We didn't realize how much we'd missed Warehouse 13 until it came back. And then we remembered: the previous season ended by hinting at some really dark stuff, leaving us expecting a season opener with some sharp edges. Instead, we got a return to the show's usual warm fuzzy tone. Which is what we should have expected all along.
Last time Warehouse 13 ended on a crazy cliffhanger, it actually did go somewhat dark — Artie turned evil and tried to poison the world, but we also got some fairly brutal takedowns of the rest of the team from Evil Artie, followed by a remorseful Good Artie who just wanted to die inside his own mind. But this time around, with the show only returning for a short season of six episodes, showrunner Jack Kenny clearly wanted to get back to sweetness and light as quickly as possible.
And that's probably as it should be. In a television landscape full of grim storytelling and bloody hands, Warehouse 13 is unusually sweet and goofy. There are clever bits and sharply observed character moments here and there, but the overall tone is deliberately old-fashioned and even a bit fluffy. That it works is largely down to a really strong cast, with great chemistry, and writing that doesn't stoop to canned sentiment or cheap cuteness. It's not Game of Thrones, but it's not trying to be.
So if you expected Warehouse 13 to follow up on some of the darker threads from last season, then this episode signaled that you're looking in the wrong place. On the other hand, the episode managed to include an extended Concentration Camp-inspired torture sequence without breaking the comic tone, so there's that.
What actually happened
In the season opener, "Endless Terror," we pick up where we left off, with Claudia confronting the immortal Paracelsus and Myka getting surgery for her ovarian cancer. Both things are wrapped up pretty quickly — Claudia gets enslaved by Paracelsus and forced to try and kill her friends, Myka's cyst was benign all along.
Then Paracelsus assembles a time machine that allows physical (rather than mental) travel, with Claudia's unwilling help. He zooms back 500 years, to the day he was bronzed originally, and kills the Regents, taking absolute control over Warehouse 9. That means Warehouse 13 is instantly revamped into a high-tech futuristic version, chock full 'o' dystopia, because Paracelsus has had 500 years to remake it in his own image.
So Pete and Myka leap back in time, chasing Paracelsus, and have to stop him from killing the Regents and reclaiming Warehouse 9. Meanwhile, Artie gets himself captured and nearly tortured by his friends (who don't know him because it's an alternate reality.) Steve has to keep the time tunnel open for Pete and Myka, while Claudia rescues Artie, sort of.
In the end, Paracelsus is roundly defeated, but Myka realizes that Pete helped Paracelsus because Pete thought Myka was dying of cancer and Paracelsus offered to help. And the evil Benedict Valda of Paracelsus' alternate universe finds a way to survive in our world. Which means a few more episodes of evil Mark Sheppard, so that's a win.
The Alternate Warehouse
Warehouse 13 has usually managed to circle back to a few major themes during the course of its run: the abuse of power, the way in which objects take on a meaning that outlives people, and what happens when the wrong people have forbidden knowledge.
So the alternate Warehouse, in which Paracelsus controls everything, is one of the purest explorations of these themes yet. Much like the episode where a drug company nearly gets control over the Warehouse, this shows what happens when people use these powerful items for their own gain. Paracelsus has managed to duplicate some of the worst objects, turning people into his drones — Pete's jealousy that this Warehouse has the Borg is a standout funny moment — and he's been experimenting with combining artifacts, using human subjects in a way that reminds Artie of the Holocaust.
What's new, and somewhat fascinating, about this version of the "abuse of power" idea is that Paracelsus is obsessed with science as both a means and a goal — his slogans and his minions both spout a weird version of scientism in which science is a kind of god. And yet, he's mostly doing pseudoscience. There's no way to build a real science around magic tablespoons and haunted antiques and things. Paracelsus has somehow fooled himself into thinking that these objects are a valid field of scientific research, and that he's bringing rationality to the previously superstitious Warehouse.
But even beyond the destructiveness of abusing these objects, there's the fact that the rational response to them is to shrug and admit that they're bewildering and somewhat nonsensical. The way Artie more or less does.
Yes, this felt rushed
The downside to this episode was the way it seemed to sweep things like Myka's cancer and Claudia's transformation into a new caretaker under the rug — those seemed to be major challenges at the end of last season, but they were put on hold so we could defeat Paracelsus quickly.
Of course, both of these things seem likely to return later in the season — Paracelsus genuinely seems to have believed that Myka was dying, and the fact that Pete went to such lengths to save her is also a thing. And Claudia says something vague about how stuff is changing, but she can't say how yet. Presumably by the end of the season, we'll get more payoff on both of those lingering issues.
And then there's the "Claudia's sister" issue, which I'd forgotten about during the long, long hiatus — and which this episode didn't quite help me remember. Claudia's sister was believed to be dead, until Claudia got bronzed and Artie need some DNA to unbronze her before she disintegrated. So Artie used a blood sample from Claudia's actually-quite-alive sister, and all he would tell Claudia is that Claire is "a dangerous woman."
So in this episode, Artie still won't tell Claudia anything, but Claudia keeps insisting that she's old enough to make her own decisions. Guessing that Claudia's sister and her destiny as Warehouse keeper will dovetail somehow? But time will tell, unless it gets warped again.