RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Man From Atlantis II - The Death Scouts” (Season 1, Episode 2)

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I’ve received a fair amount of Email from people complaining that this show is called “The” Man From Atlantis, not just plain old “Man From Atlantis” by itself, and people tell me in no uncertain terms that I sound like a damn idiot when I leave the “The” off. Well, I’ll agree I sound like a damn idiot, but it’s not my fault, there simply was no “The” in the title in any of these episodes. Weird, huh?

Well, if the previous episode was a bit uneven, but surprisingly good, this one is an unmistakable muddle that never quite figures out what it’s trying to do, and takes a lot of time to get nowhere, somehow managing to tell us nothing in the process. What makes that interesting is that the episode clearly *thinks* it’s revealed quite a bit, despite that fact.

PLAY BY PLAY

Three people, one of whom is Burr DeBenning, and the other of whom is the frequently naked Tiffany Bolling, are scuba diving. Beneath them a pipe on the sea floor goes erect (Ahem) and some goo comes out (Ahem). The divers, now lounging uncomfortably on a little outboard rowboat, notice the goo, which burns, and then the three of them are pulled underwater, and die. People see this happen on a much better boat nearby, and call the coast guard.

Meanwhile, at the Foundation for Ocean Research, Mark, Elizabeth, and a new balding guy named Miller. Miller owns and operates the foundation, and Mark and Elizabeth left the navy and ended up working for him. They hear about the drownings, and take their sub to investigate. Yeah, that’s right, they’ve got a sub, a pretty massive one. It’s the same one Mr. Schubert was using in the last episode, commandeered at the end of that ep to get survivors out, and now pressed into service for oceanographic research. They find nothing of note, and head back to base, where they’re accosted by “C.W.” He’s their - what? Accountant? Manager? Bookie? It’s never quite clear, but he complains a lot about the money flow in the foundation.

The Coastguard wants Elizabeth to come in and check on a drowning victim from the three who got pulled off the boat, but since one of them is Burr DeBenning and the other is a kind of hot chick who made a career out of being naked, you know it’s not going to be either one of them. True enough, the unknown guy is the stiff. Meanwhile Burr DeBenning and The Frequently Naked Chick emerge from the surf with webbed hands, just like Mark. They get confused by a Frisbee, and knock out two guys on a beach as a result, then wander off making strange dolphin-like noises, but in a lower register.

They try to get food, which doesn’t go well, and quickly run afoul of the authorities. Elizabeth improbably hears about this while hanging out with the dead body, doing whatever it is she’s doing. (What? Autopsy? Identifying the body of a guy she’s never met? Special Guest Autopsy? Hoping for a better job on Quincy? What?) Back at the Foundation, some kids bring in “A plant that looks like a giant carrot, but it’s green.” Only it’s neither a plant nor green, it’s a rock. Miller puts it in water and it turns into a goofy carrot thing again. Mark goes diving for no particular reason at the accident site where the divers were lost, and finds white rocks where there were no white rocks a week before. Clearly, this is evil. Sometime thereafter, Mark is diving again, and finds the (ahem) erect pipe, and enters it. He finds himself aboard a particularly low-budget space ship made mostly out of colored lucite and backlit plastic, in which everything - including him - move in slow motion. He finds a broken piece of plastic on the floor that looks just like the logo on his pants, and senses a connection between his pants and these aliens, who, for all we know, might wear pants as well.

A whole bunch of pointless running around happens, and I think there’s another submarine trip in there, and Mark eventually makes contact with the body-stealing aliens (One of whom is a hot chick who’s mostly known for being naked, though she’s not naked in this), but things go south and they zap him with electricity. He’s injured, and the aliens get away. Elizabeth leaves Mark behind and takes the submarine yet again but Mark has someone rub seaweed from a fish tank on his wounds - really - and he’s instantly better. He swims past the sub, fights both the aliens en rout to their Unterwasser fliegende Untertasse, and hauls ‘em back to the sub, where they immediately freak out and try to kill everyone using the electrical charges their bodies generate when the two of them are in contact. No, really. Mark is able to subdue them by putting on a rubber wet suit, which is of course an insulator.

