Season Finale: Warehouse 13 – “MacPherson”

Warehouse13Title

“MacPherson”

September 22nd, 2009

There is something potentially idiosyncratic about “MacPherson,” the finale to one of the summer’s most enjoyable new series Warehouse 13. The show has oft times been notable not for its epic, mythology laden finales but rather its clever short form action pieces, delivering procedural episodes which connect with the audience and highlight the show’s enjoyable cast of characters. “Macpherson,” by comparison, is all about twists and turns and for the most part puts aside its indulgences in favour of appealing to other senses.

It’s a bold decision for a show that has been built around a fairly simple formula and now is going to have a heck of a time getting back to that status quo, and it’s one that I like in theory. While I had expected this episode to put to rest the MacPherson story for good, a first season arc that provided necessary back story for Artie and the warehouse itself, instead it felt like a whole new launching off point which compromised the integrity of our cast of characters beyond recognition.

It leaves a lot of open questions in regards to just what this show is going to look like in the years ahead, something that I didn’t expect from a show which felt so gosh darn comfortable in its own skin just a few episodes ago. I’m not entirely convinced that it’s the right decision, and in some ways I think the finale needed to do something more to make it all work, but consider me most certainly intrigued.

I want to say first of all that I thought the finale was well put together on a technical level, but to some degree the heart wasn’t there for me. Last week’s “Nevermore” was effective due to Michael Hogan’s presence within the story, giving Myka a personal connection with grounded the story to some level. This week, Artie’s story was meant to have somewhat the same effect, but there was something about it which didn’t fit in with the puzzle solving mentality of the series. The show has never been entirely complex with its mysteries, but this one ended up being a fair bit too elaborate for my tastes. By the end of the episode, we are to believe that MacPherson planned all of this (including stealing all of those artifacts, and staging the auction, and giving Carol the Jewelry Box) all so he could eventually be placed into the Bronn Sector and have his sleeper agent get him out so he could wreak havoc in the Warehouse proper.

I think that MacPherson is an interesting villain, but there comes a point where his motivation remain almost entirely unclear. If it’s simply a desire to destroy Artie then he gets his wish: barring Artie holding onto the Phoenix (which I shall from hencepoint consider the “Pushing Daisies Artifact”) when he went down in the tunnel connecting the control room with the outside world, he is no longer of this world and MacPherson has taught him a lesson about picking the right side. However, what potentially makes MacPherson interesting is his end goal, something that got entirely missed in the episode. While he offers Pete a job working for his side of the organization, it isn’t entirely clear just what that purpose is, and as a result the elaborateness of his plan feels contrived until we learn why he’s doing all of it.

I like the idea of having two separate ideologies in terms of what to do with Warehouse material, and the central conflict (MacPherson, who wants to use the artifacts, and the official policy which indicates that they be isolated and never used) is quite similar to what Fringe appears to be doing in its second season (with plans to fight back against the threat rather than simply observing its impact and trying to fix it). But, rather than really let these ideologies play out, the show went with the bombastic route, allowing MacPherson to use Leena (in a bait and switch with Claudia, who had been framed for the crime) in order to break himself free and lock down the Warehouse with Artie (as far as we know) dying in the tunnel. It’s an effective cliffhanger, although one that will likely be ruined with interviews and the like reveal whether Saul Rubinek is moving onto greener pastures and thus clearing the way for a new mentor to be cast, but it does little to change the situation: MacPherson is still a mysterious and all-powerful “big bad,” and they still have no way of really stopping him.

All told, the various twists were well handled: having Leena prove to be the sleeper agent is a bit sudden, but it makes sense that she could use her supposed psychic powers in order to lay blame on Claudia (who, while allowed into the Warehouse via MacPherson, seemed too guilty to have knowingly done anything) and frame her when this time came. But in the process, the episode didn’t have that sense of heart which defines Pete and Myka’s relationship (largely ignored here), and if this was really Artie’s last episode I wish he had been able to get some final moments with the cast members who aren’t evil so as to make this feel like a proper goodbye. I liked Rubinek, and the character, enough that a sudden and tragic death is cheap to me.

Right now, SyFy has to be happy with the show: production values have been strong, the cast have really gelled together (Kelly and McClintock, in particular), and the ratings are the highest the network has ever seen for an original series in its first season. The question, really, will be how a second season forms. The first season had some rough patches, but when it tapped into the dynamics between characters and really focused on artifacts which complicated rather than convolute (an important distinction) it managed to be equal parts fun and resonant. I think that balance can be struck in the future, but I hope that they use this opportunity (whether Artie is dead or alive, and whether MacPherson is caught or let loose into the wild) to fine tune their purpose and perhaps more clearly define the external threat and the Warehouse response to it.

But overall, it was an enjoyable and successful first season, and certainly has me interested (if not quite excited) to see how things unfold for season two.

Cultural Observations

  • I want to make note of the fact that I felt Joanne Kelly was perhaps the cast’s most valuable player (a testament to my university’s theatre program, from which she is a graduate? Perhaps.) in the season as a whole, if not given much to do in this one. She and McClintock were both forced to balance some difficult character traits while maintaining both likeability and believability, and while Pete has to be a bit of a goofball I think Myka is more difficult to nail down with an obsessive issue with rules and process that could get annoying quickly. Instead, they developed a great rapport that really made the show for me at points.
  • CCH Pounder, Emmy-nominated this past year for guest work on the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, really gives Mrs. Frederick a sense of authority, and I’ll be curious to see how the show uses her in Artie’s absence (especially if ushering a new agent into place).
  • The question I have is whether the show would treat the role of Warehouse supervisor as, effectively, the Defence Against the Dark Arts position of the series. I think there’s enough stability in Claudia/Pete/Myka for it to work, but it would require some great casting.
  • The running joke of Myka having read the manual never quite paid off (used here only to foreshadow the existence of the thimble to justify the body switching at episode’s end), but it was a run runner which can hopefully continue.
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