Daniel did much better with tonight’s episode than I thought he would! After the previous two appearances by the Zarn left him alternately angered and terrified, I was a little worried, but this episode is really pretty innocuous. In it, while Rick and Will take an overnight trip to continue a mapping project, Holly intervenes between Cha-Ka and Ta, who are at loggerheads.
The Zarn picks up on the conflict – or perhaps he overheard Will talking about him – and decides to escalate the conflict with his telekinetic powers, in the name of “research.” This involves a lot of quick cuts, wire work, and a little bit of slapstick, which our five year-old really enjoyed.
It is a strangely simple and inessential little story, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, I liked it a little less than I remembered it this time around. I do, however, really like the way that the Zarn is no longer a threat, but another neighbor with his own territory. Had this production team continued on and made the third season (oh, if only…), that would be a good place to start, with the humans, Pakuni, Sleestak, and the Zarn each with their own territories and each with their own opinions about how best to survive. (The Zarn, of course, would be that obnoxious neighbor whose lawn mower you do not wish to borrow, because he’d never let you forget it.)
Here’s another “memory cheats” episode. It’s not a blessed thing like how I remembered it as a kid. When I finally obtained copies of all the season two episodes that I hadn’t seen in years – this would have been about 1990 – I was thunderstruck how simple and calm this episode is. Apart from a couple of grunting appearances by Spike the triceratops, there wasn’t anything in this story to give our son even the mildest alarm. It really is the calm before the storm, because after this little outing by Dick Morgan, the next four are terrific, freaky fun.
To set the scene for how my memories tricked me, let’s roll back to the halcyon days of VHS tape trading, a subject we’ll revisit when we get to season three. Many episodes of Land of the Lost were not hard to find in the late 1980s; Embassy Home Video had released the first four, and CBS actually reran at least twenty and perhaps even all of the first thirty episodes on Saturday mornings in 1985 and 1987. So there were copies of quite a few floating around, and eventually somebody landed an episode guide, but there was an episode that I remembered very clearly that was not among them.
What I remembered was that Sharon Baird’s character, Sa, was the witch doctor, and not Ta. This made sense to my little kid brain; Ta was the dominant member of the tribe, and “witch doctor” was Sa’s function. And while I remembered, kind of, that a poisonous plant had stung Holly, I remembered this being a mammoth part of the episode, and not something that happens right at the second commercial break. I also misremembered that somehow, Rick and Will had also been poisoned, and that Sa cured them all after all the humans were left prostrate on the jungle floor. This is actually just a very minor part of the story, another example of Ta insisting on some foolish “ritual” to command attention from everybody else. He doesn’t cure anybody; he just waits out the powerful, but short-lasting, poison and demands payment.
So somehow, I became convinced that there was a missing episode of the show where Sa saves everybody from some horrible sickness, and had no idea that it was this one, because it’s really mainly about Will teaching Cha-Ka what fish are and how to catch them, and Sa doesn’t even appear in it. Memory’s a weird thing.
I think this is the only time in the series that we get to see that city slicker Ta without the other Pakuni, and I suspect there’s a fun reason why. This episode features Walker Edmiston as Enik, along with the three Sleestak actors. That probably only left room in the budget for one Paku. This could have been a cooperation with Cha-Ka as we’d normally see, but Wesley Eure and Scutter McKay have a very fun chemistry as antagonists, so that led the script in the direction of Will taking advantage of Ta, which could never happen with their friend Cha-Ka. But anybody concerned that the humans are taking advantage of the gullible, uneducated ape-man, hanging him up over a trap as bait for a 400 pound pig, don’t be too concerned. Ta’s a rascal and a bully, and he’ll pull one over on the humans before the season’s up.
Daniel decided to let us know as the credits rolled that he hates Grumpy, and Spike, and Sleestak. Just his luck this episode features two of the three, which had him crawling all over Mommy for protection. There is a completely brilliant bit of animation this week, by the way. Grumpy is chasing a Spot back and forth until he gets his foot stuck in the hole that the Sleestak dug. As he figures out how to free himself, Spot waits behind a tree until, getting a chance, he dashes into the clearing and bites Grumpy’s tail!
Geography note:This episode introduces the Library of Skulls, which will become a regular feature over the rest of this and the next season. However, it very strangely has the Sleestak tunnels and their egg nursery on Grumpy’s side of the chasm. I think this must have been a miscommunication to the stop-motion animation team and Big Alice should have been the big dinosaur chasing the small one. We’ll see Big Alice in action in a couple of weeks.
Season two of Land of the Lost began with what I remembered as a pretty inconsequential story with dinosaurs and Pakuni – and non-threatening dinosaurs, at that – but I had overlooked that Daniel would become very worried for Dopey when the “two-ton” dino gets caught in the tar pit. That’s really all the plot is for the episode; the humans and the reluctant Pakuni make several attempts to free Dopey.
I really like the way that Margaret Armen’s script wasn’t afraid to give huge chunks of time over to the Pakuni arguing about whether to help. About a third of the dialogue isn’t in English, which is really impressive.
Some minor changes in between seasons: they found a new brown shirt for Wesley Eure to wear, and Ta is played by a new actor. Joe Giamalva had played the character in season one, and Scutter McKay, who played various costumed parts in H.R. Pufnstuf, took over the role here. I really like how McKay and Philip Paley debate whether to do some nebulous task or whether Cha-Ka is going to paint Ta’s portrait. When the Pakuni all finally arrive to see that Dopey is sinking in tar, Ta can’t be bothered to help. He dismisses Dopey’s problem with a dismissive “bye-bye” wave.
Behind the scenes, Dick Morgan became the story editor, and Tom Swale the associate producer. Between the two of them, they’d be responsible for seven of this season’s thirteen episodes, including the really big one that’s coming up next.