Tonight’s episode begins with Artie uncharacteristically showing up late for a meeting that he called with Steve, Claudia, Myka, and Pete. Before anyone can tease him any further about this lapse in expectations (beyond Steve and Claudia making age and memory jokes, that is), Artie hurries them off on two separate missions. Pete and Claudia will be responding to a call from Hugo (René Auberjonois) to retrieve an artifact. Steve and Myka will be heading to New Orleans to investigate the mysterious overnight cures that one psychiatrist’s patients are experiencing.
Artie quickly shuts down everyone’s protests about being partnered with different people, but pulls Pete aside to ask him to keep an eye on Claudia. You know, in case she gets all stabby and evil like she is in his visions or something (though he tells Pete it’s just because he’s worried about her being under stress).
Pete and Claudia visit Hugo in his New Canaan, Connecticut home, where he lives with his nephew Brady. Brady is attending the same school (Tilson Academy) that Hugo did as a boy, and Hugo is clearly proud of this fact. The matter at hand, however, is the artifact that was FedExed to him: a bag of Bobby Fischer’s marbles. The benefits of using the marbles are intense focus and a drive to achieve one’s goals, but the downsides are violent tendencies, insanity and stroke. And here begins the heavy-handed message of the episode: all artifacts, no matter their supposed “good” qualities, have dark consequences to them.
It turns out that Brady had used a marble or two to help him focus and prepare for the Interschool Multidiscipline Tournament, and while they did help him write a killer paper, his veins are also dark and pulsating, and he’s concerned about the side effects.
In New Orleans, Steve and Myka are questioning the psychiatrist, Dr. Goldman, whose patients are all mysteriously being cured. One of them, Alex, is in the office with them. He was suffering from PTSD, but now he doesn’t even remember having it, and it’s the same with the other miracle patients. Steve is having trouble understanding why they’d want to take this helpful artifact away from these people, but Myka repeats tonight’s mantra of the downsides to artifacts, and they start investigating.
Artie is getting ready to leave the B & B in the middle of a storm (where is he going?) when Brother Adrian shows up, a lurking shadow against the glass door. He thinks he’s found something that will help them locate the stolen astrolabe, and Artie pretends to be interested, though he’s privately panicking.
Back in Connecticut, Pete and Claudia learn that Brady lent out four marbles to his friends to help them all out with the pressure of the IMT. In fact, his friend Tommy is beating up another student right now, and it’s being posted online. At the headmaster’s office, Hugo helpfully suggests that Brady only share things like chips or “a joint at a concert” from now on. The team splits up to find the other three marbles.
Myka meanwhile tries to get Steve to open up to her, but he dodges the offer to talk about his feelings. They find an ad on the hallway bulletin board for a local jazz club, The Altered Scale, and remember Alex wearing their shirt. They head there to investigate, though the whole club is chock full of random knick knacks that could easily be artifacts. Luckily the bartender assures them that nothing is new there. They’re enthralled by the trumpeter practicing; his name is Ethan (Sam Huntington), and he plays every night. He’s looking pretty sickly and frail, however, and the bartender tells them the doctors can’t figure out what his mysterious three-month sickness is.
Artie’s predicament is only getting worse with Brother Adrian, who has brought along Jack Duncan’s spur. Duncan, according to Artie, was the most successful bounty hunter in New Mexico, and his spur will help them locate the astrolabe.
At Tilson Academy, Pete, Claudia and Hugo are tracking down Brady’s friends one by one. Brady is starting to feel the downside of the marbles, though, and Hugo has brought him to the nurse’s office. The only way to save him is to neutralize the marbles, but one of his friends (Pierce) had his marble confiscated by the headmaster after an outburst in class.
Artie tries to trick Adrian into thinking the spur was defective. While Adrian’s eyes are closed to focus on the astrolabe, Artie waves another artifact over the spur and it melts. He tries to explain it away with something about one artifact trying to find another, but Adrian calls him on his lie. The spur was a fake, a thrift store find Adrian used to test Artie’s intent, and now his suspicions are confirmed. While this is bad news for Artie, I’m glad Adrian figured it out. He’s clearly an intelligent man, and Artie has been too nervous of a liar for it to be plausible for him to lie to Adrian the entire season.
Myka and Steve talk to Ethan about his pain problem. They think he’s using something to take on the pain of other people. Ethan insists he hasn’t gotten anything new in the last three months, and he’s going to play through the pain while he still can.
The headmaster of Tilson Academy has goals that are not quite as fun as Pete hypothesizes—he’s bringing together a potent mix of chemicals, not holding the ideal car wash fundraiser. Pete learns from his assistant that he’s gone down to the gym for the IMT basketball final, muttering something about the school board finally getting theirs. The board has slashed the school’s budget recently, and Headmaster Marshall is pissed. Though of course, you didn’t hear that from his assistant. Claudia and Hugo, however, are trapped in the infirmary by Brady and his friends, whose main goal is to keep the IMT going.
