Watch Bionic Woman for the best villain on television.
Thirty-one years ago, in the original Bionic Woman, Jaime Summers started on the road to robotically enhanced superheroism after a sky-diving accident—a very '70s way to mangle oneself and one inconsistent with the glossy darkness of NBC's hugely promising remake. Rather, eight minutes into Bionic Woman (Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET), Jaime gets torn apart in a car crash, and her surgeon boyfriend comes to the rescue by souping her up with sci-fi prosthetics. At first glance, the boyfriend looks like every other hot surgeon on television right now, wincingly rugged and perpetually stubbly, but our guy works for some shadowy biotech organization, so call him McSeamy.
Thus, Jaime, theretofore merely an underachieving barkeep, finds herself drafted into duty as a preprogrammed ultimate fighter. This is a La Femme Nikita predicament: There's no way out, but in doesn't seem like any place for a nice lady to be. We don't yet know what Jaime's new sponsors are up to—whether they're malevolent or just uncompromising—but with actor Miguel Ferrer summoning all his woofing gruffness in the part of the boss, it can't be all good.
Much like Nikita and Alias' Syndey Bristow, Jamie's simultaneously a babe in peril and a woman in charge, and Michelle Ryan catches the role's film-noir shades and comic-book angles with all due verve. It's embarrassingly easy to develop a crush on the heroine, and that's partly because she's matched against a worthy foe. Her name is Sarah Corvus—who's actually the first bionic woman, an uncontrollable prototype returned to bedevil Jaime and her superior—and, as played by Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff, she's the most thrilling villain network TV has seen in some time.
We meet Sarah in the opening scene of the pilot. Three years before the main action, we're marching down a corridor at that biotech outfit. Why is the lighting always on the fritz in such places? The fluorescent flicker catches a pack of paramilitary dudes with combat helmets and assault rifles—led by one chiseled devil in blue jeans and a defensibly sleek ponytail—following a trail of fresh corpses in bloodied lab coats. The squad kicks through a swinging door to see Sarah hovering over the last of her kills. She's got a polka-dot hospital gown on her back and a feral grimace on her wan face. Her posture combines a predatory hunch, a prayerful stoop, and an urchin's cringe.
"I didn't want to," she shudders at the slickster. "I'm not in control." He understands that. "Tell me you love me," she begs. But he only tightens his jaw at that one—not at the office, dear. She springs, and he shoots her. But not fatally, it turns out. She was the rogue driver who plowed an 18-wheeler into Jaime. Returning from this mission, Sarah, now looking as eerily lustrous as a Gucci ad, pounces into the arms of some Euro-scoundrel, panting, again, "Tell me you love me."
So, she's needy, which is understandable and even a bit attractive. She's got vulnerability to go with her invincibility and, as we see later, a stiletto-sharp wit to go with the blunt instruments of her bare hands. In the episode's juiciest scene, Sarah, her mouth as red as a stop sign and almost as wide, slinks into Jaime's bar to size up the new girl. The two are warmly flirting when Jaime's zillion-dollar hearing and vision kick in for the first time—a nauseating experience. The good bionic woman dashes into the ladies' room to be sick, and the bad one follows. At the sink, Jaime splashes her face with water, and Sarah, in a gesture more exciting than her later karate chops and roundhouse kicks, pulls the poor girl's hair back from the washbasin with exquisite tenderness. Sarah Corvus has arrived to haunt and to taunt, to give our plucky heroine a sinister contrast that the show can't do without.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Still from Bionic Woman by Paul Drinkwater © 2007 NBC Universal. All rights reserved.