Henry and Declan bring a team to the Bering Sea to investigate the mysterious deaths of the crew and abnormal cargo on a shipwrecked Russian icebreaker in Sanctuary 4.07, “Icebreaker”.
Each season of Sanctuary has included a similar storyline — the team trapped somewhere, usually involving water and/or cold. Generally, these have been my least favorite episodes of the franchise. “Icebreaker” didn’t change that trend. Nothing was missing in the quality of the elements viewers expect from Sanctuary — high production and SFX values, top-notch acting, tons of action and witty, snappy dialogue. To some degree, I’m just not a fan of this type of story, but I had a few issues with this one in particular. If you haven’t seen the episode, spoilers follow.
As the episode opens, we meet an unfamiliar Sanctuary team — a team based at the UK Sanctuary. Getting to see action from an international team in the Sanctuary Network was a delightful change to the norm. Of course, there are familiar faces: Henry is working with the team, and their leader is Declan (head of the London Sanctuary), a character who doesn’t appear often enough. One of the other members of the UK team is a bit familiar, Henry’s HAP friend, Alistair. (Episode 3.06, “Animus”)
The team is exploring a stranded Russian icebreaker rumored to be smuggling a shipment of abnormals. Alistair and Henry combine their HAP strength to break through the frozen shut door. A storm has blown in, delaying the arrival of the team’s ride off the deserted ship. They find a body, a crew member shot at close range. The same area holds cases of the advanced abnormal weapons the government is developing. On the bridge, they make a gruesome discovery — the rest of the crew, all shot and killed.
From the angles of the shots, Declan determines it was a free-for-all shootout, a Mexican stand-off which ended badly. The team splits up to search the ship. Declan and his group discover the abnormals are dead, the hold they are stored in turned into a huge gravesite. The carnage indicated they had also turned on each other.
Henry decides to try to get the ship’s systems working so they don’t freeze while waiting for the storm to end and Magnus to arrive. Something goes bump in the dark. The team approaches the door with weapons drawn, but it’s just Magnus and Will.
Magnus, much to Will’s chagrin, has had the audacity to fly the plane through the storm and take many chances to reach them — according to Will, taking off without clearance and almost crashing twice. Magnus landed the plane but informs the team it will need a strut replaced before it can fly again — after the storm is over. The reason Magnus gives for her urgency is there has been a rumor of “something more on board” than the smuggled weapons and abnormals. Henry agrees: “Very bad monsters would explain the need for the guns downstairs.”
In one of the holds Will, Magnus and Terri (a female xenobiologist from the UK team) discover large blocks of ice attached to the walls. Thermal scans reveal what’s inside is alive, but Magnus has no idea what kind of creature it is.
At the keel hold, Declan’s team finds the door locked. He shoots the lock off and they open the door to find the hold contains a bigger nest of the creatures. In the boiler room, Will and Murray try to shut down the boiler so the ice blocks don’t begin to thaw. Something goes wrong and Murray gets fried.
Magnus is able to view the creature in the ice block. The creature is a magoi. Will and Helen had a run-in with one once and almost didn’t survive the encounter. (Episode 1.05, “Kush”) The magoi is a frail creature, but can assume any form and make everyone in the room see the same thing. Another discovery is that the blocks of ice are fresh water, not salt. Magnus says it’s because exposure to salt water accelerates their systems, and makes them supercharged. More bad news — the ship is breaking up under the pressure of the ice. Salt water is leaking into the holds. The race is on to remove the blocks before the salt water reaches them.
Henry, Magnus and Terri go back to the lab. The ice block has thawed and the creature is loose, its whereabouts unknown. Magnus orders Henry to radio Declan and Alistair to come back and don’t get separated. Too late. Declan is still in the hold, but Alistair is bringing an ice block to the lab. Alistair speculates that one of the magoi may have already been free when they arrived because of the fate of the ship’s crew and the abnormals.
Declan receives a frantic radio call from Henry. By the time the rest of the team reach Henry and Alistair, they are standing over Terri’s body, guns pointed at each other, accusing the other of killing her. Since Terri was killed by a HAP, they lock up both Henry and Alistair.
Magnus, Will and Declan return to the keel hold where they find Alistair’s lifeless body floating in the rising water. They run back to a HAPed-up Henry, a dead magoi lying at his feet. Henry insists on seeing Alistair’s body. He feels responsible since he was the one who talked Alistair into joining the London Sanctuary.
Alistair’s death is one of the issues I have with this episode. Killing off a well-liked character is a common plot device to raise the stakes in a story, but something about this one bothered me, and I couldn’t figure out why. After all, it’s not the first time this technique has been used on the show — Ashley’s death, Clara’s killing, even the death of James Watson in Season 1 as part of the present day storyline. I realized that even though viewers were not happy with any of these deaths, all of them died for a reason crucial to the overall story. Alistair’s death, at this point, seems to be a senseless, random killing done just for the shock value.
Magnus insists everyone must stay with a partner, and if anyone is seen alone, the others should shoot to kill. Henry and Declan go to the keel hold. As they wade through the rapidly-filling hold, Will appears at the door and shuts them in. They panic, thinking they are locked in. They remember that Declan shot the handle off earlier and are able to escape.
They encounter Magnus, who claims to be looking for Will. He radios in and says he’s locked in the stern hold. They realize Will lost his radio and are not sure it’s the real Will. As he continues his attempt to convince them he’s the real Will, someone approaches. It’s a second Magnus and Will duo, weapons drawn. The puzzle Henry and Declan must solve – Will the real Drs. Magnus and Zimmerman please stand up? Which set is telling the truth?
Each pair plead their case to Henry and Declan. As Henry and Declan try to decide who to believe, one Magnus grabs the other and jumps into the water. The real Helen Magnus is the only one left standing; the imposter is dead. Salt water is deadly to the magoi and they were using the Sanctuary team to save those still frozen in the ice blocks.
Viewers get a chance to see a team from another Sanctuary in action, but over the course of the episode, Declan’s entire team is killed off. In the end, they were expendable redshirts. As a viewer, it’s upsetting to me that they brought back the delightful character of Alistair just to kill him. There aren’t that many HAPs in the world anyway. The writers of Sanctuary usually employ better storytelling techniques than those in this episode.
It’s not very often I dislike an episode of Sanctuary, so I’m sure all will be forgiven by the end of the next episode. After all, it’s the musical episode, and I love musicals.