Bionic Woman

*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.”

Comments

  1. S. A. Bonasi says

    Hee! I loved the “I just thought it was cool that a girl could do that.” too! Total cheese, but the embodiement of how Bionic Woman functions as escapist fantasy for women.

    So I’m guessing you saw the new pilot? (I only saw the original one.) Question: Does the new pilot still have Jae and Sarah having had a previous relationship? I know some things got changed around, and I’m hoping that that angle wasn’t lost.

    Have you seen the original pilot? In it, Will was a complete smuck. However, I got the feeling the writers maybe *intended* for him to be a smuck. Do you get that feel from the new pilot? Or did they tone down his smuckyness?

  2. MaggieCat says

    Yes, Jae and Sarah still had a relationship at some point. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that particular issue, and there wasn’t enough information to really be able to figure it out.

    I’ve only seen the ‘re-tooled’ version, so I can’t compare to the original pilot. Will got one or two good lines that I liked, but I react to people doing major medical procedures without the patient’s consent the same way some people react to references to rape (although he gets a teeny bit of leeway considering the fatal nature of the injuries, he still could have said something before knocking her out again in the ambulance) so making me not loathe him on sight may be a good sign. Schmuckiness is a notoriously subjective quality though. ;-)

  3. S. A. Bonasi says

    Glad to hear it didn’t get cut. Far, far too often, Asian/Asian-American male characters get forced into the sexless stereotype. So I was impressed that Jae and Sarah had a romantic history.

    But it sounds like some things have been tweaked a bit. Jae/Sarah got a lot of play in the original pilot. Totally star-crossed. You could tell that they cared about each other, but circumstances had changed. Also, I didn’t feel that the Sarah/Jae angle hurt Sarah’s character, which made me happy.

    Seems like they reworked Will a bit, too. In the original pilot, he had one or two lines that made me twitchy. Total “Nice Guy”. (Jaime’s reaction to nonconsentual surgery was also in the original pilot, though.)

    ‘Nother question: How was the homoeroticism between Sarah and Jaime in the new pilot? I know you can’t compare it to the original, so just give me your take on what you saw.

    Anyway, I really look forward to seeing the new version of the pilot, since I’m hoping that they managed to keep all the good from the original while fixing the weaker parts that were there. :-)

  4. MaggieCat says

    That’s a good point about the Jae/Sarah angle that hadn’t really occurred to me here, although I’ve certainly thought it was a really sad statement about Hollywood in the past. (I’m pretty sure I recall reading an article where Daniel Dae Kim mentioned Lost was his first onscreen kiss. Which should be criminal, because have you seen DDK? Quite possibly the single most attractive actor on television in the last 5 years, imo.) I’m hoping we do get some backstory there, considering that Katee Sackhoff has been signed for more episodes this season to be filmed concurrently with the last season of BSG. (Which I’ve never seen, so my quite selfish opinion is I’d rather have her on BW.)

    Will did have a few lines that made me roll my eyes, but people usually called him on it so my overall impression wasn’t particularly bad. Not great either, but it’s hard to give every character loads of development in a pilot episode, and they seem to have deemed Jaime’s and Sarah’s introductions to be more important. Can’t say I disagree with that call.

    ‘Nother question: How was the homoeroticism between Sarah and Jaime in the new pilot? I know you can’t compare it to the original, so just give me your take on what you saw.

    Sorry to be so little help, but I am the last person on the planet to ask about this topic. Hell, it took me over three seasons to figure out what the Smallville people were going on about. The only thing that makes me feel better is that I’m frequently just as obtuse about straight pairings- I have no flirting radar whatsoever.

    (Heroes is clearly screwing with the audience there, though. When even I notice it three episodes in?)

  5. S. A. Bonasi says

    Yeah, I remember that article with Daniel Dae Kim. That’s one of the things that makes me have such a love/hate relationship with Heroes. James Kyson Lee is a very attractive man, but the show constantly acts like it would unthinkable for a woman to be interested in him. What the hell? I say. What the hell?

