ABW’s TV Corner – Eureka

So yesterday I watched Tuesday’s episode of Eureka and, I have to say, it was an example of some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen on that show. Normally I can forgive some meh dialogue and a plot point that doesn’t quite work for an overall happy effect. But everything about last night’s episode made me cringe.

Sadly, this is usually the case with me and Eureka. I really want to like the show and every now and then they’ll wow me with a premise or story or character interaction. But ever since last year’s season finale those moments are rarer than ever.

Spoilers below the fold.

Last year, when Eureka first started out, I really loved the show. Though we still get Clueless White Man(TM) in the lead, the ensemble includes some fabulous women and people of color. I was especially pleased to see Salli Richardson, who won my heart as Elisa Maza on Gargoyles. I also really love Joe Morton and will watch anything he’s in at least once. I think the writers are very aware of the issues surrounding characters of color in media and SF in particular, and they do a good job with Alison, Henry, Kevin, Jo, Nathan, etc. But I started to worry about Henry halfway through the season and the season finale cinched all of my horrible realizations.

A few episodes into the the season, we meet Kim, an Asian woman Henry used to date who he’s still in love with but she married another man (Henry’s friend). Due to some evil on the part of the friend, Kim ends up leaving him and taking up with Henry again. She moves to Eureka and they supposedly embark on a new relationship. However, we don’t see any of said relationship because Kim disappears after that. Henry is in every episode, yet after his great love returns to him he never, ever says anything about her. Neither do any of the other characters. No, “How are things with Kim?” or “Hey, I saw you and Kim at the restaurant last night! Looks like things are going well.” I started to think this might be another incident of a black male being denied the role of “romantic lead”. Then, randomly, in the season finale we see Kim again, involved in some experiment, and something goes wrong…

Cut to 4 years later. Many good things have happened. Fan wish-fulfillment things, like Carter and Allison are married and expecting a kid, Zoe is valedictorian of her class, Nathan is gone, Henry and Kim are together and very in love, etc. Turns out that this is all a horrible lie. Because Kim died when that experiment went wrong and Henry, who couldn’t live without her, went back in time, saved her, and created the happy future. But the unhappy past is colliding with the happy future and the universe will self-destruct unless Carter goes back in time and stops Henry from saving Kim.

The thing I had been worried about with Henry throughout season 1 was that he was very close to Magical Negro territory. Carter is the protagonist of Eureka, but he’s not a genius like almost everyone else in the town. Every time there’s a problem everyone turns to Henry. Every Time. (This issue is one of the reasons he wants to leave the town at the end of Purple Haze.) Henry doesn’t even work for Global Dynamics, yet he solves everyone’s problems. When he finally gets a pursuit of his own (though I don’t want to reduce Kim to such a label) it’s barely explored and then snatched away from him cruelly. Everyone else gets to have their desires fulfilled. Everyone else has multiple pursuits and storylines. Henry is just the genius in the garage.

I cannot tell you how pissed I was when it became clear that, not only was Kim dead forever, but Henry is the only person who has to suffer because of what happened. Carter has a bit of angst because he’s gone back in time to before he and Allison were even dating and won’t be welcoming his baby into the world as he expected, but the difference is that Carter could still get all of that back. He could still woo Allison and marry her, Zoe could still excel at school, Kevin could still get whatever treatment to make him ‘normal’, etc. Yet Henry can never, ever get Kim back.

I was almost ready to never watch the show again because of that. And if the show wasn’t one of those Summer Only deals, I might have held on to that. But since it was several months between the finale and the new season, my anger was tempered a bit. This season, Henry’s grief and anger over those events has led to some interesting developments on his part. His main story is not just solving Eureka’s problems but also pursuing the truth behind why Kim died (and possibly planning to try his going back in time thing, again). But still, all the pain and grief and loss and depression is Henry’s. Everyone else is happily flouncing around in their own horrendous storylines and not paying him a lick of attention until they need something. This bothers me.

I’ll reserve final judgment until the end of this season when we see how Henry’s story plays out. I may not last until then, though, if they keep throwing horrible episodes at me like they did this week.

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8 Responses

  1. Eureka is one of those shows that could be great *if* they had good writers. I, too, cringed at this week’s episode. (And last, and the week before that…) I was ready to kick my screen when Fargo’s grand-dad says, “Well, I lost 50 years, but at least I have the woman of my dreams.” Yeah, like anyone would be cool with losing 50 years of their life and finding out the woman of their dreams now looks like grandma. The lack of real reactions always bugs me about the show, but I’ve figured out why. Eureka, though it’s not labeled as such, is YA.