Back at the Foundation, the government snatches the Aliens, and improbably decides to store them in a barge. Mark gets in and is told by the Frequently Naked Alien Chick (Who steadfastly refuses to get naked in this, alas) that their homeworld kind of sucks, and that Mark was sent ahead to be an emissary between people and aliens, who are coming to colonize our oceans. She asks Mark to bring her her space carrot rock thing, saying it’s food, and he agrees. When he comes back with it, and leaves, she does something to it underwater in her tank, and then manages to incapacitate two guards by squeezing it in their faces as it ejects some baby powder. They writhe around on the floor in a lifelike fashion just the same. The aliens escape, again.

Uhm…they go out in the sub yet again, despite having already well established that Mark is faster than the sub, and Mark swims into the alien ship and waits in slow motion for the others to show. Show they do, and then a badly-blocked fight sequence takes place, in which Burr DeBenning attempts to kill Mark with a squeezy carrot thing, but shoots the hot chick instead. Mark incapacitates him, but Burr sets off the self destruct, then scrambles - in slow motion - to a glass chamber, then disappears. Mark drags the hot chick out and back to the sub, just in time for her to explain that…well…nothing, really. Explanations have to make sense, right? She says a bunch of stuff which seems to imply that everything she said before was a lie, and Mark says some stuff that he couldn’t possibly know, and then she declares her love for him and dies.

Back at the Foundation, Mark asks Elizabeth to teach him how to recognize when people are lying.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Patrick Duffy’s hair is different in this episode. He had kind of a Roy Scheider “Jaws” haircut in the last one, in this one he’s got the basic Patrick Duffy haircut that he’ll have for the next thirty-five years.

Tiffany Bolling - the hot chick - was 31 when they filmed this, and spends the entire episode wandering around in a tight black wetsuit, looking more than passingly yummy. She’s best known for doing trampy T&A fests like “Love Scenes” and “The Wild Party” and “Centerfold Girls.” Basically the 1970s softcore version of films that would later turn up on Cinemax with titles like “Erotic Entrapment” and “Erotic Seduction” and “Erotic Exhaust Manifold” and what have you. She does have some genre credits - she was in “Kingdom of the Spiders” (also in 1977) and an episode of “Electra Woman and Dyna-Girl.”

The late Burr DeBenning had kind of a thing for these aquatic roles, didn't he? Back in 1970, he played a water-breating man in Irwin Allen's "City Beneath The Sea," he's a water-breathing alien here, and in 1978 he played a Navy diver in Irwin Allen's failed pilot/miniseries, "The Return of Captain Nemo." Odd, huh? I guess there must be a short list in Hollywood of actors who are really comfortable in the water. He had other genre credits as well, most noteably "The Incredible Melting Man."

The Navy setting from the first movie was a logical choice, but it clearly wasn’t working out for them dramatically, I’m not sure why. Setting the show up in it’s own nongovernmental foundation that just happens to have it’s own privately-owned super submarine gives them a bit more narrative freedom, and believe you me, the comparisons to “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” were well noted by my ten-year-old friends and I at the time.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mark make a very good showing this time out. There’s more dialog, less of the quite spaces from the previous one. Mark’s imposing silent quality is missing here, and Elizabeth is less involved in the story. Also, though she looks really good in those jeans, man, I just can’t get used to her hair in this one. Her hairstyles change from scene to scene, like they can’t decide what they want her to look like. I can’t blame Duffy nor Montgomery for this, the script just doesn’t make sense and the direction is off. Duffy - emotionless in the first movie - has lost a lot of his stoicism this time out, and it doesn’t really suit him. His talking underwater is just goofy. The first movie aired on March 4th, 1977, and this one aired April 22nd, 1977, and I guess six weeks wasn’t really enough time to work the bugs out of it. It’s worth noting that *both* of these were pre-Star Wars.

The Submarine (As yet unnamed) is overused in this episode. They take it out four times, and at least two of those are “Hey, look! We’ve got a Submarine!” scenes. Every single shot of the sub is stock footage from the first movie, as are several of the scenes of Mark swimming. I guess they didn’t have time to do new effects shots. The sub is four spheres, connected by short tubes, with a conning tower on top and a big prop in the rear. It really does look like a deep-diving vehicle should look like, but obviously it can’t be very fast. C.W. tells us that the sub costs $15,000 every time they take it out, and using it for joyrides is killing the foundation’s budget. There’s several joyrides in this ep, total sub-costs, $60,000. Allowing for inflation, that’s about $216,732 today. I can certainly see why he’s pissed.

Not only are all the exterior scenes of the sub stock footage from the first episode, but they're all reused several times in this episode. If you look really really close, you can just make out some anchor-wires holding the model level, so it won't float up.

