OK, I want to clear up a little misconception a few of you who read recaps online might have: we reviewers by and large don’t WANT the shows we cover to be bad. I know it might seem like that at times, but here’s the thing: while it’s harder to write a positive review than a snarky review, it’s a lot less fun to pan a show than to praise it. I want to state all of that up front. I mean, I begged and pleaded the editors here to let me review Bionic Woman: it had a great pedigree and fantastic trailer and I couldn’t have been more psyched for a show that didn’t involve an island with a smoke monster living on it.
And yet, here we are, two weeks into a show that I’m all but certain will be canceled before February sweeps. How does this happen? Well, it’s incredibly hard to do a show well. I understand that. The worst show on television is still better than the product 99% of us could ever hope to achieve. I get that; I really do. But it’s literally my job to give you my thoughts and impressions of this show, and I’m as saddened as the lot of you that this week’s show took an enormous nose-dive from its already so-so pilot.
This week’s episode featured our titular heroine, Jaime Sommers, going out on her first live mission in the field. Before this, however, we clumsily learned that her boyfriend, William, is now dead. (Guess Sarah Corvis is one heckuva shot.) One would think this turn of events would in fact turn her completely AWAY from the organization that pumped $50 million into her new and improved biological structure. One would also think that finding out her newly deceased ex kept a file on her for two years before ever courting her would FURTHER push her in the opposite direction of the Berkut Group. I wouldn’t fault your logic in either case. And yet, before the second commercial break, there she is, volunteering for her first mission, and more importantly, her first montage sequence. Okaaaaaay. I’m blaming this on all those shots she had at the bar and moving on before the logic police storm this motivation. (I am guessing they didn’t give her a bionic liver.)
The montage sequence was actually one of the lone highlights of the episode. First of all, it’s a montage, and goshdarnit, it’s hard to go wrong with a montage. Just ask Daniel Laruso, aka, The Karate Kid. It only took one montage for him to get through the majority of the Cobra Kai. (Then again, to be fair, he WAS the best around, and no one was ever going to keep him down.) Secondly, her fight instructor, Jae, used precisely the same moves used by Sarah during the bionic smackdown in last week’s climatic scene. Jae revealed that the out-of-nowhere Ultimate Fighting techniques Jaime used last week were in fact part of a muscle memory program installed in all bionics. This factoid makes one reconsider last week’s fight: was Sarah’s goal to kill or merely instruct? Hopefully later episodes will clear this mystery up.
Further helping Jaime along her path towards bionic pugilism is a newly introduced member of the Berkut Group: Antonio, played by Isaiah Washington. Yes, that Isaiah Washington, formerly of Grey’s Anatomy. (Also, formerly of a promising career before he opened his big fat mouth.) Isaiah’s character informally interrogates Jaime in a bookstore soon after William’s funeral, where she was feeling like all her friends were moving on with their lives, and she was there reading "What Color is My Parachute?" Note: I didn’t infer this emotion: she straight up said, "It’s just feels like all my friends are moving on with their lives, and I’m here reading ‘What Color is Your Parachute?’" to Antonio. That "clang" you heard in the background of this scene was the Anvil of Unnecessary Exposition.
Such literalism dominated the episode, and I fear will dominate the series. This is the type of show that has Sarah leave Jae a cryptic note along with a yellow rose, and this means he’s supposed to go to the Yellow Rose Hotel. This is the type of show that gives the decimated town the name of "Paradise." That sort of hit-you-over-the-head type of drama just makes the audience feel as if the show is saying, "Because we think you’re stupid, we’re going to spell this all out and remove all opportunity for inference." It’s the type of thing used for comic effect in movies like The Naked Gun, but has no place is such a show such as this. It’s a technique that panders to an audience too smart to deserve such condescension.
Moreover, the show still can’t figure out exactly what tone it wants to take. One scene features a creeptastic, completely dead town (thanks to an airborne toxin released by…well, "bad guys" is as far as the show got), and the next features Jaime making silly demands about her work schedule ("I don’t work weekends") or covering up her bionic abilities by telling a saved suicide victim that her super speed and strength derives from Pilates. I’m not saying a drama can’t have comedy, nor a comedy can’t feature dramatic bits. I mean, the word "dramedy" exists for a reason, and shows such as Scrubs actually pulls off both with equal aplomb. And I’m furthermore not suggesting that Bionic Woman will NEVER find that balance. I’m just saying it’s not there yet, that’s all.
And this is all a shame, because buried in this mound of mediocrity was a line that jumped out like a laser beam. At one point, Jae tells Jaime, "The machine is nothing without the woman." Now THAT is an interesting mission statement for a show, people. Show me THAT, Bionic Woman. Show me her struggling to be strong while conveying vulnerability; show me her struggling to be independent while squeezed under the thumb of the Berkut Group. Show her and Sarah trying to figure out how to reclaim the bodies that others have deemed their property. And if you want to occasionally throw in a killer fight scene, great. All the better. But all you’ve done is hint at it, Bionic Woman. And that’s just not good enough.
So for now, I find you lacking. I hope you pick up. I hope you truly insert a feminist tract in the middle of a populist sci-fi drama. I hope Sarah’s not purely evil. I hope Antonio becomes the Yoda to Jaime’s Luke, so long as Antonio doesn’t go around calling C-3PO all sorts of homophobic insults. But more than anything, I hope you start entertaining us. Because while it may seem that I enjoy knocking you, I enjoy it about as much as Jae enjoying knocking boots with the woman he killed in the Yellow Rose Hotel.
Did you think this show took a step forward or back this week? Will the subtraction of William and insertion of Antonio make the show better in the long run? And when in God’s name will Jaime stop hitting bad guys with her non-bionic hand?
For more TV reviews and analysis, check out Ryan at Boob Tube Dude.