Friday, April 22, 2022

Lost In Space S1 E12: The Raft

"How would you like a punch in the nose?"

-Major Don West to Dr. Zachary Smith-

This writer nearly noted it for Wish Upon A Star (S1, E11), but as much praise as Dr. Zachary Smith gets for his wordplay or, even wordsmithery, and as thoroughly engaging as the dynamic between that aforementioned character and Will Robinson is quickly becoming, the equally fiery protest and antidote to Smith's deception is often overlooked but is recalled with great fondness.

That elixir and Smith remedy is none other than one Major Don West. Mark Goddard's West is actually graced with some fairly impressive, rapid fire retorts to the silver-tongued Smith. The t-shirt bound, testosterone-driven hot head that is West continues to be as enjoyable on screen as the rest of the ensemble. Credit is simply due. It's easy to focus on Smith because Harris is so damn good, but the ensemble cast have plenty of moments to shine across the bulk of Season One. Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 12, The Raft is no exception.

The Raft is essentially composed of two halves. A good portion is given to West and the senior Robinson before relegating much of the second half to Will and Smith. The first half highlights the actions of Professor John Robinson and Major Don West as they assemble a propulsion system and lifeboat. There are also a good number of ensemble moments. The second half concentrates on Dr. Zachary Smith and Will Robinson. Once again that second half highlights the growing dynamic and connection between Smith and Will. Though notably Robot has been omitted considerably in this episode as it was in Wish Upon A Star (S1, E11) and The Sky Is Falling (S1, E10).

The Raft itself is composed of the Jupiter 2's reactor core and other parts. In reality, as Allen was known to do, it was a diving bell and borrowed from sister series Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. It's a beautifully shot and established set design with terrific matte shots once again emphasizing the series strengths despite some storytelling weaknesses. Still author Marc Cushman dubs the entry "above average" when compared to the direction of the show in Season Two and Three.

We are also treated to a plant monster (oversized "skunk cabbage") in the episode that further accentuates another precedent that would grow in popularity---the monster of the week. To date, the bubble creatures were a unique design and would hardly qualify as the monster of the week. Additionally, the mutated enlarged Debbie the Bloop fit the story as written in The Oasis also not qualifying. The Cyclops too was massive and more in keeping with The Land Of Giants. The creature in Wish Upon A Star was also integral to the tale. Alas, in this entry Smith and Will are inevitably pursued by the creature, but illogically it never attacks them when they stand right in front of it.

One interesting point regarding the Smith character. In the early going for the series much was made of the character being either a Russian agent or potentially someone of another country working for the Russians when he was the reluctant stowaway aboard the Jupiter 2, but here, in The Raft, his knowledge of the United States seems to suggest he is very much an American. Either that or he is simply waxing poetic and is merely well-versed and/or a well-studied mole within the country a la something akin to The Americans (2013-2018). Of course this potentially interesting layer of the character is sadly truly never explored. Certainly he has little common sense regarding his surroundings in this story and demonstrates very little in the way of intellect when preparing for a mission.

One of the lovelier scenes in The Raft is between Smith and Will as they discuss being stranded and Will asks Smith to be his father. It's all rather poignant particularly for Smith. But Smith continues to soften and grow a soft spot for the charming Will Robinson. It's a real emotional highlight in the entry.

In the end, the Robinsons cast a typically wide net of forgiveness to Dr. Smith combined with Smith's excuse-ridden slipperiness. Despite his self-centered ways Smith is manages to project a likability thanks to Jonathan Harris. And that's the trick really that kept the series afloat for an extended run. As we witness in The Raft, he is less the harmful agent and simply a more selfish entity with a gift for wordplay and Harris makes the Smith character far more likeable to the viewer and more tolerable to the Robinsons than he originally had any right to be. The family is more willing to turn the other cheek as it were as he becomes more a thorn in their side than a malevolent figure. The Smith adaptation was so poorly handled for the Netflix series.

As writer Marc Cushman noted in his book, Lost In Space: The Authorized Biography Of A Classic Sci-Fi Series Volume One, Smith was using Will as a human shield and yelping female-like screams. "The character is not yet camp, but the effort to soften his edges was accelerating." But Harris played the character of Smith with such a richness and depth of speech he was riveting to watch on screen. The Raft is an example of Harris re-writing his own dialogue for the series and affecting the reactions of other characters to him in the series. Remarkably Allen allowed it as he was astute enough to realize viewers' eyes were glued to screens. Allen always wanted to go big or go home.

The Raft may be thought of as one of the weaker entries of Lost In Space Season One, but still has its resident charms thanks to this amazing cast assembly spearheaded by some wonderful Jonathan Harris dialogue. It also continues to look amazing to boot.

Writer: Peter Packer. Director: Sobey Martin.

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