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"Science has made us gods, even before we are worthy of being men."
-Jean Rostand, series epigram
Canadian television series (2004-2008) revolving around the scientists and administrators of NorBAC (North American Biotechnology Advisory Commission), a Toronto-based organization that is tasked with investigating both ethical issues involving nascent technology (genetically modified foods, designer babies) and threats to the Americas posed by pandemics, super-viruses, bioterrorism, and global climate change. The team is led by David Sandström, a boozing, womanizing, arrogant Jerkass who just happens to be the best molecular biologist in the world. Known for its extremely realistic approach to modern science and technology: most of the science shown is either real or in the "feasible-but-difficult" development stage.Not to be confused with the novel of the same name by C. J. Cherryh.
This show provides examples of:
All Just a Dream: Beautifully subverted in the Bottle EpisodeUnbottled, where after David sees Rachel has been shot, we see him bolt up in his bed with Rachel beside him, talking about how he keeps having these crazy nightmares. Then Rachel tells him she died at the lab and he really needs to learn to let go already, before walking away and disappearing. And of course, yes, the episode really happened, Rachel really did die, and the end was the dream.
An Aesop: The show frequently draws attention to various real-world issues and spends a little while having the characters discuss how important they are and what should be done about them. Usually done pretty smoothly, integrating the issues sensibly into an interesting plot where they have real relevance, but occasionally the message is more heavy-handed. Probably most blatant in a third-season episode where, near the end, the scientists gather and talk about how the best course of action is for everyone to stop using antimicrobial soaps outside of clinical situations, even though they are all well aware of that already.
Anyone Can Die: Established in the third episode with the death of Hira Khan, and from there major characters continue to die every now and then, culminating in David Sandström himself.
Asperger Syndrome: Bob, and done very convincingly at that, avoiding the standard Hollywood misconceptions; in particular, he's very emotionally sensitive and caring, and though his speech and behaviour are noticeably a little odd, he functions just fine socially with his coworkers.
The fact that he has Asperger's is mentioned in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line in the first episode:
Carlos: It's going to be a looong day.
Bob: Carlos, people with Asperger's Syndrome can't help it
... and again in the ninth episode, only in passing. Viewers who missed these very quick references can easily have thought that Bob is just a socially awkward guy.
Auto Erotica: When Joanna is driving David to the airport, she mentions that this is the spot where people park the car for some last-minute action. At first he dismisses it; after some persuasion, he then asks her to pull over. We can presume Auto Erotica ensued.
Ax-Crazy: Nina, thanks to an unexppected side effect of her reactivated Jacobson's organ.
Beware the Nice Ones: Carlos is usually the embodiment of kindness, but you do not want to piss him off.
Bottle Episode: Unbottled in season four, where NorBAC is infiltrated by a terrorist group. Almost the entire episode takes place within the confines of the lab.
And the Grand Finale, set almost entirely inside a single room and mostly involves four characters arguing with each other over whether we can justify total freedom for scientific inquiry in the hope of bettering humanity when the same research can very well unintentionally destroy us all.
Bury Your Gays: Noticeably averted with Carlos Serrano, one of the NorBAC team: he is openly gay and finds himself in mortal danger on several occasions, yet survives even as other characters kick the bucket.
But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Very literally, because the girl in question (Wes's niece) is twelve years old and has never had sex of any sort. First the theory is that she was molested by a preacher at a summer camp even though she insists she wasn't; then, when the baby's DNA is found to be eerily similar to her own, the suspicion falls onto her father, except that it's not quite similar enough for that; the only sensible explanation would be that she wasn't her father's daughter in the first place, except they also have DNA analysis confirming that she is. Eventually we find out that the baby does not have a father at all; the egg got two copies of her chromosomes and was then 'activated' by a bacterium.
Signature Camera Tricks: The show frequently employs both split screens and a special rewind effect to establish events as simultaneous.
