Bionic Woman has so far suffered identity crisis after identity crisis, going through tonal shifts the way Lindsey Lohan goes through her mom’s liquor cabinet. It’s hard-core sci-fi! It’s a wink-wink genre! It’s a family drama! It’s a feminist take on the modern woman! It’s really freakin’ terrible! It’s kinda sorta OK! And after all these twists and turns, the show seems to have landed on its feet: as a retread of Alias.
Now, here’s the thing: if it were actually just a retread of Alias, I’d actually be fine with that. The first two seasons of Alias are as perfect as television can get. But I’ve seen Alias. Alias was a friend of mine. And you, Bionic Woman, are no Alias. You’re Alias with more than a dash of Chuck, two great shows that form the anti-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of television. You see, Chuck is no Alias, but it’s not really trying to be, either: it’s a spy show in which the spy genre is incidental to the dramedy of the show. They don’t need me to care about the individual case; they just need me to care about Chuck.
But you, Bionic Woman, you want me to care about these cases, you want me to treat the Berkut Group as an elite agency, you want me to treat this stuff with respect, but then you go and inject Chuck-esque banter because someone in NBC probably sent you a memo saying, “Lighten this show up already.” So you took your own version of Alias‘ Marshall, ramped him up to twenty, and then gave everyone else wacky banter to be delivered during inappropriate times. I lost count after “six” of how many times Jaime and Tom stopped mid-mission in order to turn into rejects from Dawson’s Creek. Thus do our new Sydney and Vaughn turn into Pacey and Joey.
As for our new Sloane: well, he’s been reduced to babysitting Jaime’s sister, so near as I can tell. Miguel Ferrer has this, “You’re paying me in cash, right?” look in every scene. I honestly can’t believe he signed up to play THIS character. He’s gone from “I own your body, I paid for it” (super creepy, powerful, worthy of my attention) to “I won’t tell you about your deliquent little brat of a sister lest it hurt your feelings.” Are you kidding me? Now, had the show gone for a long-term arc in which Jonas softens over the months/years thanks to his interactions with Jaime, that would be one thing. This would lead to gradual character development and a chance for Jonas to truly step up at a crucial point in the narrative arc and define himself anew.
But “narrative arc” doesn’t yet exist on Bionic Woman. They started out with a stab at mythology, with the Anthros family secrets and the original Bionic Woman giving Jaime a glimpse into what might come, but for now they’ve abandoned it in order to have Jaime fret and moan about Tom not calling her back for eight days. Don’t get me wrong: I understand the dichotomy they are trying to achieve: the world’s most powerful woman is also someone with everyday problems and insecurities. I get it, I really do. But I know more about Jaime’s emotional issues with Tom than I do about her reasoning for joining the Berkut Group, and that’s a tremendous problem.
To bring Alias back into this for another moment: Sydney Bristow had a compelling reason to stay with an organization she loathed: she wanted to take down Sloane, the man who killed her fiancé. Well, Jaime Sommers knows that the work done by her fiancé’s company led directly to his death, and furthermore suspects that the same fiancé might have pegged her for bionic outfitting years before, and yet barely puts up a fight when pressed to work for the same organization. Furthermore, there’s nothing in Jaime’s character that establishes why she wants to trot across the globe catching bad guys. Sense of loss? Sense of morality? Great dental package from the Berkut Group? We just don’t know. But we DO know that she likes warm towels after a soak. So, there’s that, I suppose.
What’s frustrating is that all these directions I’m implying aren’t coming out of thin air: they are threads teased out from the shows that have aired. Maybe the writer’s strike will make people forget these episodes ever aired, so they can start again from scratch. I’d spend the first third of the season with Jaime struggling with her new physical identity, struggling with the death of her fiancé, and struggling to stave off the recruitment of the Berkut Group. I would have used Sarah Corvis as a spy working for Anthros’ father, trying to slowly seduce her to their side. The second third would be after Jaime grudgingly accepts the Berkut Group’s offer after they save her life from Corvis and Anthros (introducing cases of the week, and the new love interest), and the latter third pitting the two sides fully against each other towards whatever Anthros’ endgame is. I mean, not to pat myself on the back, but that’s a better show than what we’ve seen so far, correct?
There’s still time to save this show, but I’m worried that even if the writer’s strike ends tomorrow, that Bionic Woman won’t be able to fix itself in time.
What do make of the tonal shifts so far on this show? Does the introduction of Tom feel organic or simply a device? What advice would you give the showrunners?