Posts Tagged ‘The Bionic Woman’

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.

THE BIONIC WOMAN thoughts, Season 1: Episodes 6-9 (spoilers)

“Bionic Beauty”: It figures that they wouldn’t have taken long to foist a beauty-pageant plot on Jaime; this one is courtesty of writer James D. Parriott. At least Jaime herself is totally unenchanted by the prospect when Oscar pressures her into becoming Miss California to investigate some nebulous security threat at the Miss United States pageant. Helen (Jaime’s foster mother, remember), who comes along as her chaperone, is much more into it, and is disappointed when Jaime eventually confides that she’s really on a mission. The OSI has learned that Miss Florida, aka Sally (Cassie Yates), would be picked as the winner and used for some nefarious espionage-related purpose, so Jaime has to try to figure out what’s going on. It’s a pretty vague justification for the plot. Anyway, Sally turns out to be in cahoots with the pageant host Ray Raymond, who is actually played by perennial Miss America host Bert Parks, playing an evil version of himself. He and his henchman Brady (Gary Crosby) are going to use her as a courier to smuggle a stolen defense circuit, as Jaime learns upon sneaking out of her room, whereupon Sally gets her in trouble with the pageant officials. But Jaime still plays along in the competitions. I was expecting her to do some bionic karate or something for the talent show, but instead she sings. She sings… “Feelings.” The most stereotypically ’70s pop song of all time. And as much as I admire Lindsay Wagner, her singing voice is not spectacular. Not actually bad, but not good enough to earn her the finalist status the script conveniently affords her. Although that may have had something to do with the swimsuit competition. Jaime tells Helen that she liked her old legs better, but the bionic ones look pretty darn impressive to me.

Anyway, Brady catches her snooping around and chloroforms her, but when Raymond tells him to knock her out for longer, he conveniently injects the sedative into her bionic arm, so she’s up and about quite soon. But Raymond and Brady spot her and control her both by putting her on live TV and holding Martha at gunpoint in the wings. But she manages to get a message to Oscar in her finalist speech. The bad guys change their plan and keep her under control by naming her, rather than Sally, as the winner, planning to deliver the circuit themselves as her escorts — which makes me wonder why they needed to bother colluding with Sally in the first place. But when Sally follows them to protest, Jaime gets the bionic drop on them and has them beaten when Oscar shows up, just in time for Jaime to reveal the already-obvious fact that the circuit is in the winner’s scepter. We then get a final scene where Jaime tells Sally that the judges actually picked her fair and square, though neither woman seems to place much stock in a beauty-contest crown anymore.

I guess that, for a ’70s beauty-pageant episode, this could’ve been worse. It’s contrived and silly, sure, but Jaime wasn’t particularly objectified, and her total disenchantment with the whole thing helped her maintain her dignity. I could’ve done without the two (live and taped) performances of “Feelings,” though. But aside from that, the episode is notable musically, for it features the debut of Joe Harnell, who would become the series’ main composer starting with season 2. Interestingly, the theme and ostinato that would form the basis of Harnell’s main-title theme and episode scores for seasons 2-3 are already fully developed in this score, without any references to Jerry Fielding’s theme. It’s like a season-2 score that somehow ended up in season 1. I remember being rather confused by that when watching the series in TV reruns in the ’80s or ’90s. (Harnell would collaborate with Kenneth Johnson on an ongoing basis, not only on this series but later on The Incredible Hulk, the original V miniseries, and the Alien Nation pilot movie.)

“Jaime’s Mother” is a surprisingly potent dramatic episode by Arthur Rowe, from a story by Worley Thorne. We see a couple of bad guys pursuing a woman with lethal intent; one of them learns that she was headed to Ojai, and they’re concerned that she’ll tell Jaime Sommers that she’s her mother. By coincidence, Jaime is dreaming about her mother, whom she believes was killed in a car accident along with her father — and the date of that accident seems to have been retconned, since “Welcome Home, Jaime” said that Jim and Helen had been her legal guardians since she was 16, but she’s a child in the flashbacks. Anyway, she starts to see signs that her mother may still be alive and watching her, but Helen is concerned she’s hallucinating, given Jaime’s past mental problems (as seen in her first and second appearances). There’s some rather tense stuff as Jaime begins to question her own sanity. Oscar shows up, believing that her hallucinations represent the reawakening of some lost memories, so he thinks it might help to reveal something she may have forgotten about her mother: namely that, in an Alias-worthy plot twist, Jaime’s mother also happened to be a secret agent. But Jaime never did know that after all, and Oscar fears he’s only made things worse for her by revealing that her mother was not who she thought.

Jaime eventually she tracks down the woman (Barbara Rush, with the hugest, poofiest ’70s hairdo I think I’ve ever seen) and is convinced that it really is her mother Ann Sommers. (Her father’s name, by the way, was James.) The woman is reluctant to admit it at first, but then breaks down and confirms that she is Ann. Still unsure, finding the woman far more melancholy and self-pitying than the mother she remembers, Jaime takes her to Helen, who is stunned to see Ann apparently alive again, but still isn’t completely sure. Jaime pulls the old “Tell me something only Mom would know” routine, and the answer, about a locket her mother gave her just before the car accident, is enough to convince her that this is really Ann. Giddy at being reunited with her mother, Jaime rather recklessly spills the beans about her bionics, showing off her abilities (including a jump down from a tree by a rather obvious male stunt double). Okay, maybe she figured it was okay since Mom was also an agent, but still, it wasn’t a great idea. Especially since Oscar has discovered that Ann had a double named Chris, a woman who stood in for her as a decoy while she was on missions, and he’s not sure which woman is in the grave and which is with Jaime. Ann has independently told Jaime about Chris, saying she was the one who died in the car; but Oscar is unconvinced and has the grave exhumed so they can check dental records. (See how much easier DNA has made things?) After all, Chris became a double agent, and the enemy wants her dead. Selling them the secret of Jaime’s bionics could be her only way out.

Ann, or Chris, tells Jaime about her double agency and the fact that both sides are after her, and Jaime is willing to empty her bank accounts to help her mother get away. But the exhumation confirms to Oscar that it is Ann in the grave, and Chris now has Jaime right where she wants her. But when they end up confronted by the bad guys and Chris goes to talk to them, leading us to expect that she’ll turn Jaime over, Chris instead pleads to them to take her and leave Jaime alone, since she’s just a harmless schoolteacher. But when they drive off with Chris, Jaime proves she’s far from harmless, felling a tree to stop their car. Chris takes a bullet to save Jaime, and Jaime bodily drags the shooter out of the car and throws him aside — which I think is the most direct act of personal violence she’s ever engaged in. (There was that time in “A Thing of the Past” where she landed on the bad guy’s shoulders and knocked him, err, forward, but that was more impersonal.) But the paramedics are conveniently at hand and Chris ends up alive in the hospital, with the prospect of a suspended sentence if she shares some information. She may not be Jaime’s real mother, but Jaime has still bonded with her. Yet Jaime later reassures Helen that she (Helen) is Jaime’s real mother in every way that matters.

Okay, there are a few minor plot holes, but this is a surprisingly tense and moving episode, with some solid dramatic acting from Wagner and Martha Scott as Helen. Barbara Rush does a good job too, although that huge hairsprayed coif was rather distracting. The music is a mix of stock Fielding and Nelson cues and what sounds like some new Harnell cues, although Harnell is uncredited; that means that this episode’s score features all three of Jaime’s themes (though only a fragment of Fielding’s is heard outside the titles).

“Winning is Everything”: James Parriott’s latest story has Jaime coming to Oscar’s Washington office for the first time, as he assigns her to be a navigator in an international dune-buggy race in Taftan, a Southwest Asian country that’s been taken over by a military junta, in order to retrieve a tape with vital intelligence info from a town along the route. The race, which always features man-woman teams (for no reason except to justify Jaime’s involvement), is a big tourist attraction, so the junta hasn’t shut it down. Oscar escorts Jaime to Taftan, playing a racing promoter called Oscar Bartholemew, observing that the name “Goldman” wouldn’t be well-received in this part of the world — which is odd, given that we later learn that there’s an Israeli car in the race, and one of the navigators on the position board is named Rubinstein. Anyway, the driver for whom Jaime will be navigating is a Grand Prix star named Tim Sanders (John Elerick), who used to be the greatest but has lost his nerve after a major crash. Jaime has to help him regain his edge and try to identify the enemy agents who are  sabotaging other cars, all while hiding her bionics from Tim — much the same formula as Parriott’s “Angel of Mercy” earlier this season. Except it looks like the kind of episode that was written around stock footage, since a lot of the race footage has a grainier look than the rest of the episode. IMDb doesn’t say anything about what film the footage may have come from, though.