Cartwright Curse: David can't seem to form a vaguely emotional connection to any woman without the writers lovingly wrenching it away from him in the most painful way possible. Miraculously, Jill actually survived the life-threatening disease they had a perfect opportunity to kill her off with, but she was Put on a Bus instead.
Child Prodigy: One sub-arc involves NorBAC investigating an elementary school where a number of the students experienced a significant increase in IQ (more specifically visual memory) after eating prion-tainted meat.
CIA Evil, FBI Good: Caroline Morrison, FBI, is the benevolent leader of NorBAC and spends most of her time trying to outwit the US army, government, CIA and MI6 to help David and the others in their investigations.
Converse with the Unconscious: After spending half of season two never getting the chance to speak to Jill alone, David uses the opportunity when she's comatose and dying in the season finale to "talk about New York".
Clone Jesus: A preacher in the first season wants to do this.
Cloning Blues: Mick Sloane, whose depression stems from the fact that he was created (more via embryo selection than cloning) to supply his fatally ill brother with the needed bone marrow grafts.
Cure Your Gays: One Story Arc deals with the NorBAC team discovering that a deceased researcher had found a 'gay gene' but not yet published his findings. On the one hand, this would be irrefutable proof that homosexuality is genetic and not a choice. On the other hand, it opens wide the possibility of drugs being developed to suppress that gene or people having their children checked in utero for the gay gene so that undesirable sexualities can be aborted. David ends up handing the research over to the deceased's wife and letting her choose what to do with it; since we don't see any gay drugs in the future of the show, it appears she kept it to herself.
The Danza: Mayko Tran is named after her actress, Mayko Nguyen.
Dead All Along: In the first episode of the third season, David's father appears to have moved in with him after successfully having been treated with prions for his Alzheimer's. At the end of the episode we find out that actually his father committed suicide months ago and David has been hallucinating him all along, thanks to the various drugs he's been doped up on the entire episode.
Dead End Job: There's a pretty high turnover rate for virologists at NorBAC. Hira Khan died the third episode, Jill Langston was infected with a retrovirus and nearly died before being Put on a Bus, and Rachel Woods was killed by terrorists during the Bottle Episode.
Depraved Homosexual: Averted right into a goddamn brick wall with Carlos. One of the best portrayals of a gay man as a normal, well-adjusted, successful and mentally-sound human being ever: he is possibly the least dysfunctional person in the entire cast.
Did You Just Have Sex?: After David sleeps with Jill for the first time, he arrives at work and Mayko almost immediately concludes that "You either got laid or arrested."
Distant Finale: The series finale - kind of. It's a Dying Dream, so it didn't exactly canonically happen, but it's set thirty-five years later.
Downer Ending: 176 world leaders have had their Jacobson's organs activated and are about to go psychotic; one of them has Carlos in jail as a spy about to be executed; Nina hits David on the head with a shovel and she and Bob leave him to die in the snow. David's Dying Dream is no better: first there's a flu pandemic in 2010 that kills Nina and infects Bob's cloned son; then the clone sells his sperm to millions of women, only for it to turn out that the kids are carrying horrible retroviruses that were awakened by Robert Jr.'s flu infection; and the implied conclusion is that all of the 3.2 million children of the Melnikov lineage are going to be systematically exterminated.
The first, only a few episodes into the first season, is Danny, David's old school friend, when it turns out the hockey team he was trying to get into didn't actually want him.
Subverted a bit later in season one, where David comes home to find his daughter Lilith, whose boyfriend recently died, sleeping on his couch and an empty bottle of sleeping pills on the table beside her. He understandably panics and tries to wake her up to ask her how many she took, only for her to sluggishly explain that she only took one but spilled the rest by accident. Indeed, he finds the rest of the bottle scattered around the carpet.
Next, at the end of the double-length pilot of the third season, we find out that David's father committed suicide sometime in the intervening months between seasons two and three, unable to cope with his Alzheimer's disease.
