RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Man From Atlantis IV - The Disappearances” (Season 1, Episode 4)

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As the short and wildly unsteady first season of Man From Atlantis comes to a close, I think the producers learned something: I think producers learned that chicks dig a shirtless, wet Patrick Duffy running around in tiny yellow shorts. I think they realized that a large segment of the people watching these shows were *not* dateless wonders, Trekies, and geriatrics who’d misplaced the TV remote control. Rather, there were a lot of chicks who tuned in every week to get a little beefcake. Presumably, the show was pretty popular with the gay population, too, though that’s not a connection I would have made until I watched the first episode for the first time in 32 years, and realized a…uhm….unsettling vibe when Mr. Schubert was talking to Mark that may have been subtext, or just wonky editing.

But no matter: Chicks - and some dudes - clearly were only tuning in to watch Duffy, so, presumably the producers or the network said “Hey, let’s up the ante some! Let’s throw in a whole bunch of beefy, inexplicably shirtless guys in an attempt to make the show as homoerotic as possible and drive off our intended audience of fat guys living in their parents basements, and ten year old kids pining for a much-delayed fifth season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Yeah!”

Clearly that must have been the philosophy going on behind this episode.

PLAY BY PLAY

We finally get something like an opening title sequence in this episode, and no narration as it starts out. Mark is swimming around on the sea floor, collecting rocks. Miller - on the sub - has sent him out to look for specific minerals, and Mark is somehow able to immediately identify rocks with those minerals in them. Miller and Elizabeth debate if this is touch, taste, smell, or some non-human sense unique to Mark.

Back at the Foundation, they have a meeting with Dick Stoneman, a lawyer for a wealthy benefactor or something, who’s thinking about donating a really big ship to the foundation. He’s got his secretary with him, played by Pamela Peters Solow, the executive producer/co-creator’s daughter. While Dick is on a tour of the Foundation, Pamela stumbles in on Mark in his “Waterbed” (Essentially coffin-sized fish tank) and she immediately takes a liking to him. He seems unsure of her.

The next day, Elizabeth and Mark go to a pier to meet with Dick, who’ll take ‘em to see the boat. Mark goes to check out a big old-timey arcade at the pier while Elizabeth waits in her car for no good reason. Comedy Moment: Mark puts his hand on a coin-op fortuneteller machine, which says “You are shy and people perceive you as a cold fish. If you come out of your shell, you will excel at water sports.” Elizabeth sees some beefy bodybuilder types acting suspiciously, and starts to get uneasy. Dick shows up wearing some particularly unfortunate 1970s clothes, and initially she’s calm, but then she realizes his story about putting her on a boat to take her to the main boat doesn’t add up. She gets scared and tries to leave.

Mark happens to see Dick kidnapping Elizabeth, and runs to help her, but his bodybuilding goons club him over the head and lock him up in a tool shed that’s inexplicably on a barge. Eliziabeth says “He has a medical condition that requires treatment every four hours or he’ll die,” but Dick doesn’t believe her. Pamela does, but no one listens to her. They take her by boat to a seaplane (of the same type they used in Fantasy Island. In fact, I think it *IS* one of the ones from Fantasy Island, based on the paintjob. The first two Fantasy Island TV movies would be filmed a year later), then fly her off somewhere mysterious.

