Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Six Million Dollar Man S1 E8: The Rescue Of Athena One / E9: Dr. Wells Is Missing

"I cast Richard Anderson because when you're doing what I call a bullshit premise, you need to surround it with as much honesty and reality as you can. Richard brought us that credibility. It was less likely that the series was going to end up as a cartoon."
 -Glen A. Larson, The Bionic Book, (p.217) on casting Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman-

The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978) in its first season reminds me how much I enjoyed this series as a child and all of the toys and collectibles associated with it, but how little it seems to resonate with me now as an adult (so far).

When I sit down to watch Irwin Allen's Lost In Space or Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Space:1999 I'm amazed how much I enjoy those stories, the production work, characters and for me they still hold up well as entertainment.

The Six Million Dollar Man has its charms, but I've yet to engage with it as an entertainment in the manner I once did as a child. The performances are fine. The stories are less than memorable by and large. The same can't be said about Lost In Space or Space:1999. You remember those tales by their titles. There was so much visual wonder to them along with their respectively strong story ideas they seemed to sear in memory. The same simply doesn't hold true for this bionic man, at least not yet.

In fact, this post was essentially shelved while losing interest in the series. Season One is becoming a collective summation of episodes with nothing particularly notable to rave about.

The question remains will The Six Million Dollar Man get better, stronger faster?

The Rescue Of Athena One, Episode 8, proves dramatically it's not Breaking Bad (2008-12013), but that so far it's The Six Million Dollar Man at its finest.

Can D.C Fontana bring Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969; ST:TOS) street cred and her eye for a good story to the latest bionic installment? As the author behind Charlie X (S1, E2), Tomorrow Is Yesterday (S1, E19), This Side Of Paradise (S1, E24), Friday's Child (S2, E11), Journey To Babel (S1, E10) and one of Season Three's best, The Enterprise Incident (S3, E2), The Six Million Dollar Man is arguably in good hands. Does D.C. Fontana deliver the goods without studio interference? In defense of the show, we would still have some distance to go before writer Kenneth Johnson (The Incredible Hulk) would arrive for the end of The Six Million Dollar Man Season Two. And some heavy bionic lifting is infused into the show by Johnson if memory serves.

The Rescue Of Athena One doesn't just mark the arrival of D.C. Fontana to the series as a writer in the first of two contributions, but it also sees the arrival of then Majors' wife, Farrah Fawcett-Majors in the first of four appearances. Fawcett was married to Majors in 1973 until their divorce in 1982 though she began a relationship with actor Ryan O'Neal in 1979. Top model Fawcett was indeed an American sweetheart. Fans adorned their walls with her image as kids (is that allowed in today's correctness gone mad?) and the late actress/model sparkled. There was indeed a dynamic and complex relationship between Majors and Fawcett historically on and off screen and fans will revel in seeing her here.

Thus, it makes complete, logical sense that Fontana would lend a feminist touch to her story. The idea is Athena in space. What an Athena she is too. Kelly Wood, played by Fawcett, is the first American woman in space. Of course, in real life the first American woman into space was Sally Ride in 1983. Ride passed away in 2012. The Russians had placed two females in space in 1963 and 1982 respectively. The Rescue Of Athena One offers a bit of science fiction, but also some futurethink concerning the American space program. Who knew it would be almost ten years before an American would get there. But does Fontana take the premise and its female politics too far? Does she exploit the issue to the detriment of the story attempted in The Six Million Dollar Man? We've seen it happen in Star Trek: The Next Generation's Code Of Honor (S1, E4) and Angel One (S1, E14). We also saw a similar disaster rear its ugly head for the preachy Stargate SG-1 episode Emancipation (S1, E4). So, is this a case of heavy on politics and lite on entertainment or does Fontana deliver as she often did for ST:TOS?

Austin, the last American on the moon in 1972, is piloting from ground control and overseeing the symbolic mission of Athena One representing first female to space.

There's a tremendous amount of genuine suspense to Fontana's story. She manages to weave the principals around its guest star and her fictional flight from a political and cultural launch pad but also makes for a fantastic thrill ride.

Fontana brings her space acumen along for the entry. She also intelligently weaves Austin's background as a pilot into the mix of the story along with moments that feature his newly acquired attributes.

Fontana continues not to disappoint. In a terrific moment, as Austin prepares to rescue Kelly in space, before launch, Oscar Goldman expresses concern regarding Austin's return to space. Richard Anderson, at once, plays the role beautifully. He expresses concern to Austin that their secret may indeed be compromised. How long can Austin keep his special talents a secret? Austin asks Goldman if he would be willing to trade Kelly's life for their secret. Goldman not only doesn't answer, but remains cool enough that the viewer questions whether his concern is for his government investment or Austin himself. We suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. We also see hints of Goldman warming to Austin more as a person than a mere project or weapon. Well done Fontana.

