The blessing and the curse of series television is the ability to salt in little tidbits that allow a story arc to slam together in a powerful way down the road. The curse arises when creators are unable to make good on the investment viewers have made across a season (Lost? Heroes? I’m looking at you). But when it works, when all details great and small come together to elevate the whole to something greater than its parts, television is the best storytelling medium on the planet, paying off our patience in a way that I suspect literally changes our brain chemistry. (It is possible I actually screamed out loud recently when a late-season episode of Doctor Who managed the triple gainer in such a fashion that I have yet to recover.)
Accomplishing this is hard, however, and it’s hard to know whom you can trust to pull off the feat. In our review of the pilot episode of Bionic Woman, I mentioned being a little put off by a lack of engagement with the fundamental political questions embedded in the very premise of the show. Whose body is it anyway? If you’ve become a $50 million weapon, does the group that fronted the $50 million have jurisdiction over your body? What if you didn’t consent to becoming a $50 million weapon in the first place? Recent episodes, including last night’s “Face Off,” have seen Jaime raising these issues more forcefully while at the same time showing her handlers talking about her like property. If they’re salting in these little references to lead us to a major showdown over the issue, that could be really, really interesting television.
But how do I know if they have a master philosophical plan or if they just can’t keep track of what the show’s position is? Bionic Woman’s overall execution is still shaky enough that I’m having a hard time trusting they’ll take me someplace greater than the sum of the parts. How can a giant fan Jaime disables just start whipping around dangerously again because she…bends a blade back into place? Perhaps we are due for a Bionic Woman/Pushing Daisies crossover—Ned resurrects organic matter; Jaime has dominion over dead machines!
Or take the example of trust—“Face Off” is, to a great extent, about the characters not trusting each other and about how the web of lies they’re creating erodes that trust. That’s Big Picture TV, and I want to go down that road with them. But this is a show that has Isaiah Washington’s character (hit him again, Jaime!) hatch a plan to get into a heavily guarded area by being captured…without telling his mission partner that his plan is for them to be captured. He then gets to indignantly demand that she trust him. Why should she trust him? He just got her captured without telling her that’s part of the plan! Despite repeated (and repeated, and repeated) claims to the contrary, the characters shouldn’t trust each other, and I’m not yet sure I should trust the show.
I find myself, therefore, still wishing we were watching The Sarah Corvus Show. Now there’s a woman with an opinion about ownership of her bionic body. Imagine a Bionic Woman reboot where Sarah’s capture by the Berkut Group, realization that they are lying about a “patch” that will save her, and escape was the pilot episode. Oh, the angst! Oh, the trauma! Oh, the opportunity for flashback episodes! Because when you play Tori Amos lyrics over Sarah’s scenes, you’re just going to make me wonder what could have been.