The TV Series
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
It must be tough to compete against Sharknado. If anything, Universal's DVD collection of the fourth season of the silly yet fun artifact hunting saga Warehouse 13 exists as a brick-like monument to the fickleness of the cable biz. After Warehouse's first three seasons proved to be a solid hit, SyFy ordered an extra helping of episodes for this 2012-13 season, bringing the total up to twenty. Bad move. The silliness and appealing cast camaraderie is still there, but mostly this season stands out for its bloat, whiplash-inducing changes in tone, and frustrating, awkward multi-episode stories. By the time this season finished its run last month, SyFy announced that Warehouse 13's fifth season will be its final one - a shortened six-episode arc, to wrap things up.
This season of Warehouse 13 opens with a cliffhanger of monumental proportions - the warehouse has blown up, destroying everything within! A massive bomb blast has vaporized the contents of the cavernous Warehouse 13, a storehouse for several centuries' worth of artifacts (supernaturally possessed objects, usually connected with a historic figure or event, which have an adverse effect on whomever touches them). A crispy death is spared for Warehouse caretaker Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) and his agents Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly), however, thanks to the self-sacrificing efforts of sexy time-traveling agent H. G. Wells (Jaime Murray). Outside the warehouse, other devastating things are happening. New agent Steve Jinks (Aaron Ashmore) has been killed by artifact-wielding interloper Walter Sykes (Anthony Michael Hall). Meanwhile, the Warehouse's intimidating yet benevolent Regent overseer, Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder), has dissolved into a pile of dust - with hippie-girl innkeeper Leena (Genelle Williams) and cyber-girl agent Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) looking on in horror. All of these situations gets resolved quickly (and absurdly), although Artie's efforts to un-do the warehouse's destruction results in him being hounded for several episodes by an evil priest named Brother Adrian (Brent Spiner). Adrian has a way of burrowing himself into Artie's psyche - eventually causing a shocking tragedy to occur at mid-season - but he's a paltry excuse for a villain.
Aside from the overreaching, uncharacteristically dark story arc threaded throughout this season, the Warehouse 13 episodes compiled here consists of more of the same stuff you always loved/hated - only much lazier. Perhaps the increased load of seven extra episodes took a tool on the writing staff, but it seems like they're relying too much on the cliche-ridden aspects of the lead characters without bothering to give them much depth (only Artie gets an opportunity to stretch). Several times, Myka spouts off the most arcane of historic tidbits, as if she were a walking, talking Wikipedia (at least they're not making her a bizarro-world karate expert as often). The frat-boyish Pete is made to appear even dumber this season, making him the Homer Simpson of the outfit. Claudia's rapid-fire hipster witticisms are more annoying than ever, as well. The sense of fatigue carries over into the plots themselves, which mostly concern Agents A and B getting assigned to an artifact hunting mission while Agents C and D trek off on a similar trip, split evenly down the middle. There are some good episodes this season, particularly the self-contained ones which allow the cast to loosen up and have some fun (Personal Effects, Parks and Rehabilitation, and The Sky's the Limit stand out in that regard).
Of course, there's an elephant in the room when speaking of Warehouse 13's fourth season, and that's the mid-season offing of a regular character. Normally, I'm all for surprise developments that shake up the balance of a long-running series, but this one is handled in a manner that's both pandering and ineffective. With his brain scrambled under the influence of Brother Adrian, Artie accidentally shoots and kills Leena - who was there to help him through his psychotic episode. Artie's subsequent guilt over the incident allows for some excellent work from Saul Rubinek, but the whole thing seemed kind of random and unnecessary. That it involved one of the few "normal" characters, one that didn't have enough to do or much in the way of a back story, stings all the more. Adding insult to injury, the writers quickly replaced sweet Leena with a good looking yet utterly bland psychiatrist, played by actress Kelly Hu. Makes you wonder if there are any shark tanks in the warehouse to be jumped over.
On a more positive note, this particular W-13 season is packed with guest stars, mainly from actors known for other sci-fi television shows. Making return appearances are Faran Tahir, Lindsay Wagner, Rene Auberjonois, Kate Mulgrew, Roger Rees, and Jeri Ryan. Also appearing are Polly Walker (Caprica), James Marsters, and Anthony Head ( both of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as the artifact hunters' new adversaries, along with enjoyable single-episode turns from Joel Grey, Dee Wallace, Laura Innes, Sam Huntington, Nora Zehetner, Missi Pyle, and Cherie Currie of The Runaways (as herself).
Warehouse 13: Season Four consists of the following episodes, spread over five discs:
4-01 ____ 23/Jul/12 ____ A New Hope
4-02 ____ 30/Jul/12 ____ An Evil Within
4-03 ____ 06/Aug/12 ____ Personal Effects
4-04 ____ 13/Aug/12 ____ There's Always a Downside
4-05 ____ 20/Aug/12 ____ No Pain, No Gain
4-06 ____ 27/Aug/12 ____ Fractures
4-07 ____ 10/Sep/12 ____ Endless Wonder
4-08 ____ 17/Sep/12 ____ Second Chance
4-09 ____ 24/Sep/12 ____ The Ones You Love
4-10 ____ 01/Oct/12 ____ We All Fall Down
4-11 ____ 29/Apr/13 ____ The Living and the Dead
4-12 ____ 06/May/13 ____ Parks and Rehabilitation
4-13 ____ 13/May/13 ____ The Big Snag
4-14 ____ 20/May/13 ____ The Sky's the Limit
4-15 ____ 03/Jun/13 ____ Instinct
4-16 ____ 10/Jun/13 ____ Runaway
4-17 ____ 17/Jun/13 ____ What Matters Most
4-18 ____ 24/Jun/13 ____ Lost & Found
4-19 ____ 01/Jul/13 ____ All the Time in the World
4-20 ____ 08/Jul/13 ____ The Truth Hurts
With twenty episodes spread out over five discs, this season of Warehouse 13 visually fares slightly better than the previous season set. The digitally shot 16x9 widescreen picture is cleanly mastered with a pristine, bright picture. The photography is typical of most made-for-cable fare, but the nicer production on this particular season lends itself to a more polished looking presentation on disc.
Like the previous season set, Warehouse 13: Season Four contains a good 5.1 Dolby Digital English soundtrack as the only audio option. It's a clearly mixed, pleasant track with dialogue and sound effects given equal prominence. Optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also offered on all of the episodes.
A generous amount of extras are included on each disc here, although the goods number a little less than what was on the Season Three set. The commentaries on previous seasons have been replaced with similar, descriptive podcasts with lesser-quality audio. All of these casually done tracks have observations from executive producer Jack Kenny, who is joined on certain episodes by Scagliotti, Kelly, McClintock and an assortment of other behind-the-scenes folks. Deleted and/or Extended Scenes are offered on half the episodes here, along with the ever-amusing Gag Reel (3:44) on Disc Five. That disc also contains Grand Designs, a five-part web-only series. Strangely, the Greatest Gift holiday episode from the previous season is not included here, which is a mystery since it was already released on the European third season set. Previews on Disc One round out the bonus content.
Is it time for the agents to hang up their purple gloves? Year four of Warehouse 13 expands the SyFy series to more episodes a season (from 13 to 20), which has an exhausting effect on a show that was already struggling with getting a good balance between the goofy and the serious. The artifact hunting format leads to a few worthwhile self-contained episodes, but mostly this season is defined by how sprawling and messy it's become. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.