    Where Katee Sackhoff is concerned, I’ve heard it was easily arranged for her to shoot both Bionic Woman and Battlestar Galactica, since the stage sets are near each other and BW has one of BSG’s exec producers. But just in terms of work load, there are probably some limitations. So if there’s one bright spot ’bout BSG ending, I rather suspect that Sackhoff will make the jump from reoccuring to regular on BW. Er…assuming Bionic Woman lasts that long. Which I hope it does.

    By the way, Battlestar Galactica is good. Not perfect, but lots of women kicking ass. Sackhoff’s Starbuck was the reason I started watching. The first episode I saw was this one where Starbuck and another woman, Kat, were having this tension-filled ego-fueled fighter pilot toe-to-toe with each other. And it wasn’t over a man. And it wasn’t depicted as a “cat fight”.

    Hm…it sounds like they may have desmucked Will. Yay! Can’t wait ’til next Wednesday.

    Where Heroes and homoeroticism is concerned, the important thing to remember is that Nathan likes to eat zucchini “when the mood strikes”. Hm…irrefutable proof that Nathan is a Republican? *runs away*

    But yeah, Heroes is intentional about it. So’s Bionic Woman, from what I’ve heard. Don’t have the link, but there was a article not too long ago where one of TPTB made an ambiguous wink-wink nudge-nudge statement about Sarah and Jaime forming a unique relationship with each other over several episodes.

    In both Heroes and Bionic Woman, there’s major limitations on what they can do text-wise what with heterosexuality being default and all, but I like that they f*** with the subtext for the enjoyment of the fans. That’s one of things that made me excited about Bionic Woman. There are things I love about Heroes, but it’s way too male-centric. Bionic Woman has women who get all subtexty with each other. And they do this without it feeling like they’re catering to the male gaze.

  6. MaggieCat says

    With my acknowledged blind spot, that’s not really how I read it. I mean, I can see where that could be a legitimate reading of the subtext at some point in the future, but that isn’t how it read to me. It just looked to me like Sarah was interested in finding out a bit about someone who was like her, since until Jaime’s surgery she was unique. And she was on the run from everyone she knew before- it’s got to be a very isolating situation. Which is pretty much the ideal for something like what you’re describing (which I hadn’t heard) where they’re not making it overt or canon, so the viewers who are interested can find it and the people who couldn’t care less don’t have to argue about it. (Er, I hope that made sense. I’m just anti-romance in shows period.)

    I think the Heroes issue might have less to do with this though, and might have more to do with Ando being the sidekick. Hiro was getting over Charlie after all. But you’re preaching to the choir here. I’m one of the 4 people in the country who watched all the episodes of Kitchen Confidential that made it to air because John Cho was in it. And that is relevant because the first thing I remember seeing him in was an episode of Charmed back in 1998 called “Dead Man Dating”. But BW is addressing the history of a long term relationship, which could be both interesting and fairly unique. (This is the one thing that gets past my ‘no shipping’ stance- relationships that predate the show itself.)

    I keep hearing that BSG is good, but I have a low tolerance for shows with a military presence. It’s why I could never get into SG1 and part of why I eventually got bored with 24. I don’t know why, they just can’t hold my attention.

    In the “good news” category, I heard yesterday that BW has brought in Jason Katims as a creative consultant and writer for a few episodes. Katims is an executive producer and writer for my beloved Friday Night Lights, so this can ONLY be a good thing. (Well, a good thing for BW. I’m a little nervous about this having any appreciable affect on FNL.)

  7. S. A. Bonasi says

    Right. Sarah has an interest in Jaime that isn’t typically animositic. (From what you describe, it seems that little was changed in terms of homoeroticism from one pilot to the next.) It’s nothing definite, especially not so early on. The goal – which Heroes hits perfectly – is to have the maximum amount of homoeroticism that won’t be picked up on anyone not looking forward it and won’t piss off any potential viewers who believe that queerness is sinful. I’d be shocked (but thrilled) if Sarah/Jaime ever went beyond the subtext I described.

    To provide some context here, Heroes tried to have a textually queer character: Zach. Thomas Dekker refused to play the role explicitely gay and was soon after dropped from the show. So as much as I would love an out and out Sarah/Jaime relationship, I do get why the writers hesitate.