As to the interior of the sub, we see four, maybe five rooms - the control room, which is obviously derived from the TOS Enterprise bridge, but which puts its own spin on it, and I like it a lot (Aside from the harsh lighting), the Main Airlock, the lab, Elizabeth’s office (Which might just be part of the lab), and the infirmary (Which appears to be a redress of the lab). As cool as these are - well, the control room is cool, the rest not so much - they don’t make a lot of sense. In the best tradition of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Seaquest, the interior sets don’t really match the exterior shots of the model. The sub appears to have one or two decks, probably just one as there’s no apparent ladders up or down. We clearly see large windows in the external shots, but there’s no windows in any of the sets, and really no way they couldn’t have ’em. Also, there should be a ladder or something so you can get from the conning tower to the inside of the sub, but we never see it. Is there a kitchen? Where do they sleep? What’s in that observation deck inside the nose? We don’t get to see that from the inside, either.

The sub has two airlocks, a fairly clever one in the interconnector between the control room and the lab, and an emergency one aft that we don’t see. The main airlock is kind of clever, and matches with a corresponding full-size set they actually built underwater. We frequently see Mark swimming into and out of that.

Mark tells us that he has a “Blip transmitter” sewn into his trunks. Ehem. “Is that a transponder in yer pants, boy, or are ya’ just happy to see me?”

I was absolutely certain the helmsman of the sub was Paul Gleason - Dean Vernor from “The Breakfast Club,” but no, it’s Hank Stohl, from “The Waltons” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Amazing how much they look and sound alike.

I do have to admit I love having a sub where people just wear street clothes, there’s no uniforms.

Ok, so here’s what was going on as best I can figure it out: The aliens were *not* from the same species as Mark. The normally have spiraled eyes and three mouths, and simply took human form when they got here and killed some people. They hoped to colonize earth, and maybe enslave it, maybe not. The similarity between the logo Mark finds and the one on his pants was entirely coincidental, and Mark may or may not be an alien himself. In essence, we learned nothing. This was a huge disappointment for me, since I *thought* the way they were going to run with it, was Mark learning he had more love for earth than for his own people, and he'd decide to betray his function on our behalf, but no, the reality is less interesting than that. I feel like playing up Mark's amnesia as the SECOND EPISODE was probably too early, too.

The alien’s society is goofy as hell. We’re told that Children are the Enemy, trying to kill their parents, who lack a sense of right or wrong (The kids, not the parents). The aliens fear flame because countless ages ago, a volcano forced them to live underwater rather than on the land. The story of how they evolved - learning to breathe through wet cloth - is possibly the silliest pseudoscientific explanation I’ve ever heard in a lifetime of listening to crappy pseudoscientific explanations. Also, the Aliens can generate a massive electrical charge, but only when they’re touching. Their webbed hands were just a coincidence, too.

The Miller character is poorly written. He’s supposed to be really funny, but isn’t. I’m not sure if it’s the actor, the direction, or the script, but things that would be moderately amusing when delivered off the cuff are horribly tedious here.

Oh, yeah, the whole "Caustic dye in the water" thing that they make such a big deal of in the first half of the episode? It's abandoned without ever being explained in the second half. And that whole "Path of white pebbles" on the sea floor where there shouldn't be any white rocks? Also abandoned without explanation. One gets the feeling they were dealing with a couple different drafts, hastily re-written together.

The “Foundation for Oceanic Research” is housed in a huge Victorian house on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and has a sub pen beneath it. (How much did it cost to tunnel that out of the rock in just a month and a half?)

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think I ever saw this one before. I remember talking about it with my friends, but aside from the hot tub scene, nothing in this film seemed familiar. In fact, the hot tub scene didn’t seem familiar either, just like I’d seen a clip of it somewhere. The next episode will be “The Killer Spores,” and I’m beginning to doubt I saw that one, either.

If you’d like to watch this series, you’re kinda’ out of luck, as it was never syndicated, nor issued on Tape nor DVD. You *can* buy a questionably legal copy of the entire series here http://www.ioffer.com/i/MAN-FROM-ATLANTIS-DVD-SET-COMPLETE-GREAT-7793514 for cheap, or here http://www.tvdvdmania.com/product.php?productid=138906&page=1 for less cheap. My copy of the series was a Christmas present, so I’m not sure where it came from. Picture quality for this episode was rather fuzzy, and was clipped somewhat around the commercial breaks, but it was watchable, and the sound quality was better than the previous episode.

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