Yesterday's Eureka was the most fun (non-animated) episode of the show in ages, as weird spikes in Sheriff Carter's brain made him swap bodies with the rest of the cast. The results were equal parts funny, disturbing, and weirdly poignant.
"Jack Of All Trades" features the return of Wallace Shawn as the Department of Defense auditor, who is there to determine whether the Astraeus crew should be cleared for duty or redacted. With many of their jobs hanging in the balance, our heroes are understandably nervous, and even more so when Carter and Fargo suddenly swap bodies right in the middle of Fargo's evaluation, leaving Fargo in the unenviable position of having to trust Carter to impress the auditor with his intellect. The episode is then off to the races as Carter keeps switching minds, next with Zane and then with Allison, which gives both characters a chance to work out some of their lingering resentment towards Carter and Jo from their time in the computer simulation.
After the fairly serious opening three-part arc and the interesting but muddled "Friendly Fire", a more or less straight-up comedy episode like "Jack Of All Trades" was just what I was looking for. Except for a couple scattered points in the early years of the show, Eureka has never really embraced the zanier side of its premise. Funny as it often is, the show is very rarely as wacky as the basic description - "A town full of mad scientists" - would seem to suggest. As such, I'm always happy to see the show take on the wackier, more outlandish sci-fi concepts, and body-swapping is right on the top of that list.
I'm a sucker for body-swapping, and a lot of that is simply because I love watching actors impersonate each other's performances. (You know, I liked Dollhouse a lot, but the real reason I'm sad it got cancelled was we didn't get to see Enver Gjokaj perfectly mimic all the rest of the cast, one by one.) In this case, a lot of the body-swapped performances here felt more like affectionate caricatures of each other than perfect impressions, and the episode might have occasionally scraped up against the fourth wall. But I'm willing to forgive that — not to mention the fact that the science behind this episode felt slightly more ridiculous than usual — because the end result was so consistently amusing.
Colin Ferguson gets to have the most fun in this episode, as he ends up playing Carter (well, obviously), Fargo in Carter, Zane in Carter, and Allison in Carter. Admittedly, that phrasing sounds more than a little gross, something that's pointed out numerous times in the episode to great comedic effect. Carter-in-Allison pretty much yells, "Phrasing!" at one point, which I'm just going to go ahead and declare an Archer reference, intentional or not — although there's definitely no doubt about the episode's tip of the cap to Quantum Leap when Carter finds himself inside a naked Zane (phrasing!) and mutters, "Oh, boy."
Ferguson proves every bit as good as the rest of the cast in spouting technobabble, and he plays about fifty different emotional states, whether it's Fargo's vaguely creepy appraisal of Allison's romantic choices, Zane assuming he's having a sex dream as Carter, Zane being a total ass to a pretty scientist to get Carter in trouble, Allison having to calmly guide Carter out of his own brain, or Allison rather cruelly letting Jo admit her theoretical feelings to someone who she assumes is Carter, and he pretty much nails all of it.
As for the others, I think I actually have to declare Salli Richardson-Whitfield the winner of "Best Sheriff Carter" impersonation, as she most convincingly sells the idea that Carter really is inside her body. Neil Grayston and Niall Matter are a bit more over the top in their impersonations, though this makes for some great moments — I loved the opening scene between the body-swapped Fargo and Carter, in which Colin Ferguson entered as Fargo-in-Carter impersonating Neil Grayston's gait... and then Grayston left doing an exaggerated version of his own walk, as though Carter was trying to impersonate Fargo and doing at best a passable job of it. The episode also got a ton of mileage out of Zane and Carter disparaging each other's bodies as though they somehow weren't two sides of the same very attractive coin. Carter's threat to put more empty calories inside Zane's body was a particular highlight.
It would be easy to totally embrace the silliness and let the episode devolve into pure body-swapping farce. And while the Fargo-Carter stuff pretty much is just a lot of comic relief, it also works as a warm-up to the later sequences, in which the body-swapping complicates the already strained relationships between Carter, Zane, Jo, and Allison. The creative decision to swap Carter and Zane right as both are about to have sex is a bold one that goes right for the jugular, and the episode does a credible job of dealing with the fallout of such huge violations, even if they're obviously unintentional. There's probably an argument to be made that the scenario was brushed away a bit too easily — particularly since Zane has had a harder time forgiving Carter for way less than that, but between Zane's revenge and Carter almost dying, I can see how all sides would just agree it's best to move on.
In the midst of all this, we also get a great moment for Fargo that has nothing to do with the body-swapping, at least not directly. Zane's attempt to reboot Beverly Barlowe's computer simulation is what triggered all this, but it also revealed Holly's brain patterns might still be alive somewhere in the matrix. Fargo is faced with making the professional decision to save Carter's life and the personal decision to have a chance at reuniting with his lost love...and he quietly but firmly makes the only decision the director of Global Dynamics could possibly make. It's a powerful little bit of business that serves as a good reminder of just how far Fargo has come in five seasons, even if it does get a bit lost in the shuffle of everything else that's going on.
Speaking of everything else... Wallace Shawn shows up! Grace decides to leave for a while! Jack and Allison get engaged! Much like his appearances in season 4.5, Shawn is a lot of fun here as the Department of Defense auditor, managing to switch from goofy and avuncular to deadly serious and terrifying, often in the same sentence. His presence in this episode isn't as vital as it was in his two earlier appearances, mostly because it's pretty impossible to believe he's really going to redact the entire cast (not when Syfy is going to do that anyway, nine episodes from now). He's mostly just a plot complication here, albeit a very good one.
As for Grace, this feels like the sort of decision she might just as easily have reached at the end of "Friendly Fire", and only strengthens my feeling that last week's episode was a lot of running in place. It feels like the right decision for the character, though hopefully she won't have too extended an absence, particularly with so few episodes left. The engagement is a nice beat to end the episode on, and it's obviously the right progression for two characters who share a low-key but very believable romance. The only question is whether the wedding will happen in the specially shot series finale (that'd be my guess) or if it happens earlier this season. Either way, it's nice, after weeks of emotional upheaval, to have the promise of a pretty definitive happy ending for our characters...assuming things go better than Allison's last Eureka wedding, of course.