Original airdate: November 7, 1999
by Michelle Erica Green

Gold Out of Dirt

"Transformation" Plot Summary:

Salzburg, Austria, 1946: Two men break into the Brotherhood of Alchemists to find a cloth-wrapped box containing a pair of ancient paper scrolls. A booby trap kills one thief, but the other flees with the artifacts. More than 50 years later, Sydney Fox practices Tai Chi with a class of women in tank tops. A pushy man in black who drives a humvee barges in, demanding that she dismiss her "ballet" students. Sydney is furious until he hands her a scroll, which she immediately identifies as one of Paracelsus' alchemical formulas. "Half of it," explains the guy, who identifies himself as a Pentagon agent. He wants her to help him find the other scroll before it falls into the wrong hands.

A photo identifies the man from the opening as Arthur Stanton, an entrepreneur who sold tanks to both sides during World War II. He loved gold and disappeared at about the same time that the scrolls vanished shortly after the war. Derek Lloyd, the government agent, says that since she's on a need-to-know basis, all he can tell her is that they've traced Stanton to a villa in Peru. Outside her door, Nigel and Claudia snoop. When they're caught by the departing agent who plans to return for Sydney, Claudia explains that she dropped her contact lens. "You don't wear contacts," Sydney sighs.

Though Derek checks out as an authentic Pentagon employee, Sydney becomes suspicious about the man's paranoia when he refuses to take Nigel on the mission. She refuses to go without her assistant, so Derek says that the government won't be responsible for his safety. The trio head to the Peruvian jungle, where Derek has a contact to lead them to Stanton's villa. While Nigel gets flustered by the strong drinks and the pretty waitresses who shower in the open air right outside the restaurant, Sydney saves Derek's life by putting herself in the middle of a knife fight between the agent and his greedy contact. "Where'd you learn that?" asks admiring Derek. "Ballet class," she retorts.

As they enter no-man's-land, the group is stopped by an armed militia which warns them of land mines all around. When the armed men accept Derek's offer of U.S. cash to help move a tree in the road, Nigel gets a phone call. It's Claudia, who called a contact of Sydney's in Washington and has some news. Derek Lloyd is dead; he was killed by another agent three days earlier. As they pile back in their Jeep with the impostor, Sydney is relieved to escape the unwanted attention of a soldier, but Nigel is about to have a nervous breakdown.

The Jeep overheats. Nigel tells Sydney the truth about Derek. "He's crazy!" exclaims the Englishman, but she says that's all the more reason not to confront him. "He needs us." "He needs you, not me!" "True but I need you." Fearing that a call for help could be traced, Derek orders the others to start walking. Suddenly, he pulls a gun on Nigel. "Don't move!" The terrified teaching assistant has stepped on a land mine. He trips when Sydney tries to rescue him and she falls on top of Derek, threatening to knee him in a very delicate spot when he refuses to let go of her. The mine goes off belatedly as she declares that it must be a dud.

During a rest as they circle the compound, Sydney explains how Paracelsus made two scrolls with magnetic attraction to one another. A sudden gunshot makes them jump, but the bullet kills a deadly snake at Sydney's feet. Whoever fired the gun saved her life. Derek wants to save the snake for dinner. Reaching the villa, Sydney realizes her guide was wrong about it being abandoned, as soldiers are using it as a base of operations. When they go out on patrol, she and her colleagues overwhelm the remaining guards, but the professor has to stop the agent from killing them. Instead the guards are penned inside a fence.

The house has been ransacked, but there's no sign of an alchemical lab. Sydney sees that Arthur Stanton had his name inlaid in the mosaic on the floor. Recalling that the chemical name for gold is AU, she steps on those letters and a hidden door opens. Inside they find a lab...and a woman. Derek wants to shoot her. Realizing that this must be the person who saved her from the snake, Sydney won't let him. The woman says she's there to help Sydney and arrest their guide. "He killed Derek Lloyd," she announces. Sydney hesitates, asking Nigel to check the other woman for a wire, which he finds in her bra as "Derek" predicted. "I could care less about the scrolls...I just want to keep them from the wrong hands," the man explains. Apparently, the wrong hands are this woman's.

