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.

HOWEVER.

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?





Warehouse 13: “Elements” and Race Issues

5 08 2009
Warehouse 13: “Elements”
I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.
Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically Indian  magic cloak that enables the wearer to walk through walls (and also carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to the land.
Also, Artie takes one look at a <em>feather</em> and says “Looks Native American”?!  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later he gets more specific: we’re meant to be looking at a Lenape shaman or something in that first scene (did the Lenape have shamans?).  So that gets a bit better, I suppose, in acknowledging a tribe at the very least.
I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of
I also still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  For the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia, I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test.  But I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.
A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.

I started this episode with an audible “OH, NO.”  The scene opens with New Agey flute music and a generic American Indian performing a generically Indian ceremony over some sort of tiny generic statuette in a generic cave under the surface of Manhatten.  Visually, this is not promising, but I really wonder what language he is speaking, and how well.  If the voiceover is relatively accurate, that’s something, at least.

Cut to present-day NYC, with someone pulling up the hood on what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes like a generically “Indian”  magic cloak, which enables the wearer to walk through walls (and carries its own hip-hop soundtrack, too!).  This is not a particularly sophisticated invocation of the Lenape: they’re figured, as First Nations people usual are, as mystical Others with a unique connection to nature and the land.  In this case, that connection is so pure as to allow supernatural manipulation of the elements.

It all just seems so very stereotypical!  I am, of course, more than willing — excited, even — to be proven wrong.  I don’t know enough about Lenape culture to know how accurate any of the representations of Lenape art and language are.  But it all seems pretty generic to me.

Also problematic for me was when Artie takes one look at the feather and says “Looks Native American.”  Because only the First Nations ever use feathers?  Later, however, he at least acknowledges the name of the Lenape, which is one tiny step in the right direction.

I do feel like Weaver’s repetition of “It’s not meant for you” in the climactic cave scene acknowledges the imperialist creepiness of the white dudes collecting Lenape and Lenape-related artifacts in order to find the sacred cave and therefore master the elements.  We’ve had 500 years of fantasies of white domination already; without Weaver’s saying that, this episode really would feel like yet another un-self-conscious instance of it.  And yet the elements are themselves white fantasies: the Water of Eternal Life, in particular, plays into the same myth of the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Léon kept pursuing.  In fact, the four “superpowers” bestowed by the four elements in the cave all represent what Europeans dreamed they would find in the New World, and the idea of there being a secret cave hidden underneath NYC that would provide all of those things only contributes to the notion that the Lenape and other tribes had Secret Knowledge about how to dominate the earth, but that they nobly safeguarded that knowledge (and therefore the earth) from the greedy rapaciousness of others.

It’s another aspect of the myth of the Noble Savage.  The problem is really that even though this story has an American Indian artifact at the center, the Lenape themselves don’t matter at all to the story.  The artifact is just a plot device, something to enable the white characters to work through conflict and save the day.  There’s no depth to the representations of non-white characters.

Which reminds me: I still really like Leena and I wish she were given a chance to talk about anything that does not involve helping  the white people ~*~understand themselves~*~!  I was so excited for the first few minutes of the scene between Leena and Claudia — I thought we were going to pass the Bechdel test at last!  But even though the two women only talked about Claudia, I think it violates the spirit of the Bechdel test to have the two women characters talk about something that isn’t a man if one of them is still falling into skeevy racial stereotypes.

But what do you think, friendly reader?

A note on terminology: I interchange “Indian” and “American Indian” with “First Nations” because those are generally the terms that I have seen people of Native descent prefer to use themselves when they don’t use tribe names.  “Native American,” as I understand, is a term that was decided on by white people.