THE BIONIC WOMAN thoughts, Season 1: Episodes 10-13 and overview (spoilers)
“Fly Jaime” is a remake of the Six Million Dollar Man episode “Survival of the Fittest” by Mann Rubin, with the screenplay credited to Rubin and story editor Arthur Rowe. The story structure is about the same, except that Steve and Oscar are swapped out for Jaime and Rudy Wells, who’s making his second appearance in TBW itself — really his first, technically, since “Welcome Home, Jaime Part 1” was filmed as a 6M$M episode. In this version, Rudy is bringing home a formula for some kind of weapony McGuffin thing, which doesn’t really come up beyond the teaser except as a motivation for the bad guys to want to kill him. Jaime is undercover as the flight attendant on the charter plane taking him home, because of course she is. (She’s chosen the, um, imaginative alias of Jaime Winters.) The supporting characters are much the same — the two main bad guys with an undercover boss called Bobby, the guy with medical training who’s too squeamish to use it, etc. — but with the addition of Vito Scotti as Romero, a lecherous Italian who spends the whole episode ogling and hitting on Jaime to an extent that was creepy even by ’70s standards, although it’s still played mostly for laughs. Steve didn’t have to contend with anything like that. But the story unfolds the same way: The plane crashes, the survivors end up on an island, and the bad guys try to kill their target before the rescue plane arrives (with Oscar aboard it, making him the one character who’s in both episodes, though he doesn’t comment on the similarity).
The emphasis on Romero seems to come at the expense of another plot point or two, since the original episode’s trick of having several characters named Robert, Bob, or Roberta as red herrings for “Bobby” is dropped; there are never any real suspects for the unidentified boss. I felt the choice-of-Bobbies thing was very contrived in “Survival,” but its absence isn’t really an improvement. There’s also a part where Jaime must reveal her bionics to the washed-up med student when he needs wires to cauterize Rudy’s bullet wound; I think that part was in “Survival” too, but it’s more awkwardly handled here, because apparently they couldn’t afford to rig up a prosthetic hand, so the whole thing is done off-camera and described in dialogue. It isn’t very convincingly played. All in all, this is an even more mediocre remake of an episode that was very mediocre to begin with.
But my favorite blooper is in the end credits. The white text of the credits had slightly offset black “shadow” text underneath to give it more contrast and legibility, but one of the white letters is missing and only the black “shadow” is visible. Amusingly, it’s on the credit that reads “Titles & Optical Effects: UNIVERSAL TITLE.” How embarrassing to make a mistake on their own name!
“The Jailing of Jaime” by Bruce Shelly is mercifully not the women-in-prison exploitation episode I feared from the title. Instead, it has Oscar assigning Jaime as a courier for a cryptographic analyzer invented by Dr. Hatch (Barry Sullivan), because — as Hatch patronizingly notes — she’s too “young and pretty” for anyone to suspect that she’s the actual courier (rather than the heavily guarded decoy). Although, of course, the teaser ends with a bad guy identifying her as the courier and assuring his boss that it’ll be the last delivery she ever makes. Dramatic music sting!
The plan is for Jaime to be helicoptered to the secret test center that night, and she meets the pilot at Ventura AFB. She doesn’t ask him for any kind of credentials or proof of identity, and at night she has no way of telling where they’re going, so it’s already obvious that she’s being set up, and that the general she meets is a fake. The next day, she finds out the analyzer is missing, and “National Security Bureau” investigator Gregory (Skip Homeier) is quick to presume Jaime guilty of selling out, throwing her in a private cell with absurdly clean grafitti on the walls (how many hardened criminals are named “Foo-Foo”?). “The Secretary” pulls Oscar off the case since he’s too close to Jaime, but he advises Jaime not to break out after she demonstrates how easily her bionic arm can bend the bars. Amusingly, once she bends the bar, it’s totally flattened by her grip, but when she bends it back, it’s perfectly cylindrical again. Who knew her arm had time-reversal powers?
Anyway, it isn’t long before she breaks out after all, which she does in order to call Oscar (breaking into a pay phone’s coin box, shame on her) and tell him about the license plate of the woman who dropped the pilot off, so she can get her address and go investigate. Why didn’t she just tell Oscar and Gregory about that right away? The whole thing could’ve been cleared up easily. The car’s license plate read “MILLE 3,” but apparently the script intended it to point to Milly Wilson (Anne Schedeen), the accomplice in question. Anyway, Jaime gets there just in time to see Milly visited by the fake general (Philip Abbott), and she follows them to Hatch’s company, finding that the “general” is actually Hatch’s assistant Naud (which was already revealed to the audience earlier). She breaks in to tell Hatch, somehow aware that Naud is pronounced “Node” even though she’s never heard it spoken. (Well, I wouldn’t have known that.) Hatch pretends to call Oscar, but of course he’s really calling Naud; he arranged the theft of his own decoder because it doesn’t work, and the whole thing was just a scheme to embezzle from the government. He plans to lock Jaime in the vault and set off the self-destruct, destroying the incriminating files, but Jaime drags Hatch into the vault with her and holds the door shut until he retrieves the incriminating files. But Naud locks them in, planning to abscond with all the loot. Gregory and Oscar arrive in time to stop him, and Oscar rather redundantly calls to Jaime about the self-destruct countdown that she can clearly see inside the vault. She manages to get out with the files and Hatch just in time. Just in time for Oscar to make a lame joke about almost going out with a bang. Then in the tag, Jaime gets a personal call from The Secretary, assuring him she has no trouble understanding his German accent. This is no doubt a reference to Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state under President Gerald Ford at the time. That’s surprising, because I would’ve assumed that “The Secretary” that Oscar answered to was the secretary of defense, who at the time would’ve been Donald Rumsfeld (in the first of his two stints in the post). But I guess Kissinger was an easier figure to make indirect allusions and jokes about.