Early in season four, Wes, on interferon for his HIV and newly-contracted Hepatitis C, experiences severe depression as a side-effect and jumps off the roof of the NorBAC building, but does not actually die.
Finally, at the end of season four, the half-crazed Olivier Roth shoots himself in the head as David is confronting him in his hotel room about the world leaders whose Jacobson's organs he activated with potentially horrific consequences.
David: Guess you gotta be a prince for that to work, eh?
Dying Dream: The series finale, as David lies dying after Nina has hit him with a shovel. He's still alive at the end of the episode and since it's the end of the series, it's completely possible he gets better.
Dysfunction Junction: Season one: divorced, alcoholic jerkass boss with rebellious teenage daughter (who is in love with a dying cloned boy with existential issues a mile long), virologist with terrorist ties, biochemist with Asperger's Syndrome, an HIV-positive FBI agent, another virologist who suffers from panic attacks. The second season adds a fifteen-year-old meth addict living in the New York subway and gives details of the aforementioned jerkass boss's childhood issues. In the third season one of the previously healthy characters loses a leg and develops phantom limb pain with a whole host of associated emotional issues. The fourth adds an empathetic woman who happens to go Ax-Crazy as a side-effect.
The Empath: Bob becomes one of these as a side-effect of the effort to regrow his optic nerve. This being hard sci-fi, it's explained by the activation of his Jacobson's organ (the same organ animals use to sense pheromones).
Empty Promise: At his mother's funeral, David tells a story of coming home as a child, being scared because all the lights are out and it seems like nobody's home, and finally finding his mother in the backyard, where he makes her promise him she'll never die. She promises. Well.
Eureka Moment: David has one of these about the disease outbreak of the week in every other episode.
Faux Affably Evil: Connor McGuinn, as we find out in the season 2 finale. Always cordial and sounds apologetic about the things he supposedly can't help them with, but then it turns out he is General Coffey, the Big Bad of the Story Arc.
Final Solution: What is expected to happen to the the people in the Melnikov Lineage, all 5 million of them. Due to a common genetic defect in all of these people, they started to reactivate and produce fossil viral DNA persevered in the human genome and these new viruses are sweeping the Earth wreaking mass pandemics once every few years.
For Science!: Averted, even the more "fringe-y" scientists are shown to follow the scientific method and all of them have some practical application for their research in the end. Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head ever so often.
Four Lines, All Waiting: There are always several storylines going on at the same time, usually two disease outbreaks being investigated, a couple of personal issues for the characters and the seasonal Story Arc simmering in the background. It works, as most of the arcs are still only a few episodes each, making them not drag on too much while granting a lot of variety to each episode.
Genius Bruiser: Carlos is a trained kickboxer, a skill which proves unexpectedly useful at a few points, and which makes one antagonist nervous enough to pay special attention to him, to the point of zip-tying his ankles together and making sure there's always a gun trained on him. Turns out that Carlos doesn't need kickboxing ability to foil said bad guy's plan.
Handsome Lech: David Sandström. Apparently his couch alone (he also loves his bed, his kitchen, and his walls) contains at least fifty different perfumes. And that's an underestimate.
Hard Work Montage: Essentially CSI-style montages (not surprising considering that most forensic lab techniques were first created for biochemists) with more realistic lighting and equipment, and set to world music instead of rock. With a bit of action music, even reading scientific articles on Pub Med can be exciting!
Heroic BSOD: David gets one once he realizes that he indirectly caused a Spanish flu epidemic in Denver.
Hot Scientist: David Sandström sleeps with several of these. In a general 'scientists who are hot' sense, more or less the entire main cast counts.
How Dare You Die on Me!: When David is in a coma in episode twelve, at one point Mayko tells him, "David, if you die, I'll kill you."
How We Got Here: Episode one of Season 1 opens with a scene in episode twelve, and the rest of the season is a flashback retelling how we got there.