Sydney decides that the woman's actions don't make sense. If she was trying to save them from their guide, she waited too long. They put the snarling woman in the wire pen with the guards. Afterwards, at Sydney's insistence, she pins "Derek" to a post and he identifies the woman as his boss Turley, and himself as Richard Watson, the partner of the murdered Derek Lloyd. He claims Turley killed Derek after they found the first scroll of Paracelsus because she's obsessed with getting them both for herself. Richard took Derek's name to access the agency databases because Turley cancelled his own access.

Back in the lab, Sydney and Nigel find a hidden curtain behind a bookshelf. Inside is a golden room, with a gold sarcophagus containing a body mummified in gold cloth. But there is no scroll. The light and dark scrolls are like yin and yang, Richard explains, so it stands to reason that if this is the room of the light scroll, there should be a parallel room. Sure enough, they discover a chamber which absorbs the light from their flashlights. Putting on infrared visors, Sydney and Richard go inside and retrieve the lost scroll of Paracelsus. As soon as Sydney puts the scrolls together, there is a great explosion of light and power. Sydney jumps through a portal that appears in the middle and finds herself back in the lab with Richard; the dark chamber has vanished.

As they leave the villa, Turley accosts the group with a gun. "Hello, Richard, I'll take them now. You backed the wrong guy, Sydney." "I don't think so!" she exclaims, tossing the scrolls to Nigel as she kicks away the weapon. The two women fall into the pigpen as they struggle and begin wrestling in the mud. Richard starts to help, then decides he's having more fun watching. So does Nigel, and the two men exchange conspiratorial smiles. "Enjoying the show?" snaps Sydney, advising them to watch their backs. A moment later, one of Turley's cronies leaps at them, and the entire group ends up covered in mud before Sydney defeats Turley. A pig snorts complacently at filthy Nigel.

Back at the restaurant, Sydney takes advantage of the open-air shower while Nigel falls asleep on the inviting bosom of the waitress. Richard says he can't go back to the agency. His newfound conscience will get in the way of the necessary kill-or-be-killed mentality. The professor suggests that he remain in Peru and fix up the villa, maybe work for one side or the other in the war. When she learns that Richard intends to give the scrolls to the government for good use, however, she reminds him of what happened when scientists gave them atomic energy. A need-to-know basis doesn't work with something this powerful. So since he found one scroll and she found the other scroll, the pair only work in tandem and they're never going to see each other again...? The next time we see a scroll of Paracelsus, it is in the arms of an Asian sculpture in the studio where Sydney practices Tai Chi.


This episode offers an obvious albeit harmless leaden moral: even dirty guys can be turned to princes. Thank goodness no one actually expected us to believe in alchemy, or to believe that Sydney believes in it! People have certainly killed one another for centuries in the search for the power to create gold, but the South American setting and nebulous link with a war criminal seemed an odd choice for the final resting place of the scrolls of Paracelsus. I thought the episode needed a little more mysticism, something akin to the Knights Templar story in The Maltese Falcon. The weirdo explosions and black hole effects of the chamber of darkness just didn't cut it.

On the other hand, Sydney never wore more than a tank top the entire episode, and Derek/Richard was a drool-inducing perfect gorgeous hunk! Even Claudia noticed, though she seems to have developed a certain fondness for Nigel, whose girly-man routine does not prevent him from appreciating pretty senoritas or a mud-covered Sydney. This may be a fairly shallow reason for enjoying a series, but it never hurt either, and the open-minded, tongue-in-cheek attitudes about attraction and sexuality makes it easy to enjoy the antics.

It's interesting that the perfect bodies of the young people on Buffy and Angel annoy me, but the slightly older folk on Relic Hunter don't drive me nearly as batty. Maybe because the show's sensibility is not so relentlessly youth-oriented. I expect that young girls admire Sydney, I expect that teenage guys check out the tank tops, but I also expect that people of any age could get a kick out of the pseudo-history and Indiana Jones antics. I certainly do, and as a 30-something woman, I'm not any genre show's ideal demographic audience.

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