A wolf only makes a good pet when it thinks it’s a dog.
— Jae Kim (Will Yun Lee)
Standing before a lecture hall full of attractive, earnestly note-taking bioethics students, Professor Will Anthros (Chris Bowers) shows slides: a badly scarred victim of a Baghdad car bombing, a triathlete, and a woman with gigantic breast implants. What do they all have in common, he asks, then answers, “These people have altered themselves.” It’s a striking formulation — that anyone might manage such surgery himself — especially given the next problems Will poses: “Where’s the threshold? When is it okay to intervene in God’s work?”
At the back of the room waits Will’s girlfriend Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan). At this point, she’s still a San Francisco bartender, but you know, during these early minutes of the premiere episode of Bionic Woman, that she’ll soon be a test case for this supposed “threshold.” Sending his students away to ponder what he might even mean by “God’s work,” Will strolls with Jamie in the parking lot. Here she presents him with another sort of question: “Why are you with me?” His response should sound all kinds of alarms for Jamie: she’s “different,” he offers, and then, “You’re the one choice my father didn’t make for me.” Um: ding ding ding ding.
The new Bionic Woman is all about broken families and personal traumas. And oh yes, secret government plots, super-max prisons, and pheromones. After five months and 14 days of dating father-obsessed Will, 24-year-old Jamie is trying to decide on the next step: he wants her to go to Paris for his research grant, but she has obligations, in particular her PopTarts-eating, angry adolescent sister Becca (Lucy Hale), on some kind of no-internet parole and fondly remembering the days when she was living with their alcoholic dad, who reportedly dumped her on Jamie’s “doorstep.” Ah well, it’s not long before the decision is out of Jamie’s hands. A terrible car accident leaves her with all kinds of catastrophic injuries, and Will, stunningly whole following the wreck, decides to rebuild her.
Conveniently, or perhaps nefariously, he has access to a super-secret facility, where head-guy-in-charge Jonas (Miguel Ferrer) appears not a little annoyed on learning that Will has performed multiple hours of fantastically expensive surgery on his girlfriend. “Why didn’t somebody stop him?” wonders Jonas, leaving open just who that “somebody” would be. For a highest-tech, covert government-funded center, “Wolf Creek” is remarkably security-free. Ah well, sighs Jonas, un-monitored operations are “the price you pay for working with a so-called genius. Guess he must have left his IQ in the car.” One more time, Miguel Ferrer helps the medicine go down.
The rest of this first episode borrows from any number of sources, including Le Femme Nikita (including cursory counseling by Ruth [always good Molly Price]), nip/tuck, Dark Angel, the Aliens, and the Terminators, with surprisingly little direct connection to the original Lindsay Wagner series, itself derived from The Six Million Dollar Man. The price tag for new Jamie’s enhancements, Jonas announces dourly, is $50 million, which pays not only for the usual bionic arm, eye, legs, and ear, but also nanotechy anthrocites in her bloodstream, which exponentially accelerate healing. Jamie’s upset on waking to find herself so rebuilt revisits the episode’s opening questions, as “God’s work” is plainly jeopardized by Will’s Frankesteiny plotting, and Jamie has plainly not “altered” herself.
But wait. It turns out this last issue gets another go in Bionic Woman, namely, Sarah Corvus (Katee Sackhoff), who introduces herself to Jamie as “the first bionic woman.” Whether her count is accurate or not is unclear (Jonas’ unit has apparently been working out kinks for years), the point is that Sarah is also enhanced. And since her brief appearance during the premiere episode’s very first scene — exceptionally bloodied, seemingly psychotic, and shot mid-leap by a rueful Jae Kim (Will Yun Lee) — she’s been showing up in cryptic inserts with someone designated The Man (Thomas Kretschmann). Maybe lovers, maybe haters, they share excellent bodies, a love of makeup, a propensity for self-implanting and self-stitching, and serious condescension for mere mortals (the tourists at Disneyland, he sniffs, are “fat people with fat children walking around aimlessly”).
On the run from Jonas and the Wolf Creek team for three years, Sarah presents herself to Jamie as both sympathetic sister and deadly rival, explaining the steps that will attend her change, steps the doctors have not explained and so catch Jamie off guard, as when her “ear and eye inputs come online,” assaulting her with “too much information” and sending her to the bathroom to vomit and sweat. As Jamie struggles with her hyper-evolution, Jonas watches and waits for Jamie to become “combat ready” and Will makes a feeble effort to declare her a “civilian,” just the girlfriend he happened to save using the program’s resources. “Everyone has to sing for their supper around here,” growls Jonas. The boys argue, stalk off to their corners, then argue again.
The girls, though, look promising. Granted, the initial Sarah-Jamie fight scene occasions the series’ first spectacular special-effectsy scene, as the women engage in some grandiose bionic-body slamming, on a rooftop at night during a pounding rainstorm (oh the drama!). But it’s clear their microchips connect them in some intuitive, overwhelming, even womanish way. They see each other in their dreams, they’re both mad at and distrustful of the men who remade them, and they look at each other with sincere appreciation.
And this bodes well. Even when Jonas’ smarmy effort to recruit/command Jamie suggests she’ll be conscripted into male fantasy à la Painkiller Jane), Sarah just might grant her another plot, maybe more like Aeon Flux (Peter Chung’s animated version, of course!). “I know what I’m capable of now,” Jamie tells Jonas. “So you send whoever you send, and I’ll bury one guy after the next.” It’s unclear whether this means she’s playing into Jonas’ self-described “game,” asserting her independence, or aligning herself with the stunningly red-lipped Sarah.