Eureka explains why romance and methane don't mix

Yesterday's Eureka was all about relationships. The town's many couples considered varying levels of commitment, from renewed marriage to government-sanctioned romance to casual sex. Also, deadly gases from Titan pursued their own relationship: combining together to destroy the town.

"Clash of the Titans" brings in special guest star Wallace Shawn, whom most of you young people probably remember as Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre. (He's also Vizzini in The Princess Bride, Rex in the Toy Story movies, and DS9's Grand Nagus.) He's a lot of fun here - albeit in an intentionally annoying sort of way - as a Department of Defense bureaucrat sent to assess whether Jack and Allison's relationship is acceptable, or if it represents an untenable conflict of interest.

As it happens, seemingly everyone else in Eureka is assessing their own relationships. Henry and Grace are preparing to renew their vows — in Henry's case, for the first time in this timeline — but Henry isn't totally sure Grace has let the old version of him go. Zane now has his pardon and, with it, the freedom to go anywhere he wants, and neither he nor Jo is willing to admit that they might want to stay with each other... so they delay his departure with a whole lot of sex. Speaking of which, Holly decides the best way to deal with the sexual tension she has with Fargo is to have sex with him, but Fargo isn't at all sure he wants to give up on the chance at an actual relationship with her.

In the midst of all this, the robotic rover Tiny has returned from Titan, but it immediately exploded. Various gases - methane, ethane, ammonia, and nitrogen - are seeping through the town, and it can't be a coincidence that those are all found in high concentrations on Titan. Any of the gases by themselves could represent a danger, and all four combined threaten to destroy the town.

Eureka explains why romance and methane don't mix

"Clash of the Titans" is not a bad episode, by any means, but it's lacking that extra bit of focus or thematic coherence that could have really set it apart. The four relationships under the microscope are all — with one possible exception — perfectly interesting little stories, and they offer some insight into the various characters. But it seems like there's a real opportunity to knit these various stories together, to let each pairing comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the others, and we don't really get that here.

To be sure, Jo's own hesitations about Zane push her into the position of impromptu (and unwanted) wedding planner for Henry and Grace, and there's maybe the sense that Zane uses the advice he gives to Fargo as a way to recognize what he really wants from his relationship with Jo. (This is undercut somewhat when he explicitly says he gave bad advice for Fargo, but what the hey.) But these aren't super strong connections, and it seems a bit weird to put all these relationships next to each other and then leave them largely independent. For instance, Holly's desire to skip straight to sex with Fargo might have some interesting parallels with Henry having to jump right into the middle of a marriage with a woman he barely knew.

What's interesting is that the episode actually includes the setup for a scene where Henry and Fargo discuss their situations and perhaps reach some common understanding — it's when Fargo, Henry, and Carter are together trying to solve the Titan gases mystery, and Fargo is more interested in moping than saving the day. Of course, Carter makes it clear that there are more important things to worry about, and so we stick with the ostensible main plot, in which he has to find a way to figure out what's causing the massive leaks of deadly gases.

Eureka explains why romance and methane don't mix

The thing is, that whole mystery might objectively be more important, what with the whole life-threatening danger and all, but I'd argue it's not nearly as interesting as all the character stuff. (Honestly, I'm already having trouble remembering the exact nature of the threat, and I just watched the episode twenty minutes ago.) I'm not saying Eureka should have taken a page from the (absolutely incredible) TNG episode "Family" and just made the entire hour a danger-free exploration of the characters' relationships, but I would say this episode could have benefited from a somewhat reduced focus on the threat-of-the-week.

The one thing that does intrigue me about all this is how this reflects back on Carter. Back in my "Omega Girls" recap, I suggested that the show's tendency to hit a bit of a reset button when it comes to the more serialized elements is, on some level, a reflection of the fact that Carter just isn't the sort of guy to hold a grudge. Over time, most shows are going to take on aspects of their central character, and it's worth remembering that for all Carter's heroism (not to mention how good Colin Ferguson is in the role), he still has some fairly clear limitations.

The big one here, it seems, is an unwillingness to define what his relationship with Allison actually is. He's happy to just let it be whatever it will be, which seems like a decently mature approach until it becomes clear that Wallace Shawn's bureaucrat isn't going to take that for an answer, and he has it in his power to terminate their relationship. The episode raises the question a couple of times as to just what Allison and Carter are, and what future they could have together — and I'm not at all convinced there was any serious attempt made to answer those apparently legitimate questions.

Carter is too good-natured — mellow, even — a guy to get into silly fights with Allison over just what they are. But it also seems like he's not really willing to fight properly for his right to be with her, at least not until it's seemingly too late. In that sense, some of the episode's lack of sharp focus makes more sense. If Carter clearly doesn't want to talk about it, perhaps it makes sense that the episode seemingly doesn't want to either.

Now, make no mistake, what we actually got in this episode was generally pretty good. I thought the other relationship storylines were all well-handled, and even the Fargo/Holly story — which very easily could have descended into one overlong and rather juvenile sex joke — managed to carry some emotional resonance, thanks in part to another nice turn by Neil Grayston. But still, I can't help but think this episode could have had quite a bit more to say.