I wonder how the producers of this show decided what would be acceptable fantasy elements and what would be outlandish enough to make the characters question it. Bionics, robots, space aliens, psychic powers, those are all okay and understandable, but ghosts? Admittedly, by this point in the two shows, it’s Steve who has seen all the really bizarre stuff, but if there is a ghost in Essexville, Massachusetts haunting a descendant of a woman who was executed in nearby Salem, are you honestly going to tell me it’s that much more wild than those aliens with the toxic skin who crashed on Earth?
This isn’t a bad story at all. It’s the first season finale, written and directed by the show’s producer, Kenneth Johnson, and it looks like an end-of-season cheapie, with only four guest speaking parts, but it’s well-made and effective. Especially so for our son, who, for the first time in ages, got really upset by the frights. About a half an hour after we finished watching it, he started weeping because he was “freaked out” and didn’t want to get ready for bed!
But before the frights, he was absolutely outraged by another moment. Jaime and her boyfriend-of-the-week take a canoe into the lake for some grown-up time away from the boyfriend’s daughter, who looks to be about twelve or so. He suggests that she take a nap. Our son didn’t appreciate that at all. “You should never leave a kid alone! Never!” he shouted. We don’t even joke about going in to pay for our gasoline without him. I almost told him that forty years ago, parents did leave their kids alone like that, but I decided against it. The world’s insane enough now without letting him know what degenerates we were in the seventies.
We’ll be taking a short break from the two Bionic series, but will resume with seasons four and two at the end of the month!
I selected the episodes of the bionic series that we’d watch quite some time ago. I chose the ones with the big-name villains, and the ones with interesting guest stars. Spencer Milligan, Vito Scotti, and Christopher George are in this one. I didn’t pay attention to what the stories were actually about.
But I’m glad I picked this one for the novelty. It’s a remake of Mann Rubin’s story from the first season of Six, “Survival of the Fittest,” only with Jaime and Rudy Wells in trouble, and not Steve and Oscar. They even have the medical student who needs redemption, a wound that needs cauterizing via the wires in a bionic finger, and the producers hired the same three actors for the airplane’s crew so that they could reuse some footage of them bouncing around a cockpit and shouting “Mayday!” About the only thing new to this story is Scotti’s character, a swooning romantic fool named Romero who’s besotted with Jaime.
Marie had a late day and came home about six minutes before the end of the story. “Didn’t we watch this story just a few months ago with different characters?” she asked. If he noticed, our son didn’t say a word. He was thrilled by the plane crash and scared of the snake as though they were brand new problems.
There’s quite a fun guest star in this episode of The Bionic Woman. Our son recognized Forrest Tucker’s voice, but couldn’t quite place him. I told him he was Kong on The Ghost Busters, and he has watched every episode of that show at least four times. Here, he plays General Jack D. Ripper – er, I mean, J.T. Connors – a very old friend of Jaime’s, a wealthy industrialist who doesn’t like Washington softies and longhairs, and is concerned with fluoridation. His character is so obviously set up to be the villain that he can’t possibly be the villain, sort of like the way they presented Snape in the first Harry Potter film.
The actual villain is the only other suspect, Connors’ second-in-command, who’s played by Ben Piazza. He was really typecast as playing frustrated dweebs in the seventies and eighties, like the hapless father tormented by Joliet Jake in that nice restaurant in The Blues Brothers. So, not a lot of actual mystery in this story, but a heck of a lot of class. It’s a great episode, with real tension, since Jaime injures one of her legs quite badly and is operating at rather less than full power. It builds up really well, and our son was completely thrilled by it.
This is one of the episodes where Steve Austin plays a fairly major role. It’s set up to look like he will have to come save the day after Jaime’s injury, but there’s a very clever reversal of expectations here. It’s also one of the episodes with Christian Juttner as the sassy boy in Jaime’s class. Looks like we either get Juttner or we get Robbie Rist, never both!
A couple of years ago, the strange film Roar was reissued, and with it came the even stranger tale of how the actress Tippi Hedren and her teen daughter Melanie Griffith, who starred in the movie, spent the seventies sharing a house with a 400-pound lion named Neil. Roar went into production in October 1976, eight months after Hedren and Neil appeared in this episode of The Bionic Woman, along with William Schallert, Jack Kelly, and the omnipresent child star Robbie Rist.
All that guest star power didn’t overwhelm Jaime, who is caught in a local feud without any OSI support. A neighbor is raising a menagerie of hopefully tame animals, while a rancher believes the lion is killing his cattle. He doesn’t believe it could be a massive cougar.
Our son was transfixed by this story. He thought all the animals were completely charming and he was incredibly worried about the lion, the cougar, and Jaime. Full credit to the director: the scene where Jaime tries to calm an injured and frightened Neil, only to get injured herself on her non-bionic arm, really is a tense one.
I must add, though, that I was honestly most amused by a hint that Neil may be behind the attacks after all. There’s no reason for Neil to hunt cattle since he’s fed well, but money is tight and his owner has recently been feeding him half beef and half soy. If somebody was forcing me to eat slugburgers instead of sirloin, I might go hunt cattle myself!
(You can read more about Roar, in which none of the animals were injured but between 70 and 72 members of the cast and crew were, here. See more photos of Neil hanging out at home with Hedren and Griffith here.)
It’s not possible, in today’s environment, to watch this episode and not be reminded of the Trumps. I’m not claiming it’s an exact metaphor, but in this story, Carlton Harris, ladykiller that he thinks he is, changes plans once Jaime and Oscar convince him that she’s unhappy with OSI pay and unwilling to work for the government anymore. (A sign of inflation: Jaime balks at the pay Oscar thinks is very, very reasonable for dangerous spy work: $19,000 a year.) He makes Jaime an offer that he thinks she can’t refuse.
