EPISODE REVIEW: Eureka: "Clash of the Titans" (Season 4, Episode 17)

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So we are four episodes out to the end of Season 4 (4.5?) and the Astraeus mission is getting close to crunch time. But not without a minor hitch or two. The return of Tiny from her Titan prep mission and her rapid demise soon after she reaches Earth starts a series of investigations that culminate in a massive red cloud of doom hovering over the town and threatening to kill everyone. But even worse, a government bureaucrat descends on Eureka to assess the "intimate alliance" of two of Eureka's top personnel. Oh, noes!

Once again, this episode is well-written and well-paced. The dialogues are crisp and the lines are funny (at least when they are not spouting scientific gobbledygook). Sometimes watching Eureka reminds me of the crackling romantic comedies from the 40s with the generally intelligent way the writers have handled the characters. It also doesn't hurt that the actors are very capable and sympathetic.

Fargo and Holly are given some of the funnier lines, with all the stereotypically geeky tone and references and social ineptness that will make the typical geeky fan laugh (in nervous remembrance of high schools past?). The locker room scenes, in particular, cracked me up: The two finally come to terms with the fact that they are attracted to each other and that it is affecting their work ("Our budding urges are interfering with our professional ambitions!"). Then to Fargo's eternal shock, Holly proposes that they have sex and just get it out of the way. Even when talking about sex, Holly comes across almost as an innocent, not withstanding the fact that she is the one who is eager to get the deed done ("The sooner we consummate, the sooner we concentrate").

What passes for drama in a Holly-Fargo scene includes lines like "What if you like original Star Trek and I like Next Gen?" and various references to "dessert." Now that I think about it, the best scenes for these two do happen in the locker room, with both of them standing in their underwear. It has to be on purpose; they look much more emotionally vulnerable in their skivvies, and I don't think the dialogue would work as well when they are wearing their power suits.

Contrast Holly's and Fargo's frank discussions to Jo's and Zane's inability to openly communicate with each other. Sex becomes a substitute to communication, and the two still dance around the topic of what they mean to each other (Zane complains to Fargo that Jo is not asking him to stay, while he procrastinates on his departure from Eureka).

Jo releases her romantic frustrations by taking over the planning for Henry's and Grace's wedding. It is a little disconcerting to watch Jo turn into bridezilla without being a bride, but Erica Cerra pulls it off, especially after explaining to Carter why she is doing this. She is effectively projecting her wishes for a happy ending on Henry and Grace, and is determined to celebrate at least that successful "new timeline relationship."

Between these two extremes are Henry and Grace. I can almost see the dilemma that the writers may have with these two. Of all the characters in Eureka, Henry and Grace are the most mature and emotionally stable, not to mention intellectually well-matched, and that makes it difficult to create conflict (the potential heart failure storyline is largely resolved). They have to make Henry a little insecure about his "other self" and this comes out a little forced. Being true to Henry's character also means that that can not last long either. An open discussion about this with Grace fixes the situation fast, and just in time because Eureka is being invaded by swirling red masses of explosive gas and methane snow and they have to get that story out of the way.

As the other couples grapple with their respective relationship problems and challenges, Carter and Allison have to subject themselves to an external examination of their "intimate alliance" by a Department of Defense relationship assessor, all in the name of national security. It is by any measure a ridiculous proposition, and Carter is unhappy and hostile to the situation.

But the bureaucrat is Vizzini, I mean Wallace Shawn! (With the writers' known weakness for pop culture allusions, is anyone surprised when they worked the word "inconceivable" into the dialogue?) Shawn plays Warren Hughes, government assessor and "mid-level pencil-pusher," who promptly sticks his nose into Carter's and Allison's lives. For instance, he asks the sheriff frankly what his intentions are towards the current head of Global Dynamics. It is a decidedly old-fashioned question which is funny in the context of technologically advanced Eureka. Having Warren exclaim, "Penny candy!" does not suggest any modernization in this area any time soon, either.

As the various couples get closer to their happy endings (by the end of the show, even Jo and Zane are starting to show a little promise of stability), the one couple that has been relatively stable faces a new threat: Even after watching how well Allison and Carter work together in a crisis, Warren still concludes that they can not continue their "intimate alliance" and will have to end it or leave Eureka altogether.

This news is given just before the beautiful scene in Henry's garage where the main characters gather to watch Grace's and Henry's wedding. Warren, among other things, can also officiate weddings, and he proceeds to do so. While Warren gives his little speech about love, the camera pans to each of the four couples as an appropriate line is uttered: Henry and Grace ("... a couple whose love transcends time..."), Zane and Jo ("... joy in the present..."), Fargo and Holly ("... commitment in the future..."), and Carter and Allison ("... together forever..."). The show closes with Allison and Carter unhappily facing an uncertain future with each other in Eureka.

Next week, we expect to see Allison and Carter appeal the decision on their relationship. The obvious no-drama solution, of course, is for Allison to just go back to being a doctor and let someone else take over GD. Henry, for example, will be a good choice (he was GD director in another Eureka timeline). A wedding for Carter and Allison has also been foreshadowed in this episode, but I don't know if that is enough to placate the government weenie.

In any case, with the strong writing that this series has shown so far this season, I will happily watch how they are going to resolve this particular situation.

And now, a short rant:

As I've mentioned, I find Eureka's dialogues crisp and well-written, but something has to be said about how they handle their "science" stuff. I generally try to gloss over the science and just enjoy the character interplay, but this week's episode is too much. Earth-based plants absorbing a mixture of gaseous ammonia and methane fast enough to clean up the atmosphere? Not even when someone yells "nitrate radicals" into the equation is this remotely possible. And it is nothing at all like photosynthesis. And methane snow? In ambient pressure and temperature? Someone has to get the writers acquainted with the phase diagram quick.

I know these are just vehicles for the tension and drama in the show, but they could make it a little more plausible and science-based than that. This hand-waving of science is lazy and insulting to the viewers. Yes, science fiction is fiction, but it still has to be based on sound or at least plausible scientific principles. It is what separates it from the fantasy genre. Theoretical physics and unresolved theories is one thing, established science is something else. Time travel story lines have their problems, but they're fanciful enough to just accept as is. But physical properties of hydrocarbons have been known for centuries. To say that it is possible to create methane snow in Eureka is probably not doing any favors to an already notoriously science-illiterate population.

I do appreciate the nod to Huygens, though, by naming one of the minor characters Dr. Huygens. At least, I think it is Huygens (my closed caption spells it Huggins). The Dutch astronomer Huygens discovered Titan in the 17th century, and the Huygens probe landed on Titan a few years ago, providing us with our current data about that satellite. So good job on that end.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

I guess if you are not uptight about premarital sex?

FOOTNOTE: Eureka has been cancelled, mostly:
http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/08/08/eureka-cancelled/

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