Eureka

When Eureka premiered in 2006, Syfy was still Sci Fi, and it was the first scripted premiere for the channel since critically beloved Battlestar Galactica debuted in 2004. Galactica was Sci Fi’s entry into the realm of the high-concept serialized drama (with the Stargate franchise straddling that line between serial and procedural), building on the success of premium cable series and debuting alongside ABC’s Lost in what would prove to be a banner year for complex, ambitious dramatic programming. It was a show Sci Fi believed could build its brand into a competitor within the realm of basic cable, a show that could escape the science fiction ghetto, win major awards, and help build a new, 21st century identity for a channel that lacked one.

And yet although that show remains Sci Fi’s largest success with critics, and will likely go down as its legacy within certain circles, Galactica proved to be little more than a foot in the door when it comes to the channel’s brand identity. Prequel series Caprica failed. Blood and Chrome, another proposed Galactica prequel series that some presumed would be a no-brainer given its focus on space battles as compared to Caprica’s space opera, was passed on by the channel earlier this year. While the forthcoming Defiance suggests that the new Syfy is not entirely allergic to space, it remains a niche within a larger brand identity, a brand identity ushered in by an unassuming episodic drama by the name of Eureka.

If this opening seems to be spending more time talking about context than about “Just Another Day,” Eureka’s series finale, there’s a reason. Unfortunately, scheduling and conflicts meant that no one on staff who has actually seen the show in its entirety was available to cover it, which means that you’re stuck with someone who has seen a grand total of one episode (“Crossing Over,” the season six crossover episode with Warehouse 13, which I’ve reviewed for the site before). While I will get to the finale in a moment, I wanted to take at least a few paragraphs to explore the lack of credit Eureka receives for being the precursor to Warehouse 13, and Alphas, and Haven, and the current stable of lightly serialized episodic dramas as a whole. Although the show’s ratings have fallen off from their initial high, which was to that point the highest-rated series telecast in Sci Fi history, the show stands as a legacy of a cable network finding its foundation with an under-the-radar success: so far under the radar, in fact, that I hadn’t seen more than a single episode (although I mostly blame that on being in Canada at the time, which is my excuse for [too] many things).

From what I’ve seen of the show—which I suppose includes stray trailers, discussions, and posts on Bear McCreary’s blog in addition to the single episode—Eureka is about a community as much as it is about “science fiction,” although a perusal of Wikipedia suggests that it’s a community that has been transformed, transported, and terrorized by science in its various forms over the course of its five seasons. Accordingly, “Just Another Day” captures the community as it prepares to disband, the ties between these people—and robots, and bio-organisms, and whatever else I missed over the course of five seasons—put to the test as the Department of Defense prepares to evict them from the town.

While Eureka isn’t like other televisual small towns, given the presence of Global Dynamics, the series ends its run like most shows that follow a similar structure. Although a few lingering storylines are wrapped up, there are no large-scale mysteries to be solved, leaving a minimal serialized burden as far as plot is concerned. Instead, the focus is on characters, who are faced with saying good-bye, or who struggle to confront lingering feelings as their time together runs out. It even becomes a reunion of sorts with Carter’s daughter Zoe returning from college, while we get one last visit with recurring star Wil Wheaton’s Isaac after he stumbles his way through a wormhole—naked—and into the final “threat-of-the-week.”

That threat largely proves a distraction, something that forces the characters to stop focusing on the town’s impending closure and instead focus on saving everyone in it. The randomly generating wormholes feel suitably random, to the point where the threat never really manifests as anything too eventful (especially given that its only damage was cutting apart a robotic Sheriff’s deputy), but the wormholes give the characters a reason to overcome their tension and realize they can persevere when they work together (which sounds fairly lame when you type it out, but forms the basis of most episodic ensembles). It’s a simple and effective way for the show to get to the point where Carter flies through a wormhole watching his life—conveniently but meaningfully limited to the period he lived in Eureka—flash before his eyes as he works to save the town. In coming together to save the town, the characters are reminded not only of what they’re about to lose, but also how much they’re willing to sacrifice to keep it.

