EUREKA: The Autistic Kid Ruins the Timeline

EUREKA is such a delightful, well meaning, entertaining series that it might be the only show on TV that can turn Baltar into a good guy, an autistic teen-aged kid into a bad guy, slightly alter all (but five) of its characters, slightly alter its setting, slightly alter every relationship in town, set up two scenarios where the two male leads (Carter and Henry) will have a daily opportunity to have sex with women under false pretenses (depending on one’s feelings about action, morality, and alternate timelines), and most of us will just shrug and sigh, “Oh, Eureka, you silly thing, what are you doing now?”

“Founder’s Day,” the fourth season opener, is a sort-of interesting but not really engaging episode – at least until the last ten minutes. “Founder’s Day” is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Eureka’s founding, so all sorts of “let’s pretend it’s 1950″ things are going on: people are wearing period outfits, old tech is being displayed on the street, and Henry is repairing the “Founders Car” in the middle of the street because … well, because they need him standing in the middle of the street, probably.

EUREKA is that sort of show, where the things that need to happen, happen. Henry needs to be there so he and Carter can chat in vague terms about Carter’s unhappiness at breaking up with Tess, and to firmly establish that Carter is grumpy about Founder’s Day, letting everyone know in his low, grumbling way that he’s not going to take part in anything. Never mind that it makes more sense to fix the car at Henry’s garage – Henry can’t talk to Carter way out there unless Carter goes way out there, and there’s too many other important things Carter needs to somehow see right here for that to happen.

Even if you hadn’t seen the previews for the episode (and I hadn’t, save for an image of Baltar in WWII-era civilian clothes) you know there’s going to be some kind of time travel going on just because it’s Founder’s Day. EUREKA doesn’t usually try to surprise you with plot twists as much as it does with how characters react to those twists. The only real question is whether the time travel is going to be 2010 folks going back, or 1950 folks coming forward.

It’s 2010 folks going backwards as Carter, Henry, Allison, Fargo, and Jo end up at “Camp Eureka,” the military base that existed on the spot where the town would eventually be founded a few years later. Typical stuff happens next: right guy/wrong place Carter meets Dr. Trevor Grant (Baltar) and gets himself arrested but escapes, sensible Henry blends in, well-meaning Allison becomes a nurse, Jo gets in a big fight, and Fargo ends up naked.

It’s a so-so episode, but it’s the first ep back in months and it’s not bad and everyone’s doing what you’d expect them to do, so it works inoffensively enough.

There’s a big, mean military guy who serves as the episode’s baddie because he thinks they’re all spies that need to be captured (not an outrageous thought, really), and Dr. Grant becomes their new ally. It’s a weird role for James Callis because Dr. Grant is so … transient, almost. I mean, he’s there and he’s helpful, and maybe that’s it – I’m just not used to Baltar being helpful so his presence feels muted. Hopefully, the role will require a bit more life as we move forward.

Carter and Henry do their “Uh, Henry, I saw this doohickey machine someplace important.” “Jack, you saw the Einstein/Grant Time Machine? That could have caused everything!” routine when they see the same machine Allison’s autistic kid Kevin was tinkering with back in 2010 in the middle of the street.

Their presence in 1947 is, in other words, the autistic kid’s fault.

Whoopsie.

The show then tries to walk that delicate line on how to handle autism. On the one hand, they don’t want to say Kevin doesn’t understand what he’s doing, but on the other, they don’t want to give him so much agency that he’s the new bad guy, or at least, in EUREKAn terms, the new Fargo causing people to jump timelines because he tinkers with an old machine and sends a signal to the Original Timeline 5′s cell phones. After they point the blame at Kevin, Carter asks, “Do you think he did it on purpose?” just so we know he doesn’t think Kevin did.

A crazy plan is hatched that’s Straight Outta Hill Valley, as everyone has to have their cell phones with them at 11:00 when Henry needs to find the exact right frequency to send them forward in time, or they’ll get stuck in 1947 forever and ever.

It’s always hilarious when time travel is dependent on one fixed point in time. Carter and Allison run around. I forget why. It makes the most sense for everyone to simply stay in the special lab where they can lock the door and stay away from the bad guy military man, but I’m sure there was a reason of some kind. They end up at the camp dance – which continues despite their being five possible spies running loose on the base because, well, it all looks like WWII and WWII movies need to have a dance hall scene.

