“I couldn’t solve her problem.”
Episode two of Scorpion! And do any of the malaise-y, tired, overdone aspects of last week’s pilot get toned down and refined this week?
They do not!
In fact, there’s now even a pretty heavy-handed (albeit succinct) introduction sequence in place that gets you up to date on the show’s premise. This sequence’s hands are so heavy though, they’re dragging on the floor. It makes sure to tell you that Walter’s IQ is higher than Einstein’s, as well as outright show you each member of Team Scorpion alongside a name cyron as their “special ability” is outlined.
What’s frustrating here is that I don’t think there’s any way anyone could have been confused by last week’s pilot, or that these limited details wouldn’t have naturally revealed themselves through the episode anyway. This reeks of a show without confidence, afraid you’re not going to know that Happy is a mechanics expert or that Sylvester is a human calculator. Once again the “true story” disclaimer is slapped on just as another last-ditch integrity attempt.
Right from the jump we’re given more of a young Walter growing up with the difficulties of being a genius, and at this point, it feels like these will be a mainstay of the show as they try to link to our main story in the present. This week we at least get the introduction of Walter’s sister, Megan, who suffers from MS, because it seems like everyone on this show needs to be tortured in some way, especially if they’re connected to Walter. The show’s attempt to connection Megan with the plot doesn’t feel smart and organic like how Fringe would so effortlessly balance these things, but rather sloppy and manipulative. There’s this creepiness that courses through things as Walter makes eye contact with Paige’s boy, as he speaks on how everyone is special and important, just in different ways.
The episode is full of this hokey sort of thing like when the Governor worries about his bio-hacked daughter (we’ll get into it) and Paige says that he knows what he’s going through because she “has a child too” just as the music gets ultra-sweet and grandiose. Feelings are going on, it tells us! Feelings are everywhere!
Along these same lines, Walter and Paige’s relationship continues to be crammed down our throat as the two just seem to be alone together at Scorpion headquarters more than anyone else on the team. Everyone else inexplicably seems to be gone so they can eke things along further as talks are had on a surface level and documents are left out on tables because it’s convenient for them to be found.
The main story going on here that tries to organize all of this is that the Governor of California calls on Scorpion when his daughter is “bio-hacked.” Basically all of her major organs are just shutting down one by one, with a virus made specifically to work on her, and she has 24 hours left to live as the team tries to save her and catch the bad guy. This pretty much feels like the show just mashing up a lot of clichéd ideas and buzzwords into a plot, with the final escalation being that the Governor himself is also the last intended victim, with the culprit intending to bio-hack him and stop his heart.
Let’s get into bio-hacking for a minute, because how can you not? The episode simplifies the topic by pretty bluntly saying that computers can be hacked, but also that humans can get hacked, which is what bio-hacking is all about. I have no doubt that bio-hacking is real, but it’s presented in such a farcical manner here, as if they’re saying “time travel” every time it’s said. It feels foreign. But this episode is all about bio-hacking so if you can’t get behind it, you’re not going to be able to stand anything that’s going on here.
It’s upsetting that the idea behind bio-hacking, where you take someone’s DNA, build a custom-made virus for someone off of it, and then hit them back with it, isn’t a terrible idea. It’s something that could even work quite well if in the right hands, but it doesn’t even feel like it belongs in this world with how it’s treated here.
The episode moves along smoothly enough with the team splitting up (although Walter and Paige get to spend time lounging in the breezy, sunny outside) all trying to attack different aspects of the crime to save the Governor’s daughter, whether it’s grabbing chemical samples, getting into a hard drive, or figuring out which victim from a drug trial is the most likely bio-hacker, when it all pretty conveniently seems to spell out that it’s someone named Robert Richter, a biochemist who lost a daughter from the ordeal. Considering how many possibilities there are here, the fact that they get to all of it so quickly feels more than a little contrived, just like last week. I get that things need to be expediated for television, but at least show them struggling a little more. There needs to be more than just, because these guys are all geniuses (which the show keeps telling us), they can solve every problem near-immediately.
It doesn’t help that there’s also much of that trying-too-hard banter between this team of geniuses, as things like “mo’ money mo’ problems” are riffed on to cringing effect. Or repeated moments of Agent Gallo staring dismissively when our quirky team says something that he just can’t believe. It’s disappointing to see this cast kind of rendered to a washed out version of anything, especially Robert Patrick, who could be doing a lot more here if he was just given the opportunity.
Elsewhere we see more of an attempted personal story happening as the perma fedora wearing Toby tries to re-connect with his ex-wife and uses Happy as a sounding board. We learn that Happy too, of course, has had a difficult childhood as she tries to put more weight onto her skill by telling us that tools don’t let people down, only people do, as if that realization is what gave her her talent. We actually have a discussion here about how a wrench is better than a human being (and then an even more blatant scene towards the end where, gasp, her wrench betrays her and breaks part of her bike!). It almost feels like too much when Agent Gallo also mildly hints that he has trauma in the form of losing a child, and then outright tells this information later on so there’s no mistaking what’s gone on in his life, and just so it’s clear that we all understand this.
While much of this episode is messy, there are still some interesting ideas that are played around with, like the prospect of Walter getting more physical and slowly losing his grip with his work. This would be a fascinating road for this show to go down that almost certainly won’t be taken. We see Walter knocking over suspects and smashing coffee cups as he’s disgusted with whoever is making these children sick. But to see him gradually getting more discouraged, and not being equipped with the right emotional tools to deal with it, he could turn into a real loose cannon that could be deeply dangerous. Doing this after he and Paige have their hook-up that is absolutely going to happen, would give even more weight to it all. For now though, it’s a nice little moment in a big, ridiculous episode, but the show would be smart to continue to build up this angle of the character.
I’ll also admit that seeing Walter set off the smoke detector to dispel the virus at the end is actually pretty engaging and a satisfying way to wrap the problem up. It hardly saves everything that’s gone on, but it’s one bright moment in this trudge through laziness. It’s still early on for Scorpion, and it’s more than possible that the show could turn it all around, but it feels like the blueprint here is so fundamentally flawed we’re just going to see similar ruminations on real-life versions of computer problems while everyone tries too hard to act cool.