Anyway, I don’t feel very motivated to give a play-by-play, since it’s just race footage, setback, bionic repairs, pep talks, repeat. There’s a stereotyped Italian racer set up as a rival for Tim, a Russian team who are red herrings for the sabotage, and a Hong Kong team in a pickup truck — the only one where the woman is the driver rather than the navigator — who turn out to be the real bad guys (even though Hong Kong was a British colony at the time, an anomaly that goes unexplained). Jaime convinces Tim to stop blaming his poor performance on the car, the route, etc. and believe he can do better. They manage to get to the town ahead of their rivals despite all the setbacks, but when Jaime stops to pick up the McGuffin, Tim drives off without her — only to have a crisis of conscience portrayed through audio and video flashback clips, causing him to go back and help Jaime, who’s fleeing from the bad guys. Yet his epiphany that helping his friend is more important than winning is promptly discarded when the script then has Tim and Jaime striving to win after all and somehow managing to catch up with and surpass the obnoxious Italian racer despite his enormous lead.

As with “Angel of Mercy,” Parriott seems to want to play up Jaime’s vulnerabilities, having her not too thrilled about participating in a high-speed race. Yet she uses her bionics pretty effectively, particularly in the climax, where she’s shown keeping pace with a pursuing truck driving at nearly 100 MPH — faster than Steve Austin has ever been shown to run. Although that may have been a continuity error due to editing in stock footage.

“Canyon of Death,” by Steven Kandel, is a rarity — an episode I almost kinda remember, though not in a good way. It revolves around a new student in Jaime’s class, a Native American boy (Guillermo San Juan) nicknamed Paco (pronounced like “pay-ko” for some reason), who’s really caught up in a rather exaggerated version of his Indian heritage, to the point that it makes him a disobedient student and earns the ridicule of his classmates (with Robbie Rist’s Andrew in particular being a real jerk, making all sorts of Indian-stereotype wisecracks that he imagines are clever). Jaime soon learns from his aunt that he’s never actually been on a reservation and all his tales are from a book written by a Caucasian writer who never got out of New Jersey. He pathologically lies about his proud heritage because his grandfather really drank himself to death. And he’s constantly running off to the burial grounds next to the restricted land of Ventura Air Force Base, where Jaime teaches. This area is represented by the familiar Vasquez Rocks location, which is actually some 60 miles east of Ojai and Ventura, CA.

Meanwhile, Oscar is preparing to test a top-secret prototype personal jetpack at the base, and he brings Jaime in for the tenuous reason that the general who authorized her bionics is overseeing the test and wants to meet her. (He gives the exposition in a scene with terrible sound mixing, since the dialogue is barely audible over the chatter of the film projector he’s using.) But the security officer for the jetpack, Mallory (Gary Collins), plans to steal the suit and sell it to guerrillas overseas, and his henchmen are holed up in Vasquez, err, the land outside the air base. Jaime tries to get Paco to stop lying by betting him she can track him down in the desert, which she does bionically, of course — and her guy-in-a-wig stunt double makes a return appearance. They run afoul of the henchmen, who ambush them with an assortment of fake round boulders that just happened to be lying on top of a cliff (maybe the Metrons left them there?). After Jaime bionics them out, convincing Paco that she’s a spirit, she sends him back to the base on his horse (of course he has a horse) to warn Oscar, then gets herself captured. The teacher Paco encounters doesn’t believe his story, but Oscar conveniently shows up, and the mention of a “silver man” and Paco’s drawing of the helmeted figure on the chalkboard convince him to believe the story. But Oscar gets waylaid at gunpoint by Mallory and forced to go along with the theft, so Paco has to go find Jaime and gives her an opportunity to escape the henchfellow holding her at gunpoint. Then she (and sometimes her male double) runs to the base just as Mallory’s remaining henching professional takes off in the jetpack. Jaime makes the bionic leap of her life to catch the guy — who’s quite blatantly hanging from wires when she grabs him — and mashes the controls until they fall back down. Whereupon she asks Oscar to summon a blacksmith, for “I landed so hard I’m bowlegged.” She and Paco then have a final bonding moment talking about how it’s good to study his heritage but he needs to get it from authentic Indian sources.

I guess I appreciate Kandel’s effort, however clumsy, to subvert “Indian” stereotypes and portray Native Americans sympathetically, but the boy’s reliance on fake heritage kind of gives the impression that Kandel didn’t know much real heritage to write about. And it is kind of heavy-handed overall. The biggest problem is that San Juan is a very annoying performer, a mediocre actor with a creaking, whiny drone of a voice, and his character is so full of hot air that there’s nothing sympathetic about him. Also, the story is full of contrivances — not only the contrived way Jaime was involved in the jetpack storyline, but the way she conveniently neglected to tell Paco to stay off of restricted land when they made their hide-and-seek wager. Still, it’s a nifty showcase of the Vasquez Rocks scenery, and it features a really nice score by a new composer for the series, Richard Clements.

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THE BIONIC WOMAN thoughts, Season 1: Episodes 3-5 (spoilers)

Past the pilots now and into the regular series. By the way, I’ve realized the main titles are lying to us. After the recap of Jaime’s operation, the onscreen “computer” text says “Second bionic replacement complete.” But we know she’s not the second bionic human; she’s at least the third, after Steve Austin and Barney Miller. Also that premier in “The Pal-Mir Escort” got a bionic heart.

“Angel of Mercy” is written by James D. Parriott, making it the first time anyone other than Kenneth Johnson has written about Jaime Sommers. It’s also the first story about Jaime in which Steve Austin is neither present nor mentioned. The episode also introduces a new, revised version of Jerry Fielding’s main and end title themes.

We open with Jaime teaching her class at Ventura Air Force Base (consisting of the base personnel’s children), including a precocious kid named Andrew played by a very young Robbie Rist, whom I’ve mentioned before as the first portrayer of the dreadful Doctor Zee character in the pilot of Galactica 1980. Rist will be in several episodes this season. The story involves Oscar calling in Jaime to rescue a US ambassador trapped by a civil war in the small South American country of Costa Brava. His thinking is that if she goes in as a nurse, the guerrillas might let her pass. This gives Jaime pause, since she has no medical skills of any kind. I’m not sure I buy that; I’d think a tennis pro would have some familiarity with first aid and injury treatment, if only from being on the receiving end. Anyway, her ride into the country is provided by none other than Andy Griffith as hotshot chopper pilot Jack Starkey — who has the dubious honor of being the first character in the series to overtly question Jaime’s qualifications on the basis of her sex, something that was mercifully avoided in Johnson’s episodes. I should’ve known that as soon as anyone else wrote a script for the series, the issue would crop up.

Anyway, under protest, Starkey choppers her into the country, and the guerrillas shoot them down, with Jaime secretly using her bionics to work the chopper’s busted control cables so they land safely, then tearing off the door to save Starkey, and giving him all the credit. Now they’re stuck in a “jungle” that looks exactly like the sparse forest of the Los Angeles hills, and Jaime does a mediocre job of bandaging Starkey’s head. So far she’s not impressing him much. Soon we discover that Jaime has a fear of snakes that makes her all whiny and panicking, not a good look on her, but also causes her to rather brutally crush a snake to death with her bionic grip, which seems a little out of character.

They soon pick up a straggler, an orphaned local boy named Julio (Claudio Martinez), and have little trouble evading the searching guerrillas. They make it to the base and discover the ambassador and his wife are trapped under tons of rubble, but naturally Starkey conveniently goes searching for a ride home and leaves Jaime alone to remove the rubble. Once she gets them out, Starkey boggles at how she was able to move the rubble. He insists the plane he found can’t fly because its landing gear is bent, but by this point Jaime’s gotten sick of Starkey telling her what she can’t accomplish and starts using her bionics openly. Then the guerrillas, who’ve been driving around rather pointlessly for most of the episode, show up in time to shoot at them as they fly off.

