When NBC picked up The Bionic Woman, they asked for one of those pre-credit showreels that you often saw in the seventies, with clips from the episode you’re about to watch. These are always obnoxious, but I liked the way they did this one. All the clips are from about the first seven minutes of the story.
I’m not giving away too much when I reveal this is one of those incredibly common hoax flying saucers that we often saw on TV in that decade, because the show gives it away after about ten minutes. These always let me down as a kid. But to their credit, the bad guys behind this hoax stick to their guns and keep their “holograph” projectors going even once the heroes and the audience are in on the scam. That way the kids in the audience can still have a special effect to look at.
Speaking of effects, while these are about as good as what you could expect to see on TV in 1978, there are a couple of shots where the plate which is used for the image of the flying saucer is pockmarked by two big black blobs right in the center of the picture and what looks like a huge ink smear in the upper left of the frame. Kind of hard to suspend disbelief when Universal’s special effects crew couldn’t even wipe down the plate with some glass cleaner, really. On the other hand, it gave us the opportunity to wind it back and talk with our son how they used to do special effects like this. I used to absorb every article about visual effects in magazines like Dynamite to understand how things like this were made.
In the cast, Jon Locke, who had played the leader of the Sleestak and a couple of other monsters in the last year of Land of the Lost the previous season, has a small part as one of the townspeople excited by the flying saucers. Jack Kelly plays a scientist who has been “abducted” along with Rudy Wells. Kelly is shamefully misused by this story and given next to nothing to do. Since Kelly was all over television doing guest parts during this period, often for Universal, perhaps he was only available for what looks like just two days of filming. That’s idle speculation on my part, but there are three other adult male roles in this story with much more meat on them where I’d prefer to have seen Kelly, who I really enjoy.
A couple of entries back, I mentioned how the characterization of Walker Edmiston’s Enik in season three is all wrong. It feels for all the world like the new producer Jon Kubichan understood that this show was created by people with a Star Trek background, remembered that Mr. Spock was all about logic, and concluded that would be a good hook for Enik. It doesn’t work, and just leaves the character saying “That is not logical” constantly. It’s pretty obnoxious, actually.
But the really obnoxious bit is the Sleestak leader in season three, played by Jon Locke. Now, back in season one’s “The Hole”, we met a Sleestak called S’Latch, who could speak English and explained that every few years, a “freak” Sleestak, born with intelligence, language, and an understanding of their history, is born. I’ve always figured that there is a gap of many months between “Blackout” and “After-Shock,” and during that gap, a new “freak” was hatched, and this one managed to not aggravate everybody else with talk of compassion, because he was instead a big bully with dreams of conquest. It’s still a massive miscalculation, going from “weird hissing monsters who don’t talk” to “we want to conquer the valley and rule everybody,” but that’s really the only explanation that makes any sense.
Giving the fiction of the show a sizable gap between seasons also covers the fact that Kathy Coleman grew about five inches between the second and third production block, and that the Sleestak plan in this episode – eternal night – was one that they just freaking pulled three episodes ago. Even Daniel piped up and said “Their moths will die and their eggs won’t hatch!” If a five year-old is pointing out your plot holes, you have a problem. This only makes sense if enough time had elapsed since “Blackout” for the new leader to be hatched, grow to maturity, and take over the tribe. It’s not as though we really know how long it takes for Sleestak to mature, or what their life span actually is.
But even though Daniel saw the flaw in their plan, he still really enjoyed this one. He liked the exciting bit where Will, made invisible for most of the episode via some pylon shenanigans, pulls an Orb out from the Sleestak God’s pit and snatches it away from the Leader, and said there weren’t any bad bits. Perhaps toning down the horror in favor of kid-friendly excitement might have been the right idea for the target audience, even if it resulted in something more tame and dull for grown-ups.