Episode Title: "The Greatest Gift"
Story by: Mike Johnson & John-Paul Nickel
Teleplay by: John-Paul Nickel
Director: Jack Kenny
In Florida, it's Christmas time and something strange is afoot. Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) and his partner, Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly) arrive posing as power workers just as a reindeer bursts out of the front door of a house. Christmas lights and decorations then begin attacking Pete until Myka retrieves an apparently cursed red reindeer nose. The reindeer on the lawn turns back into a dog and Pete is saved from the decorations. In gratitude for helping to save her dog, the young girl living in the house gives Pete a candy cane. Back at Warehouse 13, the team prepares to separate for the holiday season.
Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek) practically has to be blackmailed into leaving with the veiled threat that his would-be love, Vanessa would spend time in Vegas with her other suitor, Hugo. But Pete joyfully stays behind in the Warehouse rather than go shopping with his mom and sister. As Pete goes to put the reindeer nose away, he accidentally spills several artifacts, including a brush. Pete puts the artifacts back on the shelf and walks to the office, where he finds two Warehouse agents, Sandra (Ieva Lucs) and Raymond (Charles Malik Whitfield); who are surprised to see him.
When the agents draw their weapons at Pete, he insists that he's an agent and he demands to see Artie. A voice informs him that Artie hasn't worked there for years and Pete sees that the speaker is James MacPherson (Roger Rees); Artie's nemesis who died years before. At first, the Warehouse agents think that Pete may be a random victim of an artifact, but Pete insists that MacPherson is evil and secretly selling artifacts on the black market… which is overheard by Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder). Taken to the B&B to be identified by Leena (Genelle Williams), she informs Pete that he doesn't have an aura. Regardless, Pete knocks out Raymond and escapes.
Out of desperation, Pete tracks down Myka at her Secret Service office, but she has no idea who he is and she dismisses the personal details he knows about her as stalkerish. Myka also lets the security guards throw Pete out of the building. Back at the Warehouse, MacPherson is worried about Pete's escape and he orders his agents to find him. Later, Pete finds Myka again at a bar and he promises to leave her be if she tells him why she's alone on Christmas Eve. When Myka can't come up with a convincing answer, Pete tells her that in his world, she's loved by friends and family… and her father is still alive.
After a few more personal details about her father convince Myka, Pete tells her they need to find Artie. It turns out to be easy, since Myka had Artie arrested while trying to recover an artifact… and his actions were misconstrued as an assassination attempt on the President. In prison, Artie buys Pete's story immediately and he demands to know which artifact he touched. Artie theorizes that Pete touched Philip Van Doren Stern's upholstery brush. And since Stern wrote "The Greatest Gift" (which inspired "It's a Wonderful Life"), then Pete is experiencing a reality in which he was never born. Artie comes on board the quest to recover the artifact and he is released from prison thanks to some unexpected help from Mrs. Frederic.
When he learns of Artie's release, MacPherson deduces that Mrs. Frederic is working against him. He orders his agents to bring Artie to him dead or alive. Meanwhile, Pete leads his team to the psychiatric facility where Claudia is being held. Pete warns Artie that Claudia may have a grudge over the disappearance and apparent death of her brother, Joshua. But Pete is able to win over Claudia as well by telling her that Joshua is alive and they can free him once they break into Warehouse 13. Shortly thereafter, Raymond and Sandra catch up to the team, but Pete's reunited friends knock both of them out.
Back at the Warehouse, Mrs. Frederic confronts MacPherson, but he uses an artifact to control her body and he bronzes her before telling his agents to return to the Warehouse. At the B&B, Leena is reunited with Artie and she recognizes that he's there for good. She also gives him the necklace artifact that will allow him to enter the Warehouse without dying. Using Pete's inside knowledge and some handy Arabic from Myka, the team gets in and Pete reiterates that they are all a surrogate family in his world. He also points out that Artie is like a father to Claudia.
