Bob Goodman, one of the writers on Warehouse 13, offers some insights into the creative process as this series moves from its first to second season, and shares his theory about why a "storehouse of weirdness" show caught the zeitgeist.
Note: What follows is one writer's opinion, and doesn't represent the thoughts of the staff as a whole, the studio, the network, or anyone else. And spoilers abound. But only about season one, which has already aired. Want more insights? A Twitter Q&A is happening today at 1 PM PST, including Goodman (@b0bg00dman), plus fellow writers Drew Greenberg (@drewzachary) and Deric Hughes (@dblackanese) and actor Allison Scagliotti (@allisonscag).
I'll admit it. At first I wasn't sure about the disco ball.
We were writing the first season of Warehouse 13. The episode was "Duped" (written by Benjamin Raab and Deric A. Hughes), and it's a story in which Pete and Myka (our leads, a pair of Secret Service agents played by Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly) are on a mission to hunt down a lucky poker chip. But unbeknownst to the rest of the team, Myka's consciousness has switched places with that of Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll's real-life inspiration for his lead character in Alice in Wonderland) who, in our historically-revised universe, was really a violently insane girl who previous Warehouse agents trapped in Carroll's famous titular looking glass.
Complicated enough, right? Wait. The cause of this Myka-Alice flip-flop was an "adverse artifact interaction" between Carroll's mirror and the disco ball from Studio 54.
To me, at first, it seemed like an artifact too far. And that was before we got to junior member of the team Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) cobbling together a pile of repurposed artifacts, wires and knobs to create a steampunk-ized, CIA-inspired laser mic, in order to communicate with the trapped Myka inside the mirror.
In other episodes from season one (cherry-picked to further my point, but by no means a statement of preference or "best-of's"), veteran agent and warehouse caretaker Artie (Saul Rubinek) uses Ben Franklin's lightning rod to free Claudia's brother from an interdimensional bubble caused by an obscure 16th-Century cartographer's compass; our heroes employ an early Chinese firework that mesmerizes its viewers, while tracking down a Samurai sword that causes invisibility — deep breath — part of which was given to Woodrow Wilson in the 1920's; and, in our season finale, the team runs into an ear-shattering goblet owned by the Roman emperor Elagabalus, Timothy Leary's hallucination-inducing eyeglasses, and a wearer-morphing thimble owned by Harriet Tubman, all while on their search for a medallion of the phoenix that allows one to survive fire.
What the hell is this show? I mean, sure it's funny, frenetic and action-packed — a mix not only of cultural references but genre conventions and tones, all thrown together in a blender and somehow... working. But this all runs contrary to my deeply-ingrained story sense, which believes in finding clean, clear lines and well-defined motifs.
At first, I admit, that's what I thought. And I was one of the guys writing it.
But now I get it. Just recently, during our early weeks of writing season two, I grokked the show.
There's a difference between writing on the first season of a series and the second. During season one you're busy figuring out what the show is, finding the tone and balance, and probing it around the edges to see what sort of stories you can tell. In season two you have that first season to look back at for reference. The show exists to tell you what works and doesn't, and what it's about. And thanks to that altered point of view, I now have my own theory about what Warehouse 13 is. Why it's meaningful in this moment in history. Why it's a hit; why it speaks to enough viewers to have made it the most popular scripted series ever in Syfy's eighteen-year history:
Warehouse 13 is about the collective, cognitive anxiety we're feeling, caused by the sudden collision between our primitive, analog selves... and digital access to everything.
We find ourselves living in a time when we have simultaneous and ready access to all history, culture, knowledge, news, music, TV, movies, stories — ever. Need an image of a twelfth-century trebuchet, or maybe an historically-accurate recipe for how mille-feuille was prepared in Napoleon's time? Click; here you go. When was the last time you were talking with someone about a funny or formative TV moment, that you couldn't pull it up on the web to show them? If you were so inclined, you could carry around every song you've ever heard in your life, in your pocket. And thanks to Facebook, that same random access exists for every friend, relative or co-worker you've ever known. We're all getting to experience Slaughterhouse Five firsthand. Our lives are on shuffle.