    Related combination of understanding and wishful disappointment: Pushing Daisies being the story of Ned and Chuck, who love each other but can’t be together.

    Of course, Chuck’s a woman, and the reason they can’t be together is that if Ned touches her she’ll die (long story). But I swear the whole thing is a heterosexual-based allegory for the difficulties of same-sex relationships brought about because some exec refused to let Brian Fuller make a show with a gay lead.

    Exception to the Rule: The fourth season of Nip/Tuck finally textually addressed the long-existing homoeroticism between the two leads Christian and Sean. But the show had always embraced queerness and airs on FX.

    Eh…I don’t think that Ando being a sidekick explains the show treating him as sexually non-desirable. It’s not that they’ve never written him in a romantic plotline – that would make sense with his role in the story – but that there have been multiple incidents of female characters rejecting him as if he wasn’t the least bit desirable, with it being played for laughs. Which reeks of stereotyping.

    And yeah, Hiro had Charlie, but even with him, ever notice that Hiro acts far younger than the twenty-six years of age he’s supposed to be? Innocent, naive, child-like…I love Hiro, I really do, but Heroes is guilty of major stereotyping when it comes to his characterization.

    I will say, though, that Heroes has done a good job with Mohinder. Spoiler! Sendhil Ramamurthy has promised that Mohinder will wear more tank-tops in the second season. Yay! End spoiler.

    Yeah, I look forward to Bionic Woman exploring Jae and Sarah’s past relationship, too. Something I noticed in the pilot I saw was a theme of “talented people who have never heard of the term ‘professional setting'”. Everyone involved with the bionic project is the only person qualified at their specific task, so no one has much hold on them. ‘Cause you gotta know that Jae and Sarah having a relationship had to have had a major effected on the work they did, the same as now with Will and Jaime. It creates a really unique evironment for the show.

    Yeah, if military settings aren’t your thing, you probably wouldn’t like Battlestar Galactica.

  8. SunlessNick says

    That’s one of the things that makes me have such a love/hate relationship with Heroes. James Kyson Lee is a very attractive man, but the show constantly acts like it would unthinkable for a woman to be interested in him. - S.A. Bonsai

    Which one is he?

  9. MaggieCat says

    Eh…I don’t think that Ando being a sidekick explains the show treating him as sexually non-desirable. It’s not that they’ve never written him in a romantic plotline – that would make sense with his role in the story – but that there have been multiple incidents of female characters rejecting him as if he wasn’t the least bit desirable, with it being played for laughs. Which reeks of stereotyping.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m apologizing for the show because I’m not, but I still think being the sidekick who’s not in the designated role for a love interest has something to do with it. It’s always kind of read to me similarly to the way that, say Friends treated Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer in the early seasons because Matt Le Blanc was supposed to be the one playing the ladies man.

    Of course Friends was another of those shows with an entirely white cast, so they didn’t have to worry about falling into cultural stereotypes other than being the only 20-somethings in a major city who only knew white people.

    And much as I love Hiro, the goofiness did get a little old after a while. (“5 Years Gone” Hiro was awesome though.) This is where I do apologize for the show and say that I can’t decide if that’s because the writers were still finding a balance between comedy and realistic characters or if they were trying to make the difference between pre-powered Hiro and trained-by-Kaito Hiro more dramatically different.

    I will say, though, that Heroes has done a good job with Mohinder. Spoiler! Sendhil Ramamurthy has promised that Mohinder will wear more tank-tops in the second season. Yay! End spoiler.

    Heh. I found this very amusing the first time I heard it because really, how often do you hear that the male actors will be wearing less clothing this season as a method of promoting the show?

  10. S. A. Bonasi says

    A combination, then. Ando is treated as undatable both because of stereotyping and because he’s the sidekick. Noteworthy, for the second season, James Kyson Lee makes the the jump from reoccuring to series regular. And in the first couple of episodes, it appears that he’ll be apart from Hiro. So it looks like he might be stepping out of the sidekick role a bit.

    With regard to Hero, I’ll agree that part of it is definitely a tonal discrepency. Hiro was created because TPTB thought the show was too serious. Unfortunately, it takes form in a stereotypeish way.