All in all, not a particularly noteworthy story. Jaime’s still coming off as a pretty brave and confident character, determined to get the job done and not quailing from danger, but Parriott’s script undermines that a bit with her anxieties about medicine and snakes, which seem to have been put in to make her seem more conventionally, vulnerably feminine. Which makes for an odd contrast in an episode that’s mainly about her proving how awesome she is despite the doubts of a crochety old chauvinist.

Still, Lindsay Wagner is a delight to watch. It is endless fun to observe the play of expressions across her ever-kinetic face. There’s a terrific moment where Griffith is chewing her out nose-to-nose, and her silent reactions during his colorful diatribe are hilarious. A big part of acting is reacting, showing that you’re listening to the other characters’ lines and playing off their performances, and Wagner is a master of that.

What strikes me is how much high-speed aerial commuting Oscar Goldman is doing these days. In The Six Million Dollar Man, Steve is generally based in Washington, DC and can just drop in to Oscar’s office. But Jaime lives in Ojai, CA, yet Oscar is constantly showing up in person to check up on her or give her assignments. Even with his top-level access to military aircraft, that’s got to be a fairly lengthy commute. It probably would’ve made more sense to introduce a new character to be Jaime’s handler, based in Ojai and reporting to Oscar back in Washington. But I guess the show wanted to capitalize on Richard Anderson’s popularity and use him as a bridge between the series, and really, who can blame them?

“A Thing of the Past” is written by story editor Philip DeGuere Jr. (who would later produce the first Twilight Zone revival) from a story by Terrence McDonnell & Jim Carlson. It revolves around Harry (Donald O’Connor), the beloved local school-bus driver that Jaime’s supposedly known for 15 years (and there’s some playful flirtation between them about how she was in love with him as a kid and he was waiting for her to grow up, which sounds so much creepier to modern ears). We get to know him during a school picnic where Jaime teaches the boy students that girls can play baseball too (though her use of her bionics to prove her point actually kind of works against it), but then there’s a random bus accident and Harry rushes back into the burning bus to save a child who was left behind. So he gets his photo in the papers and is recognized by thug Morgan (Don Gordon) as a witness to a mob killing 15 years earlier. Morgan finds out that the killer, Stone (Roger Perry), will pay him for Harry’s location, but Morgan wants to extort money out of Harry not to turn him over, then turn him over anyway for a double payday.

Eventually Jaime figures out what’s really going on (after Morgan questions her under the guise of an insurance man but asks nothing about the actual accident) and convinces Harry to testify, calling Oscar to make the arrangements. She fights off Morgan and his sidekick when they show up at Harry’s garage, then takes Harry to the Air Force base to keep him safe. There’s a random cameo by Lee Majors as Steve Austin flies out to Ojai to pick up the bus driver. But while he’s en route, Stone sneaks into the oddly deserted airbase (it’s Saturday, but still) and happens across Harry while Jaime’s conveniently on an errand. (What, they couldn’t have spared an airman to guard a federal witness?) So Jaime has to save him once again with some rather awkwardly executed slow-motion stunt work, including one bit where Jaime(‘s stunt double) jumps from a plane in a hangar and lands on Stone’s (stunt double’s) shoulders from directly above, which somehow causes Stone’s double to run forward several steps so he can crash into some barrels and boxes that are farther in front of him than I think the intent behind the stunt warranted. And that’s about it aside from a very brief tag with Steve.

Kind of a mediocre one overall, and like “Angel of Mercy” before it, it suffers from the rather crude production values of Universal’s ’70s shows — such as a part in Jaime’s classroom where a wide shot of Jaime, Harry, and the students was grainily blown up to focus only on the two adults because the director evidently failed to get closer coverage for the scene. But it is notable as the debut of the standard “sonar chirp” sound effect for Jaime’s bionic ear. Composer John Cacavas, who was the main composer for Kojak and whom I know from a few Columbo revival movies, contributes his only score for the series.

“Claws,” by Sue Milburn, opens with Jaime’s student Katie (Alicia Fleer) bringing a live lion to show-and-tell, courtesy of Susan Victor (Tippi Hedren), who runs a local preserve/halfway house for wild animals, where Katie volunteers. Yep, the lion, Neal, is actually there in the classroom set with the child actors, no split screen or special effects, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the lion was sedated. Even so, I doubt that would be allowed today, and it struck me as a bad idea both in-universe and in reality, even given that the lion was tame — in story, a former circus lion driven to panic by his trainer’s gunshots. Susan favors a technique called “affection training,” which is basically taming wild animals by being really, really nice to them — which sounds a little idealistic even to me. The preserve is a very ’70s view of “kindness” to wild things; the episode assumes that making lions and bears tame and obedient to humans, even if it means giving up their natural behavior patterns, is the most humane way of treating them. And don’t get me started on their poor elephant, living apart from others of its kind and with a chain around its leg. Today we understand how abusive it is to force such highly social creatures to live in solitude.

Anyway, Jaime ends up taking over the ranch for the weekend when Susan gets an offer to use her animals in a TV series and she has to fly off to New York for the weekend. Surprisingly, there’s a parrot in the scene where she gets the phone call; I would’ve thought Tippi Hedren had had her fill of birds some years earlier. Anyway, a local cattle rancher, Keys (Jack Kelly), shows up and accuses Neal the lion of killing his cattle. He’s accompanied by Jaime’s “uncle” Bill Elgin (William Schallert), the brother of her foster father — introduced here and never seen again, probably because Ford Rainey was unavailable to play Jim Elgin that week. Jaime insists the free-roaming lion is harmless, but Keys is convinced he’s the killer, and this goes around and around for half the episode before we finally discover there’s a cougar killing the livestock, but by the time Jaime helps Bill catch the cougar, Keys has organized a posse and driven the lion to hole up in a barn that they intend to burn out (not bothering to ask the barn’s owner, apparently). Jaime actually had the lion caged at the preserve on the sheriff’s orders, but Keys lets him out so he can drive the lion to his own property and shoot it there so he’ll be in the clear. Anyway, Jaime goes into the barn and has to use bionics and affection training to talk the injured lion down (if garishly colored fake TV blood smeared on one of his paws constitutes “injury”). The most hilariously awkward moment is when Jaime supposedly kicks the lion across the room, which is accomplished by: 1) Showing the stunt performer”s legs kicking the lion’s side; 2) playing the stock sound effect of a bionically propelled object flying through the air (the “ballistic whistle,” as I call it) during a close-up on Jaime’s face; 3) playing a shot of the lion leaping up from a bale of hay in reverse, so that it seems to land backward on its hind legs; and 4) cutting away midway through said shot so that it doesn’t look any more ridiculous than it already does.

Oh, and then there’s the part earlier where Jaime’s spending the night in the house with Neal to keep an eye on him, and he sneaks out while she’s asleep by opening the front door. Now, I can buy a cat opening a door. It’s one of their well-documented skills. But the fake paw that’s shown operating the doorknob is laughable.

This is a weak one, though there are some intense moments with Jaime bravely facing down the wounded, angry lion. She continues to be quite headstrong about rushing into danger, and I wonder how much of that is the bionics giving her confidence and how much is just her natural impulse. But it’s quickly become clear that Jaime has to deal with something Steve never did, which is having the men around her constantly assume, with the best of intentions, that they need to protect her. Which could get irritating if Jaime weren’t so easygoing and patient about it, either reasonably persuading them to let her act or just finding ways to divert their attention while she does. It’s a good thing Lindsay Wagner has such a bottomless well of charisma, because it’s the only thing that carries episodes like this.

Also, I’d forgotten how lush and flowing her hair was in this show. Well, it was the seventies.

“The Deadly Missiles”: Writer Wilton Denmark gives us a lame title but a more intrigue-driven story as an unarmed missile is fired into the Los Angeles Reservoir. Steve Austin is on the scene as Oscar’s people retrieve the missile, and he reports that the military radar system in the region (the charmingly named MEWS, for Military Early Warning System) was mysteriously jammed. Oscar recruits Jaime to investigate the ranch from which the missile was probably launched, because its owner, defense contractor J.T. Connors (Forrest Tucker), is an old friend of hers and the first sponsor of her tennis career. He’s also a loudmouthed right-wing Texan who’s become even more hawkish and contemptuous of the long-haired hippies in government since his son was killed in Vietnam — which suggests a rather poor understanding of the issues involved in the war, but that’s another discussion. Jaime refuses to believe her old friend could have evil intentions, but she grudgingly agrees to investigate.

