*Spoilers behind the jump for the pilot of Bionic Woman, premiering September 26th on NBC at 9pm.*
In the re-imagining of Bionic Woman Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) is a bartender raising her teenaged sister Becca, when she and her boyfriend Will are involved in a horrible car crash. Her injuries should have been fatal, but luckily in addition to being a professor Will is a surgeon involved in biomedical research and arranges for her to undergo a process that leaves her with bionic legs, right arm, eye, and ear replacements, as well as replacing part of her blood with “anthrocytes” that allow her to heal rapidly.
One of the problems I had when I first heard the premise is addressed fairly quickly- the fact that Jaime didn’t consent to any of these procedures. That fact is mentioned several times by different people, and Jaime is allowed to be believably traumatized after finding out what she’s been turned into. It’s not just a one time freak-out either; after Will has helped her escape from the research facility and she’s made it back to her apartment she’s allowed to decompress and be vulnerable in a way that shows depth when contrasted with the strength she’ll show later. Pilots tend to be heavier on the exposition than regular episodes, but the groundwork’s been laid; Jaime’s smart and capable, adapting well to her new body. Will can be slightly paternalistic about trying to “protect her” but she rightfully questions how he can protect her if he’s afraid of her. And I can’t remember the last time I saw a love scene on television where the woman got to keep her top on while the man was shirtless.
The other major female character in the pilot is Sarah Corvis (Katee Sackhoff), the first bionic woman they built. Everyone believes she’s dead, until she causes the car crash, and later contacts Jaime after her second attempt to kill Will. Sarah could be a one dimensional villain, but there’s more there as well. In contrast to Jaime’s civilian-turned-superwoman, Sarah was a soldier before she was altered. She also got two bionic arms out of the deal, and has been performing more procedures on herself- making her other eye bionic and replacing part of her chest- telling Jaime that she’s been removing everything that’s weak about herself. Given Sarah’s military background and her desire to remove her weak qualities, deciding to present her as still very feminine is an interesting choice.
The fight scenes between Jaime and Sarah certainly aren’t choreographed as “girl” fights, which is always nice: cracking bones, people getting punched in the face and kicked in the head. I do, however, question the wisdom of wearing stiletto heels on a rain soaked rooftop even if you don’t need to worry about breaking a bionic ankle Sarah. At least Jaime was wearing flat boots.
The show also does a good job with including incidental female characters rather than supporting the male default that’s so prevalent. Several of the doctors and nurses working on Jaime after the accident are female, as are others involved with the project and a solid number of the random students shown in Will’s bio-ethics class. It’s not that hard, but they’ve made an effort that many shows don’t bother with.
It’s by no means perfect, but it has potential. The pacing is a little off, there are a few clichés running rampant (see: rooftop fight), and the special effects could be a little less obviously green screened in. I’d also appreciate it if they gave Becca, their petulant teenage computer hacker, more than two complaining dimensions, but even there it does entertain me to see the computer geek role filled by a girl, and one who’s pretty and not saddled with television’s version of “ugly” or “geek” at that.
But honestly? The show really won me over with one line about 20 minutes in. A little girl is riding with her mother and spots Jaime running alongside and passing their car, and tells her mother what she’s just seen. Her mother tells her not to make up stories and her daughter doesn’t press it, just smiles and says to herself:
“I just thought it was cool that a girl could do that.”