I should begin this post by saying that my little sister, Alanya Divine, is basically the best sister ever. Though we fought like cats and dogs when we were kids, we’ve become genuine friends in the last decade or so, and she’s bailed me out of a few real messes. She’s an incredibly talented jewelry maker, she’s painted some amazing pieces (two of which occupy places of honor on my bedroom walls), and of course she’s given me my favorite niece, Elizabeth, who is pretty much perfect in every way, though she needs to hug her freaking aunt more often. I love her dearly, and I owe her a great deal.
You may be wondering why I’m talking about my sister in a Fangirl Fridays post. Well, I am a big fan of my sister, but I’m actually here to talk about one of my favorite female characters on television right now. The two are just somewhat related. See, late last year, I found out about the Claudia Donovan Animated Maquette from Quantum Mechanix. I’m an enormous fan of Warehouse 13, and of Claudia Donovan in particular, so when I saw that little statue, I pretty much had the classic geek reaction: IT MUST BE MINE!
But money’s been tight lately (so, by the way, if anyone’s looking to employ a geeky, snarky redhead with three years of game QA experience and a small talent for writing, I’m free), and there was no way I was going to scrape together the spare cash for that statue before the preorders closed. Luckily, I mentioned it to my sister, and probably went a little overboard in my gushing over the character, and as it happened, she had wanted to know what I wanted for Christmas anyway, so…
Needless to say, it arrived on Tuesday.
Claudia’s taken up residence on my TV shelf, directly opposite Tali (who is herself worthy of a Fangirl Fridays post at some point), and in honor of her arrival, I thought I’d talk a bit about why I love her so very much.
I was a pretty big fan of Warehouse 13 from the moment it started airing on (sigh) Syfy. Though there were some initial complaints that the concept strayed too close to Steve Jackson Games’ Warehouse 23, I think the show moved quickly to distinguish itself from the SJG-created game setting/meme, and both owe as much to the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the conspiracy theories surrounding Roswell and Area 51 as anything. The cast, including veteran TV character actor Saul Rubinek, was full of intriguing and delightfully quirky characters, and the premise – that figures throughout history had invested their creations with strange and often dangerous powers, and it fell to the small team affiliated with Warehouse 13 (itself the heir to a dozen previous Warehouses around the world, going all the way back to ancient Egypt) to collect, neutralize and preserve them: to “snag, bag, and tag ’em,” as the show’s most prominent catchphrase goes.
But while I enjoyed the show immensely, something seemed to be missing. Artie Nielsen, Saul Rubinek’s character, was wrapped in mystery and often distant from the main characters, former Secret Service agents Myka Bering and Peter Lattimer. The recurring characters of Leena the psychic innkeeper and the eternally enigmatic Mrs. Frederic, director of Warehouse 13 (played by the unforgettable C.C.H. Pounder), were little better. As for Myka and Pete, they soon became a dynamic duo, and their explorations of the bizarre world of Warehouse 13 mirrored the viewer’s own journey, but there seemed to be little tying them to the rest of the cast.
And then, just a few episodes in, it all began to change. WARNING: spoilers for the first season follow.
The first few episodes of the series included a tantalizing subplot revolving around an unseen hacker who was trying to infiltrate the Warehouse’s computer systems. At the end of the third episode, these attacks culminated in a terrifying all-out assault in which the hacker briefly assumed control of the mainframe. As Artie scrambled to lock the intruder out, the mainframe abruptly lit up with a simple yet enigmatic message, repeated over and over again: KNOCK KNOCK.
It didn’t take long for the hacker to reveal herself. In the very next episode, Claudia Donovan, a figure from Artie’s shrouded past, managed to get inside the Warehouse itself – and, worse, she managed to abduct Artie himself. As Myka and Pete tried to track her down and save their boss, Claudia confronted Artie over his role in the disappearance of her older brother several years ago. Forced to face his guilt and shame over the whole affair, Artie soon agreed to help Claudia with a seemingly far-fetched plan to rescue her brother from his predicament. Once Myka and Pete were on the same page, he and Claudia managed to use an array of artifacts from the Warehouse to locate and retrieve her lost brother – and while Joshua Donovan eased his way back into the world around him, Claudia fearlessly accepted the consequences of her crimes against the Warehouse and stepped forward to face the music.
It was clear from the start that those consequences could very well be dire: Mrs. Frederic herself made it very clear that Artie could either hire Claudia or dispose of her. Artie chose the former, and offered Claudia a job as his assistant. Though initially tasked with cataloging artifacts, organizing files and beefing up the mainframe’s security, her boredom with these tasks soon led her to pursue various side projects, with and without Artie’s blessing. Though she was already clearly a bright young woman, the true scope of her intelligence was revealed only in later episodes, as she showed a distinct talent for her own unique brand of superscience, redesigning artifacts to serve a variety of esoteric purposes. We are talking about a girl who not only understood the principles behind a holographic projector built by Alexander Graham Bell, but successfully transformed it into a 3D imaging device capable of creating a composite hologram out of disparate 2D digital images. And a girl who literally invented a suit to transform the wearer into a superhero. Claudia has some truly insane skills.
That’s far from the only reason why I love her, though it’s a start.
The fact of the matter is that Claudia is a tremendously fun character. She’s snarky, funny, cheerful, genuinely enthusiastic about her job, and openly affectionate with her friends. In the last few seasons, she has rapidly become the glue that holds Warehouse 13 together – a surrogate daughter to Artie, a surrogate little sister to Myka, an occasional partner in crime to Pete, and one of the few people to truly stand up to Mrs. Frederic’s machinations. When a new agent joined the team, she was the first person to welcome him with open arms, and soon formed a close friendship with him as well. Her brief fling with Douglas Fargo in the course of a crossover with Eureka was adorable, hilarious and authentic (and made for a nice change from her previous romantic subplot, which was a bit dull and overly convoluted). As an unabashed geek, she’s the perfect avatar for the show’s core audience. Brave, loving, brilliant and fierce, she is one of the best female characters on (sigh) Syfy right now, and possibly one of the best female characters on TV, period (along with Leslie Knope and the late lamented Veronica Mars, of course). She’s not perfect. She certainly makes her share of mistakes. But she is nevertheless a wonderful role model. I would be thrilled if my niece, upon her inevitable discovery of Warehouse 13, decided she wanted to be Claudia Donovan grew up. Hell, I want to be Claudia Donovan when I grow up.
Of course, it helps that Claudia is brought to life by Allison Scagliotti, an adorable and all-around awesome young actress who has stood up with numerous other celebrities in support of the NOH8 Campaign. She’s a comic book fan, she loves Joan Jett (which demonstrates her exquisite taste), and she’s got some serious pipes of her own, as demonstrated by her memorable cover of The Pixies‘ Where Is My Mind? on a recent episode of Warehouse 13. I admit that I know her mainly as Claudia Donovan (though I did see her guest appearance as Jayna of the Wonder Twins on Smallville), but I was swift to follow her on Twitter and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen of her work outside the show.
If you’re not watching Warehouse 13, you should be. It’s a fun show with some truly terrific characters (and I could write a whole other post on the relationship between Myka and recurring character H.G. Wells – yes, THE H.G. Wells, but not quite the one you expect), some epic plotlines and some brilliant ideas. There are a lot of reasons to tune in. But it’s really worth watching for Claudia Donovan alone. I can hardly wait to see her adventures continue – but at least I have a truly awesome little Claudia statue to keep me company in the meantime.
(Seriously. I have the best sister.)