    And I think they’ve done a pretty good job with regard to Hiro’s journey as a character. Accepting that he starts as the stereotypical bumbling naive geek, you can see over the first season his transition from someone who embraces superpoweredness without any understanding of what that means to someone who’s ultimately willing to run a sword through a villain because as much as he loathes to take a life, it’s neccessary. That part, they did well. And heck, as much as I found the final few episodes to be overall disappointing, I loved that Hiro is a hero who doesn’t go around kiling people willy nilly. *pokes Smallville*

    Where the show falls down, though, is when they try to make Hiro the comedic part of the episode when Hiro’s plotline needs to be serious. I mean, they did a great job with “Six Months Ago” (women in refridgerators, aside) in that they let Hiro’s love and loss because as tragic as it needed to be. But there are other episodes – his search for the sword comes to mind – when Hiro’s character journey is played for laughs when it needed to be more serious.

    What I really liked about Future Hiro’s appearance so early on is that it implied that regardless of where Hiro started as a character, he wouldn’t stay that way. I’m glad that overall this holds true – Hiro at the end of the season is different than Hiro at the beginning of the season – but I wish they had managed it with a few less bumps along the way.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    Bonasi, having realized my lack of awareness, I’ve started a thread in the forum to list Asian and Asian-American stereotypes. If you (and anyone else reading) are interested in sharing your thoughts, I’d appreciate it.

  12. Gategrrl says

    To provide some context here, Heroes tried to have a textually queer character: Zach. Thomas Dekker refused to play the role explicitely gay and was soon after dropped from the show. So as much as I would love an out and out Sarah/Jaime relationship, I do get why the writers hesitate.

    This is news to me. I’d heard the actor had gotten a job as a regular on another show – no mention of any reluctance to play a gay character. I’d also heard that the writers/producers had been told by the network to cool it with the gayness aspect of that character.

    Where was this ever posted? (out of curiousity)

  13. S. A. Bonasi says

    Thomas Dekker had gotten a starring role on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but no one knew if the pilot was going to be picked up until upfronts this past May, while Dekkergate broke last December. I say this because there are some conflicting reports on what happened. Dekker denies that he refused to play the character gay; exec producer Brian Fuller says otherwise. And yeah, before the series premiered, a NBC network suit wasn’t cool with Zach being gay, but the showrunners stood their ground.

    Most of the story broke at tvguide.com and eonline.com. I think Kristin at eonline.com was the first person to report it, although the story came out in bits and pieces. Here are various links on the matter, in no particular order.

    1. Here’s the pre-series article establishing that Zach was intended to be gay and talking about the network suit who took issue with the gayness.

    http://www.out.com/detail.asp?page=1&id=19106

    2. Here’s an article on the straightening.

    http://www.afterelton.com/TV/2006/12/heroes.html

    3. Michael Ausiello on who’s responsible.

    http://www.tvguide.com/News-Views/Columnists/Ask-Ausiello/default.aspx?posting={C0A6A661-5EA8-4F30-BF05-CE9C2F22CAB3}

    4. Michael Ausiello, hinting that a suit was involved with the straightening.

    http://www.tvguide.com/News-Views/Columnists/Ask-Ausiello/default.aspx?columndate=24-Jan-2007

    5. Matt Roush on the issue.

    http://www.tvguide.com/News-Views/Columnists/Ask-Matt/default.aspx?columndate=22-Dec-2006

    6. Interview with exec producer Tim Kring.

    http://sabonasi.livejournal.com/225460.html

    7. Jeph Loeb being awesome.

    http://www.eonline.com/gossip/kristin/blog/index.jsp?uuid=ace4d1ff-db76-4236-b972-da8fa6e5950f

    Mind you, these aren’t the totality of what was written. I remember, at the very least,; that Kristin had a post breaking the news, there was an interview with Brian Fuller after the issue, and there was a post at tvguide I want to say quoting Thomas Dekker claiming that he didn’t refuse to play the character gay. But it’s always difficult to locate the right links several months after the fact, and I was not easily able to pull those up. Additionally, after the Golden Globes, Dekkergate got pushed to the side by Washingtongate, as the internets bloggers all seemed to think that that made a more interesting story. That’s why – even though Thomas Dekker never apologized or ever admitted to what he did – you won’t hear anything negative him being the lead of The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sorry, getting off on a bit of a tangent there. Although, I suppose it’s relevant, given Isaiah Washington’s role on Bionic Woman, which has been decried, despite the fact that Washington did apologize and even did a PSA about tolerance.

