Warehouse 13: “Burnout” and Steampunk Technology

11 08 2009

“Pixels will never reflect the real thing.” — Artie to Claudia

One of the most appealing things to me about Warehouse 13 is the steampunk sensibility: there’s a warehouse full of the US’s most top secret artifacts, and it’s guarded not by plasma whozitwhats or iPod-esque oojahs, but by practically fossilized early-twentieth-century technology.

But if you stop to think about that for a second, it makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER.

I mean, sure, I can think of reasons why this might be the case.  Maybe the Secret Service is afraid to upgrade the tech because they don’t know how the artifacts will respond.  Maybe there’s just no money.  Maybe it’s such a monumental task and the Warehouse is so chronically understaffed that it’s simply impossible.  But really, it just doesn’t make sense, from a plot perspective, if you don’t suspend your disbelief.


From a thematic perspective, it makes perfect sense.  The retro-chic technology fits in with the idea that there is something soulless about modern mass-produced technology, and the individualized and detail-oriented steampunk aesthetic works against this soullessness.  Just like the artifacts are unique relics of historical moments, the Farnsworths hand-crafted by the “father of television” himself, the Warehouse is a relic of a more ingenious and intellectually ambitious time.  (It’s not a coincidence that one of the artifacts that is most prominently featured during the theme song is a moon rock, along with the television and the Farnsworths and a disco ball — these are all inventions of the long golden age of both science and science fiction, the fifty years from the 1920s to the 1970s.)

On that level, the explicit comparison that Rebecca makes between the Warehouse and this week’s artifact, the parasitic and deadly electrocuting spine, suggests an ominous layer to the show that we haven’t really seen up to now.

Also, that was some serious scenery-chewing from Eddie McClintock, eh?  And good for little old Rebecca for calmly and efficiently saving the day when Myka couldn’t!  I want more of her!

But I’m not sure how I feel about their choice to make her the voice of negativity about the Warehouse.  Actually, let me revise that: I don’t like the way they chose to make her the voice of negativity.  From the writers’ perspective, there was no need to bring her back to the Warehouse except to make her have that last conversation with Myka.  And why have Artie give Rebecca the engagement ring that was lurking in one of Jack’s perfectly preserved drawers except to make it clear that she is warning Myka about the Warehouse not out of a generalized concern for her well-being, but specifically so that Myka can “have a life,” i.e., get married and have a family?

But Myka doesn’t seem to want to get married and have a family, and that’s okay!  I hope that we never see her turn into the stereotypical career woman with the ticking biological clock, desperately in search of a man.  And this show had certainly better not go the X-Files route.  Mulder and Scully together was a disaster, and so would Pete and Myka be.  Can’t we have one independent and fulfilled single woman on TV?  They exist in the real world, after all!

What did you think of this episode, esteemed reader?  On a scenery-chewing scale of 1 to 11 (yeah, it goes to 11), how would you rate it?




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