I’ve been avoiding writing about the final episodes of WAREHOUSE 13, mostly because that means accepting that it has ended. It seems the show ended because of budget, not because of poor ratings. I believe this, if only because of the expense of props and costumes alone. Add in the other production costs in on top of that, and their budget must have been astronomical.
Then again, quality shows. The care and attention to detail shown in each episode, in each item that appears, even if it’s not featured in the episode, is remarkable. The actors have said in interviews that the physical Warehouse sets were lined with artifacts on shelves, each with its own label with fully fleshed-out identification, from the provenance of the artifact to its effects, both good and bad. Some of the props were truly works of art, like Rheticus’ compass, or the Farnsworth communication devices, or the Tesla guns.
This show has hit home for me in a way I didn’t expect or even notice, at first. I’m trained as a historian and an archival librarian – I initially fell in love with this show because it’s the science fiction version of my line of work. In ensemble shows, there’s usually a character who’s annoying, whose plotlines hold your attention less than others. For me, WAREHOUSE 13 did not have anyone who fit that description.
But it’s more than that. In a post a while back, I tried to describe visiting the ruins of Kenilworth, while on an overseas studies trip in college. I felt that if I closed my eyes and listened hard enough, I might be able to hear faint whispers of the people and animals who had once lived there. WAREHOUSE 13 is built on a similar premise. The idea is that objects – some famous, some everyday – become imbued with an energy sort of power by people and moments of great emotion. The object can then influence people who subsequently use or possess the item. It can give them paranormal capabilities, like telekinesis, or enhance normal qualities, like strength or charisma. It can influence behavior, magnify emotions, and frequently, cause great harm. Using Magellan’s astrolabe can turn back time 24 hours, but it causes a psychotic break in the user. Carlo Collodi’s bracelet can give movement back to someone who’s paralyzed, but it slowly drains away their humanity.
Science fiction, of course, but I sometimes think that the archival materials I handle are a little like that. It’s this sense of connection to all the people who’ve owned it or handled it before me. Handling the journals of Denise Levertov or a letter by John Steinbeck in which he mentions a dog eating part of a manuscript of OF MICE AND MEN gives the finished products of those minds more solidity to me. It’s no longer words on a page and books on a shelf. It’s a person, a three-dimensional person, who’s speaking to me through them. Sarah Vowell writes about this phenomenon in ASSASSINATION VACATION, in which she visits a museum to see an exhibit featuring items from one of the assassinated presidents she studied, and says she suddenly feels crowded in the empty room as she thinks about the president, the killer, the witnesses, police, museum curators, carpenters, interns, and so forth, who have all played a role in making the exhibit available. WAREHOUSE 13 takes it one step further and says, what if it wasn’t just my romanticizing tendencies? What if it wasn’t just my imagination?
Finale seasons and finale episodes are tricky. No matter what you do to resolve the story, someone’s going to be annoyed. Some times are worse than others – look at all the yelling online about the HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER series finale, or the epilogue to HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS.
There are different types of finales, just as there are different types of pilot episodes. There’s the apocalyptic crisis with main character deaths, as in ENTERPRISE. There’s the option to come full circle, back to an issue from the pilot, as in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. There’s the end of a journey or the closing of a major chapter in a life, such as a long-time love affair or the changing of a job – three examples of these are STAR TREK: VOYAGER, CHEERS, and THE WEST WING. Statistical outliers are shows like THE SOPRANOS, which famously just, well, ended. Screen went black, leaving thousands to wonder if their cable had cut out.
I expected WAREHOUSE 13 to take the apocalyptic route. The next-to-last episode showed the warehouse beginning to move to its new location, to create Warehouse 14 under the direction of the alternate-universe and morally bankrupt Benedict Valda, who was in turn telepathic puppet-master to the Warehouse 14 Caretaker Claire Donovan. The agents stopped it, banished Valda back to his timeline and freed Claire from the influence of all artifacts, but the artifacts that move the warehouse had not returned to dormancy.
I expected at least one main character to die. I hoped that they would be deaths with a purpose, rather than a gratuitous, shock-value death (I still resent the death of Wash in SERENITY, and I’m not alone in that). I expected destruction and mayhem and that the series would end with the beginnings of rebuilding once again.
What I got, instead, was something quietly, beautifully powerful. There was no big apocalypse, no world-imperiling artifact to snag, bag, and tag. That story’s in the penultimate episode. The finale brought the scope back home, to the main characters, as the mysterious Caretaker Mrs. Frederic asked each of the agents to contribute memories to the Warehouse time capsule. Each character got a moment to show a “best moment” in Warehouse service. Claudia’s doubts about her destiny, Mrs. Frederic’s promise to Leena, Artie’s and Pete’s fears that this home that brings out the best of them is about to be forcibly removed, Myka’s and Pete’s developing relationship, and Steve’s finally finding inner peace all had a place, and all were handled well. Even the relationship between Myka and Pete, which I’m not totally sure was necessary, worked well, and wasn’t overdone.
Some of the characters in the show mentioned a smell of apples when the Warehouse truly accepted them and welcomed them home. The finale was like that smell – delicate and almost fragile, but simple and comforting all the same. You have to handle it gently so that it doesn’t break or slip away.
I’m going to miss WAREHOUSE 13 and I anticipate revisiting it frequently. It spoke to me in a way that other shows, even ones that I’ve liked tremendously, haven’t. It was, in truth, a world of endless wonder.