    Anyway, I find myself watching because of the dearth of good SF on TV right now.

    I agree, they do a good job with people of color. I thought Jo was Arabic, Israeli, or maybe Indian, but in a recent episode her Spanish was excellent, so perhaps she is Latina? I suppose I could IMDB her, but I’m lazy.

  2. Thanks for writing on Eureka, ABW! You have an interesting take, particularly on Henry. What do you think the “Magical Negro” (heh) angle is about? I felt during the first season like it’s almost the writers’ well-meaning-but-not-quite-there attempt to not be racist. Like, let’s make the black character the smartest person in town! But in the process he doesn’t really get to be a fully drawn character. Although I think he’s becoming more complex and humanized now, and I’m curious to see what they’re going to do with him. I thought he might just be the Big Bad this season but I think now that it might be more interesting than that. I hope so.

    I don’t view Eureka as YA, Mark. I think it’s actually parody. They’re spoofing plots that have been circulating through SF shows for generations now. But yeah, they could do a better job on the details. I was surprised that a white male scientist whose last knowledge of the world was from 1957 would readily accept Allison’s authority (and Henry’s, and Jo’s) without even a moment’s question.

    I think this show needs to figure out how serious it is, exactly: is it straight parody, or do you want us to be emotionally connected to the characters? It’s totally possible to do both, but you have to know exactly what you’re going for, and I’m not sure Eureka does, yet. But I’m entertained enough to stick around and find out.

  3. Jo is Italian, apparently. (I read that on some blog or another)

  4. I was surprised that a white male scientist whose last knowledge of the world was from 1957 would readily accept Allison’s authority (and Henry’s, and Jo’s) without even a moment’s question.

    I was thinking that exact same thing. Especially as they had all these POV shots of him looking at her and Henry. I was wondering when he was going to say “What are all these Negroes doing here?”

  5. Yeah, exactly! I’m starting to think Eureka’s writers are trying for a ‘colorblind’ strategy: cast lots of talented actors of color, but never talk about race. hmm.

  6. FYI: I just created a page for the show on the FSF Wiki, since there wasn’t one yet, and added a link to your commentary in this blog entry there.

    http://wiki.feministsf.net/index.php?title=Eureka_%28TV_series%29

    (I’ve seen very little of the show myself.)

  7. sigh…

    Even though I love the show, you’re right. Wednesday’s ep sucked donkey balls.

    Why in the world did they feel the need to wrap an entire episode around the most annoying character in the series? Just to tie into the fact that Carter was still pissed off at Allison? They showed that in 2 measely scenes, and frankly, she was kind of a bitch in both of them. Lame!

    I was wondering when he was going to say “What are all these Negroes doing here?”

    I was thinking the exact same thing. I kinda hoped he would start telling Jo to go fetch him some coffee everytime he saw her, just we could see how difficult it is for not to kick his ass. I miss seeing her playng with firearms, btw.

    So one old guy is back “from the dead”, another old guy is ruined, and another old guy is in jail. Why am I supposed to care?

    Also, will someone PLEASE tell me next week’s ep is a rerun? Didn’t they do “Stoopid Eureka” already?

  8. I don’t remember a stupid Eureka episode, but apparently I don’t remember a lot about season 1.

    I think Matt may be on to something with Eureka being unlabeled YA. The last episode is a great example of that – we get some guy whose been frozen since 1957 and he wakes up and wants two things – to see the girl he’s in love with and to clear his good name. Along the way he has some of the most stilted and boring reactions to EVERYTHING ever. He makes no comment about the fact that a person who is both female and black is in charge of the organization he works for even thought that would have been unheard of in his time. He may have not been particularly prejudiced himself, but he HAD to have noticed that henry and Allison and Jo were all acting in ways that would have been different from the way he would expect them to act or be. No comment on this at all. He just floats through accepting things at exactly the right time.

    When they confront the scientist who stole all of his ideas there is no satisfying reaction there. he’s all “No, i didn’t do that! … Okay, I did, but it wasn’t because I’m bad. Here, have all the stuff you should have had. I don’t mind. Oh look, cookies!” like, what?

    on and on like that. Which is a very soft around the edges way to write that episode. As if it wasn’t being written for adults, but for middle graders.

    I also think there’s something to that colorblind business. I may need to write a stern letter to these people and tell them to stop that. You cannot ignore race issues by making a supposedly race-tension-free world. It doesn’t ring true!

    Ide – thanks for that page. I may pop over and add to it.

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