Imagine Spot: Some of the imagined scenes, unlike the Daydream Surprises listed above, are pretty blatantly imaginary from the beginning, such as when Jill imagines David sitting around watching when she's on a date in his house - we know that David is actually in Cuba - and when Carlos imagines a commercial he's watching being about a cure for homosexuality.
I Need a Freaking Drink: David does both versions of this quite a few times, such as when his father, who has Alzheimer's, tells him that when he's forgotten who his granddaughter is,
Thomas Sandström: I want you to put a bullet in my head.
David: ...I need a beer.
Instant Expert: Averted, David Sandström was informed that he is required to confront a scientist on her research practices. Before Sandström leaves to see her, we get a lovely montage of David reading through her back catalogue of scientific papers on Pub Med.
In Vino Veritas: How Popov was able to get the information about the Spanish Flu out of David.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When David is confessing his love to Jill-in-a-coma, he ends up saying that he knows she doesn't actually return his feelings and making her a 'deal' that if she wakes up he will leave her alone and never mention it or try to get with her again.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: David Sandström is an asshole par extraordinaire, arrogant, aggressive, sarcastic and with zero patience for idiots. But he really cares for his 'patients' and especially for his co-workers, and his heart has a marked tendency to melt when people bring up sick and dying kids. Also has shades of the Insufferable Genius.
Jump Cut: Used frequently as part of the show's distinct editing style.
Ladykiller in Love: David enjoys a lot of casual sex and has even been married, but when Jill is in a coma and he confesses his love to her, he says he has never felt that way about anyone before, ever.
Science Is Bad: Averted, although a big theme of the series is our inability to deal with the consequences (both intended and unintended) of many discoveries, the science itself is never condemned. Scientific problems is always solved with the application of more science.
Luke, You Are My Father: In season one, Mayko mentions that she slept with David once, "years ago". In season four, she turns out to have a six-year-old daughter who she gave up for adoption. David's reaction to hearing her age tells all even before Mayko actually admits to him that he is the father. She never told him because he was her teacher at the time and he wasn't exactly the best of dads to the daughter he already had.
Mad Scientist: Averted, Bob is a fairly accurate depiction of someone with Asperger's syndrome.
Meaningful Echo: During David's Near Death Experience near the end of season one, he says to Hira, "Everything I do turns to shit." He is referring to the fact he believes he is responsible for unleashing a Spanish flu epidemic upon the world. Near the end of season four, when David confronts the half-crazed Olivier Roth in his hotel room after the latter has very possibly doomed the Earth with his own well-intentioned experiments with activating people's Jacobson's organs, Roth also says "Everything I do turns to shit." Though Roth obviously wasn't deliberately echoing David's words as he wasn't there to hear them the first time, the identical wording and the similarity of the context makes it most likely a deliberate echo on the writers' part.
Meanwhile, Back at the...: Done using a signature rewind effect. After two characters have been shown going different ways, the camera will follow one of the characters, and after that scene is finished, the image will rewind to the point where the two characters left each other, but the camera will now follow the other character instead.
Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness: the series is basically a biopunk drama (with very strong characterization) with the sci-fi being of the 'scientifically plausible but currently undoable/doable but expensive/doable but extremely unethical' kind.
Moment Killer: When Lilith and Mick are in a motel room together during a blackout, with romantic candles, they discuss the possibility of having sex before he dies. They start to kiss and are getting into it... and then the power comes back on, switching on all the lights and the radio. Mood killed.
Multinational Team: Considering that the team is called the North American Biotechnology Advisory Commission, and that the show is set in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities on Earth, this is pretty much to be expected.
Near Death Experience: In the second episode, where David thinks he may have caught the incurable Miranda virus, he explicitly refers to it as a near-death experience in inner monologue. Later, in the twelfth episode when we return to his car accident from the beginning of the series, he has a lengthy dream during his coma where he meets dead characters, is in a corridor with bright white light on one end, etc.