The villain’s son, Donald Harris, has just graduated from Harvard Law and is learning first hand about his father’s villainy. He catches Jaime leaving messages for the OSI as she steals some government plans, but just can’t believe that his old man’s really a criminal and has had three agents killed already. The Harrises have a really good, well-acted scene where the young lawyer confronts his industrialist dad about the evidence that he’s left behind which will indict him. It’s almost sad, watching that youthful idealism come crashing into the reality of what Carlton Harris is actually doing, including finding foreign buyers for American military secrets.
Of course, our son is just here for the special effects and explosions, and even though this does veer pretty sharply into “counterfeiters in turtlenecks” territory – Carlton indeed wears a canary yellow turtleneck himself in one scene – the family drama kept my attention while he cheered the bionic stuff.
Also of note: Gordon Jump is here as one of Harris’s industrialist rivals, and ’70s child star Christian Juttner, who we’ve seen a couple of times in this blog, plays one of Jaime’s students.
I enjoyed springing the surprise that Jaime Sommers got her own show. I told our favorite six year-old critic that we’d be watching some bionic action tonight, and then I told him we would not be watching The Six Million Dollar Man. He watched the pre-credits sequence with a raised eyebrow wondering what was going on.
In the fall of 1975, The Bionic Woman started production and it debuted on ABC the following January. 1976-77 were the golden age of bionics. Now in her own show (it aired Wednesdays while Six remained on Sundays), Jaime moves to Ojai – happily, that blasted doctor stayed behind in Colorado Springs – and takes an apartment above Steve Austin’s parents’ barn at their new ranch. She gets a job teaching a gang of unruly kids – “The Dirty Dozen” – at Ventura AFB, and this first story sees her putting her life and memories together. Meanwhile, Carlton Harris, the villain from that mission she and Steve botched a few months earlier, is getting ready to attack her and get revenge, which seems a bit silly considering how little trouble the bionic agents actually caused him.
This actually kind of reminded me of the original Six pilot movie, because it’s really more of a slow-paced character drama with occasional punctuations of bionic stunts to keep the kids watching. I was pleased that the writer and producer, Kenneth Johnson, decided to give Jaime her memories back, but not her feelings. It is a little heartbreaking when she tells Steve that she knows they were engaged now, but she doesn’t have any love for him yet.
I was less pleased by the surprising reminder of how incredibly touchy everybody was with women in the seventies. Everybody in this show is either embracing or kissing Jaime or putting their hands on her shoulder, even her brand new boss at the military base school. I had a little talk with our son about how that’s not acceptable behavior any longer!
The most interesting thing about this story, which, to be honest, I found incredibly boring, is that Steve and Jaime completely fail an assignment. It’s almost like Oscar and Rudy set them up for disaster. Jaime still gets painful flashbacks whenever she looks at Steve, or the town of Ojai, or a tree, or her hand, and they decide that what they really need to do with a woman who lost her legs and an arm and an ear in a skydiving accident is send her on a mission where she needs to jump out of an airplane. Then again, Oscar never considers firing Jaime’s doctor, Michael, despite his constantly acting so amazingly unprofessional that his license to practice medicine should have been revoked.
The second most interesting thing about this story is that it gives Lee Majors’ song “Sweet Jaime” another couple of airings. I’ve grown to appreciate the actor’s skills a little more now that we’re rewatching this. He reminds me of how David Janssen might have played similar scenes as he navigates Steve’s heartbreak, and that’s as genuine a compliment as they come. But Majors wasn’t a singer. I think the only reason that “Sweet Jaime” never showed up on Rhino’s hilarious old Golden Throats collections of actors warbling “rock oddities” tunelessly is that Universal doesn’t seem to have ever released this dopey love song as a single for Rhino to license it. What a shame; the jukeboxes of 1975 America surely demanded it.
I’ve picked thirteen episodes to enjoy from the third season of Six and the first season of The Bionic Woman, which originally aired in 1975-76. This year would see Martin E. Brooks become the third actor to play Dr. Rudy Wells and, inevitably, brought back Jaime Sommers, although with an unfortunate difference. This wouldn’t have been a problem had she and Steve not been in love. How do you bring back the lead character’s former fiancee without going forward with the wedding? You give her amnesia.
My wife bristled because, once again, all the menfolk are making Jaime’s decisions for her, but to be fair, she had just wakened from several weeks in a coma without any memory. There’s a notion that bringing back too many of Jaime’s memories will advance the damage to the cells in adjacent parts of her brain, and I don’t know that somebody with only a couple of days’ understanding of the world is really ready to make those kinds of decisions.
Still, while respecting the fact that Lee Majors plays abjectly heartbroken surprisingly well, and that it was Majors and Lindsay Wagner’s undeniable chemistry as bionic lovers that captured the audience’s imagination in ’75, this wouldn’t have even smelled problematic had Jaime been introduced as an independent agent like the Seven Million Dollar Man, Barney, had been. Since Jaime – at this stage – exists only in relation to Steve, Kenneth Johnson really painted himself into a corner. How else do you blamelessly break this couple into two independent, likable leads without amnesia, and keep the audience wondering whether maybe one day they’ll rediscover their love?
This is all, of course, above our son’s head and he would be baffled by the implications. He’s just happy that Jaime is alive, and that she and Steve had a bionic pillow fight in her hospital room.