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.