At Connors’s ranch, she meets Rayker (Ben Piazza), an engineer who’s helped Connors with his research, including a security installation he won’t tell Jaime about. She goes in that night to investigate and finds that it is indeed a radar jamming system. But she triggers a security sensor, and apparently Connors hired Gary Owens to record the security system announcements, which helpfully tell Jaime exactly what security is in place so that she can evade it with her bionics. But she gets a bad electric shock kicking through the door, causing something to blow out in her right leg. Unable to walk, she lets a solicitous Connors take her back to her room over Rayker’s objections, and she’s alarmed when he slips her a sedative. But in the morning, she’s still in her room and Connors is still solicitous, so she decides to trust him and tell him why she’s there. Turns out he was testing the jamming system to sell to the US government, not to its enemies. Naturally it turns out that Rayker’s been doing all the missile-launching stuff behind J.T.’s back, and he has them captured and makes Jaime call Oscar so he can demand ransom — the then-princely sum of 15 million dollars — lest he launch an unstoppable missile at the target of his choice.

Steve is still overprotective, wanting to rush in to save Jaime, but Oscar shows commendable faith in her abilities and leaves Steve behind to monitor the MEWS system, which apparently he’s suddenly the greatest available expert in. But Oscar’s right; Jaime confides in J.T. about her bionic injury and gets his help to make temporary repairs, enough to let her break them out.  (J.T. is the one to knock out the guard once she kicks down the door; I’d initially assumed this was because the network censors wouldn’t let a woman throw a punch, but on the DVD’s bonus feature they talk about how Wagner herself didn’t want Jaime to use her bionics offensively, since she saw herself as a role model for young viewers.) They get to the jamming installation, where she gets pretty far in a plan to take out the radar dish before Rayker’s men catch her and J.T. and take them to the rendezvous with Oscar.  J.T. pounces on Rayker, which triggers the radar jamming and the missile launch (way to ruin everything, man), and the missile’s aimed directly at MEWS, where Steve is. So Jaime has to run for the installation to take out the dish, even though her leg is failing again. But the ex-tennis pro is surely an old hand at playing through injury (not stated, just my extrapolation), so she keeps going and eventually takes out the dish with the old “pull a pole out of the ground and use it as a concrete-tipped javelin” trick. (The rather elaborate radar dish was evidently a real installation they got to use, so they couldn’t actually destroy it, just set off some pyrotechnics around it to make it look like it blew up.) That clears the radar jamming so that the military can intercept the missile.

Afterward, she and Steve finally get together at her place, and Oscar tells them that the government’s finally interested in buying J.T.’s radar jamming system. Once the older men leave, Steve and Jaime get surprisingly romantic before the freeze-frame — much more so than I remembered them being once Jaime got her spinoff. It’ll be interesting to see whether that continues or gets dropped.

A much more solid episode than the previous two, with some effective action and danger and a nice chance for Jaime to be the rescuer and Steve the damsel in distress for a change.

THE BIONIC WOMAN thoughts, Season 1: “Return” and series debut (spoilers)

October 28, 2014 2 comments

Well, Netflix still doesn’t have anything past season 2 of The Six Million Dollar Man, but I got impatient waiting and decided to go ahead with season 1 of The Bionic Woman, since it was so nice to see Lindsay Wagner again in her debut episodes. I’d been hoping I could watch the TBW seasons in parallel with the corresponding 6M$M seasons, but it looks like the DVDs for TBW include all the relevant crossover episodes, so that’s something.

Indeed, the first disc in the Season 1 set only includes one episode from TBW itself, following four episodes from 6M$M: the original “The Bionic Woman” 2-parter from season 2 and its followup, the third-season premiere 2-parter ‘The Return of the Bionic Woman.” Since I’ve already covered the original episode, I’ll lead off with the sequel.

“The Return of the Bionic Woman” is a spoiler title if ever there was one, and the episode makes no secret of what it’s about. It opens with Richard Anderson narrating a recap of the original 2-parter — and I think these narrated recaps are really cool, a practice that might be nice to have today, at least in some cases. Anyway, it ends with Anderson saying that Jaime Sommers died — “Or did she?”

Cut to Steve and Oscar in a helicopter going on a mission, with Steve distracted by his memory of the same slow-motion shot of Jaime on horseback that closed out the previous story (well, three episodes ago in sequence). He then gets his mind on the mission, but in the course of chasing the bad guys, he has something heavy fall on his bionic legs and cripple them. At least, that’s the idea, but the thing that falls on them (evidently the top part of a warehouse rolling door or something) looks way too light to do that kind of damage to his superstrong limbs, a failure of direction. Anyway, he ends up in Rudy Wells’s bionic hospital for repairs, and Rudy has apparently been experimenting with hair restoration, since he’s now played by the less gray, less bald Martin E. Brooks (made up with grayish hair to better resemble Alan Oppenheimer, but that will change over time). This, by the way, is Rudy’s second recasting, since Martin Balsam played him in the pilot movie. While recovering, Steve believes he sees Jaime alive in the hospital, but Oscar and Rudy tell him he was delirious. But his bionic eye susses out the truth and he confronts the two men, who confess that they were able to revive Jaime using an experimental cryogenic procedure developed by Dr. Michael Marchetti (Richard Lenz), a young member of Rudy’s team who’s suddenly been retconned into existence. But it left her in a coma and barely clinging to life, so they didn’t tell Steve because they didn’t want to get his hopes up only to force him to watch her die again. As retcons go, it’s fairly believable — certainly more so than Rudy’s sudden change of appearance (especially since Oppenheimer’s Rudy appears in the recaps at the start of the show).

When Steve is finally brought in to see Jaime, she doesn’t recognize her former fiance. She has… amnesia!! Okay, that’s pretty soapy, and you can see the formula writing at work, the need to keep the action hero from having a permanent romantic relationship. And just to make it soapier, Jaime has not only forgotten Steve but fallen in love with Michael. Michael recognizes that this is just a standard patient infatuation, but — this being the 1970s — is not unwilling to pursue it. Still, it’s handled with more sensitivity than it could be. Rudy convinces Steve not to pressure Jaime to remember, since remembering brings back the severe pain that drove her mad before (although that’s a bit iffy, the idea that just remembering the physical pain of the clot that almost killed her could have a comparable medical effect). So he has to settle for being in the friend zone and not pressure her. He and Michael are actually very civilized and mutually respectful about their competition, which is basically a symptom of ’70s TV’s need to have its heroes be as clean-cut and flawless as possible; but I still like it, because it’s refreshing to see these two men recognize that the woman is not a piece of property they’re competing to possess, but an independent person who’s free to make her own decision. Steve and Michael are not only respecting each other by being so civil and philosophical about their competition, they’re respecting Jaime by recognizing that it’s ultimately not up to them. And I really like seeing that.

Anyway, in the iffiest decision in the episode, they decide that the best way to take Jaime’s mind off the pain of trying to remember her past is to take her to her childhood home of Ojai… where she can’t avoid being reminded of her past. The results are somewhat predictable, though it’s strange that nobody in Ojai seems to have been aware of Jaime’s death, given that she was a world-famous tennis star and all. Was her demise covered up because of its connection to bionics? This is never explained. Anyway, Jaime then decides she needs to take her mind off the past by looking to the future and doing some work for Oscar. He sends Steve and Jaime on a mission to blow up a munitions plant run by Carlton Harris (Dennis Patrick), whom Jaime snows with her feminine wiles (though in a wholesome and sweet way) in order to get to a control she needs to activate to let Steve into the plant so he can sabotage it. But her resurging memories confuse her and she thinks Steve needs her help, so she runs to him and botches the mission. (Continuity error: It was set up that they both had to pull switches in two locations simultaneously to keep from being blown up, but when Steve pulled the switch without Jaime pulling hers, nothing happened.) They both get out, but the mission is a failure. Steve realizes that he himself is the problem –as long as she’s with him, the memory and pain will continue to trouble her. He has to let her go, and suggests that Rudy and Michael take her to their Colorado Springs facility for further treatment.

