Eureka returned last night with the first of its final fourteen episodes, seeking to resolving the big cliffhanger of what happened to the spaceship Astraeus at the end of last season. The answer took us in some unexpected, awesome directions.
"Lost" was a pretty terrific episode of Eureka, one that gives me plenty of hope that the show will wrap up its run on a high note. But I'll warn you now - there's no way to discuss this episode without getting into a series of fairly major spoilers, so if you're at all wondering whether this episode (and the season in general) is worth watching before you read this - yes, it is, and now go watch it. Otherwise, let's proceed.
The episode finds Astraeus crash-landing after its mysterious unscheduled launch at the end of last season. The crew - which includes Fargo, Zane, Allison, Henry's wife Grace, and Felicia Day's Holly - soon discovers they have landed on Earth...four years after they left. Things have changed a lot in the intervening time, with Senator Wuen placing Eureka and Global Dynamics under the control of the smart house super-computer S.A.R.A.H. and an army of robots all based on Deputy Andy, with the original now serving as the rather unforgiving head of security.
Things only get worse when Allison and Zane learn what has happened in the characters' personal lives - after years of grieving, Carter and Jo moved past their old lovers and started dating each other, with Jo becoming a surrogate mother for Allison's daughter Jenna. But these personal matters must wait, as the characters band together to overthrow the AI police state that grips the town. The characters are triumphant, but Allison in particular is heartbroken by all she has lost and begins to cry - at which point we learn all this is really just a simulation inside the minds of the kidnapped Astraeus crew being run by the ever villainous and mysterious Beverly Barlowe.
This is a tricky episode to pull off because, really, I think we all knew deep down a reset was coming sooner or later. Very few shows would have the guts to so completely pull the rug out from under us like this, to more or less elide past the resolution of the season-ending cliffhanger and jump ahead to a future where everything has gone to shit. Sure, Eureka had that game-changing reboot with the timeline shift at the start of season four, but that had an episode's worth of setup and served to refocus the show on its core cast.
Here, if the Astraeus jump into the future had really happened, the Eureka creative team would have risked smashing the show to bits in the first five minutes and severing our connections with the non-Astraeus half of the cast. The execution here is very much meant to feel dramatically unsatisfying - seriously, the Astraeus jumped four years in the future just sorta because? You know that isn't good enough justification for something this huge. Besides, it would have rendered the whole Jo subplot from last year's finale completely pointless, another reason I figured this wasn't what it seemed.
Eureka just isn't the sort of show to do something this massive for real, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, I can only think of one successful example of such an intentionally lousy jump to the future, and that's when Battlestar Galactica flashed one crappy year later in its New Caprica arc to show the characters even more lost (and in some cases fatter) than they ever were before. And Eureka is most definitely not BSG, which, again, isn't necessarily a bad thing.
So then, I spent the episode about 99% sure that all this was fake. The next question then is whether the reveal will be satisfying, and whether the time spent getting there will feel worthwhile. In our current TV world of needlessly dragged out storyline, Eureka has my eternal gratitude for dropping the reveal at the end of the first episode. There's still a lot we don't know about Beverly Barlowe's latest fiendish masterplan, and there are still plenty of unresolved questions about just what exactly is going on, but as a big twist, this works fairly well. (I should note that I've actually seen the first three episodes of the season, and without giving anything away I will say all my questions were answered quite satisfactorily. There's plenty of good stuff ahead.)
All that leaves is to make sure the actual episode is worth watching, even if we kind of know that probably none of this is really happening, which shows like Life on Mars turned into a bit of an artform. Beverly Barlowe actually rather helpfully spells out a key part of all this, which is the fact that it feels real to the characters and what's going on has actual emotional stakes, particularly for Allison. Even if this is all fake, it still matters to the characters trapped inside it, and the thought of losing out on watching your own children grow up is a heartbreaking notion, even to a childless, cold-hearted bastard like myself.
Besides, it's really fun to watch Eureka go full-on dystopian, and who better to make its fascist leaders than S.A.R.A.H. and a whole army of Andys? Kavan Smith steals the episode, and clearly deserves tremendous credit for managing to keep all the inherent creepiness of Andy bottled up until this episode, where it just explodes. He's a terrifying adversary, one that almost makes me wish we could have spent a bit more time in this darker version of Eureka.
Indeed, credit goes to the entire cast. For returning crew members like Salli Richardson-Whitfield's Allison and Niall Matter's Zane, there's great opportunity to play the pathos in coming back to a world where all you ever wanted is now just out of reach. The rest of the cast does a good job in being ever so slightly off in their performance while not actually tipping the big reveal. For Joe Morton, that means making Henry a bit of a lunatic, while Colin Ferguson modulates Sheriff Carter just enough that it's difficult to accept this man as our Carter, but he could still just maybe be him after four years of difficult choices and painful goodbyes. Really though, it's just impossible to accept Carter as a man who would ever give up, no matter the odds, and there's a subtle hardness in Ferguson's acting that makes it clear that no, this could never be the sheriff we've spent all this time with.
"Lost" is a daring start to this fifth - and, as we now know, final - season of the show, but it's one that seems primed to pay off some rich dividends, both as we further explore just what is going on with this simulated world and get a chance to see what the real Carter, Henry, and Jo are up to. More to the point, it just works on every level - it's hugely entertaining, emotionally satisfying, and sets up a nice ongoing mystery that more recent incarnations of the show have demonstrated some ability to deal with well, its essentially episodic and procedural nature notwithstanding. This is such a good story that the fact that most of it didn't actually happen is only the most minor details.