Eureka tangles with emotional fallout and dodgy special effects

Last night's Eureka found the Astraeus crew struggling to readjust, after finally escaping the evil computer simulation. While our heroes tried to reconcile fiction with reality, our suspension of disbelief in turn was under threat, thanks to a pair of questionable special effects.

Spoilers ahead...

"Friendly Fire" picks up shortly after the Astraeus crew gets freed from Beverly Barlowe and the Consortium's virtual reality version of Eureka. For Allison, Grace, Zane, and Carter, that means trying to forget the unpleasant versions of Jo and Henry they encountered there, all while trying their damnedest to avoid telling Henry and Jo what they saw. Meanwhile, Fargo is devastated by the death of Holly, and so he tries out an experimental patch to speed his way through the stages of grief in record time...with predictable results.

Amidst this relationship drama, some of Dr. Parrish's experimental fire stoppers — and starters! — known as Fireflies escape from the laboratory, and anything with a power source is now in danger of turning into a blazing inferno. While one is recaptured easily enough, the other keeps going haywire whenever it's around certain townspeople - something that Henry ultimately traces to a mysterious side effect of spending time in the computer simulation.

The main problem with "Friendly Fire" is its special effects, which are decidedly unconvincing. I'm a bit surprised, really, because Eureka is generally pretty good at wringing the most out of its basic cable special effects budget, often making a little go a very long way. Honestly, I'm struggling to remember the last time I had this reaction to a special effect on the show, and that's partially why it's so problematic for me. To its credit, the show has gotten very good at ripping holes in the universe, and it even pulled off that virtual dragon to my satisfactio, but that deft touch unfortunately doesn't extend to the Fireflies.

A big part of the problem, I think, is the Fireflies — not to mention the apparently CGI fire — have to interact a lot with the cast, and the episode's direction isn't really able to hide which are the normal, more cinematic shots and which shots are clearly designed around the CGI. I don't really think the Fireflies as written can work on Eureka's budget — I'm not sure how you could have done this episode while trying to somehow shoot around the Fireflies.

I should be careful here, as it's not the special effects in and of themselves that I have a problem with. After all, I've written extensively about my love for classic Doctor Who, and that show had the dodgiest special effects in television history (well, assuming you've never heard of Blake's 7). I'm willing to forgive unconvincing special effects if it's in service of good, ambitious storytelling, and if it's clear the show's budget wouldn't allow for anything better. But since Eureka routinely pulls off special effects much better than this, it's harder for me to get past.

Also, honestly, "Friendly Fire" doesn't do all that well on the other half of that equation, as the episode never really coheres into a properly compelling story. The Fireflies plot is pretty much your bog standard Eureka runaround, lacking any of the little flairs that might make it stand out — even Carter's one-liners seem relatively muted this time around, his hatred of the word "theoretically" notwithstanding. Coming off the virtual reality arc's mild experimentation with the format, this installment feels all a bit too ordinary. The show is essentially taking a breath and resetting after the craziness of the last few episodes, and I honestly wish they had just barreled ahead with wherever the show is headed next.

To be fair, the episode also spends a decent amount of time sorting through the emotional fallout of the Astraeus crew's time in the simulated Eureka. Returning to real life after being stuck in a mildly hellish virtual reality isn't a particularly relateable situation, and the writers can be forgiven for fumbling a bit as Grace and Allison try to articulate just exactly what is so difficult about readjusting to real life.

Most of this b-story revolves around how various people feel about Jo — Allison can't quite forget how the virtual Jo took over her family roles, while Zane and Carter are really not mature enough to sort out whether Jack actually has feelings for Jo or not. Based on everything we've seen between Jo and Carter for four seasons, the answer to that last question seems like it really has to be a resounding "no", whatever Beverly Barlowe's algorithms might have predicted. As such, I'm not totally sure where that whole subplot was going, particularly since the end of the episode seems to defuse any chance of an actual love quadrilateral kicking in (not that I'm complaining). At least Allison's internal conflict about Jo is resolved in a way that ties back in with the Fireflies plot - saving a person's daughter from a blazing house fire does seem like a good way to win back their sympathies.

Honestly, the story I was most interested in here was Grace's, which probably got the least attention of the bunch. Her situation — in which the virtual Henry tried to kill her, and the she had to more or less kill him — is wonderfully insane, and there's some nice ambiguity about just why she can't stand to be around Henry. Is it that she feels guilty for killing him, as she says, or is some irrational part of her that can't separate the Henry in front of her from the AI monster that tried to kill her?

There's a nice, quick little moment where Henry asks Grace what she's so busy with, and it echoes the scenes from previous episodes in which virtual Henry tried to distract her from prying into the Astraeus data. While a lot of the other characters' stories felt like perfunctory soap opera — at the end of the day, these characters are too mature and their relationships too solid for a computer simulation to tear them apart — Grace and Henry's story presented some legitimately intriguing questions about just how Grace could hope to move on from such a traumatic experience, especially when Henry is there as a constant reminder of what happened in the simulation.

Finally, there's Fargo. The opening and closing scenes in which he grieves for Holly are very nice moments, particularly the final scene he shares with Wil Wheaton's Dr. Parrish. It's a nice moment of detente for the two characters, particularly since Parrish never quite stops being a raging asshole, and yet he's also there to offer Fargo some much needed help through is grief, complete with a bit of role-playing (and no, I don't see how that could possibly be misinterpreted). The rest of the episode with the grief acceleration patch gives Fargo some of his silliest comic relief in a good long while. Though a lot of it is funny, I'll admit I would have preferred to see his grief take a bit more seriously throughout. Still, it's Fargo we're talking about here. Maybe I shouldn't quibble on this one.

I wouldn't call this episode a wasted hour — especially since this was produced long before the cancellation order came in — but I would have liked to have seen something more ambitious, either by kicking off another arc or going all in with the scifi craziness — for those who saw the "Next Time" promo, next Monday's episode looks like exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. The Fireflies stuff isn't bad, but it is forgettable. For those who enjoy Eureka more as just comfort food television, that isn't so terrible, but the last few episodes have gotten me used to expecting a bit more. Here's hoping for a return to form next week after this minor misstep.