Not That Kind of Doctor: David's card says "Dr. David Sandström", causing Owen to think he's a medical doctor after stealing his bag and seeking his help for Sunshine's illness.
Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Averted; despite Bob and David showing some Renaissance Man tendencies, they, like every other scientist, still have a very defined limit to their area of expertise. More often than not a specialist will need to be brought in to help solve each new problem, and each member of the NorBAC team deals with tasks specific to their own field within each project.
The Oner: The show often features some fairly long takes around the lab, such as following two characters conversing, seeing one character leave, then following the other character as they meet with another character and have another conversation.
Phlebotinum Analogy: Necessary, as the concepts covered on the show would require an undergraduate degree in biology to understand otherwise. Generally well done, in that there is always an excuse to have a non-scientist character around (usually Caroline or Wes) who realistically would need to have it explained to them. It also helps that David likes to make the analogy entertaining, such as when explaining horizontal transfer to the Chinese General Hung (who has essentially kidnapped him to force him to help combat a disease outbreak in China):
David: Let's say I have a bacterium; we'll call him David. And David is a happy little bacterium, just bopping along through life, until he runs into a nasty piece of work called Hung. They trade DNA, and now, even though they look like they're the same bacterium, they're actually two new species, Havid and Dung. So Havid, he gets into your body, and your body doesn't recognize him as being bad, because he still looks like David. And Havid divides every twenty minutes, and after a day there's ten million Havids, and in another eight hours there's 83 trillion, and because of what they got from Hung, all those Havids are pricks and they're trying to kill you. The End.
Primal Scene: The very first post-rewind scene in the first episode features fifteen-year-old Lilith walking in on her father having sex with his physiotherapist. It says a lot about his prior history that her reaction is disgusted but not at all shocked or surprised.
Put on a Bus: Sandström's daughter, Lilith, after the first season in which she participated in one of the season-long story arcs, is almost never mentioned again until the very end of the series where she reappears as an adult paleovirologist.
Also Jill Langston after season two: David speaks to her on the phone in one season three episode (at which time she does appear on-screen) and she is brought up in the finale, but otherwise she disappears completely for the latter two seasons.
Really Dead Montage: For David Sandström Or maybe it was just a series ending montage, given how it was just at the end of the last episode.
Right Through His Pants: Very, very averted: David gets naked more or less every other episode, whereas female nudity is pretty sparse, and the women he bangs tend to be wearing more than he is if anything.
Sacrificial Lamb: Hira Khan, who is murdered only a few episodes in after having a story arc set up and everything.
Sliding Scale of Continuity: The series through all its interwoven multiple-episode story and character arcs, is probably impossible to understand episodically despite the lengthy Previously On recaps.
Smart People Play Chess: David and Bob play chess in a third-season episode where Bob is mostly blind. He (Bob) sacrifices his queen, then handily wins on the next turn, establishing just how good he is.
Story Arc: The individual cases the team is working on usually take up at least a couple of episodes each, with bigger arcs often existing in the background at the same time; for instance, the overarching Miranda virus arc of season 1, though only the focus of the first couple of episodes and resolved in the last, is referenced steadily throughout the season, usually with Wes telling Caroline about progress that has been made in the search for the one who synthesized the virus.
Teacher/Student Romance: In season four, Mayko describes her fling with David as 'just one of his teacher-student relationships', also implying he indulged in quite a bit of this during his time as a professor.
Typhoid Mary: The Miranda virus was originally spread by a baby that had been infected with the virus but genetically engineered with siRNA to be immune to it everywhere but the throat (so that she would cough and spread it).
Unwinnable Training Simulation: One episode cold opens with NorBAC in full red alert as Sandström and co. frantically order around every army and medical facility in North America in a futile attempt to stop an epidemic that is about to go global. Incoming reports tell of thousands dead, entire cities under quarantine, and the US about to go to war with the UK over vaccine shipments. It all turns out to be a war game measuring how long it takes David to figure out the disease in question.