Adrian meets Artie at the Univille Diner to exchange veiled and not-so-veiled threats. Artie categorically refuses to reset the astrolabe and redo the disaster from the season three finale. He attempts to make his case to Adrian, but he’s having none of it. He says he’s okay with living with the evil he created, but Adrian asks if he’s willing to condemn the rest of the world to dealing with it too.
Things are getting serious all around: Myka and Steve confront Ethan about his stealing other people’s pain to get better at playing jazz, and he owns up to it but also refuses to stop. When he collapses, ashen faced, he latches onto Steve with one hand on the artifact, absorbing Steve’s massive amounts of pain. Claudia, who doesn’t know about the pain connection between her and Steve yet, starts feeling it too, and she sinks to the ground, gasping for breath.
Adrian threatens Artie with the full force of the Brotherhood of the Black Diamond, vowing to dismantle Artie’s life’s work the same way he dismantled theirs. And, Adrian adds as he sweeps out of the diner, they play by their own rules and do whatever needs to be done. I have to be honest, I didn’t take Adrian all too seriously before, but Brent Spiner really nails the icy yet casual threat here. Suddenly, I’m worried for Artie.
Despite her own painful situation, Claudia manages to reassure a panicky Hugo that this was not his fault. He showed Brady the marbles in the hopes that he’d go on to become a Warehouse agent too; all he wanted, after being trapped in the computer system for 30 years, is to leave a real legacy, but now he feels he’s screwed it all up. Hugo spends a lot of his time being funny or a little bit out there, and it was touching to see a moment of real concern and emotion from him.
Steve pleads with Ethan to let go because he’s choking Claudia too, and Myka hears him. Well, that’s one person who knows that secret now. She lunges towards the men’s clasped hands, and knocks the artifact clear. Once neutralized, Steve and Claudia return to normal breathing patterns.
Claudia and Hugo race to the gym to meet Pete, though there’s no sign of the headmaster. The only place he could be is the furnace room below the gym. Pete heads there alone (never a good idea, Pete) to take him down. Headmaster Marshall, who was a chemistry teacher before his administration days, is mixing up a noxious formula that will turn gaseous and fill the gym with poisoned air when pumped through the vents.
Pete knocks Marshall out cold with a pipe as he’s pouring the liquid into the furnace. Hugo and Claudia, via Farnsworth, say the only way to stop it is to stop the furnace itself. Momentarily stumped by the complexity of the giant fuse box, Pete then grabs the final marble and concentrates enough to pull the right piece out to stop the poison.
Hugo and Claudia meanwhile have evacuated the gym (though not without Hugo committing the emergency faux pas of saying both “poison gas” and “trampling” in his evacuation speech), and it’s a success all around once Pete pops the last marble in the bag and neutralizes it. When the headmaster half-remembers what he was in the process of doing, the trio blames it on a batch of really bad mushrooms that he ate on his salad for lunch. If this kind of thing happened in real life, would people fall for explanations like that?
The Ethan situation has cooled off as well. The artifact was Scott Joplin’s cigarette case; Ethan had gotten it from his great-great grandfather, who used to work with Joplin. He thought the only way to be a great musician was to play from a place of pain and life experience, no matter if the cost was death. Dee, the bartender, thinks that’s pretty selfish of Ethan to do to the people who love him. And, you know, she might be one of them. Turns out the feeling is mutual, so that was a cute way to wrap up Ethan’s story. A little cliché, perhaps, but still cute.
Myka and Steve balance out that cute with a serious talk. Steve confesses he’s known about the pain connection for a week, and also that he has yet to talk to Claudia about it. That’s probably step one. It’s really not okay for Steve to walk around with this knowledge and not share it with Claudia, whom it directly affects. Though he’s sad that those people who were cured had their pain and suffering return, he’s learned another lesson of the week: people have to work through their pain on their own time.
Everyone has returned to the Warehouse in triumph, except for Artie, though he doesn’t show it. Steve asks for permission to sit out the next few missions to learn more about the metronome, which Artie grants. Artie also pulls Pete aside to ask how Claudia did. When Pete says “scary,” Artie immediately flashes to his vision of evil, stabbing Claudia, but Pete just meant in a good, force-of-nature kind of way.
I had thought Artie knew what artifact Hugo was asking them to retrieve, but when Pete mentions the marbles, Artie gets spooked. He strides off through the Warehouse, mumbling about Adrian’s threat to dismantle his life’s work, and sure enough, Bobby Fischer’s marbles are marked removed from their shelf. In their place is a black diamond. Cue the dramatic music and a sharp gasp from Artie.
While this episode was good, particularly in terms of the season-long dark story arc moving forward, the message about artifacts having downsides was extremely heavy-handed. I mean, we get it. Actions have consequences, and all the characters are going to have to face theirs by season’s end. I was glad to see Hugo again, though, and I’m anxious to see how far this feud between Adrian and Artie is going to go.