It’s a touching moment that spreads out to other characters, with Henry rescuing his wife Grace from prosecution, Jo proposing to Donovan, and Carter discovering that Allison is pregnant. And yet, while I saw my Twitter feed lighting up with emotional responses (most of which were retweeted by Syfy’s Craig Engler), I couldn’t really be on the same page: I didn’t know these characters, and while I understood the narrative codes being deployed, they didn’t have the same effect on me as they would someone who spent six years of their lives with these characters.

And yet, perhaps coincidentally or perhaps purposefully, “Just Another Day” had a character that could relate to my predicament. Felicia Day’s Holly spends the episode struggling to recover lost memories after—and I may have this wrong, given that it sounds kind of bizarre out of context, so please correct me—being killed, then trapped in a virtual reality, and then stored in a computer, and now transferred into some sort of bio-body. There’s a point early in the episode where she’s at the Café Diem, watching as everyone around her mourns the town’s imminent closure, and she says something that captures my general response to the episode: “I want to catch up so I can feel sad too.”

Given the rather strange circumstances of my viewing of this series finale, I’d argue that’s the best compliment I can pay the episode. I don’t know how the show’s characters held up over time, and it’s possible that the plot went off the rails at some point along the way, but “Just Another Day” made me wish that I had seen more of the show so that I could fully engage with the moments being brought to life. Holly eventually recovers enough of her memory—or at least sees enough to confirm what others tell her about her memories—to return to Fargo to start a life together outside of Eureka, and by the end of the episode I felt something similar: I might not be able to entirely fill in the gaps, but there was an earnest quality to this finale that made it easy to go along with the ride.

The one cross “Just Another Day” is forced to bear, though, is the complicated circumstances surrounding its exit. The episode is laden, to the point of distraction, with meta-dialogue about the show’s cancellation, as the tale of the “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” six-episode sixth season weaves its way through Fargo’s dialogue and the D.O.D. rushed timetable for packing up the town. I am ultimately sympathetic to this, and I think the show’s producers are right to be at least a bit bitter since, as Fargo notes and I discuss above, “we paved the way for those guys.” But there comes a point where those meta references are a distraction, recurring slightly too often in the episode and taking away from the more resonant character work that—despite the rushed conclusion—doesn’t necessarily ring less true.

In the end, James Callis’ Trevor Grant—now Trent Rockwell, and speaking in an accent I was not prepared for—returns to save the day: Not only has Carter managed to save the town from imploding, but Grant has purchased it from the government, ensuring that the town Eureka will live on even after the show Eureka leaves the air. It’s an ending that piles on both a pregnancy and an engagement and which smooths out all the rough edges to give everyone their happy ending. While it’s possible this betrays dark undertones I never had the chance to see, I somehow doubt that. Eureka strikes me as a show that was silly and sweet more than it was ever sinister, its emotional conflicts real enough to resonate with audiences but temporary enough to foreground the hope that keeps the community together. “Just Another Day,” removed from the pressures of wrapping up long-term serial arcs, revealed to this interloper an episodic drama that knows its audience, knows its characters, and delivered an episode that spoke to those relationships in a simple, effective fashion.

And while it may not resonate with me as it might with fans, it truly did make me want to feel sad too.

Stray observations:

  • I’m sure there are a bunch of references to past episodes I didn’t entirely follow in this episode, but I did go to YouTube to confirm my suspicion the trippy final scene on the road out of town was a cyclical return to an early quirk revealed in the “Pilot.” I thought that clever.
  • I loved following Bear McCreary’s blog posts about Battlestar Galactica (and Human Target), so I’m excited to finally have at least a little bit more context for his posts on Eureka. You can find all his posts on Eureka, and later tonight his post on the finale, here.
  • It always interested me, from afar, how Eureka became “Internet Geekdom Central,” with Day and Wheaton joined here by Mythbusters’ Grant Imahara.
  • I always enjoy Felicia Day-delivered innuendo: “I remember getting wormholed by Doctor Fargo!”
  • Interesting to see the studio rushing out the season five DVD into stores tomorrow, which seems like a good strategy to close off the show with one last hurrah. It’s a strategy I think a lot of shows ending might consider using more in the future, if the production company has enough lead time (which I suppose wouldn’t be common with network series).
  • While I know it’s not ideal for someone who hasn’t seen the show to be writing this review, I hope I’ve at least offered some kind of starting point for the discussion to follow, and I’m really interested in hearing what fans thought of the finale.