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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.20 – The Bionic Woman (part two)

Bless his heart. Our son did better than I feared as Jaime died on the operating table. He squeezed Mommy’s arm very tightly and he was subdued and quiet and very surprised. This certainly wasn’t what he expected. I’m sure it’s not what anybody expected, either. The entire plot about Malachi Throne and the stolen $20 plates is over and done with – as cheaply as possible – by the halfway point of the episode.

The rest of the episode is Jaime’s slow and sad deterioration, with her body rejecting the bionics and Dr. Wells having no idea what’s gone wrong until it’s too late. Guest stars die occasionally in shows like these, and so the overwhelming attachment that the audience had for Lindsey Wagner’s character surprised everybody. We went ahead and spoiled her return for him, since he seemed blue and out of sorts.

We’ll take a few weeks’ break from this show. Jaime Sommers will be back around the end of the month.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.19 – The Bionic Woman (part one)

I was a little antsy about how our son’s going to handle the end of this two-part adventure before we sat down. Now I’m a lot antsy. After all, when the producers of The Six Million Dollar Man decided to make a two-part story to let Lee Majors stretch his acting muscles – and, sadly, his singing voice – and break Steve Austin’s heart, they didn’t know that they had a big companion show in the offing.

So obviously, this is all going to turn out okay down the road, but for those of you who don’t know, the original two-parter that introduces Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman, was not intended to launch a franchise. It will end tomorrow night with the character’s death. And our son has never seen a major guest star die before. The only hope I had is that he was going to be a little impatient with all the lovey-dovey stuff this week.

Nope. Not at all. “You’ve never liked the kissy stuff before,” exclaimed Mommy. And he did like it. He was absolutely charmed by Steve and Jaime falling in love and announcing their engagement. Oh, man. Tomorrow’s going to hurt.

Also of note…

* The villain is a counterfeiter played by the great Malachi Throne. He vows revenge on Steve Austin. Our son believes Steve and Jaime will both punch him in the face.

* The episode was written by Kenneth Johnson, and it’s darn near his first screenwriting credit. IMDB credits him with just a couple of episodes of Adam-12 and Griff prior to this. Johnson became Jaime Sommers’ principal writer and went on to become American TV’s go-to guy for sci-fi in the seventies and eighties, developing The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, and V, among others.

* I was a little bothered that Steve didn’t explain bionics to Jaime before sending for Dr. Wells to make her a cyborg. She didn’t have any choice in the matter; men made all her decisions. Let’s be honest, though. Few of us would have been bothered had we seen this when it was made, 41 years ago. Times have changed for the better.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.15 – Return of the Robot Maker

You’ve heard of Chekhov’s gun, right? Well, there’s a horrible missed opportunity in this story by Del Reisman and Mark Frost. It’s the third, and, I think, final outing for Steve Austin’s recurring arch-villain Dr. Dolenz, played by Henry Jones, meaning the least I can do is actually include a photo of the actor. This time, he has a robot duplicate of Oscar, meaning this episode is probably the specific inspiration for that Maskatron toy we talked about alongside “Day of the Robot” back in April.

Well, comic relief is provided by a field agent who’d like to be an inventor instead, and he tries to get Oscar – replaced by a robot – to approve some supplies for Steve. Watching this from his base, Dr. Dolenz gets the robot to approve by pressing a button marked “agreeable” to change the robot’s personality circuits.

At the climax, Steve is having the inevitable slow-motion super-strength battle with the Oscar robot, while the real Oscar has got hold of Dr. Dolenz. Yes, our son adored this fight. He said that he liked it even more than the brawl with the John Saxon robot in season one. It’s certainly shorter, for what it’s worth. That first fight went on forever.