This sequel 2-parter isn’t quite as good as the original. Since Jaime is now a blank slate with no memory, more distant from Steve, she doesn’t have the same texture to her personality or the same rapport with Steve that she had before, so the relationship and Wagner’s performance aren’t as engaging. And I don’t know if they needed 2 hours to reach the conclusion they did. The previous 2-parter was a bit padded, but the slow pace worked because of the believable relationship and naturalistic dialogue and interplay among the characters. This one could’ve stood to be more compressed.

The 2-parter, written by Kenneth Johnson, leads into the series debut of The Bionic Woman, “Welcome Home, Jaime,” another 2-parter by Johnson, this one split across two discs. Oddly, part 1 of this episode is listed on IMDb as both a 6M$M episode and a TBW episode, and the DVD seems to list it under 6M$M bonus episodes, but it has the TBW main and end titles on the disc. Wikipedia reveals that it was originally intended as a 6M$M episode, presumably part 1 of a crossover introducing the spinoff, but it was re-edited with TBW titles in order to let that series premiere a bit earlier. That would explain its hybrid musical score, which is mostly Oliver Nelson cues with a few interpolations by TBW’s first-season composer Jerry Fielding. I imagine the Fielding cues were added as part of the changeover. It apparently also explains why Part 1 is lumped together with the 6M$M bonus episodes; the DVD set counts it that way even though it has TBW titles.

Anyway, given that it’s Johnson’s direct continuation of his previous storyline, it’s odd that it reverses so much that “Return” set up. Jaime’s had more operations to restore most of her memory (except her relationship with Steve, conveniently) and all her pain, and she returns to live in Ojai (with Steve’s parents Jim and Helen Elgin, now retconned to have been her legal guardians since she was 16 — presumably after Steve went off to join the Air Force, since he’s a few years older). Also she gives Michael the brush-off (not even on camera) and soon learns that she and Steve were once engaged, though she doesn’t remember the feelings and Steve accepts her need to start over. I suppose the setup and reversal made more sense in the original broadcasts, when the episodes were four months apart. I guess I’d always assumed they led more directly into each other.

Anyway, the first half is largely focused on Jaime’s adjustment and settling into her new life in Ojai, taking an apartment above the barn in Steve’s parents’ new ranch (and using bionics to clean it up) and getting a job teaching at the local Air Force base school, thanks to her retconned education degree (and how she managed to find the time to both get a college degree and become a world-class tennis pro is questionable, unless it’s because she’s just that awesome, which I can totally buy). But she’s still willing to go on missions for Oscar, though Oscar is willing to just take a loss on her bionics and let her go back to her normal life, saying she’s been through enough already. To his credit, and Johnson’s, the issue of Jaime’s gender is never raised as a factor in Oscar’s reluctance. It’s implicit that he’s more solicitous with her than he’d be with a male agent, and certainly the episode takes a more “feminine” tone with the domestic scenes and the teaching and the easy-listening theme music, but there’s no point where anyone in the episode says she shouldn’t be risking her life because she’s a woman. The only character who calls attention to Jaime’s womanhood is Jaime herself.

Meanwhile, Carlton Harris is still around, trying to track down the woman who attempted to sabotage his plant, and he finds her and sends his agents to Ojai to spy on her and test her superhuman abilities, which he saw during her escape. The only real action in part 1 is when his men stage a car crash so she’ll use her bionics to rescue an “injured” driver. But once Harris arrives in Ojai in part 2, things begin to heat up. He rigs another accident, a blowout of Jaime’s brakes on a downhill road — and for some reason Jaime never tries using her parking brake, which was how my father told me he dealt with that situation when it happened to him once. Instead she opens the door and uses her bionic leg to brake, although it’s pretty blatantly a mannequin leg that the stunt driver was holding out the door. And I’d think that applying braking force in such an unbalanced way would probably cause the car to spin out or something.

Anyway, Jaime proves her smarts when she convinces Oscar that Harris could kill her more easily than this and must instead be testing her, like a potential buyer test-driving a car. Aware that she’s under surveillance, she comes up with a plan to stage a fight with Oscar on the grounds of wanting more money, in order to make Harris think he can buy her. This successfully lets her infiltrate his organization, in hopes of finding the elusive proof that he’s a criminal (he’s stayed clean enough that he actually has government contracts). So she plays greedy and goes along with Harris’s plans to steal some important defense components, while politely rebuffing his seduction attempts. But Harris suddenly has a son, Donald (Kip Niven), who’s fresh out of Harvard Law and conflicted about his father’s dirty dealings, but devoted enough to the man he sees as kind and loving to put up with his corruption. When he discovers that Jaime is spying for the OSI, he’s conflicted about whether to tell his father or not, but Jaime ultimately convinces him to dig deeper and find the truth about the murders Harris has committed. Unfortunately, Oscar’s been having one of his reckless moments, blabbing to the defense contractor (Gordon Jump) that Jaime burglarized that he has an agent in the thief’s organization — and forgetting that Harris is another contractor on the same project, so that Jump calls him up to warn him and tell him the reassuring news about the spy. Thus forewarned, Harris tricks Jaime into robbing his own company, showing off her bionics to his foreign buyers. But Donald shows up at the right time to get her out of trouble and together they save the day (well, mostly Jaime does).

Aside from some ’70s-Universal clunkiness, this is a pretty solid 2-parter. Donald’s sudden existence in part 2 feels tacked on, but there’s some engaging drama in his conflicted feelings toward his father, even if Niven is not the most effective actor. And Johnson established Jaime as a smart, resourceful, courageous protagonist; if anything, Jaime is a lot more gung-ho about her OSI work than Steve is about his, considering how often he rebels against Oscar and goes on vacation at every opportunity. She’s not above using her femininity to catch Harris’s interest and win his trust, but in a demure and wholesome way, without the blatant sexualization of near-contemporaries like Charlie’s Angels. Now that Jaime’s finally moved past being the suffering girlfriend and become the lead in her own right, she’s taking to the role quite well. I think it’s a pretty good start for the series.

The continuity across these three 2-parters is pretty good for ’70s TV, thanks to Johnson being the writer and producer of them all (well, he wasn’t nominally the producer on the original 2-parter, but was being groomed to become one, so he was allowed to effectively function in that role during its making). But there are a couple of glitches. For one thing, the tree with “Steve + Jaime” carved into it is different in “Welcome Home, Jaime” than it was in “Return.” But the main thing is the timing. The original 2-parter was said to have spanned 7 months, and “Return” says Jaime was in a coma for months, suggesting that more than a year has passed. But Steve says in “Return” that his reunion with Jaime was “last spring.”  And “Welcome”‘s references to the time since her last tennis tournament also suggest that less than a year has passed. The later episodes seem to have defaulted to the assumption that the passage of story time matched that of real time.

Sound-effects watch: The bionic sound that I’ve been rendering as “ta-ta-ta-tang” is definitely standardized by this point, to the extent that it’s even heard at the end of the main titles (accompanying a bionic jump) as a sort of coda. It’s even used for a bionic run at one point, something that’s been done inconsistently at best up to now. I also heard the first occurrence of the deeper, repeating thud sound effect that was used for impacts or rebounds of things struck bionically, although I think that sound was standardized in 6M$M season 3 before it showed up in TBW. Unfortunately I can’t find out for sure, because Netflix doesn’t have season 3 yet! So I’ll just proceed with TBW season 1.

SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN thoughts: Season 2, Eps. 21-22 and overview (Spoilers)

February 8, 2014 2 comments

“Outrage in Balinderry”: Balinderry is basically ’70s Northern Ireland, an occupied island country ravaged by terrorism, but with much worse Irish accents. Steve and Oscar are at a NATO conference with Steve’s friend Ambassador Collins (William Sylvester), who’s been working on a peaceful compromise between a moderate faction of the freedom-fighters and the (implicitly British) government, when he learns that his wife has been kidnapped, ostensibly by that same faction. The US can’t officially get involved, but somehow Steve, despite being a USAF colonel and OSI agent representing the United States government at a NATO convention, is able to say he’s not acting on behalf of the US when he goes in with Collins to help find his wife. En route, he meets a Balinderry-native stewardess, Julia (Martine Beswick), who’s sympathetic about the kidnapping. When he’s left a message by another passenger inviting him to meet the moderate faction’s mysterious leader Commander 10, he convinces Julia to be his native guide, since Collins is too distraught to help. Or maybe it’s just since he wants to spend half the rescue mission flirting with her. Look, I know continuity was not the order of the day back in the ’70s, but Steve just lost the love of his life last week in “The Bionic Woman,” so you’d think they could’ve at least had the consideration to schedule an episode without a romance plot the following week. Consideration and continuity aside, the complete lack of chemistry between Majors and Beswick, and the detached way they go through the motions of their whirlwind courtship, is quite the anticlimax after the great rapport Majors and Lindsay Wagner had.