Inside the office, Claudia easily breaks through the security system, but it falls on Artie to save her from an invisible sword wielding MacPherson before Sandra and Raymond capture them. Elsewhere, Pete and Myka escape a trap only to find that MacPherson has removed all of the Christmas artifacts in the hopes of destroying the one that Pete touched… which would make this reality permanent. Pete and Myka catch up to MacPherson and his goons just as they attempt to bronze Artie and Claudia. Sandra and Raymond go down, but MacPherson slips away.
Team Pete confronts MacPherson as he begins dumping Christmas artifacts into the molten furnace. Artie uses an artifact to get on the platform behind MacPherson and they struggle for the brush. Artie takes a leap of faith and tosses the brush to Pete moments before MacPherson rips off the necklace and murders him. Peter leaps over the furnace to catch the brush and he lands back home in reality… with a candy cane in his back pocket again. Pete is so overjoyed to be back among his friends that he even hugs Mrs. Frederic; who doesn't appreciate the gesture. As it turns out, everyone is snowed in for Christmas Eve, allowing the makeshift family to watch the big fight from Las Vegas. But when Pete learns that the fight has been preempted for "It's A Wonderful Life," he screams.
"The Greatest Gift" was infinitely better than last year's "Warehouse 13" Christmas special for one main reason: this was a story that was actually about the main characters of the show. Without shifting focus to the guest stars (or victims of the week), this episode gave the audience a rare chance to see all four of the main characters in action together. It was also one of the better riffs on "It's A Wonderful Life"/"The Greatest Gift" to come along in a while.
Aside from the core cast, Roger Rees was the highlight of the episode. Bringing MacPherson back for an alternate reality episode was a very good idea. MacPherson is still the best villain that this series has ever had, and he has more charisma than Walter Sikes or any of the season three villains ever had. (H. G. Wells is in her own anti-heroine category) Some of the best moments of the hour came when MacPherson bronsed Mrs. Frederic and nearly did the same to Artie and Claudia. If this storyline had somehow morphed into a season long arc for Pete return to the real timeline, I would have been on board for that.
However, MacPherson's Warehouse agents were bland and forgettable. The story also blew a chance to put Steve Jinks in the episode as one of MacPherson's men. It makes sense that Pete doesn't have the same emotional connection to Jinks that he had for Myka, Claudia and Artie. But Jinks still should have been there and he gets only a passing mention even though the episode clearly takes place during the third season when he was still alive. Was Aaron Ashmore not available for even a cameo?
The other weakness was Pete's attempt to win over Myka. Considering how skeptical Myka was towards Pete, she seemed to cave a little too easily. I didn't really believe that she could make the leap of faith to trust Pete and spring Artie. Claudia and Artie's quick conversions made sense. Artie knew what the artifacts could do and Claudia just wanted her brother back. The father/daughter dynamic between Artie and Claudia is one of my favorite aspects of the regular series and it got several key moments after Claudia joined the quest. I got a laugh out of Artie weirdly calling her "daughter" and his half-hearted attempt to convince her that the bronzing wasn't painful.
This episode also did a lot to restore the grandeur of the Warehouse itself; which sometimes gets lost in the weekly series. Seeing Claudia and Myka gasp at the sight of the entire complex made the "Endless Wonder" motto seem more convincing than usual.
Comedy is sometimes the bane of this show and even Eddie McClintock can be somewhat annoying as a human cartoon. However, McClintock gave such a relatively restrained performance here that his antics at the end actually worked. Of course, McClintock had some help via the terrific CCH Pounder; whose facial expressions were hilarious as Pete hugged her. Even Leena didn't seem out of place in this story, even though she still rarely gets to do anything on the show and she didn't have many scenes here either.
All in all, this was one of the stronger episodes of the entire third season. "Warehouse 13" is usually pretty good, but this was great television.
Bring on season four!
Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.