Yeah, I know Oscar wasn’t about to let Dr. Dolenz get away for a third time, but what he probably should have done was gone back in the base to screw with all the robot’s programming and give Steve some help. At first I figured he should have smashed all the computers with a chair, and then I remembered that button marked “agreeable.” He should have hit that a dozen times so the Oscar robot would have stopped scrapping and said “I don’t know why I’m fighting… you seem like a really reasonable fellow…”

But then I suppose we’d have been robbed of the real ending, when Steve knocks this robot’s head off. Never mind me and never mind Chekhov, I can assure you the six year-olds in the audience really, really preferred things the way they originally did it. I guess that’s why they make TV and not me.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.11 – The Peeping Blonde

My wife somehow spent the 1970s and 1980s totally oblivious to contemporary culture. As a child, she was a voracious reader of authors who had been dead for decades if not centuries, she taught herself more about science than most physicists learn in a lifetime, and she would watch thirty year-old Bugs Bunny cartoons when they were repeated on Saturday mornings, but otherwise I have yet to find any evidence that she had any idea what the rest of the planet was enjoying until she chanced upon an episode of MacGyver, of all things, in 1985.

With this in mind, tonight we watched another episode of The Six Million Dollar Man with Farrah Fawcett. She plays a different character in this episode, a reporter called Victoria Webster. She catches some film footage of Steve in action, and, pursuing a story, demands that Steve and Oscar spill the beans. Meanwhile, her desperate boss sees Steve as a different sort of meal ticket.

After we watch something with our son, we often talk about the bigger picture behind what we’ve seen. My wife wanted to talk about how important and how brave reporters are, to risk their lives to confront people in power. That’s a big thing, of course, though I found it almost tone-deaf that a TV show would, just four months after President Nixon resigned, have a top government agent coldly demanding that a news reporter sit on a story. We’re definitely on the side of the press and the media.

But I wasn’t going to talk about the thankless job of the press. I wanted to point out that Farrah Fawcett’s hairstyle was arguably the most popular in the 1970s, and that something like a quarter of the nation’s women were known to feather their hair to the sides the way that Farrah did. And my wife had absolutely no idea that Farrah Fawcett was responsible for popularizing that style. No idea at all. She says she always hated that look and now, forty years later, at last knows who to blame for it.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.6 – Straight on ’til Morning

Our son was really not completely taken with this slow and sad story about a family of extraterrestrials trapped on Earth. It’s certainly an intelligent script – it’s by D.C. Fontana, who did this sort of thing better than most – but it’s quite slow and surprisingly sad. A family of explorers crashes on our planet and finds that just the touch of human beings can kill them. Any humans, in return, suffer horrible radiation burns.

Only one of the group, played by Meg Foster, can speak. When her mother and father silently die after suffering for hours, it’s not done with any levity whatever. The Six Million Dollar Man is a pretty po-faced and humorless show anyway, but I’ve never seen it this bleak before. It then goes down an even darker road, when Oscar aims to imprison and study the survivor. It all ends well, of course, but the tone it employs following the plot really is surprisingly grim.

It’s curious how our schedule worked out. I certainly didn’t initially plan to run this episode of this show right before we watch a Doctor Who about spacemen whose touch can kill. We’ll see what he thinks of that next time.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.5 – The Seven Million Dollar Man

I decided to jump straight into another “best of” season, and I’ve picked six episodes from season two of The Six Million Dollar Man, shown from 1974-75. This story by Peter Allan Fields, a drama writer who worked on dozens of American shows but had the most check marks on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with contributions to ten installments, introduces a second cyborg: Barney Miller, a former race driver who lost all his limbs in an accident and has been lined up as the next agent in the OSI.

Unfortunately, Barney, played by Monte Markham, doesn’t take to becoming a metal man very well. He’s rash and violent and turns what should have been a super-speed snatch into a chance to throw four armed men around like rag dolls long after the goods are secured. Inevitably, this leads to a fight with Steve, which really entertained the daylights out of our son. I’m glad he’s enjoying these slow-motion scraps. It’s just possible that after we let him watch his first Marvel movie in a year or so, they’ll look a little less thrilling.