Anyway, they go to meet the moderates, and ironically the actor with the most painfully inept Irish accent is the one with the most Irish-sounding name, Gavan O’Herlihy as resistance member Dan (the guy who left the note on the plane). Dan assures Steve that his unit had no raisin to sabotage the pace talks (honest, that’s what he said). They’re being framed by a radical faction that wants to scuttle the pace, err, peace process by discrediting the only faction that can bring it about. Anyway, Dan conveniently knows of a witness to the kidnapping and leaves the meeting, after which the others are taken captive by the government — including the traitor in the ranks, Slayton (Richard Erdman), who’s the actual kidnapper, working for dam operator Breen (Richard O’Brien), leader of the militant wing. Slayton bargains for his freedom by revealing that Commander 10 is actually Julia herself. Pause for reactions of complete lack of surprise. What is surprising is that the general (writer/actor Alan Caillou, whom I recognize from several Man from UNCLE episodes) lets Slayton go immediately, without any paperwork or anything, so that Dan can conveniently follow him back to Breen’s dam and then report back to Steve and Julia after the former breaks the latter out of jail. But the government troops think Breen’s on their side and are protecting the dam, so there’s some conflict as Steve tries to break in with the resistance members and rescue Mrs. Collins.

I appreciate the episode’s effort to resonate with the political issues of the day, and it’s unusual to see an episode this political at all on this show, given that the international intrigue is usually kept quite distant and vague. But this attempt at allegory for the complex Northern Ireland crisis is awkward, unfocused, and unsuccessful. Not to mention sluggishly paced and kind of imbalanced. Steve doesn’t do anything bionic until nearly 20 minutes into the episode (counting main titles but not commercial breaks), when the eye comes into play, and he doesn’t use bionic strength until 26 minutes in. As Kenneth Johnson said in his commentary on the preceding 2-parter, they liked to pepper the show with brief “bionic gags” to satisfy the kids in the audience. The kids must’ve been getting very restless on this one. It’s not really a bad episode — at least it has an original score — but it’s relentlessly mediocre and nobody’s heart really seems to be in it. (And the fact that every single citizen of Balinderry has a different idea of what an Irish accent sounds like is not easy on the ears.) It’s a disappointment in the wake of “The Bionic Woman,” and it’s a disappointment in relation to the serious issue it tried to address.

“Steve Austin, Fugitive”: Wait a minute… the fugitive is the one-armed man?? Anyway… The episode opens with Steve getting acquainted with Oscar’s new secretary, Miss Callahan (Jennifer Darling), while Oscar and Rudy are out of the country. (Allegedly they’re at a nuclear arms conference, but why would Rudy need to be there? In retrospect, I’m tempted to believe this was a secret mission to gain some technology necessary for reviving Jaime Sommers, and Oscar lied about it to Steve.) Peggy Callahan will become a recurring presence on both this series and The Bionic Woman for the next three years, even though Oscar says here that he changes secretaries every three months for security reasons.  Jennifer Darling, for her part, will later go on to be the voice of Irma in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, as well as one of the main villains on the 1987 animated series Bionic Six, which is otherwise unrelated to this franchise.

Callahan fields a call for Steve from Rudy’s assistant Charlie (Andy Romano), who tells him that some of Steve’s bionic data has been stolen and he’s being blackmailed, insisting that Steve come to his apartment at once. Turns out he’s actually working with Hopper (Gary Lockwood), a returning villain from season 1’s “Eyewitness to Murder.” Charlie thinks he and Hopper are partners in a scheme to extort money out of the OSI for the stolen data, but actually Hopper has used the data to make a glove duplicating Steve’s bionic hand, which he uses to kill Charlie and plant Steve’s fingerprints all over the gun and the apartment. He then tranquilizes Steve on his arrival, so he’s there when the cops arrive and seems drunk or stoned. Somehow, the dart leaves no mark that police lieutenant Dobbs (Bernie Hamilton) can find on cursory inspection. Dobbs lets Steve go on the strength of his reputation, but keeps him under surveillance. Steve calls Oscar to fill him in, and Oscar instructs Callahan to help Steve as needed. Then the cops come to arrest Steve. He goes quietly, but when he spots Hopper in the street, he breaks out to chase him (as Hopper planned) and gets shot in the bionic leg. (Per the resulting APB, Steve is 6’2″ and 185 pounds. IMDb says Lee Majors is only 6’0″. But then, people sometimes lose height as they get older.)

So he goes to Callahan’s apartment for her help in getting parts to repair the leg, verbally elevating her security clearance three levels when he reveals his bionics to her. The electronics store clerk she goes to for parts appears to be Hopper in disguise, but this is never addressed as a plot point, aside from the same set being reused as Hopper’s lair later; I think something was lost in editing. Anyway, Steve breaks into an OSI office for files on Steve’s past nemeses; he’d requested those files before his arrest, but Callahan doesn’t have clearance for the building. Meanwhile, Callahan uses her own initiative to interview Charlie’s neighbors — one of whom is Hopper, who gaslights her with fake info on the shooter, then follows her home and spies on her and Steve with a shotgun mike. Turns out the Hopper that Steve arrested died in prison; this Hopper is the twin brother he used to give him alibis. Which I suppose explains why he wants Steve to rot in prison rather than just shooting him, although he had no trouble shooting Charlie.

Anyway, Hopper kidnaps Callahan and uses that leverage to get Steve to meet him in a park, and tips off the cops to his location. But Oscar is back in town and convinces Dobbs to let him come along. Steve spots Hopper watching and he and Oscar convince Dobbs to work with them to sting Hopper and give Steve a chance to rescue Callahan. This is set up to make it look like Steve made a run for it and was killed by the police, but we already know he’s playing for Hopper’s benefit, so it’s never a remotely convincing fakeout for the audience. But it leads to a fight between Steve’s bionics and Hopper’s warehouse vehicles. Guess who wins.

This is the season finale, but of course it would still be some years before season finales became big events rather than just normal weekly episodes. But as ’70s finales go, this is an okay one, and certainly a marked improvement over last season’s clip-show finale. While the story is imperfect, it’s pretty entertaining, mainly due to Darling’s performance as Callahan. Oddly, although she’s the most central guest star, she isn’t billed until the end titles. But she’ll get a recurring role on two series out of this, so I guess it worked out okay. (And I guess the fact that she found out Steve’s secret is why Oscar kept her around for three years instead of three months. No sense changing secretaries for secrecy’s sake if your secretary’s already in on the secret.)

Oh, and I think we get the first use of the “ta-ta-tang” sound for the bionic grip, when Steve forces open a doorknob. Another slightly novel use is when he raises his legs to block a descending wheel-loader bucket. Even this late in the season, it’s still unusual to hear the sound used for bionic-leg stunts.

The bonus features on the season 2 DVD, aside from Kenneth Johnson’s “Bionic Woman” commentary, are deeply lame. One is a piece about the sound effects that’s more about random fans making awful attempts to imitate the bionic noises than it is about providing useful information such as how the sound effects were created (there’s a vague speculation offered for the origin of the “ta-ta-tang,” but it’s unconvincing). It acknowledges the sound-effect evolution I’ve been tracking, though asserts that the “ta-ta-tang” was established as a bionic exertion sound earlier than I’m willing to admit. (Since it was originally used as sort of a “swish” sound for things swinging or flying through the air in slow motion, I don’t count it as a bionic sound effect until we hear it used for other types of bionic actions, which didn’t happen until late in the season.) It does confirm, however, that the sound effects don’t become truly standardized until season 3, which also introduces the “bionic impact” sound (a sort of electronic “thud-thud-thud” that echoes at about the same pace as the exertion sound) and the standardized bionic jump sound (a rising or falling electronic tone accompanying the rising or falling jumper, rather cartoonily).

