Wednesday, August 12, 2009


A basic archetype in myth is the quest object. From the earliest epics like Gilgamesh, who sought the secret of eternal life, through Seigfrid's Ring of the Niebelung and the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend and the sutra scrolls in the Chinese epic JOURNEY TO THE WEST, heroes have sought mystical objects or artifacts of great power. In modern myths, Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, Sydney Fox of RELIC HUNTER and now Annja Creed in the paperback series ROGUE ANGEL have hunted down everything from the Ark of the Covenant to Gabriel's Horn.

Where do these heroes put all these fabulous things when they find them? SyFy has a new series that answers that question in WAREHOUSE 13.

The idea of a secret storage for paranormal artifacts has been in the popular consciousness for a while. The warehouse archetype is probably derived from Hanger 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where UFO lore says that the Roswell remains were taken. That was expanded to Area 51 at Groom Lake, Nevada near Las Vegas, where alien tech is supposedly stored while scientists work on reverse engineering it.

That's another form of modern myth - the kind people believe in. The concept was popularized in popular fiction in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK when the Ark ended up locked away in a secret government storehouse. It was around in different forms before that, though. The 1930s pulp hero Doc Savage had a Fortress of Solitude where he kept, not artifacts, but inventions he's seized in his adventures that were too dangerous to let loose in the world.

The archetype appeared in the 80s tv series FRIDAY THE 13TH, as a curio shop that collected cursed mystical objects (coincidentally with 13 in the title too, which may set conspiracy theorists off and running). In the TV/DVD series THE LIBRARIAN it was a secret section in the Metropolitan Public Library. The whole thing was parodied in LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION when Bugs Bunny discovered Area 52 filled with aliens from 50s science fiction films, Daleks from DOCTOR WHO and more.

WAREHOUSE 13 soldifies the archetpe by focusing on the warehouse itself and the people who work there. Artie, the genius in charge of "snagging, bagging and tagging" artifacts is a colorful character brilliantly underplayed by Saul Rubinek in a role that could easily be over the top in a lesser actor's hands. He knows the thousands of items in the warehouse and can pull one up at a moment's notice.

His two agents, Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Mika (Joanne Kelly), are the field workers who hunt down the artifacts. They're a clever match of logic and feelings. She operates by observation and deduction and he works with hunches, and they've reversed the unusual stereotype of female intuition. McClintock plays Pete and does a great job of making likeable a character who could probably get really annoying in real life, and Kelly is wonderful as an agent who at first suffered Pete about as well as Mr Spock would one of the Three Stooges but is rapidly bonding with him.

CCH Pounder is appropriately formidable as their government boss Mrs Frederick, and Genelle Williams as Leena seemed underused until we saw her dispensing some of her wisdom to Artie in "Elements." Leena's real role may be counseler to the team.

Artie was recently joined by a newcomer, Claudia Donovan, a younger genius played by Allison Scagliotti. The day before I watched that episode she gave a moving performance on MENTAL as a girl ... I mean a boy ... you had to be there. I'll say again that she is an awesome actress. Claudia can out-think Artie (the actress calls her the punk to his steam) and their byplay should be as much fun as Pete and Mika. The scene that best describes their relationship has him yelling, "No no no!" and her "Yes yes yes!"

I like smart heroines with a tart sense of humor, in fact I used to play one in D&D (see Jan 24 2008). I can totally see Taryn saying "Serendipity is my stripper name."

The series is building a deep background mythology. Warehouse 13 is its thirteenth incarnation, one of the first being the Great Library at Alexandria; it moves to the center of power in the world and has been in America for 200 years (getting ready to move to India soon?). There's a touch of steampunk too, with devices designed by Nikola Tesla, something of a modern myth himself. It was designed by Tesla, Thomas Edison and MC Escher. Another new touch is that the artifacts are not always the created type - most are common objects that belonged to a historical character with a powerful personality whose traits were imbued into the artifacts. There's just enough talk about quantum reality to plant the series in SF instead of just mysticism.

There's probably a reason why the warehouse myth appeals to SF fans. Most of us collect - books, comics, movies, toys. WAREHOUSE 13 must seem like a fanboy's dream come true.

1 comment:

Orryn said...

Your usual insightful brilliance.

I have to admit that, although I've even been guilty of using similar ideas in certain D&D adventure scenarios, there are aspects of the artifact-warehouse plot point that I find overly contrived and unbelievable. That being said, I'm starting to enjoy the show... it has already improved considerably since its first episode.

And incidentally, I decided last night that we need more scenes with Mika running in them... I'm just sayin'...