The pilot episode of Eureka first aired on July 18, 2006 on the Syfy channel. You have to give some credit to the executives at SyFy who were willing to air an original series. If the idea for Eureka had been pitched say this year instead of in 2006, it probably wouldn’t have gotten made. Back in 2006 SyFy was riding on a pretty glorious high in the middle of its Battlestar Galactica run.
Like a lot of cable channels, SyFy fills its schedules with reality shows. They’re cheap to make after all. They also have a big contract with World Wrestling Entertainment (I suppose you could say wrestling was the original reality show). Eureka, on the other hand, is a fanciful story about a fictional town created to house top notch scientists where some of the world’s most technological advances have originated since WWII.
Lucky for us, the Andrew Cosby and Jaime Paglia creation came into production riding on the coattails of BSG’s success. I can remember seeing a lot of advertisements for Eureka before the show aired and though it peaked my interest, I didn’t start watching it until the first seasons were on Netflix. You can now see the entire series on Netflix and Hulu Plus. The DVDs are for sale through Amazon.
Before opening credits or the first scene, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot. ~ Albert Einstein” flashes upon a night sky. As we come to know in this episode and subsequent episodes, Eureka is very fond of Einstein.
The pilot episode of Eureka draws the viewer in with a camera panning in over a town in the night and into one of the towns’ homes. A wife is yelling for her husband to come to bed. The husband, Walter, is in the basement fiddling around with what looks like a combination of some old school electronics equipment (the kind that had vacuum tubes) and some artistically arranged modern looking equipment that briefly made me think of the opening sequence from Quantum Leap. We know something important is happening here but we don’t know what. There are bursts of blue electricity and some explosive sounds.
In the next scene we are introduced to Eureka’s leading male character, Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson). Carter is a US Marshal who runs off the road while escorting a teenaged girl across the country who turns out to be his own daughter. After running off the road, Carter and his daughter, Zoe are forced to walk to the nearest town which happens to be Eureka where they are stranded for at least several days, much to the chagrin of both Zoe and some of the townspeople.
Having the luxury of looking back on the pilot episode some eight years later, it’s clear that the pilot’s job was not only to introduce the audience to the premise of the show and the main characters but also to a story arc that follows the show all the way to its end. Back in 2006, we wouldn’t know that and the pilot might come off a bit clumsy in the way it sets up the audience through the main protagonist (Jack Carter) to learn that the town of Eureka is different.
The show goes to some lengths to reveal to us that Eureka isn’t an ordinary town. First of all, there’s a little kid reading theoretical physics and the town mechanic is an astrophysicist. In case you haven’t noticed Eureka is a bit different yet, Carter observes a woman creating geometrical bubbles and a group of what appears to be four clones or perhaps quadruplets. If those things weren’t enough to convince Carter and the viewer that Eureka is different, the marshal discovers some cows and trees that appear to be petrified.
When a boy goes missing, US Marshal Carter gets to flex his investigative muscles for the first time in the show. And this is where he meets Dr. Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) for the first time. The back half of an RV appears to have been blasted away along with the owners’ young son. Sheriff Cobb and Deputy Lupo have set up a search and rescue mission to look for the child. Carter offers to help and gets properly snubbed by Cobb and Lupo.
While the Sheriff’s search party begins a field walk search, Carter goes inside the ‘crime scene’ blue tent over the RV and meets Allison. Right away we notice the sexual tension between the two main characters. Both Ferguson and Richardson-Whitfield play their parts in perfect unison. There is nothing clumsy about their interaction on the screen. There’s an immediate chemistry that doesn’t require any props. Right from the moment they meet, the actors pull it off. There is a scene where Carter shows Allison his US Marshal badge and she shows him her Department of Defense badge and even though I’ve seen the series a couple of times, I found myself laughing.
Up to this point everybody has treated Carter as a sort of likable but bumbling Keystone cop. When Carter uses his investigative experience and training and finds the boy in a matter of minutes, Allison, at least, seems somewhat convinced of Carter’s abilities or at least sensibilities. By now, we are rooting for Jack and we like Allison.
The scene is important. It does two things. It sets up the relationship between two main characters, Allison and Carter. It also establishes Carter as an actual detective with real investigative capabilities. He has to be able to bring something to the show besides likability. Why would a town like Eureka, full of some of the best minds in America, hire what appears to be an average copper like Jack Carter? Carter proves he has the ability to take extraneous facts and observances and combine them to solve a problem. He is able to filter out the shocking distraction of half of an RV being missing and instead focuses on the clues. Finding a chocolatey handprint on the wall of what is left of the RV leads him to find the missing boy inside a storage space inside the RV. Carter does all this in the space of time in which he and Allison are sparring with words and badges. This takes place while the town’s police officers are doing their field search. Carter’s ability to solve the mystery while a town full of brainiacs are on the wrong trail will play out time and time again in the series.