    ETA: MaggieCat just posted the link to the Bryan Fuller interview I was thinking of.

  14. MaggieCat says

    This is news to me. I’d heard the actor had gotten a job as a regular on another show – no mention of any reluctance to play a gay character. I’d also heard that the writers/producers had been told by the network to cool it with the gayness aspect of that character.

    It was one of those brouhahas where everyone tries to cover their own ass. The creators of the show have said repeatedly since then that they originally intended for Zach to be gay, but they had been told not to. The source of that was debated in forums across the land, but most said it was Dekker’s agent who forced the issue because he was up for the role in The Sarah Conner Chronicles and thought it might hurt his chances with FOX. (Which writer Bryan Fuller confirmed semi-recently.) Dekker has said that he has no problems playing a gay character since he has in the past, and I never heard a satisfactory conclusion as to whether or not that was true and he needs a new agent or not. You can find a pretty good summary of the original situation here. It’s like a perfect storm of stupid and ignorance.

    And heck, as much as I found the final few episodes to be overall disappointing, I loved that Hiro is a hero who doesn’t go around kiling people willy nilly. *pokes Smallville*

    Veering somewhere back near the topic, one of the things I liked about Bionic Woman is the potential for conflict here. Between the chips in Jaime’s head programming her to be a soldier and her natural disinclination to take a human life it could be interesting, although it’s a fine line between “interesting” and “easy shot for drama” (otherwise known as “the Spike has a sooooul now” defense).

  15. SunlessNick says

    Bit of thread necromancy; Bionic Woman has just started showing in Britain, and I’m currently two eps in. A moment that jumped out for me was when Jae was giving Jaime fight training, and says “The machines are nothing without the woman.”

    I can remember times when that kind of sentiment was expressed about a female character – but I can’t bring to mind a time when it was couched in female-specific language – it would always be “soldier,” “human element” or something.

    But in this case, it was “the woman,” stated as baldly as that, which was considered the critical element.

  16. MaggieCat says

    But in this case, it was “the woman,” stated as baldly as that, which was considered the critical element.

    *sigh* I remember that episode, and I loved that scene. It was such an important fact to point out– Jaime relying so heavily on the implant’s automatic routines was guaranteed to get her in trouble given the fact that Sarah’s military training would allow her to easily surpass it by being able to adapt her strategy to any new element– and they did and it gave me such high hopes for this show because they seemed to be addressing necessary issues. Like the one that I was really, really hoping they’d explain at some point: the fact that their original handpicked candidate was female, since it’s so incredibly unlikely that the same selection would be made by most people. I really wanted an answer to that one, dammit.

    I tried so hard to stick with the show, but I fell asleep during the 7th episode and couldn’t be bothered to watch the 8th (and final at this point) because it had just become such a chore. And I stuck around a lot longer than most people I know did. It hasn’t officially been cancelled, but even the producer is convinced it’s a goner, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. On the one hand I can’t really defend how badly it was mismanaged, but on the other I can’t escape the feeling that part of the reason it was so badly handled was because the network was trying to gain wider appeal by producing it by committee because they couldn’t get past the mindset that it was destined to be a genre show* due to its protagonist’s gender and felt it needed to be made ‘safer’ for the dumb audience they seem to think makes up the bulk of viewers. Doomed by their own inability to just… make a good show and let people watch it. Sad, that. I think I’ll just go with “disappointed that the industry is so going to use this as an excuse for why they don’t cast women as leads and/or action heroes”.

    [*I'm sorry, but I fail to see how Jaime's bionics are any more sci-fi than the fact that Jack Bauer has managed to make torture a remarkably RELIABLE interrogation technique. Effective? Yes. Trustworthy? Not in any study I've ever heard of.]

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