Meanwhile, Mark is drying and dying in the shed. A sea lion playing on the barge attracts the attention of some tourists, but they don’t hear Mark’s banging inside. The next morning, CW and Miller show up, and rescue him. They call the cops, and an FBI agent informs them that this “Dick Stoneman” guy is suspected to have kidnapped 45 scientists in the last couple years, but no bodies have ever turned up. Sure enough, the ‘wealthy benefactor’ Stoneman claimed to be representing has never heard of him, nor the Foundation. The FBI agent shows some doodles found in Stoneman’s old hotel rooms to the guys, part of which - the word “Felicitas” - strikes a chord with Miller.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, has been taken to an uncharted desert isle, an uncharted desert isle. Dick and some shirtless bodybuilders take her to a Gilligan’s Island shack, which has an elevator hidden in the back of it. (Must be The Professor’s shack). Underground she’s in a technological wonderland which looks a lot like the control room of a power plant which inexplicably has a lot of Chippendales dancers standing around. There she meets Dr. Mary Smith, a bland woman with an unexplained fondness for Phrygian caps (Hey, they’ve been out of fashion 2300 years, they’re due for a comeback!) Elizabeth refuses to help Mary, so Mary insists on taking her to the spa. She gets in the hot-tub (“Hot tub! How hot? Damn hot! Hot tub!”) which is overcrowded, and lit by a red lamp (cue wah-wah guitar) and the moment she gets in, she stops all her high-strung a-fussin’ and a-feudin’, and starts to, you know, relax and get down on the funky seventies groove thang goin’ on with these depressing middleaged fish belly white swinger types crowding all around her. Well, ok, I’m exaggerating a bit. Nothing untoward happens, but with those damn bodybuilders in the background of every scene, it just feels wrong somehow.

Acting on the absolute thinnest shreds of plot device, Miller has realized “Felicitas” is the name the natives have for an island off the coast of south America with some crazy bird creature on it. (So, what, South American Indians speak Latin?) Mark, by an equally thin device, knows the bird in question, so they take the sub to check it out. Why, exactly? This is a bad plan. They don’t even tell the FBI guy where they’re going. Anyway, cue the stock footage from episode one, and the sub goes off.

Days or weeks later, the sub approaches The Island Of Disturbing Shirtless Beefy Guys, and Mary decides to blow it out of the water with a goofy-looking torpedo which is actually a limpet mine that’ll blow up if they screw with it. She holds a debate with her minions (The clothed ones, the shirtless beefy guys never talk. They’re only being paid for their looks.) as to whether they should blow it up or not, and Pamela votes to save ‘em ‘cuz she likes Mark. He’s just dreamy, she thinks, unlike these steroid monsters my sister has parading around here. Oh, did I mention Mary is Pamela’s sister? Yeah, sorry.

Mark, meanwhile, has recognized that the mine is sticking to the sub by means of the compound anemones use to stick to rocks, so he whips up a batch of anemone glue-be-gone, and fixes the problem. Mary detonates the bomb, but no one gets hurt. Mark and Miller (In a wetsuit) then swim to the The Island Of Disturbing Shirtless Beefy Guys, and are immediately captured and hot-tubbed (“Everybody hot? Yeah! How hot? Damn hot! Yeah!”) and go goofy. Miller plays piano while Elizabeth sings German opera. Mark discovers Mary is building a starship to go to Epsilon Eridani to restart the human race, since it’s just a matter of time until we blow ourselves up here. Just like her sister, Pamela, she’s sweet on Mark, and asks him to go with her, but he refuses.

Mark realizes it’s something in the water, but it doesn’t affect him. He talks Pamela into letting him go swimming so he can collect minerals that’ll neutralize the minerals in the water. This they then do. Afterwards, Pamela’s treachery is discovered, and Mary sentences he to…hot tubbing! Mark, meanwhile, has snuck into the pumping room, opens a random pipe, and drops in the rocks. Suddenly, the red gels over the lamps in the hot tub set are removed, and everyone comes to their senses. There’s a revolution with pasty-white scientists attacking beefy black Chippendales dancers and forcing them into the hot tubs. Yeah. It’s that bad. And it gets worse when the Chippendales dudes - freed of the evil machinations of the Hot Tub of Satan - get all Greco-Roman on the other black Chippendales dudes still thusly enthralled. Ok, it’s not Greco-Roman, but it’s still way the hell gayer than anyone producing this show seemed to realize. (Or is it? Again, there were clearly some dudes who liked Mr. Duffy).

Mary retreats to her rocket, and again invites Mark to go with her, and he again refuses, so she launches. Mark and company go home.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

This is actually probably the best of the four TV Movies. Pacing is consistent, direction is competent, story works, acting is even across the board, it all makes a degree of sense, everyone is given something to do. Granted, it feels a bit like a recycled Wonder Woman plot, but after the last two incoherence festivals I had to sit through, I’ll take what I can get. The Arcade scene does go on a bit long, but other than that, it’s fine.

