rasnake

Season 4 - Episode 8
"The Ex-Files"

Within the first ten minutes or so of this episode, I was thinking that I was going to open this review like so:

I take it all back. Every bad thing I said about 'Eureka' and conspiracy plot-lines... I take it all back.

I was really enjoying the "play on Dr. Grant's vanity" angle, and I was loving the idea of a secret society based on Grant's ideals of science in service of humankind, rather than science as an instrument of war. I was loving that Dr. Grant was so easily taken in by people who seemed to venerate him, that the naiveté of his 1940's sensibilities didn't let him see through Beverly's act.

Mostly, I was loving the idea of a "benevolent" conspiracy. In the old timeline, Eureka was always more about science as adventure, while this Eureka seems to lean more toward science for control and power. A benevolent conspiracy could have provided an unorthodox foil for our main characters, in the form of a cause with which they could sympathize.

Unfortunately, the final scenes of the episode turned my initially positive attitude back around to one of cautious skepticism.

I did enjoy the fact that the six time-travelers are still having their little gatherings, though I have to admit I'm a bit disappointed that there wasn't a big freak-out scene after Henry confessed their "secret" to Grace. I also enjoyed Henry and Grace's "young love" stuff—Joe Morton really does a great job with that kind of stuff—obviously, Henry's song-and-dance routine from the previous episode worked. Likewise, it was fun seeing Allison and Jack releasing some of the sexual tension that has built up since the beginning of the series. The scene just before Tess shows up was cute and funny, showing the comfortable awkwardness of their new relationship.

Speaking of Tess, the promos for this episode had me somewhat concerned. It wasn't so much about Tess, who I figured might provide some interesting dramatic tension between Jack and Allison, but more about Stark—there are just so many ways his return could have gone, many of them bad. Fortunately, they took a tack I didn't expect, and the inclusion of these characters (especially Stark) ended up being really funny, and ultimately poignant.

Jack, Allison, and Fargo all got to work through some unresolved issues, and Jo got to put her foot straight in her mouth... again. Also, the nature of Stark's return means (minor spoiler, perhaps?) that he isn't returning for good (for now, anyway). This, in itself, alleviated a lot of my concerns. I enjoyed Stark in earlier seasons—he was a good foil for Carter—but he also played a non-critical role in the fabric of the show... and frankly, had to go at some point, to make room for Jack and Allison.

So, the Henry and Grace stuff was good, the Jack and Allison stuff was good, what about the rest of them?

Fargo and his "ex" provided a bit of fun, but ultimately it wasn't all that great. It definitely fit into and helped define Fargo's character, which is good, but it didn't have a lot of life to it. Likewise with Dr. Grant's "ex"—probably the lamest of the bunch. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but it added very little to the character or to the episode in general—though I have to say, I did enjoy the offhand reference back to the season's first episode, and I loved the false description of his "ex" that he gave Allison—"tall leggy blonde, slinky red dress."

I think in this episode, however, Jo again came out the worst. She was mopey the whole episode, not yet over the Zane/Zoe revelation from last episode, and it just doesn't suit her character. Her moroseness makes sense, but it doesn't work so well in practice. Erica Cerra doesn't do a bad job, but constantly depressed characters just aren't that interesting (see: 'Twilight', and most of 'New Moon'). By the end of the episode, she's almost completely defeated. Perhaps it will open up some interesting avenues for her character, if she's been dragged right to the edge of her ability to deal with this new timeline (she has certainly gotten the worst of it), but if the rest of the season's any indication, they'll just keep her plodding along, bouncing between hating and loving Zane.

After this episode, I would be remiss if I didn't admit that I may have misjudged Grace altogether. None of the sense of foreboding I had in earlier episodes has paid off—she learned Henry's secret and hasn't blown the whistle, and now she and Henry have actually shared a direct neural connection, meaning Henry should have seen if there were any nefarious schemes lurking about in her head. Since her and Henry's arc seems to be nearly resolved, I must confess that it looks like I got it wrong.

I'm not sure yet of the final scene's meaning, since we don't know the motives of Beverly's group. Perhaps I've inferred too much from Beverly's involvement—though obviously there is a clandestine organization of some sort, it may not be the "simple conspiracy" I was expecting. If they play it right, it might even be interesting.

I really did enjoy this episode, though after writing this review, it seems that I didn't care for the major dramatic components, and thought the minor components were enjoyable mostly for their humor. This should have been a more serious episode, but I'm afraid the weakness of (or my distaste for) the conspiracy storyline lessened the rest of the story's impact. Nevertheless, it's worth watching, if only for the abundance of humor and snarky one-liners.

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