And all of this is both good and bad. In the proverbial definition of "crisis," the moment presents both danger and opportunity. We're all in input overload, struggling to stem the tide of messages coming at us by email, cell phone, chats, texts and tweets. The elusive holy grail of nerd pride has become the phrase "inbox zero."
It's all moving too quickly for information to be reliable anymore. Michael Jackson was dead, alive, and dead again many times over on Twitter before any citable sources started talking. My wife and I were away from the news for a day, and missed an entire shared cultural event having something to do with a boy in a balloon... that turned out to be a hoax by the time we got home.
And if you think this is all just ethereal chatter without real-world ramifications, let me dissuade you. As the world gets smaller and the increasing interrelatedness of everything gets too complex for us to wrap our heads around, "adverse interactions" really are increasing. History is collapsing in on itself, and pulling clashing cultures into the resulting black hole with it. I apologize in advance for invoking 9/11, but on that day at the start of the new millennium, a group of people still fighting the Crusades used airplanes to destroy a pair of iconic buildings from the 1970's, killing 3,000 people and shocking the West's financial system... and the way we fight them is by cutting off the opium trade. Sounds as eclectic as that plotline for "Duped," doesn't it?
Which brings me back to the show. Here's what this borderline-insane rant has to do with Warehouse 13:
The warehouse in the series' title is the repository of every mystical artifact from all human history. The storage site of all our cultural touchstones, all our stories, all our myths, in one place. Sound familiar? There's a reason the warehouse is depicted as infinitely large, why we see a new room, a new section, a new feature every week. The warehouse is our moment in time made physical; the internet in hard copy. The reason we can't see the edges is because there aren't any.
For some of us, this bombardment by everything is rightfully stressful. Artie is the older generation, the analog man, who has a lifetime of experience bagging and tagging freaky doo-dads; but lately it's all gotten too big, moving too fast, and he's walking a thin line just this side of overwhelmed, perpetually scrambling at the boundary of his ability to manage it.
And on the other side there's Claudia, the younger generation, who can handle it, who's comfortable with the world being a non-stop, ever-changing cosmic mash-up. Who, to borrow a concept from Douglas Rushkoff's book Playing the Future, is able to just "surf" it. And not surf the way we've come to say it about the internet, meaning something like "browse around" it. But surf the way it was originally meant, meaning ride it, play in it, harness its power and make something new — just as Claudia does in "Duped." While Artie's limits-stretching goal is simply to keep it all bottled up so it doesn't kill us, Claudia is the one who says, "Relax Grandpa, it's just everything."
So where is it all going? With this new epiphany about the significance of the series, does the show's path into the future become clear? Thankfully, no. It helps... maybe. One's GPS has to know where one is starting from, before it can plot a course where one is going. And I have recently come up with some of my own new theories about what the final episodes of Warehouse 13 might be.
But first of all, it's not even close to my place to unilaterally say. As I said at the top, everything herein is just one writer's opinion. Sure, I might pitch my ideas, but I'm only one mid-level guy in a room full of talented writers, all of whom discover the series together as we go. (A group of writers, by the way, with whom I'm not only lucky enough to get to discuss such highfalutin ideas as these, but with whom I also laugh so hard daily that my face hurts.) And we, the members of that writing room, answer to a studio and a network; and we all answer to the audience. But just as importantly, grand unifying theories like this are just too lofty to actually let infect the discovery process. This stuff's for lunch-hour conversation, and then leaving outside the door when we're working so we can let the future and our own story instincts drive the show. And hopefully deliver something with life in it, and fun.
So for now I'm satisfied to share my revelation on what the series is — but for the most part, keep my theories about where it's going to myself. Except to say, it's probably going to have something to do with everything.
Bob Goodman can be found on Twitter, at twitter.com/b0bg00dman.