'Eleventh Hour' and the box of pox

Marley SheltonLike the hybrid smallpox virus at the center of this episode, this week's installment of Eleventh Hour is also a hybrid. The main storyline is culled entirely from an episode of the original British series, but there's a little bit of original character development spliced in, mixed with a dash of half the cast of Sleeper Cell.

Not only is the storyline taken from one of Stephen Gallagher's original British episodes, but a good chunk of the dialogue is pilfered as well, including the trivial jokey bits such as Jacob's discussion of the NASA technology in the talking robot and Rachel's suggestion to call up #4 on Christopher Fisher's speed dial. If you don't like the idea of episodes that are ripped entirely from what the Brits did, take solace in the fact that there were only four installments of the British series ever done, and now we've done two of those. So this isn't going to happen too many more times.

It's my impression, however, that few people around here have seen the British series, and few people care. So I won't bother too much with highlighting similarities, and instead, let's begin with where this episode really deviates, in Rachel's story. Rachel gets her most meaningful character development to date here. We first see Rachel inside FBI headquarters in Washington, the first time we've seen her or Jacob at an actual FBI building. But we don't see Rachel inside an office, just in the hallway, so it's still unclear whether she and Hood have an actual office anywhere, or any colleagues whom we may ever meet. Part of me does kinda like the fact they have no headquarters support team whom we've ever seen, because it plays up the roguish, off-the-grid style of making it seem like these are two people just going off on their own and saving the world, which is fun. That being said, I can also see how it might be helpful down the line to bring in a semi-recurring character or two from the FBI, because it could enhance Hood and Rachel's character development to see them interact with people who are neither each other nor total strangers.

Rachel runs into a former colleague in the hallway, and the fellow G-man discusses how he's supervising a team investigating WMD now, and asks if Rachel is working in counterterrorism like she had planned. Not quite. Rachel sheepishly tries to defend her current position as unique and interesting, but she's a little embarrassed. Serving as the handler for a science whiz is not quite what she had in mind when she was training to become an elite FBI agent. And when Rachel tries to talk science with the former colleague, the guy literally just walks away, having absolutely no interest in what Rachel's doing.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, we meet a construction worker named Ned, on the phone with his wife pledging not to flake out on their son's birthday party later that day. Ned is played by Henri Lubatti, an American actor getting a rare chance to actually play an American, since he usually ends up playing foreigners. Even still, Lubatti has a completely different American accent from the one he had on an episode of Life just a few weeks ago, so good luck ever figuring out what his real voice sounds like. But his appearance heralds the first front-of-camera crossover between Eleventh Hour and the former Showtime series Sleeper Cell, which was created by EH executive producers Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris. The presence of Reiff and Voris on Eleventh Hour is one of the major draws that interested me in this series to begin with, so a little connection like this is highly appreciated.

Lubatti is the first, but then fellow former Sleeper Cell costar Oded Fehr also quickly shows up. Oded Fehr is so very, very awesome. I really miss having him on TV on a regular basis. Jacob and Rachel have been summoned to Pittsburgh to investigate the suspicious death of a man at a construction site, since the man appears to have possibly contracted a virus, or radiation poisoning, or something that would entail a much greater public risk than just the one victim. When Jacob gets there, the man to see is Fehr's character, Cal Rigdon, an expert on viruses currently working for the state. Rigdon is an old friend of Hood's who used to work at the CDC. Wait, Hood has friends? Rachel is a little shocked; she's suddenly dealing with Hood plus a colleague who talks a lot like Hood.

Rufus SewellHood, Rigdon and Rachel check out the dead body, who is covered in nasty pustules. "Oh, that's incredible," Hood reacts. Yeah, that's one way of putting it. The victim and the cause are both quickly identified. The man was named Christopher Fisher, and he was something of a freelance mortitian, which is a bit odd. But the man's profession is nowhere near as troubling as his cause of death: smallpox. Smallpox has been deemed officially eradicated by the World Health Organization, but Hood and Rigdon know that there are samples of the virus still kept around for possible research purposes. If some of that smallpox were ever released, though, it would be catastrophic, because the public isn't vaccinated for it since it is presumed to be long dead.