So they have it and because it’s EUREKA you just roll with it. EUREKA is like Billy Joel – why fight off the pop catchiness of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” or “Matter of Trust?” Does it make you more awesome? No, it really doesn’t. What, somehow “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is uncool but REM’s “End of the World” is awesome? Why, because Michael Stipe either pretends to forget the words or can’t be bothered to remember them, and then tries to convince their fans that the only reason they’re playing the frakking song is because they’re on MTV and MTV is making them play it? Screw you, 1991 Michael Stipe. Play your hits. The Cougar Man was right – you might not want to be a pop singer, but you are. Deal. Hear that cheering when you start singing? That means your fans want to hear it. If a song is good enough for you to write, record, and slap on an album, and good enough for your fans to like, then you’re good enough to frakking remember it and play it and not act like you’re embarrassed by a song the dumb common folk like.

Ahem. Right. EUREKA.

EUREKA is never going to be ashamed at being a pop program, so they have the dance hall scene and they let Carter and Allison kiss – “for luck,” that sly dog Carter says – because Carter, silly, Right Guy/Wrong Place Carter forgot his cell phone in his other coat, which is now being worn by Grant. This is another of those “it happens only because EUREKA needs it to happen” bits. Why Grant has to switch coats with Carter is because … I don’t know. You tell me. At this point, they’re both in period clothes and they’re both on the radar of Military Bad Guy and the costume change doesn’t do anything to hide Allison so they switch clothes for no internally satisfying reason. They just do because …

Well, because it gives EUREKA an excuse to have Carter and Allison say sweet things about how “if I’m going to be stuck in the past, I want it to be with you” and play kissy face and, most importantly, because if Grant has Carter’s jacket then he has Carter’s cell phone, and because he has Carter’s cell phone, Grant gets to come to the future.

Everything else back to normal, though, right?

Not right.

Surprisingly, EUREKA does not hit the Giant Reset Button and put everything back in its own place. Instead, it hits the Small but Significant Reboot Button. The Original Timeline 5 all make it back, but there’s all sorts of subtle (and a few not-so-subtle) changes. Playing totally to the geek logic the show so endearingly plays with, time travel actually does cause a ripple in time and brings the OT5 back to a place that is Eureka, but isn’t exactly their Eureka.

Each of them finds a new status-quo awaiting them. Carter goes home to find Tess waiting for him on the couch. (Because they broke up while she was in Australia. Did you know that? No, because EUREKA never actually showed you that scene until the “Previously on EUREKA” opening, meaning they showed you something new in a package of things you supposedly already knew. It would be infuriating if it was LOST, but it’s EUREKA, so we just shake our fingers at their naughtiness.) AFAIC, this is great news, because Carter/Tess is a much better dynamic than Carter/Allison.

Jo goes back to the station, wanting to find Zane to tell him she made a mistake in not agreeing to marry him. (They actually do show you this; I just didn’t mention it.) And she goes to the station to find Zane and not Global Dynamics because … well, because EUREKA needs her to do that because New Zane is in jail and he and Jo were never in love and the idea that he’d marry her ridiculous and only possible … wait for it … in some alternate universe. Burn!

No word on whether she’s frakked Max Headroom in this timeline or not.

Henry goes back to the garage to find that he’s married to Grace, who I don’t ever remember being around until this episode. This means that both he and Carter are involved with women under – from their timeline’s perspective – false pretenses. The women are in love with them, but Carter and Henry both have all the memories of the Original Timeline.

Moral Quandary #1: If you loved your girlfriend and broke up, then you went to the past and came back to find an altered timeline where you and the girlfriend are together … do you get to sleep with her even if she’s not “your” girlfriend, but rather an “alternate” version of your girlfriend who’s dating you?

Moral Quandary #2: You’re single. You go to the past. Come back. Find yourself married. Do you sex your “wife” or not?

Something tells me BSG would have answered these questions with more nudity.

Fargo comes back to find that he’s running Global Dynamics, though we only know that because of the preview for the next episode.

And Allison – poor, Nothing Ever Goes Exactly Right for Her Allison – comes home to find Kevin is no longer autistic and appears as typical as any other teenaged kid in Eureka. This means Allison, at some point, is going to be the one who has to make the decision whether to keep the altered timeline with her non-autistic kid, or bring back the original timeline, where her child is autistic. Poor, Nothing Ever Goes Exactly Right for Her Allison.

Much like WAREHOUSE 13, EUREKA has upped its game in its season opener. The last ten minutes of “Founder’s Day” turns the episode from expected to unexpected and set up a season’s worth of our characters in this alternate world. I would say it should be fun, but it’s EUREKA, so of course it’ll be fun.

They did just use an autistic kid to screw up the forces of time and space, after all, and somehow played that as a big, fun, unintended whoopsie.

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