On Eureka, with great intelligence comes being a great big jerk

Yesterday's Eureka answered one of the show's age-old hypothetical questions: what if Sheriff Carter was just as smart as all the mad scientists? The answer, it turns out, involves exploding engines, power-stealing robots, sibling rivalries, and some serious romantic complications.

As Jack and Allison enjoy their very sudden onset of marital bliss, they prepare for the arrival of Allison's older brother Marcus (played by Salli Richardson-Whitfield's real-life husband Dondré Whitfield, which is probably a bit weird if I think about it... so I won't). Marcus is a genius just like Allison, and he's quick to rub his intellectual superiority in Jack's face. Kevin comes up with a neat trick to make Carter temporarily seem smarter than Marcus, but the next morning Jack has read Marcus's entire book... and identified a few key flaws in his theory, complete with experiments to prove it. Somehow, Carter hasn't just become as smart as everyone else in Eureka, he's the smartest person in Eureka, and Colin Ferguson gets another chance to show he's just as adept at technobabble as all his fellow cast members.

Meanwhile, Holly is getting cabin fever cooped up in S.A.R.A.H. all day, but Fargo is too afraid of losing her again to risk further experiments that might allow her to leave. So instead Holly enlists Zane and Henry to come up with a solution, and they devise a way to transfer her brain to an all-new, fully functioning body. But it's a risky procedure, and they have to "borrow" a ton of equipment from Global Dynamics to make it happen, which attracts the attention of everyone's favorite weaselly bastard, Dr. Parrish. Jo tries to distract him as best she can — complete with a flagrant lie about his raw masculinity is distracting her from the case at hand — but soon Fargo knows just what Holly, Zane, and Henry intend to do.

Back at Global, the suddenly hyper-intelligent Jack has teamed up with Marcus on what they are calling an all-new industrial revolution. Their first test case is Deputy Andy, who volunteers in part because he is afraid of being swept aside by Carter's rather uncaring brand of brilliance. Carter's invention supercharges Andy's brain, but it also leaves him desperate for the power necessary to keep his processors running, which quickly turns him into an even bigger sociopath than Carter.

To its credit, "Smarter Carter" isn't especially worried about the mechanics of why Carter has become so smart — there's a quick explanation that Kevin's "smart-mickey" and Carter's elevated zeta waves are behind it — and there's never really any suggestion that Carter couldn't remain a genius forever if he didn't want to. At first glance, this might seem like a fairly low stakes approach, but what it does is snap the focus entirely onto how the various characters respond to Carter's sudden intelligence spike, and that proves to be extremely fertile ground for the episode to explore.

Basically, Carter becomes a brilliant sociopath, and he quickly, albeit unintentionally, turns Andy into the robotic equivalent of that. Andy's sudden turn to quasi-evil is explained as being a result of his overclocked processors sucking power from his emotional circuits, and I would guess something similar is going on with Carter — he's so overwhelmed by his new-found brilliance that his personality, his very humanity, is shunted to one side. There's a question the episode dances around, whether this is actually what Carter would be like if he really was as smart as everyone else. If so, that doesn't exactly reflect well on our hero. But the sense I get is that he's actually quite a bit more brilliant than everyone else in Eureka, and no one else would likely deal with such ludicrous intelligence levels any better.

That's one of the tough thematic questions of this episode, really — does Carter have the right to be "smart"? More to the point, is Allison right in insisting that he become "dumb" — or, if I remember his IQ score correctly, just ever so slightly above average intelligence - again? When Jack ultimately comes around and agrees to take the serum to reverse his condition, how much of a sacrifice is he really making? As Marcus points out, there don't seem to be any serious adverse side effects, and Carter would hardly be the first mega genius that was an amoral, insufferable bastard. Hell, you could argue that Carter and Allison are being horribly selfish by robbing the world of what might well be its most brilliant scientist.

Of course, that isn't the sort of show Eureka is, nor would I really want it to be. There's probably a version of this show that takes a harder-edged, more BSG-like approach that might come down in favor of Carter remaining a genius, but that would go completely against what this Eureka is all about. Besides, the episode doesn't just tell us Carter returning to normal is the right thing to do — it shows us through the other characters, as we see Andy's sudden transformation into a literally power-hungry monster. Sure, it's one hell of a literal way to illustrate the dangers of too much brainpower, but as a thematic complement to Carter's more subtle journey, it works very nicely. And anyway, as we saw in the season premiere, if the show can find an excuse to make Kavan Smith act evil, they have to take it.

The other major plotline, in which Zane and Henry try to bring Holly back to life while Jo runs interference on Parrish and Fargo, also ties into the question of the responsibilities that come with great intelligence. If any two people can pull off the greatest advance in computer science and bioengineering in human history, then clearly it's Zane and Henry. But do they have the right to steal equipment from GD to do it, particularly when they are going against Fargo's orders? And for that matter, does Fargo have the right to overrule Holly's wishes?

As Jo says to the pair, they are officially joining the mad scientists' club with this one, and it does feel as though they've never played God quite as brazenly as they are prepared to do here. Fargo accuses them and Carter of "playing Frankenstein", and though their intentions might be more noble than Carter's, that's no guarantee the results won't be any less monstrous. Indeed, based on the promo for next week's episode, I'd advise holding onto that thought. Of course, Fargo ultimately comes around and realizes Holly should decide what's best for her, but he takes a long path to get there. Indeed, I don't know if you could ever call Fargo intimidating under really any circumstances, but the moment where an enraged Fargo raids Henry's garage with full armed backup is probably the closest he's ever going to get.

In the midst of all this, we get the always welcome return of Wil Wheaton as Dr. Parrish, who continues to be a complete bastard in that perversely lovable way of his. Way back at the outset of season 4.5, Wheaton told us in an interview that the show was never going to soften Parrish or make him one of the gang. Well, he was certainly right about that, but the show has mostly sidestepped turning him into a caricature, if only because they keep finding multiple layers in his assholishness. (That spectacular Hawaiian shirt also helps.)

His faux-seduction of Jo is some great comic relief, but it also digs into how this is a guy who is simultaneously a raging chauvinist — believing Jo of all people could be reduced to a girlish mess by his raw machismo — and a deeply sad, pathetic little man who desperately wants to convince himself that Jo really could be that into him. Of course, he's also a massive egotist, so it doesn't prove that hard. We also get a legitimately tender moment between Parrish and Holly where he promises her that she can trust him, only to be punctuated with a sheepish "Starting... now" when Fargo's team shows up. Ah, Dr. Parrish. I think I might miss you most of all.