"Of Mites and Men" starts with the Astraeus countdown clock at 91 days and change.
The set up: It’s about two weeks after the affair with Beverly Barlowe brainjacking Allison, and Allison is raring to get back to work. Carter is not convinced that she is ready, and neither is Senator Wen who refuses to reinstate her in any position of responsibility. She is not even welcomed back to her medical office, with a new doctor literally taking her chair.
Senator Wen, meanwhile, takes charge of the Astraeus project, pushing up the schedule which makes the head spaceship builder push her own construction crew to work harder to meet the new deadline. These workers turn out to be robotic construction mites that were created and programmed by Zane.
Meanwhile, Jo passes the written test for the Titan trip with flying colors. She gets a message from Fargo to join him in an obscure part of GD called Level Q (this becomes sort of a running joke since most of the characters do not seem to know that a Level Q even exists in GD).
Three other "finalists" for the trip, Fargo, Holly Martin and Isaac Parrish, also get a similar message, ostensibly from Jo. The door closes, and Larry explains, via a monitor, that they are in an isolation chamber and that this is part of another test for the Astraeus trip. They very soon discover a fifth member of the team, Stowaway Zane who, we were told repeatedly over several episodes, is ineligible to join the Titan trip because of his criminal past.
The story then follows the typical Eureka episode with a red herring (experimental interstellar communications device misfires a few times, breaking things around GD with sound waves), a mystery (elevators and support beams among other things start disappearing), an explanation (construction mites go out of control), and the oh-my-god-we-have-to-fix-it-before-we-all-die problem (the mites are eating the GD support beams that will cause the collapse of the building and crush everyone).
Beyond the Eureka plot formula, though, is the joy of watching the interaction between the different characters.
First, the scenes inside the isolation chamber are excellent. We accept the premise quickly — after all, a trip to space will require having to live in close quarters and the personalities have to be tested against that. The comedy, of course, comes in the four strong, disparate personalities, five if you include the stowaway, who all border on the anti-social. Three of these are in some kind of a love triangle (Fargo, Holly and Parrish), while two, Jo and Zane, are in a confused emotional tangle. The friction between and amongst the five people starts almost as soon as the isochamber door closes.
At one point, they are asked to make 100 origami paper cranes each. The reactions from the members of the group are funny, especially Jo’s disbelieving declaration, “This is arts and crafts.” There’s just enough incredulity at the things they are made to do as well as some indignation at being hijacked into doing the test without much warning. These isochamber scenes were very well-done and easily my favorite parts of the episode.
These scenes also allow us to learn and appreciate the characters more.
Parrish is still the supreme egotist. Not even the possibility of hooking it up with Holly could take his eyes off the prize of going to Titan. In fact, he is almost mean to her.
I do have to admit, Wil Wheaton plays insufferable Wesley Crusher’s even more insufferable older brother perfectly. He might be in danger of playing a single note character, though, because he was really damn annoying. And smarmy. The kind of guy you just want to punch in the face for smiling at you. But he is still the perfect foil for Fargo, so job well done. Him calling Jo “Number One” just cracked me up. And the scene with the finished cranes is incongruous and hilarious.
Holly has some of the best lines in the show. Between her camel bladder and her limberness, she comes out funny and innocent at the same time. Jo’s exasperation comes through when she asks Holly if she’s ever heard of “Too much information.” Her line right after the crisis is averted and everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and just before commercial, is delivered with great comic timing. She comes out of the isochamber a little more socialized and a little more willing to be socialized. The last scene with Fargo is sweet and still manages to be funny.
Fargo is growing up and his leadership qualities start to shine. We saw glimpses of it in Liftoff, and this episode puts an exclamation mark on it. He takes charge of the isochamber when they realize that they are trapped, much like he did in Liftoff. Parrish’ putdowns don’t deter him, and actually won Jo and Holly to his side. Granted, that’s probably also more of a reaction to how obnoxious Parrish is, but Fargo does come up with the plans to deal with their situation. The change is not so drastic and out of character, though, that we almost expect it from Fargo at this point in the series.
Jo still struggles with her self-doubts at the start of the episode. By the end, she has overcome those and understands that she is intelligent and capable enough to be included in the mission. It is interesting how supportive Zane is to her. He was the one who pushed her to study for the Titan trip and encouraged her to try out. He is also the one who helped tamp down whatever remaining self-doubts she has.
