Sanctuary returned this week with another episode that was light on character development and heavy on the CG. And this week’s monsters are a set of deceptively cute, computer-generated puffballs that reproduce like super-powered rabbits and make everyone around them long to do the same. It sounds like a recipe for sexy, Star Trek-inspired fun. But the serious scientists of the Sanctuary are far too busy being rational to bother with getting it on.This week’s episode, “Nubbins,” opens on our core team of cryptozoologists inside a cargo ship. The ship belongs to one of Dr. Helen Magnus’ monster hunters for hire who was supposed to deliver his latest find to the Sanctuary, but never checked in, so it comes as little shock when the team finds the entire crew has become monster chow. They quickly discover two culprits: some fuzzy little critters that look like a chinchilla swallowed a Furby, and a gigantic, snarling dog. Both animals have sharp teeth and the ability to become nearly invisible, but because the fuzzkins are so adorable and the dog leaps at them on sight, the blame falls on the pooch.
Naturally, there’s more to the furry creatures, nicknamed
Tribbles Nubbins, than meets the eye. Once in the Sanctuary’s replicated habitat, they start breeding, quickly escape, and start clogging the Sanctuary’s tubes with semi-invisible fuzzballs. There’s also something in their biochemistry that makes people develop amorous feelings for one another. The main target of their super pheromones is Will Zimmerman. First, the young scientist shares a tense, fireside moment with eternally youthful Helen. Then, when visiting Helen’s daughter Ashley, Will gets squirted on by Ashley’s pet Nubbin, and the younger Miss Magnus starts wiping Will down as if Nubbin pee were Spanish Fly. This episode exposes some of the key problems with Sanctuary. The Nubbin aphrodisiac provides a missed opportunity for some much-needed character development among the central cast. Leaving Will and the Magnus women uninhibited could have offered an insight into who they are, what they desire, and how they behave after realizing their normal boundaries have been crossed. Instead, they act generically lusty toward one another, breathing heavily and lingering too close. And, because the writers seem congenitally allergic to conflict among their major characters, highly rational Will and highly rational Helen realize that the Nubbins are to blame for their sudden bouts of “randiness” before any faux-pas can be made. The creature-induced lust doesn’t even distract the trio from hunting down the escaped Nubbins, suggesting that the only purpose the subplot served was to introduce an eventual love triangle between Helen, her daughter, and Will.
The show also keeps forgetting the other residents of the Sanctuary. In theory, dozens, if not hundreds of “abnormals” reside openly throughout the building, and I kept hoping the Nubbin love would create an all-out orgy of lizard men and fish people. Instead, the abnormal residents were largely ignored, trotted out only to impress a rare human visitor to the Sanctuary. Perhaps budgetary constraints prevented us from seeing the full effects of the Nubbins’ pheromones, but when your show operates almost entirely on green screens and CGI, you have to work that much harder to make your world seem real.
The episode also features a somewhat vestigial subplot about a young girl who has inherited her grandfather’s empathic ability. We’re meant to believe that her ability proves vitally useful to bringing down the obnoxious Nubbins, but she mostly just reinforces ideas the other characters already had. It’s meant to serve as a reminder that some abnormals are good and useful rather than dangerous and destructive. That may be a noble aim, but the fact is, dangerous and destructive make for better television.