Very good NASA stock footage aside it is indeed well edited and gripping from start to finish for vintage 70s science fiction. Because Fontana takes the conventions a step further by presenting Austin himself with serious challenges. He is faced with the discovery that his bionic eye is problematic and the effects of space on his modifications is indeed determined to be troubling.  So an impaired Steve Austin is faced with certain odds as The Six Million Dollar Man is set within the mostly claustrophobic confines of a survival tale. Episode like UFO's Sub-Smash (E17) or Star Trek's The Galileo Seven (S1, E16) come to mind. Fontana adds her own real world spin to the story with nigh a sign of aliens to be found.

And when Austin reports his "malfunction" to Goldman, for relay to Dr. Rudy Wells, Fontana pens some terrifically credible scripting. In order to relay the message Austin gets colorful with his physical defects within his zero gravity environment by implementing some wonderful baseball metaphors. It's a terrific bit of character interaction and really some of the best to date.

With a full manual re-entry required the unsteady Austin must turn to Kelly for the astronauts to survive.

Folks this is how you do it. This is how you make a statement without preaching. This is how you state your case or message without having to beat someone over the head with it (fill in your show here)  The message should be delivered with some grace as Fontana does here with The Rescue Of Athena One. As good as television has become, how do you miss a lesson like this one? Politics and culture are always changing some are just better affecting change in a positive way and with class.

The tense teacher/pupil relationship returns in the final minutes bringing the entry full circle. With Athena One, in the hands of Fontana, Houston we do not have a problem. How clever that she ends her story with "space, it is the final frontier."

This is easily one of the best entries for The Six Million Dollar Man's Season One as Fontana seems to be at ease with writing a good story while viewers are refreshingly whisked away from the early Bond trappings or the extortion-of-the-week routine that has driven the series to date. The story is a solid weave of gender politics and bionic man excitement. It's indeed the better, smarter contribution to date.

Dr. Wells Is Missing takes the series right back into James Bond territory. The entry shoots for the exotic locale of Austria and plays the wealthy villain as the abductor of Dr. Rudy Wells. The criminals, like many in the 1970s, are nothing more than high end bank robbers with aspirations to have Wells build them a bionic man so they may rob bank vaults to their heart's content.

Notably poor is a Majors stunt double. Majors clearly wasn't available for some fairly tame running sequences, but to kids everywhere it really didn't matter. As long as Steve Austin was jumping, leaping, tearing off steering wheels and showing a good bit of chest hair with bell bottoms and collared shirts bigger than a pair of dove's wings children were enthusiastic. Sadly, for adult satisfaction today in the age of television as it is currently constituted, many of The Six Million Dollar Man entries are entirely yawn worthy. (Yawn) There. I just had one. There is no shortage of padding from episode to episode. though we do get our first glimpse of the bionic sound effect.

To prove how unintentionally comical or funny some sequences can be, one actor is smiling during a fight sequence. Not good. The Courtship Of Eddie's Father (1969-1972) is still infinitely more engaging than some of these episodes proving some shows still hold up very well.

Oh wells, one step forward and one step back.

Footnote: Many ST:TOS connections were made with The Six Million Dollar Man throughout the series. Not only does Fontana return for Straight On 'Til Morning (S2, E6), but the series sees the appearance of Gary Lockwood (Where No Man Has Gone Before) in Eyewitness To Murder (S1, E7) and Steve Austin, Fugitive (S2, E22). George Takei would appear in The Coward (S1, E12). William Shatner would star in Burning Bright (S1, E11). Marc Alaimo (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) appeared in Day Of The Robot (S1, E4) as well as Sharks (S5, E1/2). Other Star Trek connections include John DeLancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1) who would appear in Death Probe (S4, E13/14) and Just A Matter Of Time (S5,13). Producer Peter Allan Fields (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) would pen episodes for this series. Other Star Trek alum to appear in episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man include Ted Cassidy (Bigfoot V, S5, E5), Arlene Martel (The Last Of The Fourth Of Julys S1 E10), Malachi Throne (S2, E19/20 The Bionic Woman), Paul Carr, Barbara Anderson, William Schallert, Antoinette Bower (A Bionic Christmas Carol, S4, E10), Yvonne Craig (The Infiltrators, S4, E17), Robert Walker, Rene Auberjonois, Robert Lansing, Ray Walston, Bibi Besch, Alan Oppenheimer and John Colicos (The Moving Mountain, S5, E21). Stars from other cult TV series appear including guests from Battlestar Galactica (Laurette Spang), The Love Boat (Bernie Koppel), General Hospital (Anthony Geary, singer Rick Srpingfield), Eight Is Enough (Adam Rich, Dick Van Patten), Emergency! (Kevin Tighe), The Incredible Hulk (Jack Colvin), CHiPs (Erik Estrada) and Three's Company (Suzanne Somers). And that is just scratching the surface.

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