Radio on TV: Warehouse 13

In honor of the fourth season of Warehouse 13  (starting July 23) on the SyFy network, I present the following…

On the Syfy channel original series Warehouse 13, episode 6  of Season 13 (“Don’t Hate the Player”) ends with the misfit genius girl, Claudia Donovan, coming out of her shell (at the advice of  the charming man-child Pete), when she arrives at a local coffee house (full of attentive audience members and well-decorated even though they are supposed to be in nowhere North Dakota) for open mic and takes out her own guitar.

This is to be a moment of revelation, when Claudia unveils herself to the world, when we find out if she’s more than ‘just’ a genius prodigy who can hack into any computer system, recover from years in a mental ward, and catch on as an agent for a government wing so secret its overseers come from outside the government.

(Yes, this sounds strange. But the show is pretty entertaining. It is a show that my brother-in-law and I both eagerly await. I don’t know if I love it as much as he does—I liked the last few episodes of Stargate Universe most of everything on Syfy since BSG and for quirky I almost prefer the recently ended Eureka—but the show is reliably fun, the characters Myka and Pete have a Mulder/Scully thing going on, and it is not as formulaic as the aforementioned Eureka. How’s that for a geek-out?)

When I first watched this episode and Claudia began to strum these chords, I was both mesmerized and incredulous:

Claudia, the 19 or 20-something child-genius sings a quirky and sweet acoustic version of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind”. I was mesmerized because I love this song and she makes some interesting changes to the melody (slight, but neat). She has a soft and pleasing voice and the guitar playing stays mostly out of the way.

I was incredulous because I don’t know how I am supposed to buy that this character chooses this song for this moment. Why does this lack verisimilitude for me? She’s singing a song that was never a hit single from an album released three to four years before she was born.

Let’s say that this is supposed to be believable. If so, what does it say about the character? That she is in to classic alt-rock albums as part of her outsider pose? I am not quite sure that “Where is My Mind” works for this purpose since it is a pretty well-known song. Are we to think that she knows it from more recent appearances, like from the end of Fight Club?

(If this is the case, perhaps we should see the characterization as including a hip reference to this movie…or not)

In any case, even if the choice of the song works (and I think it really does, it is a nice version and a nice moment) we can, perhaps, think beyond the character Claudia to the writers who are trying to characterize Claudia (unless the actress chose the song). This choice tells us something about their demographics (geeky, alternative-music loving, 30+).

But it also tells us about the anticipated audience. Some of the audience may not know this song; but the producers of the show are taking a calculated gamble on the audience members who do know it liking the choice, feeling closer to the character Claudia, and thereby making more of a connection to the show. This gamble may take into account the memorable end to Fight Club; it may also cleverly isolate the tastes of the target demographic.

(And this hurts me because it got me so good.)

But if we cast such machinations aside, the choice also attests to the greatness of this song.  “Where is My Mind” is one of the reasons why I struggled so mightily with my decision to rate Doolittle higher than Surfer Rosa. This song, with its enigmatic lyrics—placing a body now on its head, now underwater talking with fish—interchanged with a direct question (“where is my mind”) set to instrumentation that alienates a haunting guitar from simple yet strong rhythm, seems to evoke the mind-body rift. That is, the song both seems to be about estrangement of the physical and mental worlds and a contemplation of that gulf between what is within and what is without.

Or something like that.

If we can accept that this song is about alienation, about feeling distanced from what it real or about challenging the paradigm of reality, then its inclusion at the end of Fight Club makes as much sense as its placement in Warehouse 13. The irony is that the characters for whom the song has meaning are undergoing opposite movements in those moments. In Fight Club, the song plays as Tyler remakes the world to his own desire; in Warehouse 13 Claudia plays the song as she comes to become a greater part of the world she now accepts.

Or, perhaps another explanation, a simpler one, is that the song is just damn good. Perhaps that’s why it has been covered so much. I have posted before about how the fact that a song can come through in different versions and possess a common core attests to its greatness. This song keeps attracting imitators: Kings of Leon, The Toadies, Nada Surf, and Arcade Fire have all covered a song that even MIA samples.

Here’s an alt-country version:

Here’s a rapper:

(And, by the way, if you haven’t seen Warehouse 13 check it out. They have me pegged.)


7 comments on “Radio on TV: Warehouse 13

  1. theyoungerj says:

    well done.

    • theelderj says:

      Did you decide to watch the show?

      • theyoungerj says:

        No, but I did listen to the alt country version of this song and was pleased to see it was Bobby Bare Jr. His father, Bobby Bare Sr, was very successful in country music with hits such as “Streets of Baltimore”, “Marie Leveau”, and my personal favorite, “Drop Kick me Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life)”. I found that one courtesy of Pandora, although I am sure he has many more awesome songs.

  2. JaneDoh says:

    I like the insight you have shown in regards to this song choice. It is great when any show makes us ask questions, or delve deeper into the reasons a particular song/prop etc is used. W13 is great at throwing out offhanded comments that make you want to explore even more.

    By the way, the song choice was Allison’s. It is one of her favourite songs – I read it in an interview:

    “For those of you who’ve seen the episode, you’re expecting this. But for the people reading this article who haven’t seen it yet, the writers and the network has been really supportive of my wish to play guitar and sing on the show. And this episode that’s about to air is the first time I do get to do that.

    So at the end of the episode, Claudia goes to an open mike and gets out on a limb and covers one of Claudia’s, I mean Allison’s favorite songs. …”

    (But I still think it is cool that you have analyzed the song choice this much!!)

    • theelderj says:

      Thanks for the compliment! But yout revelation that the actress chose it completely undermines my claims.

      I will stick to my guns for a bit though…since, once the choice was made and wasn’t published as allison’s it made its significance an object of audience curiosity.

      As for.the show, do you like the most recent season?

      • JaneDoh says:

        I love ALL the seasons! I only discovered this show last year. I had read about it a few years ago, and thought it was a cool premise but never got around to watching it. But when I finally did, I got through all of them in a couple of months. But I do particularly like how season three ended and really shook things up. Some of the scenes were heart-breaking, and it is great to see a show that can cover such a broad range of emotions. I’m really excited to see where it goes after this hiatus. I hope it continues for more seasons!! I am doing my best over here (in Australia) to promote it!

      • theelderj says:

        I fell in love with the show early on. Maybe it is my affinity for the characters that has made Artie’s plot line hurt so much this season. Yet, I think that they could have done a little more with Brent Spiner.

        Regardless, I don’t think I have liked many shows this much in a while.

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