In medias res: a dramatic device in which you begin in the middle of the action. A number of shows have used this to tremendous effect, perhaps none so frequently and successfully as J.J. Abrams’ Alias, which often began somewhere in the middle, and come to think of it also involved fancy parties and the recovery of some stolen object.
It all came together this week on Scorpion, which began in medias res, and then worked backward to a lavish soiree, a pilfered painting, and a blown up car that forced a review of the team that might end up shutting them down. Of course, the other aspect to opening your show in medias res is to keep in mind that nothing is as it seems.
So the mission was screwed up. Or was it? The adventure was revealed in flashbacks to Dr. Cassandra Davis (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who’s brought in to evaluate the Scorpion team. This is a tried true tactic when trying to get a probing insight into the main characters: have a stranger brought in to poke holes in their thinking, and in the process reveal new details about them yet to be discovered.
Despite that well-worn trope, I almost feel like Scorpion found its footing this week. The semi ultra-seriousness of last week’s nuclear meltdown and the evil Scorpion team member felt a bit like the show was reaching, and you could almost see the show strain itself in the process. But this week, with the stakes being merely a priceless painting, the emphasis was free to be focused on character and comedy.
The character in question is Walter, and by the way, when did he become Data from Star Trek? You see, Walter doesn’t get art. He has a low emotional quotient, like with a lot of high I.Q. people, so he doesn’t understand how a few smatterings of paint on a canvas is worth anything in time and money, let alone how it can swell one to an emotional feeling at the sight of it. Paige challenges Walter to “experiment” with being more human by complimenting people and thanking them for their input and other humanisms.
Now, I don’t know anyone as smart as Walter O’Brien, but even if you don’t get it, it shouldn’t be too hard to understand that certain art is valuable. He also shouldn’t have to be reminded that people skills, or at least the ability to fake them, is an asset in business. Elyes Gabel was working overtime to make Walter seem particularly robotic this week, and it definitely seem like a lot of effort on the part of the actor and the script.
But as Walter was doing the robot, it felt like the structure of the show itself was hitting its stride. Whenever the team was separated from Gallo, comedy would ensue as they tried to handle the mission and catch the art thief on their own. Walter attempted to run down a suspect, and Happy’s less than skillful high-speed chase gets the Scorpion gang a new nickname, the “bunch of weirdos in a van covered in chicken feathers.”
Next, they try to break in to a fancy party at the home of an art collector with the typically French name Jacques Lebeau. The affair ends with Toby tipping over a wine rack and breaking several expensive vintages, and with an explosion that seemingly torches the painting in the real thief’s car, which catches us up to the beginning of the episode.
Let’s face it, a great many of CBS signature series are about people at the top of their field. Whether it’s the profilers of Criminal Minds, Team Gibbs from NCIS, the Reagans from Blue Bloods, Holmes and Watson on Elementary, or even Misters Reese and Finch on Person of Interest, they’re the elite, and frankly, the best at what they do. Although Gallo is unquestionably competent, there’s something rather appealing about seeing the guys who are fanatical about doing the right thing, but just aren’t yet that experienced at doing it right. There’s something very Scooby Doo about it, not quite as if the case gets solved in spite of the foibles of the main characters, but almost.