The other feature is a guest-star overview that’s mostly just episode clips; I don’t think any of the guest stars themselves were interviewed for it. And it overlooks Jennifer Darling, who should’ve warranted mention as a new recurring player.

So how did season 2 stack up to season 1? Well, it was longer, for one thing, and it was pivotal in establishing important conventions of the series: The emergence of the bionic sound effects, the debut of aliens in the bionic universe, the introduction of Jaime Sommers (and Peggy Callahan), and behind the scenes, the grooming of Kenneth Johnson for the producer role he would assume on both bionic series the following season.

But was it better than season 1? Sadly, no. It started out very strong, with three excellent episodes out of the first five: “The Pioneers,” “The Pal-Mir Escort,” and “The Seven Million Dollar Man.” But after that, we don’t get a really good one until “The Bionic Woman” near the end of the season, although there are some decent but flawed ones like “Straight on ’til Morning,” “The Deadly Replay,” “The Peeping Blonde,” “The Last Kamikaze,” “The Return of the Robot-Maker,” and “Steve Austin, Fugitive.” It seems as though the attempt at intelligent drama that characterized the rear half of season 1 and the early part of season 2 gave way to a trend toward more superficial action stories. There was also a decreasing emphasis on Steve’s astronaut side, which figured into four episodes in the first half of the season (though just barely in the case of “The Peeping Blonde”) and none in the back half. I’m not sure why this is. True, the Apollo missions were a couple of years in the past by this point, but Skylab was still in active use, so at the time the US manned space program would still have been seen as a going concern. But maybe the popularity of it was waning as the Moon landings faded into memory.

As far as actual science fiction stories, there weren’t that many (not counting general bionics stuff or stories with “new technology” McGuffins): “The Pioneers,” “The Seven Million Dollar Man,” “Straight on ’til Morning,” “Return of the Robot Maker,” “The E.S.P. Spy,” and “The Bionic Woman.” Other stories driven mainly by scientific undertakings would include “The Deadly Replay” and “Taneha” (though that’s more conservation than research per se). The majority of the season was about more conventional TV fare, whether spy missions, crime stories, or bad situations the hero stumbled into.

Best episodes of the season: “The Bionic Woman” (both parts), “The Pioneers,” “The Seven Million Dollar Man.” All were strong character-driven dramas with ideas worth exploring. Worst episodes: “The E.S.P. Spy,” “Stranger in Broken Fork,” “Taneha.” “Spy” is painfully inept and annoying, and (as I forgot to mention before) contradicts prior continuity, in that Oscar doesn’t believe in ESP even though a psychic was already used in the first season’s “Operation Firefly.” “Stranger” is sluggish, generic, stupidly set up, and poorly directed. And “Taneha” is inconsequential, corny, and melodramatic, with annoying gender attitudes. The most promising episode that didn’t quite work: “Straight on ’til Morning.” The most science-fictional episode yet and the first alien story in the franchise, written by Star Trek‘s D.C. Fontana, but nonetheless cliched and having nothing of substance to say. Also “Outrage in Balinderry,” which made a respectable attempt to be socially relevant but sabotaged it with mediocre writing, a chemistry-free romance subplot, and astonishingly bad Irish accents. Most entertaining but completely insubstantial episode: “Return of the Robot Maker.” Lively and fun, with some of the series’ best special effects to date (which, believe me, is damning with very faint praise), but totally devoid of any meaningful characterization, emotion, or theme.

So basically this season offered generally superficial, generally passable but often cheesy action-drama stories, with occasional attempts at something more substantial. I think it was mainly nostalgia, and Oliver Nelson’s music, that made it generally entertaining for me, but it definitely could’ve stood to be better. (There were surprisingly few stock musical scores this season — almost disappointing, really, since there were some very good cues it would’ve been nice to hear repeated.) The heartening thing is that “The Bionic Woman,” basically the demo reel for incoming producer Kenneth Johnson, was so much stronger than the rest of the season. It gives me hope for future seasons (if they ever become available on Netflix) and for the spinoff The Bionic Woman (which is available now, so I might move on to that).

Green Blaze powers addendum: The high jump

February 5, 2014 5 comments

I’ve added a new paragraph to my earlier post “ONLY SUPERHUMAN reader question: Measuring the Green Blaze’s powers,” since I realized there was one aspect of Emerald Blair’s superstrength that I forgot to address, one that occurred to me as a result of watching The Six Million Dollar Man on DVD. Here’s what I added:

It’s occurred to me to wonder: How high could Emry jump? Of course, that depends on the gravity, so let’s assume a 1g baseline. According to my physics textbook, the maximum height of a projectile is proportional to the square of its initial velocity (specifically, the velocity squared times the square of the sine of the launch angle, divided by twice the gravity). So if we use my earlier, very rough assumption that Emry’s speed relative to an unenhanced athlete goes as the square root of her relative strength, that would cancel out the square, and thus jumping height (for the same gravity and angle) would increase linearly with strength. If she’s four times stronger than the strongest human athlete today, then, it follows she could jump roughly four times the world record for the high jump. Except it’s more complicated than that, since we’re dealing with the trajectory of her center of mass. The current world record is 2.45 meters by Javier Sotomayor. But that’s the height of the bar he cleared, not the height of his center of mass. He used a technique called the Fosbury flop, in which the body arcs over the bar in a way that keeps the center of mass below it. So his CoM was probably no more than about 2.15 meters off the ground, give or take. And he was pretty much fully upright when he made the jump. since he’s 1.95 meters tall to start with, and the average man’s CoM height is 0.56 of his total height (or about 1.09 m in this case), that would mean the world-record high jump entailed an increase in center-of-mass altitude of slightly over one meter. So if we assume that Emry is doing more of a “bionic”-style jump, keeping her body vertical and landing on her feet on whatever she’s jumping up to, then she might possibly be able to raise her center of mass up to four meters in Earthlike gravity. Which means she could jump to the roof of a one-story building or clear a typical security fence — comparable to the jumping ability of Steve Austin or Jaime Sommers.

And just a reminder: I’m open to more reader questions about Only Superhuman or my other writing.

SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN thoughts: Season 2, Eps. 19-20: “The Bionic Woman” (Spoilers)

February 2, 2014 2 comments

“The Bionic Woman”: We open with Steve actually on a mission, to recover a stolen US-currency printing plate from Ronaugh (Malachi Throne), who sees Steve’s face and swears revenge. But then we cut to Steve going on his third vacation in the past four episodes. He’s now officially the laziest TV action hero ever. This time, though, he’s gone home to Ojai, California to buy a ranch and put down roots, helped by his mother Helen (Martha Scott, returning from “The Coward”) and stepfather Jim Elgin (Ford Rainey, debuting here). He’s excited to learn from them that another famous Ojai native is back in town: tennis pro Jaime Sommers (do I even need to say Lindsay Wagner?), who was as close as a sister to him growing up, but that he’s long harbored more than brotherly feelings for. They reconnect effortlessly, and though screenwriter Kenneth Johnson (making his 6M$M debut) puts up the token obstacle of another guy she’s dating, she breaks up with that guy off-camera and without explanation, leading to the inevitable courtship montage. Except this montage has a cheesy twist. It features “Sweet Jamie” [sic], the second of two songs written for the episode, the first one being “Got to Get Loose,” which was played under the first-act opening. The songs, with music by Oliver Nelson and lyrics by Lionel E. Siegel, are performed by Lee Majors himself. They, um, aren’t especially good, with lyrics rather baldly and unsubtly stating the emotions being expressed. And Majors is the kind of singer who doesn’t feel any need to come anywhere close to the rhythm of the musical accompaniment. Which can work well — cf. Sinatra — but only if the singer really knows what he’s doing, and I didn’t get that sense from Majors. (Majors’s other, uhh, major singing credit would be the theme song to his later series The Fall Guy.)

