[Note: The following post may contain spoilers for any and all aired episodes of Warehouse 13.]
Hello, everybody and welcome to the Farnsworth Society, where we, as a group, re-watch television shows that are dreampunk, steampunk, cyberpunk, anypunk-related and meet weekly to discuss each episode one at a time. Our first show is the steampunkalicious Warehouse 13 (it only seems fitting to begin the Farnsworth Society with this show, doesn’t it?). Today, we’re covering the second season episode, “Age Before Beauty”. And please fill up the comments with your own thoughts, remembrances, favorite things about the episode, absolutely anything. And, yes, spoilers for any other aired episodes from Seasons 1-3 are allowed. We considered making it spoiler-free, but then decided it would likely constrain conversation far too much. Let’s get to it, kids!
Before saying anything else about “Age Before Beauty,” I have to confess that I don’t tend to like the patented protagonists-rapidly-aging episode that has appeared on practically every sci-fi show ever from Star Trek to The X-Files and beyond. Besides having to contend with generally bad old age makeup, there is something about the scenario that usually rubs me the wrong way, if only because the actors’ attempts at playing elderly are often less than convincing.
With that said, I actually enjoy Warehouse 13‘s spin on the trope a great deal. While I will freely admit that Myka’s old age prosthetics aren’t much more impressive than those featured on any other show or film, this is smoothed over by the fact that Myka’s rapid aging isn’t the focus of the episode, and wisely so. It is actually used very sparingly. After she collapses, she has two or three short scenes in the hospital bed, but the plot mostly sticks with Pete, Artie, and Claudia trying to cure her. Her being in peril is central to the suspense in the last half of the episode, but unlike other genre shows, her sudden elderliness isn’t played for comedy or slapstick. Furthermore, what is most interesting about the episode isn’t the aging (steampunkily brought on by Man Ray‘s camera!) but the show’s sharply satirical take on the modeling industry, as well as its exploration of a side of Myka not previously examined.
As for the former, Pete and Myka’s infiltration of Fashion Week is as fun, zippy, and quippy as ever, with clever jabs at the warped perception of beauty these people have–no one but a supermodel could look at Myka in her dazzling get-up and think she’s overweight–as well as at the vicious backstabbing and general bitchiness of models, designers, and everyone in between. The indication that practically anyone could be responsible for aging the models because just about everyone has a bone to pick with somebody is summed up in Pete’s hilarious line, the best of the episode, “It’s like a game of gay Clue!” Fashion, as frivolous as it may seem, truly is something that could drive people to murder.
And as far as Myka is concerned, modeling is something she has no interest in doing. Much like her dearth of knowledge regarding comic books in “Mild-Mannered” (which proved to be particularly ironic, since she basically is a hero out of a comic book), she similarly feels ill at ease with the concept of dressing up to show herself off. It isn’t how she sees herself. She was the bookish girl who stayed home reading while her beautiful sister was out on dates. Her faulty perception of herself, not realizing how gorgeous she is, underlines yet another rather fascinating side of Myka. Intellectualism and athleticism don’t tend to go hand in hand, at least in our society. We don’t usually consider a bookish person as being someone who could also kick someone’s ass forty-two different ways, and yet Myka can. She is an exceedingly rare mix of highly intelligent character–and not just any kind of smart, but book-smart–who is also a flawless, trained fighter (and what a great message it is, that a reader could grow up to want to take part in adventures the likes of which are straight out of the pages of her favorite books). This indicates that she has too myopic a view of herself. She is already a very unique, unusual individual, and doesn’t even realize it.
One can still see, though, why these skills wouldn’t necessarily lead her to self-confidence regarding her attractiveness. She thinks of herself as being more of a “guy” in many respects or at least doesn’t feel comfortable with traditionally feminine pursuits. On the one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying with a different gender than society indicates one should be a part of (to clarify, I’m not saying that Myka wants to be a man, just that she gravitates more towards her, for lack of better terminology, stereotypically “masculine” side). On the other, however, her fear of acting like a model seems to indicate that her self-esteem is undermined, to some degree, by not considering herself to be pretty. Pete’s truly lovely words inspire her because they honor both aspects of herself. He confirms that the first thing he noticed about her was how beautiful she was on the surface–something she never realized about herself–but only once he came to work with her and know her on a deeper level did he realize how beautiful she actually is, meaning her inner beauty, the blend of brains and brawn that make her such a unique person.
Meanwhile, Myka’s thread is rather subtly paralleled through Claudia, another Warehouse 13 woman not often in touch with her softer side, at least when it comes to romance and dating. She has always felt more comfortable in the realm of her brain than her heart. Claudia can hack into just about any computer system and reprogram sophisticated technologies without breaking a sweat–if Myka is an action hero, Claudia is a techie hero–but when it comes to guys, she is all but completely clueless. Artie’s attempt to give her a “birds and bees” talk is funny, sweet, and charmingly awkward, as is poor Claudia’s first miserable date with Todd. Watching her inelegant navigation through choppy, unchartered waters is one of this episode’s primary joys–her mid-date meltdown is particularly lovable–as is her developing father-daughter relationship with Artie.