Kind of a mediocre episode that depends on some rather nonsensical premises — Jaime not verifying the pilot’s identity, Jaime not giving a full accounting of events before her jailing. As usual, the main appeal is in Wagner’s charm and interplay with Anderson.
“Mirror Image” by James D. Parriott is almost a remake of The Six Million Dollar Man‘s second-season episode “Look Alike.” At least, the first half uses nearly the same plot beats: Protagonist goes on vacation, is replaced by a plastic-surgery double who’s sent to spy on Oscar, survives a murder attempt, exposes the impostor, then takes a chance on going undercover as the impostor despite knowing virtually nothing about them. But the specifics are different. The double is Lisa Galloway, secretary of the villainous spy Dr. Courtney (Don Porter), and she’s defined by a few simple character traits: Southern-caricature accent, chain smoking, and amorous relationship with boyfriend, all of which Jaime discovers and has to contend with in the course of her impersonation. Before then, Jaime’s vacationing in Nassau, and we get a nice look at her in a very tiny bikini before she discovers that bionic limbs don’t tan and has to cover up to maintain her secret. A henchman of Courtney’s (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.) pretends to recognize her from her tennis days and tries to murder her by drugging her drink and dumping her into the ocean in a box, an overly elaborate scheme that serves only to give her a chance to break out bionically. (One would think, also, that her reduced organic body mass would mean that a given dose of sedative would have a greater impact.) And while Steve’s double in “Look Alike” was killed before long, Lisa just gets captured but refuses to say a word. Eventually she escapes and gets to Courtney’s clinic, which Jaime has already infiltrated as her, so there’s a comedy of errors for a while before the bad guys figure out that their impostor has been… err… imposted. Leading to a showdown in the laundry room where Courtney’s vault is hidden, ending up with Oscar arriving and not knowing which “Jaime” is which (even though the real one should have Lisa’s poison darts embedded in her bionic arm, but they disappear until later in the scene), so Jaime jumps to the ceiling to prove her biona fides. Then there’s a tag scene where Jaime teases Oscar about having a double by using the life-size photographic standup of him that Courtney was inexplicably using as a target for Lisa, and it’s cute, but Oscar seems to have forgotten his own robot-double experience from the year before along with Steve’s doubling.
I guess it’s fitting that an episode about a double would end up being remade. But the episodes they’re choosing to redo are very formulaic ’70s-TV tropes, the kind of story that could be repurposed for just about any show and thus don’t have a lot of real substance or character relevance. It’s all rather superficial. And while I was pleasantly surprised at how well Lee Majors altered his performance as his double, Wagner doesn’t really do much as Lisa besides putting on a broad Southern accent. But then, the script didn’t really give her anything to work with. Lisa will return, however, in the second-season 2-parter “Deadly Ringer.” Maybe she’ll get more personality there.
The first season wraps up with “The Ghost Hunter,” written by Kenneth Johnson & Justin Edgerton. Oscar is concerned when an invisible, seemingly supernatural force is disrupting the Alpha Sensor project of Dr. Alan Cory (Paul Shenar), since it’s important to watch out for those pesky alphas, I guess. So he sends in Jaime to be the governess to Cory’s daughter Amanda (Kristy McNichol), who misses her deceased mother and feels neglected by her father, and who’s the descendant of a woman convicted of witchcraft in the Salem trials. Dr. Cory initially comes off as a cold, aloof scientist who would’ve been perfectly at home in a ’50s B-movie, but just one conversation with Jaime switches him to goofy flirtation mode with whiplash-inducing speed, and she clearly reciprocates. Cory lets on that his late wife was telekinetic, like her “witch” ancestor, before taking Jaime and Amanda out for a picnic by the lake, leading to a strange sequence where he and Jaime are attacked in their canoe by a supernaturally propelled log. There are attempts to pin the supernatural occurrences either on the ghost of Amanda’s mother or on the creepy Emil Laslo (Bo Brundin), a psychic researcher/illusionist from East Germany, who talks like a townsperson straight out of a Frankenstein movie and who may be a spy trying to sabotage Cory’s project. But it’s already obvious at this point that Amanda’s the one causing it all out of her subconscious resentments toward her father’s work and toward Jaime. After Laslo is injured (and cleared) while saving Jaime from a falling bookcase, he utters the word I saw coming a mile away, “Pol-ter-geist!” Jaime and Cory figure out what’s really going on, that Amanda’s subconscious is attacking the things she fears, so Jaime must get home, wake Amanda up, and help her understand what’s really happening — which requires getting past the Collapsing Bridge attraction from the Universal Studios Tour, which the episode was written to make use of. So Jaime uses her bionics to dodge Amanda’s subconscious attacks and gets through to Amanda in time to calm her, though not before an Exorcist riff with Amanda’s bed jumping around “telekinetically” (thanks to some special-effects air rams underneath). And afterward, Amanda is disturbingly chipper about her father’s plan to study her like a lab rat for the rest of her life, because it means she’ll finally get to spend time with him. That gal’s got problems.