Incidentally, not only is the character named Barney Miller – the celebrated and long-running police precinct sitcom of that name would begin two months later on the same network – but the bartender who gives Barney one drink too many is the spitting image of Abe Vigoda.

Actually, the most surprising part of the episode comes right after the opening titles. Oscar, Dr. Wells, and a nurse at the secure facility – a different character than Jean, who was played by Barbara Anderson in the original movie – all deny that the nurse had given a mysterious man in a red Mercedes a confidential tape. The gate guard denies the guy existed. Steve tells his friends not to gaslight him. I honestly was not aware of that term before 2014, when I read about gaslighting and the word’s origin in an old film noir, but clearly misunderstood that it was a reasonably new word. Yet here the word is shown to be in use forty years earlier. And it’s indisputably 1974 – the lavender-and-white leisure suit that Lee Majors wears in the show’s final scene couldn’t have come from any other time.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 1.13 – Run, Steve, Run

Dr. Dolenz, the robot maker from “Day of the Robot,” returned in this end-of-season cheapie written by Lionel E. Siegel and mostly set on a Utah horse ranch. There are few speaking parts, and while Noah Beery Jr. – Jim Rockford’s dad! – enlivened things a little bit as an old pal of Steve’s, this is a dull story padded out with clips from previous episodes as Steve tries to figure out who is after him. Dr. Dolenz doesn’t have a robot this time out; he’s trying to engineer accidents so he can observe Steve’s bionic powers from a distance.

I thought this was as dull as could be, but perhaps because westerns are not part of any modern kid’s television diet, our son was surprisingly pleased by the bits with runaway horses and bucking broncos which I found tedious. He was really talkative this evening, but genuinely curious about how fast horses can run, and why Steve and his girlfriend-of-the-week had lassos with them while riding around the ranch.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 1.12 – The Coward

Looks like I picked this episode for one point of continuity and one entertaining guest star. This installment is the first appearance of Martha Scott as Helen Elgin, Steve’s mother. She’ll return in several future episodes, and is seen here without her husband Jim, who raised Steve after the death of his father when Steve was an infant.

Carl Austin was killed in action in World War Two, and there’s a report that he bailed out when the plane he was flying over China was attacked by Japanese fighters. The plane is spotted again in the present day by a weather satellite, and so Steve goes to the Himalayas to retrieve the confidential documents the plane was carrying, and, hopefully, to find his father’s body there and prove he didn’t dishonorably leave his crew to to die.

The notable guest star is George Takei, who plays an experienced Chinese mountain climber who gives Steve a little training and is supposed to make the Himalayan climb with him. It doesn’t work out so well for George; they get attacked by Nepalese (?) bandits as soon as they parachute down and Takei’s character is killed. Fortunately, Steve gets some assistance from a mysterious older American who’s been living in these hills for many years…

The story is by Elroy Schwartz, Sherwood’s brother, who wrote for lots of sitcoms in the sixties and seventies. Looks like he wrote or co-wrote five episodes of this show. The tease throughout, of course, is that the older American is Steve’s father, which seems to be confirmed when they make it to the plane’s wreckage and find a body wearing another man’s dogtags and bury him. But three decades in the wild can make a fellow grow up. After a fight with the bandits that leaves this man mortally wounded, he confirms that the body in the plane was actually that of Steve’s father, Carl Austin. Steve’s dying friend is Christopher Bell, who was the real coward and bailed out. He’d climbed the mountain almost immediately and switched his tags with Carl’s, assuming the plane would be exhumed a whole lot earlier than now and he could live in peace among the nomads, farmers, and bandits instead of going home to a court martial.

I think that a lot of The Six Million Dollar Man is like this. There are few science fiction or super-spy elements to the story and the bionics are barely used. Still, I picked a pretty good one for the character drama. It was a little slower than I think our son was ready to try, but he says that he enjoyed it, and all the mountain climbing scenes certainly kept his interest. He says that he’d like to climb a mountain himself one day, but the boy can barely make it across a simple suspension rope bridge without wincing, so that day may be far off.

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