But the slow pace and cheesy songs are more than made up for by Johnson’s witty dialogue and Lindsay Wagner’s amazing charm and animation. I’ve always found her an absolute delight to watch and listen to, so expressive and fun and spontaneous, with such a marvelous naturalness and humor to her delivery. (Great legs, too. I’d forgotten that. I’ve always really liked her but never really seen her as a sex symbol. In retrospect, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because her own show didn’t really sexualize her the way something like Charlie’s Angels did with its leads. She was more of a girl-next-door, best-friend sort of presence. At least, that’s my recollection.) And she brings out the best in Majors too. They have excellent chemistry, and he’s as relaxed and animated with her as he was in the closing scene of “Taneha” that I liked so much. (In Kenneth Johnson’s commentary — the only one on this season’s set — he says that Wagner’s spontaneity tended to bring out a similar quality in the performers who played off of her, and that’s entirely clear in her scenes with Majors. She makes him a better actor.) Their relationship is much more credible than the out-of-nowhere old flame from “Lost Love” a few episodes back. That’s partly due to the chemistry, but just as much due to the writing. Making them friends since childhood,giving them a history and a well-established ease with each other, makes it less contrived that she could’ve been out of his life for the duration of the series so far and yet quickly fall into a devoted relationship with him.

Of course, it can’t last. Just as things are getting serious, they go skydiving, and Jaime’s chute inexplicably fails. The accident isn’t very clearly depicted — since it was constructed from stock skydiving footage and a few close-ups of the actors — but the chute evidently gets tangled in its lines somehow. (Johnson’s commentary explains it was based on a real type of skydiving accident where a chute gets caught in an updraft and “streams,” collapsing in on itself.) Her injuries are coincidentally similar to those that befell Steve three years earlier: both legs and her right arm and shoulder a total loss, her right ear deafened. Apparently she’s in danger of dying from her injuries too. A desperate Steve goes to Oscar and pleads with him to make Jaime bionic. Oscar insists it’s not that easy, that the cost has to be justified to the government. If she becomes an OSI agent as Steve suggests, there will come a time (says Oscar) when he’ll need her for a mission and Steve will refuse. Steve promises he won’t, pleads with Oscar, and it’s the finest acting I’ve seen from Majors up to this point. He really pulls out all the stops here, even without Wagner to play off of. Oscar is convinced, so Rudy (making his first appearance in 14 episodes) brings in his team and bionicizes her. (Fittingly, the bionic ear implant looks like a larger version of a modern hearing-aid battery.) Steve helps her through the recovery, revealing to her that he’s bionic too, and by the end of the therapy sequence, he proposes marriage, and she accepts (oh, she’s so doomed). Ronaugh (remember him?) sees the wedding announcement in a Russian-language paper (on the front page, because of course it is), so now he knows where to find the guy he wants to kill. To Be Continued!

Part 2’s recap montage is narrated by Richard Anderson (out of character, since he refers to Oscar in the third person), and reveals that, contrary to the impression given by the editing in part 1, Jaime’s surgery and therapy took months. Ronaugh will later say it’s been seven months. Perhaps some of the earlier episodes took place during the time that Jaime was in therapy?

Anyway, Jaime begins to question what Uncle Sam expects in return for her bionics, but Steve dodges the issue. They bionic-race each other home, and Helen sees them running at superspeed and jumping over tractors, so Steve has to have a talk with her. This is handled very nicely; in lieu of audible dialogue, the conversation is revealed through facial expressions and illustrated with sound and sepia-toned image clips from the main titles and the pilot. (Johnson’s commentary says this was inspired by a scene in North by Northwest.) Anyway, Oscar then shows up and says it’s time for Jaime to pay the piper; Ronaugh has a perfect counterfeit plate now and they need Jaime’s bionic ear to crack his safe — plus he conveniently hosts a tennis tournament (something that never came up until now), so she has a way in. Steve predictably tries to renege on his word, insisting Jaime’s not ready, but of course she hears every word of their conversation from outside and insists on going in. Steve comes on the mission as her fiancé and backup, unaware that Ronaugh saw his face in their earlier encounter, though Ronaugh isn’t exactly subtle about hinting they’ve met before. Jamie performs the switch smoothly, and is inexplicably unable to hear Ronaugh and his men waylaying Steve at gunpoint in the hallway outside, even though it should be easier than her former feat of bionic hearing with Steve and Oscar. (Johnson’s commentary doesn’t address this inconsistency.) But then, her bionic arm is glitching, causing her to trigger an alarm, so let’s be generous and assume the ear was glitching too. They break out and run from Ronaugh, who ends up getting accidentally shot by his own henchman (Paul Carr).

But that’s far from the end of the story, for Jaime’s bionics keep glitching. She hasn’t been telling anyone since she thinks it’s normal adjustment, but when Steve finds out, he takes her to Rudy, who can’t find anything wrong with the equipment. But she has mood swings and personality changes that keep getting worse, and eventually Rudy finds her body is rejecting the bionics and a clot is forming around the control processor in her brain. He says he needs to operate right away, but Jaime has a freakout and runs out of the hospital, and Steve follows the trail of property damage she leaves. The pathetic fallacy kicks in and a thunderstorm begins, yet another surefire sign that she’s doomed for a tragic end. (Johnson does this a lot; see the pilot and the “Married” episode of The Incredible Hulk. Not only does the first Hulk transformation scene in the pilot take place in a rainstorm, it uses one of the same stock lightning-bolt shots used here.)  By the time Steve finds her, it’s too late; she dies on the table. There’s some more really nice editorial work here, with a slow-motion “memory” shot of Jaime superimposed on a close-up of Steve’s face and slowing to a stop at the moment she flatlines. I originally wrote “nice direction,” but Johnson says this was a replacement for the scripted action that the director somehow failed to film. Harve Bennett was already grooming him to become a producer, so Johnson was given unprecedented access in the editing room and suggested this editorial fix, or so he recalls the event decades after the fact. In any case, it works very well.

And that, aside from a bit more flashbacky stuff and a reprise of “Sweet Jamie,” is the last we ever see of Jaime Sommers.

Or is it…?

Well, as far as the episode itself was concerned, it definitely was. Johnson’s original plan was to leave Jaime in a coma, but Love Story had just come out and the network insisted the girl had to die. (Uhh, spoilers for Love Story, I guess.) But Lindsay Wagner’s charm won over the audience, this 2-parter got the series its best ratings yet, and the network demanded more, quite understandably. However, this is the last time we ever see Alan Oppenheimer as Rudy Wells, to my regret. For the rest of the franchise, he’ll be played by Martin E. Brooks, whom I never liked as much as Oppenheimer. (Sure, he may have had a full head of hair, but he never played Skeletor.)

Perhaps it’s fitting that here is where the “ta-ta-tang” sound effect really begins to become standardized as a bionic exertion sound. It’s used here for a lot of bionic stuff, including jumps for the first time, as well as throws, kicks, fence post driving, and rowing a canoe really fast. Still not used for running or crushing/bending things, though. We get the first bionic-ear sound effect here, but it’s not the sonar-like double chirp we’ll later come to know — more a single, drawn-out, descending chirp.

This was a solid 2-parter, though it had room for improvement. The first act or two are kind of slow-paced, and Jaime’s accident is rather random and contrived. It might’ve worked better if, say, her accident had been caused by Ronaugh’s men as they attempted to assassinate Steve — like if they sabotaged the wrong parachute. Then it wouldn’t seem like such a huge coincidence that the love of Steve’s life just happened to have the same kind of accident. It also has kind of a weak ending. Plus they seem to have blown the music budget on the songs for Part 1, since Part 2 is saddled with a stock score that’s a letdown after the fully original score to Part 1. We don’t even get a reprise of Oliver Nelson’s Jaime theme (the same melody as “Sweet Jamie”) until her final minutes.

(About the song title — there’s a story that her name was originally spelled “Jamie” until Wagner misspelled the name on a chalkboard, but Johnson says it was always supposed to be “Jaime” and they got it wrong here. I always figured it was from the French j’aime, “I love you,” but Johnson says she was one of many characters he named after people he’d known.)

But there’s still a lot of strong writing here from Kenneth Johnson, especially in the endearingly witty yet natural-sounding dialogue among Steve, Jaime, and his parents. And Lindsay Wagner really makes it shine. She was still quite young and showed some signs of inexperience as an actress at the time, but her charm and exuberance more than made up for it, and her spontaneous, natural delivery was a rare talent in the ’70s. It’s easy to understand why the network rushed to give Wagner her own series — and rather startling and disappointing that it was her only series lead role.

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