Thursday, 7 May 2009

A Short Story About Free Will VI - Remember that you're bionic

"Bionic Woman" is the kind of show that had extreme potential for about four episodes, than lost all its appeal when it turned from telling the great mythological arc to the monster of the week, possibly to get a wider audience. Then it got cancelled after only eight episodes, leaving behind a fragment of a story and a couple of great moments.
The interesting thing about "Bionic Woman": It pays off to have seen "Dollhouse" before. There are some similarities in the premise. In "Bionic Woman", a private corporation is developing the technology to "build" bionic people, technically advanced human beings to be used as soldiers. The main character is Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan), a 24 year old San Francisco native who raises her teenage sister (Lucy Hale) by working in a bar and, at the beginning of the story, is dating a genius doctor. After a horrible car accident that leaves her wounded, her boyfriend uses the technology he developed to save her life, and turns her into the "Bionic Woman", including advanced seeing and hearing abilities, two very fast legs and one super-strong arm. One of the unifnished narratives of the show is the question of whether she was picked to become the Bionic Woman, whether there is a greater conspiracy surrounding the Berkut group.
The first arc told in the season evolves around the character of Sarah Corvus (played incredibly well by Battlestar alumni Katee Sackhoff). Sarah is the first Bionic Woman, but the technology used on her is less advanced and puts her in a situation reminiscent of Blade Runner - she is slowly self-destructing, and switches between being aggressive and brutal, emotionless, and extremely vulnerable and just trying to save herself. The conflict between these two characters is well-developed and acted, playing on the good side / bad side cliché story devise so common in Sci-Fi (Buffy-Faith, anyone?).
The moral repercussions of creating a tool from a human being are never really discussed further. There is an eerie sense of violation whenever Jaime's "technician" (not unlike Topher) talks about her body as if it was the property of Berkut - like "what have you done to MY ear" - after all, they invested all that money. But in a way, the fact that Jaime has a will of her own, that she isn't an Active that gets wiped after every engagement, also makes Berkut seem less morally reprehensive, although their actions are not so far from those of the Dollhouse. "Dollhouse" is much more advanced in that respect, leaving not a single character for the viewer to identify with and unable to chose a side to root for. To a certain extent, the "good people" are still easily to pick out in "Bionic Woman", and the potential of the premise is wasted when Sarah Corvus disappears and Jaime stops to care what kind of corporation she is working for, or, as the show attempts to become more appealing and, while doing that, loses the ability to ask bigger questions. The pilot episode of the show was amazing, but by the sixth episode, any momentum gained was spent and wasted (while "Dollhouse" started slow and picked up speed).
In retrospect, the story of "Bionic Woman" is set somewhere between the cold atmosphere of "La Femme Nikita" and the much more complicated and demanding "Dollhouse". It raises the question how tv shows should be made, nowadays - on the one hand, a show with an interesting premise should be able to follow an arc that demands continued attention from the viewer, on the other hand, with the constant threat of being cancelled when the ratings drop, it seems almost impossible to be consequential about this. And sometimes, in the midst of this conflict, great stories can't be told to the end.

"Bionic Woman", 2007, created by David Eick, starring Michelle Ryan, Lucy Hale, Miguel Ferrer, Molly Price, Kevin Rankin, Will Yun Lee, Isaiah Washington, Katee Sackhoff, Jordan Bridges.

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