A pretty predictable and corny episode, and undermined by a really lifeless, blank-eyed performance from Kristy McNichol. I remember McNichol being a really big deal back in the day, an extremely popular child star, in particular for her work in the TV series Family starting the season after this. Apparently she won a couple of Emmys. But you’d never know it from this episode, because she’s terrible in it. Paul Shenar was given such an inconsistent character that he didn’t come off too well either. The main point of interest is an early sequence where Jaime is reading a book about the ordeal of Amanda’s ancestor during the Salem witch trials, illustrated by a sort of audio flashback to the trials accompanying closeups of a painting of same. (Oddly, the accused witch is named Rebecca Putnam, which in real life was the name of one of the accusers in the Salem trials, not the accused.) It’s an interesting sequence, but has no real relevance to the story and is thus kind of a self-indulgent digression. The most noteworthy feature of the episode is that it has an almost entirely original score, by Luchi de Jesus in the first of his four scores for the bionic franchise.
The last two episodes have commentaries, “Mirror Image” by writer James D. Parriott and director Alan J. Levi and “The Ghosthunter” by Kenneth Johnson. The former commentary isn’t that good, just a couple of guys trying to remember what was going on in an episode they made decades before and being overly self-congratulatory about a rather weak episode. The latter is a thoughtful and detailed technical discussion of the production, as Johnson’s previous commentaries have been, but the mediocrity of the subject matter doesn’t help.
But I found something out. When I listen to DVD commentaries, I tend to turn on the episode subtitles so I can follow the dialogue. And the subtitle interpretation of the bionic “ta-ta-ta-tang” sound effect is “[BIONIC POWERS ACTIVATING].” Is that anything like Wonder Twin powers?
The brief first season of The Bionic Woman unfortunately didn’t live up to its early promise. Johnson’s three 2-parters that shepherded Jaime Sommers from her introduction as a guest star to her debut on her own spinoff were all quite solid and engaging, but most of the rest of the season was fairly mediocre. After “Welcome Home, Jaime,” the only really strong dramatic episode we got was the excellent “Jaime’s Mother.” “The Deadly Missiles” was relatively strong, but mostly the rest of the season consisted of fairly routine, often formulaic adventure stories that often labored to find an excuse for Jaime’s involvement in an OSI mission. Ironically, though, the percentage of episodes featuring Jaime on official missions is much higher than on the Six Million Dollar Man seasons I’ve seen. Only “A Thing of the Past,” “Claws,” and “Jaime’s Mother” don’t involve Jaime going on missions for Oscar, although “Canyon of Death” was only peripherally about a formal OSI assignment and “Mirror Image” only had the mission kick in midway through the story.But while there were few high points, there weren’t any terribly bad ones either, just fairly run-of-the-mill ones. My least favorite were “Canyon of Death,” due to its awkward treatment of Native American issues and a really weak performance by its adolescent guest star, and “The Ghosthunter,” due to its schlocky horror-movie qualities and a really weak performance by its adolescent guest star (I detect a trend). “Claws” was pretty weak too, and frustrating in that its supposedly humane treatment of animals was actually pretty inhumane by modern standards. (I still feel sorry for that poor elephant.)Beyond the general bionic stuff, the season was remarkably light on science fiction premises. There are a few high-tech McGuffins like the radar jammer in “The Deadly Missiles” and the jet pack in “Canyon of Death,” but nothing especially beyond the state of the art for the day. The only episode that was really driven by the speculative was the telekinesis/poltergeist-driven “The Ghosthunters,” and that was more fantasy than science fiction, despite the popular belief at the time in psychic pseudoscience. This is the most SF-light season of the series, since the remaining two seasons will feature Bigfoot, the Fembots, the mad computer of “Doomsday is Tomorrow,” and the occasional alien.All in all, this season was a reminder that American sci-fi TV in the ’70s wasn’t really all that good. The main thing the season had going for it was Lindsay Wagner’s immense charm and her interplay with the also-charming Richard Anderson. Also, it managed to be reasonably feminist and non-objectifying, perhaps thanks to Lindsay Wagner’s clout as a breakout star and her thoughtful involvement in the production. Wagner, reportedly, took her position as a role model seriously, and I definitely respect that, although I wish she’d had better stories in which to be impressive.