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Warehouse 13: Snag It, Bag It, Tag It

on Mon, 02/17/2014 - 00:00

At the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones meets with representatives of the United States government and asks about the location of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant that was earlier retrieved by the legendary archeologist. “It’s some place very safe,” he is told. “We have our top men working on it right now.” Just as the closing credits are about to roll, however, the camera shows a crate making its way through an endless aisle inside a dust-gathering warehouse overflowing with similar crates. The message of this concluding scene is clear—the Ark of the Covenant has been lost and forgotten in a sea of government bureaucracy, never to be heard from again.

In July 2009, the Syfy Network expanded upon the final moments of Raiders of the Lost Ark, giving the “some place very safe” an actual location and the “top men working on it” both names and faces. According to Warehouse 13, the warehouse in question is built into a mountain within the desolate Badlands of South Dakota, while the man-in-charge is an overweight, bushy-haired former cryptographer for the NSA named Artie. It was revealed during Raider of the Lost Ark that the Ark of the Covenant had supernatural powers, and the other items contained in this particular warehouse are just as mystical and dangerous. In the end, they have been locked away not because of governmental inefficiency and red tape but in order to keep the general population safe from their inherent powers and aftereffects.

Warehouse 13 follows the adventures of Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) and his latest recruits, Secret Service Agents Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly), as they travel the world in order to “snag, bag and tag” such items. The series utilizes the same format as The X-Files, with the majority of the installments being standalone episodes containing a specific “case” that needs solved by the end of the hour. Like The X-Files, the agents of Warehouse 13 are also polar opposites. Instead of believer and skeptic, however, Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering display a childlike-wonder and “trust your gut” style for the former, and a more tightly-wound, analytical approach for the latter. Or, as Artie Nielsen tells Bering, “He’s intuitive and you have a scrupulous eye for detail. He’s scattershot, you’re meticulous. You look, he leaps.” And just as The X-Files needed both Fox Mulder and Dana Scully to resolve its narratives, the same can be said of Warehouse 13.

Warehouse 13 is more lighthearted than The X-Files but that does not take away from its viewing pleasure. The Syfy drama draws upon a wide assortment of historical and mythological facts as well as fictions for its episodes, with everything from Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod, George Patton’s military helmet, Pandora’s Box and statues of Greek gods Zeus and Hera coming into play. In many ways, watching Warehouse 13 is a crash-course on not only history but pop culture as well, with items from Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Vincent Van Gogh, Frank Lloyd Wright and Edgar Allen Poe also given the artifact treatment.

Like the series itself, many of these items display humorous attributes. The shoes once worn by Richard Nixon, for instance, grants the ability to “tap dance” around the truth, while the juggling balls of W.C. Fields induce drunkenness. Other items are much more dangerous, such as the looking glass of Lewis Carroll—which serves as the prison for an insane Alice Lidell—while the facial compact of axe-murderer Lizzie Borden causes its owner to kill the person that they love the most. Although both Pete Lattimer and especially Myka Bering initially view their new assignment as agents of Warehouse 13 as either punishment or demotion, they quickly realize that their jobs are more important than protecting the president of the United States and more vital than the efforts of any other government agency.

As the series continues over the course of its multiple seasons, the mythology of Warehouse 13 is fleshed out even further. The South Dakota-based facility is the thirteenth rendition of such a warehouse—with the original established by Alexander the Great—and is always located in the country that serves as the dominant world power of its time period. Prior warehouses have thus been located in Egypt, Mongolia, Constantinople, Russia and Great Britain. The leading minds of each generation have also been associated with these warehouses. H.G. Wells, for instance, was an agent of Warehouse 12 in London, while Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, M.C. Escher and Nikola Tesla all played roles in the establishment of Warehouse 13 in the United States.

Because of its long history, the technology of Warehouse 13 is more akin to the past then the present, giving the series a retro style that is reminiscent of modern day steampunk. Instead of guns, the agents of Warehouse 13 use an electrical raygun invented by Nikola Tesla that stuns its victims into unconsciousness, and the group communicates with each other over a handheld audio/video device designed by Philo Farnsworth shortly after he invented the television in 1929. Although the office of Artie Nielsen within Warehouse 13 is equipped with high-tech computer screens and security devices, meanwhile, the keyboards are from first-generation typewriters and the room itself is cluttered with an outdated index card filing system, complimenting the Twenty First Century database that keeps track of the millions of artifacts both stored in the Warehouse and still at-large in the outside world.

In addition to more fully developing its mythology, Warehouse 13 has also grown darker as the seasons have progressed. Many of the “Big Bads” featured on the series, meanwhile, are former agents of the Warehouse, including Artie Nielsen’s one-time partner James McPherson (Roger Rees), H.G. Wells (Jamie Murray) and Paracelsus (Anthony Stewart Head). Instead of incarcerating such dangerous villains, the Warehouse places them in “bronze,” but the effects of the process can also be reversed. H.G. Wells—who in actuality is a woman—and the Sixteenth Century Paracelsus have thus been brought back to the present and inevitably enact plans to either destroy or rule the world using artifacts from Warehouse 13.

While the powers associated with the artifacts have indeed corrupted many of its former agents, numerous cases assigned to Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering are not so black-and-white. In the season one instalment “Resonance,” for instance, a group of bank robbers use a musical recording to lull the employees and patrons of their targets into a state of oblivious happiness. When Lattimer and Bering track down the culprits, they discover that the daughter of the musician who created the song used the stolen money to purchase his original recordings as a way to reconnect with her ailing father. Faced with breaking up the touching reunion, the pair of Warehouse agents fulfill their orders to “snag, bag and tag” but allow the bank robbers themselves to remain free.

During the season four episode “Endless Wonder,” meanwhile, a representative from a pharmaceutical company stumbles upon Warehouse 13 and questions why the items are kept under lock and key. Contained within the endless aisles of artifacts, after all, are devices capable of extending life, curing disease and ending hunger. The representative’s father had died from Parkinson’s disease, and Pete Lattimer shows her an artifact that could have saved him—but with a catch. “To use it, you have to give the disease to someone else,” he explains. “This raincoat, it boosts your immunity to the point that nothing can hurt you, but it turns you into a serial killer. There are things here that could wipe out a country or start a famine. I know you’re heart’s in the right place, but what about your boss? Isn’t it his job to think about money first? What if he has friends that build weapons or want to control governments for ‘all the right reasons?’ Will they always do the right things?”

“Bureaucratic fools!” Indiana Jones exclaims to Marion Ravenwood at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. “They don’t know what they’ve got there.” According to the Syfy drama, the agents of Warehouse 13 are neither bureaucrats nor fools but dedicated preservers of the safety and wellbeing of everyone on the planet. They are also well aware of the uncontrollable powers contained within the artifacts that they regularly “snag, bag and tag,” and while their adventures may not elicit the same big screen thrills of Indiana Jones, they are just as fun and entertaining to watch nonetheless.

Anthony Letizia (February 17, 2014)

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