Written by J. R. Orci
Directed by Fred Toye
In which Sydney continues to follow leads on the whereabouts of Vaughn’s killer, which leads to an unexpected theft of a potentially deadly material, while an old friend moves on...
Status Report - Final Analysis
With much of the outside interference already dealt with in the wake of the season premiere, the writers turn towards the next challenge in this episode: dealing with the notoriously fatal “baby plot”. All the drama behind the scenes was bad enough, but nothing kills a series faster than having an action lead suddenly get pregnant. Granted, the writers didn’t have much choice, but it doesn’t change the fact that options dwindle and plots get a bit cliché.
It’s clear that the writers are struggling with the idea of Sydney being sidelined due to her condition, and there are shades of the infamous “absent center” concept that the writers for “X-Files” tried to use when Mulder left Scully behind with a bun in the oven. This series has always contained certain similar plot elements to “X-Files”, but this is not the best plot thread to replicate.
There’s even the hint, perhaps open to interpretation, that the person in the advanced cryogenic device is Vaughn. While it’s true that it could be someone else (like, say, Rambaldi), the implication is there. JJ made it clear that things are not what they seem in the whole “Vaughn is Dead” plot arc, and this seems like a big clue that he wasn’t lying.
All things being equal, that entire plot thread is not that bad, and it actually continues to explore the idea that Sydney’s extended “family” has some serious issues. When SpyDaddy is the best support one can muster up in a personal crisis, it’s a sign that life has taken a disturbing turn. If the writers weren’t playing Dodgeball with using the Rambaldi mythology as the basis for all this intrigue, it would probably work better. As it is, there’s the impression that the writers are trying very hard to keep the same level of mystique that Rambaldi lends to a plot thread.
But other factors keep intruding on the plot, and in this case, it’s Sydney’s pregnancy and the need to address it. Yes, it’s important that the character have a new and unexpected relationship to deal with, since the aspects of being the daughter, sister, and lover of spies have been covered. The only relationship left is the reversal of the earlier dynamic: being the SpyMommy herself. It brings Sydney’s arc full circle, to a certain extent, since she also gets to live the role of SpyDaddy, tracking down the truth about a duplicitous love.
All those things make sense thematically, but they can’t overcome the reality that this pregnancy plot element is the kiss of death. It’s not just that it cuts down on Sydney’s ability to perform to her usual level, though certainly, her inability to get drop-dead sexy every week is a major problem for a series built around that element. It’s the need to address Sydney going through the typical pregnancy issues. It’s been done a million times, and frankly, the writers can’t make something that standard look fresh. It’s not their fault; it’s something a lot of good shows encounter and falter over.
The producers and writers are addressing this issue by bringing in new cast members to pick up the slack. This episode includes the introduction of the “Vaughn replacement”, Thomas Grace, who gets the shortest and least useful character entrance on the planet during that bar fight. OK, so he’s rough around the edges and definitely not a Vaughn clone. Good to know! But it doesn’t change the fact that with Weiss leaving, this transitional period is painfully slow.
A bit more interesting (and useful to replacing Garner’s sex appeal) is the slow but intriguing introduction of Rachel Gibson, played by the gorgeous Rachel Nichols. Making her loyalties less than obvious is a nice touch, and she ought to do well as Sydney’s stand-in. She may be more similar to Sydney than Grace is to Vaughn, but that’s all for the better. (The writers can’t get her into those outfits Sydney used to wear too soon!)
The issue is that the process of getting these new characters into place and establishing the new dynamic takes time. Take a look at “Stargate: SG-1” and how long it took for that new dynamic to settle in; it was at least the first third of the season, given that the plot can’t simply stop moving forward to accommodate the transition. Adding the “baby plot” to that transition is just making the process more difficult.
One might get the impression that this was a bad episode. In fact, it wasn’t bad at all. The overall plot, connected to a large and complex mystery centering on the truth about Vaughn and his death, is not a bad move. And thematically, Sydney’s situation is bringing her arc full circle. But the mechanics of removing old cast members and replacing them with new faces is hampering the pacing, and Sydney’s pregnancy is very difficult to pull off. Seeing Weiss and Dixon in action was a lot of fun, but even the most true fans of the series would have to admit that having Sydney on the sideline is far from ideal.
Overall, this episode continues the process of shifting the direction of the series, and the writers continue to struggle with the number of changes that need to be addressed. A lot of the established dynamics have been tossed, especially due to Garner’s pregnancy, and the introduction of new characters cannot happen fast enough.
Final Rating: 6/10
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