Carter proves his abilities two more times in the pilot episode. He figures out that the anomalies occurring around the town are centered around the contraption that Walter, the character in the opening scene, has built in his basement. The contraption Walter built turns out to be a tachyon accelerator which is disrupting the laws of physics including linear time. To reverse the effects, the team of scientific geniuses at Global Dynamics must solve a quantum physics formula. Carter remembers that Allison’s autistic son was writing out the same formula in chalk on the sidewalk in town and brings him in just in time to save well, to save time itself.
As the show introduces us to the major players in the series, the personalities of some of the characters seem somewhat overdone in the pilot compared to later episodes. It’s as if the creators want the characters to be fully developed before they’ve really had a chance to be. Early in the pilot when Zoe (Jordan Hinson) is riding in the back of her dad’s cruiser, she comes off more like a brat than a kid dealing with the angst of her age. As the pilot moves forward, there is an awkward scene between Jack and his daughter in the cafe when the dialogue informs us viewers of the reason for Zoe’s brattiness. She is angry because Carter was always working and somehow that led to him leaving her and her mother. By the end of the pilot, some small trust has grown between father and daughter and as they are driving away from Eureka after Carter saved the town, they have a moment of bonding.
In the pilot, Deputy Jo Lupo’s character is abrasive and doesn’t seem to even strive not to be a stereotype. It’s hard to find her likable in the first episode possibly because the actress (Erica Cerra) tried just a little too hard to be the kickass ex-military ranger who is tougher than any US Marshal, and perhaps anybody else. We aren’t sure if she’s a good guy or bad guy at first. She is cynical and facetious to the point of being annoying but then suddenly she is getting ‘finding a man’ tips from the angst ridden teen in her custody, Zoe. Again, it seemed the show wanted us to know who she was before her character had a real chance to develop. She will come to be one of our favorite characters as the series develops.Even Henry (Joe Morton) seems sort of an overblown caricature of the character he becomes. He is energetic to the point of being hyperactive but if the pilot had been all that was ever made, we would have at least known he was a good guy.
On the other hand, Fargo (Neil Grayston), is only in a few scenes and we don’t really learn much about him in this episode. All we know at this point is that he is the assistant to Professor Warren. He seems more like a toady than the nerdy genius that he turns out to be. Over the course of the show, Fargo probably experiences the most growth of all the characters and it’s a joy to watch him.
In the pilot we are introduced to Eureka’s one solid antagonist, Beverly Barlowe (Debrah Farentino). Beverly is ostensibly the town psychiatrist though it is clear early on that she is much more than that. Beverly also runs the town’s bed and breakfast where Carter stays during his and Zoe’s errant visit to Eureka. When Beverly first appears in the episode, she is arriving at her home as a government helicopter with a government logo on the side is flying away. We don’t know who she has been with but it’s clear she has at least one friend in high places. Still, we don’t know until very nearly the end of the episode that Beverly is not a ‘good guy.’
Eureka does a good job of creating a blend of science and magic and giving us a glimpse of a town that for all of its explosions and mishaps is a place we would like to live. It injects humor in the most unlikely of places. There’s a scene in the B&B where Carter is hunting for his clothes and picks up a book that is titled, “The Joy of Sex, the Musical.” Eureka is often subtle with its humor and if you weren’t looking closely, you wouldn’t see the title of the book was anything other than “The Joy of Sex.”
When Allison introduces Carter to Professor Warren King as a nobel laureate and astrophysicist, Carter replies that he was the captain of his division softball team. Nobody laughs but me.
Just when we think the show is over and that it’s a quirky fun show, we are taken to the dark side when we are shown a scene at Barlowe’s B&B. Beverly and Walter’s widow (I may have forgotten to mention that Walter didn’t survive his tachyon accelerator). The two women appear to be comfortably chatting over a pot of freshly brewed tea. There’s no indication from the white wicker furniture and light streaming through the window that anything horrible is about to happen. At first Beverly seems to be in her role as care-giver psychiatrist/therapist. She is quietly probing Susan with questions about Walter’s work and death. When Susan tearfully confesses that she thinks Walter may have been involved in corporate espionage, Beverly says, ‘I was afraid you would say that,’ and pours the hapless Susan poisoned tea. The scene ends with Beverly phoning the Sheriff’s office to tell them Susan has committed suicide.
Just when we are left wondering when and how we’ll see Jack Carter again, we are taken to a scene where US Marshal Carter is in his office when a couple of men walk into his office and tell him he has been promoted with high security clearance and is relocated to Eureka as the new Sheriff. The very last scene of the pilot shows Carter in the bathroom mirror telling himself he can do this and trying to convince his mirror image (that is now wearing a sheriff’s uniform) that ‘this really is a promotion.’
For the uninitiated: Professor Warren King isn’t in any other episodes. Instead we will be introduced to Dr. Nathan Stark next week.
The pilot Eureka was located in the state of Washington but also subsequent episodes have Eureka located in Oregon.