We initially think of Zane being up to his old tricks by stowing away into the isolation chamber, just because he wants to. In a nice twist, we find out that it’s all part of the test. This part of the story is done very nicely, and also contributes to the test takers’ inability to appreciate the danger they are in sooner than they should have, thinking the chamber malfunctions are still part of the test. By the end of the show, Zane is free to go to Titan (Wen pulled some strings to get him a full pardon). His musings about where he can go — and that he can do it because he wants to, not because he has to — has a soft sweetness to it. Zane, too, is growing up.
Outside the isochamber, the story revolves mostly around Allison and her attempts to vindicate herself to everyone who doubts her sanity and control. In a world where everyone is hyper-intelligent, having your brain hijacked has to be one of the scariest things that can happen to you. Cogito, ergo sum. And if someone else is thinking for you, then who are you?
Allison desperately needs to prove that she is in charge of herself before she can take charge of GD again. Carter enjoys doting on her (“I don’t dote!”) and taking care of her, and part of that feeds to his reluctance to accept that she is ready to go back to GD.
Senator Wen just has plain doubts. She is a taskdriver and has taken control of the Astraeus project, and she is not ready to turn over the reins to someone who, just two weeks ago, put the entire complex in jeopardy.
Senator Wen has one of the most striking transformations in this episode. When she first appeared in the series, I thought she’d be the stereotypical ballbusting, powerful bitch who will provide the major obstacles to the main characters. Her treatment of Carter (“Just stand there and look pretty”) isn’t exactly endearing, and she is pretty blunt in denying Allison her job (“Feel free to use the facilities, Allison. Maybe take a day at the spa”).
Her later interactions with Alison, however, bely the bitch characterization. She isn’t standing in anyone’s way; she just wants to solve whatever problem is in front of her. Her appreciation of Alison’s help in the end is apparent, and she has no qualms about giving Alison her job back as interim director of GD as soon as her own doubts on Allison’s effectiveness are allayed.
In fact, I liked that she comes across as a strong, competent person who does not brook any nonsense. She jokes about “politician-speak” a few times, then bluntly tells people exactly what she means.
(Of course, this just serves to remind me that this is, after all, fiction. Yes, with everything that goes on in Eureka, a sensible politician is the one that stands out as really fictitious to me.)
Larry has some funny moments, too. When he tries to get back into the isochamber control room and finds a ship hull blocking his way, he immediately thinks that he is being tested along with the people in the isochamber (“They’re testing the tester! That is so meta....”). His tweaking of the test participants, including playing “At the Car Wash” through the pipe-in speakers, adds even more comedy to the tense isochamber situation.
There is one more (minor) storyline: Henry’s heart problem. The doctor who takes Alison’s chair in the medic room offers to operate on Henry. When Grace finds out that the human trials for the procedure are inadequate (“Sample size is too small to be significant. Healed lots of pigs, though... truckloads of them!”), she balks. Henry, who wants to go to Titan with Grace, tells her it’s his risk to take, at which point Grace stalks away.
By the end of the show, they’ve reconciled, Henry accedes to Grace’s point regarding the risk (“It’s both our risk, not just mine”), and he pushes her to go to Titan even without him. Grace offers him the wedding ring he gave up in a previous episode and asks him to marry her. He says yes, then announces it to the entire room in Cafe Diem to a stunned silence. He forgets that as far as the town is concerned, they already are married. Carter rescues him with, “They’re renewing their vows!”
And on that high note, the show ends.
This is a very well-written episode, and the plot holes aren’t as glaring as usual (but still there!). What really comes through, though, is the great chemistry between the different characters. The “science” in Eureka has always been a weak point, but the character quirks and relationships totally make up for it.
I enjoy watching the byplays, and Holly really did make me laugh a few times. The relationships also evolve in a way that doesn’t seem to be too hurried. The writers are taking their sweet time to allow the characters to grow. It shows and the series is all the better for it.
In the end: Holly finally kisses Fargo, Henry and Grace are about to get (re)married, Jo and Zane are starting to move in the right direction in their relationship, and Carter and Alison’s relationship gets even stronger.
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?
I can see no reason why not. The overarching theme seems to center on doubt and trust. Most of the characters either suffer some semblance of self-doubt or insecurity, a lack of trust on someone, or both. They’re mostly conveniently and satisfactorily resolved, paving the way for the next phase for the different relationships as well as the Astraeus arc.
Was it just me, or did anyone else think of “Evolution,” the Star Trek:TNG episode where Wesley accidentally lets nanites escape to wreak havoc on the Enterprise, when they heard the phrase “construction mites?”