It is quickly determined that Fisher didn't contract the smallpox at this construction site. He had to have gotten it elsewhere, presumably from a dead body that he had embalmed as a fly-by-night mortician. Rachel and Jacob manage to find his employer, who reveals that Fisher had recently embalmed three bodies. One of the deceased had worked at a cold storage facility - exactly the sort of place where you would store your smallpox, if you had smallpox that needed storing.

Fisher is the first known person to have contracted the smallpox, but that doesn't explain where he got it. It's possible that the smallpox might have originated in another country, where an outbreak could have happened but the global public would never know about it. The facility does employ a number of Guatemalan immigrants, and Rachel learns that a couple of them came from a hometown in Guatemala where a number of people had gotten very sick recently.

This will all be an elaborate dead end; the Guatemalans aren't actually the origin of the smallpox. But Hood and Rachel don't know that yet, and they head to the home of one of the immigrant families to investigate. A young man runs, Rachel chases after him, the man gets hit by a car, and Rachel instinctively tries to help him. That's a mistake, for when Rachel comes into contact with the man's blood, she is believed to have possibly just gotten herself infected. Rachel has to be tossed into quarantine. She's not happy about it, but it's necessary: six of Ned's coworkers have died, and Ned is also in quarantine, soon to join them. Rachel, from behind the quarantine screen, tells Jacob that he needs to call the FBI and request a new handler, something which Jacob flatly refuses to do. You're not going to get a big emotional moment here of Jacob telling Rachel how important she is to him, because that's not Hood's nature, but his defiant assertion that Rachel is not to be replaced is the closest you're going to get to some sweet sentimentality.

But again, the Guatemalans aren't actually the source of the smallpox. The one sick Guatemalan youth who freaked everybody out didn't have smallpox; he had chicken pox. Rachel is released. And when Hood explains to Rachel what's going on, he mentions the technical name for smallpox, variola, in front of a worker named Manny who recognizes that word. The cold storage facility did indeed store variola; Manny and the other workers simply had no idea what that was. Manny explains that Jack, the employee of the storage facility who had died and been embalmed by Fisher, had had a mechanical problem with the freezer one day. A box of smallpox is harmless when frozen, but the freezer was dead for a short while, and that's how Jack got infected.

But it doesn't really matter that the box of smallpox is now comfortably back in the freezer - because its contents have been emptied. Manny didn't know what variola was, but somebody did, and whoever put that virus there in the first place has now taken it out. The manager of the facility, Pulido, had taken the samples, but not for himself. He was trying to bring them to none other than Cal Rigdon.

It was Rigdon, the public safety expert, who had actually been responsible for the mini-outbreak all along. Rigdon launches into a spiel about how we're not effectively preparing ourselves for the diseases of the future, and more research needs to be done. Rigdon had acquired the smallpox samples for research purposes. But who would be dumb enough to store smallpox in a public storage facility? Only somebody who had no other choice, because the funding for Rigdon's university lab had been shut down. Rigdon's research went unrecognized and underfunded, and these are the results.

Rachel shoots the hell out of Pulido, who had already been infected with the smallpox and didn't care about saving herself anymore. Rachel's job may not entail all the glamour that the FBI promises, but she does get to shoot people once in a while, so it's all good. Pulido had all of the vials of the sample on him except for one. While Jacob and Rachel were dealing with him, Rigdon went to the quarantine area, locked himself in, and injected himself with the final smallpox sample. So that's twice in three weeks on this show where a professor has basically committed suicide by self-administered lethal injection.

After it's all over, Rachel talks to Hood about everything, from her embarrassment talking about her job with a fellow FBI agent to her fear of nearly dying. She says she wondered if her job was really important, if she was really doing work as valuable as what her FBI peers do, but ultimately, she realized that the answer was yes. Hood does wonderful work, and Rachel is happy to help out. But for his part, Hood is still not actively participating in any sentimentality - he's totally preoccupied with a talking robot, the last gift that Ned had bought for his son's birthday.

Out of the quarantine, and into the comment pool. What did you think? Is this the closest and most sentimental that Jacob and Rachel will get, or do you see their relationship continuing to get more personally close? Are there any Sleeper Cell fans in the house? And if you could lock up any character on TV in quarantine, to be kept away from the public for their own good, who would you lock up?