There’s some confusion about Mark’s abilities in this one. In the first movie, we’re told he can handle about 8 hours out of water. After 12 hours he starts to have serious problems, and after 16 hours he dies. In this, Elizabeth says he needs water every four hours. When they discover him, CW says “Well, after an all-night search we’ve found Elizabeth’s car,” which means Mark’s been in the shed all night long. There’s some badly looped dialog on top of this, so I’m not sure what’s going on - did they intend to retcon Mark’s abilities, or did they just forget and try to fix it in editing, or what?

The sub is used very sparingly in this episode, and is only in the opening sequence and the trip to Felicitas island. Nearly all the external shots are, once again, stock footage from the pilot, but we get some pretty cheap-looking new effects of the rocket blasting off, and the torpedo hitting the sub. The crew of the sub is getting more uniform - they’re all wearing jeans and maroon windbreakers now. They seem to have realized how severe the lighting was in that set, they’re using a lower intensity in this ep, and it looks better.

So how long did it take them to get to the island from Northern California? They say days, but I think longer - I mean, it’s not a particularly hydrodynamic shape, is it? It doesn’t look speedy. Even if they went through the Panama Canal - I think it would fit, but I’m not sure if the sub is secret or not. They might not be able to surface to go through - I’m still thinking it’d take a couple weeks.

After Assertive Elizabeth last week, it’s a bit sad to see her in victim mode again. Hopefully once the regular series starts, things will go better for her, and she won’t get Wilma Deeringed into a bit part. Speaking of which: some of you have asked me why I say “Season 1” in the titles for these reviews, when the show only ran one season. Well, that’s not entirely true - there were four TV movies in the ‘77/’78 season, and then after that, there was a regular weekly series in the ‘78/’79 season. That’s two years, two seasons.

Epsilon Eridani is a real star located 10.5 Light Years from earth. It’s also, coincidentally, where Babylon 5 was located, but it’s a fairly regular staple location in SF. If Mary could build a ship capable of getting there, they really should have made more of an effort to catch her. That’s a hell of a neat trick to have - faster than light travel. The rocket had markings “FS-1” on the side. This is never explained, I wondered if it was an in-joke, a reference to the Flying Sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which was occasionally referred to as “FS-1.”

So…uhm…Is Pamela going to jail? Sure, she betrayed her sister because she thought Mark was cute, and that’s swell and all, but, you know, she did aid in kidnapping 45 people, drugging them, and holding them against their wills for years and years. Surely, there’s got to be some accounting for that, yeah?

If there’s a failing in this episode, it’s really that Mary is something of an empty vessel as supervillians go. I was really expecting a bigger reveal when it became apparent that Dick was working for someone else. I honestly expected Mister Shubert to turn up again, and when it wasn’t him, nor was it some snarling scenery-chewing ‘70s character actor (John Colicos would have been great! Michael Ansara is always good. Felix Silva can be quite menacing on occasion), I dunno, it’s hard not to be disappointed. And once again, the evil scheme is not particularly evil - I mean, they’re not killing babies or blowing up the WTC, it’s just a crazy chick who wants to leave earth. And kidnaps and drugs people. And surrounds herself with mind-controlled beefcake bodyguards who, you know, pretty much *have* to be her unwilling sex slaves…yeah, ok, I take it back. That is pretty bad. It does, however, lack the “World Domination” grandeur one usually associates with these sorts of things.

Once again, I have to express my disappointment that a show about a water breathing man with a super submarine has pretty much ignored the sea in order to do three consecutive episodes heavily involving space. I dunno, Mr. Solow, sir, are you sure you really wanna’ do a submarine show? Are you jealous that Fred Frieberger got Space: 1999? What’s the deal?

This episode was co-written by Luther Murdoch, who’s only claim to fame is writing several Man From Atlantis eps, and Jerry Sohl, who wrote three episodes of TOS, and a couple of “The Invaders,” two “Outer Limits,” and three “Twilight Zones.” Obviously a genre writer. One of the Outer Limits episodes is one of my two all time favorites, “Counterweight.”

I have enough memories of specific scenes in this episode to confirm for me that I did see it when it was first broadcast, but it was all pretty vague. I think I either fell asleep during it, or else I blocked out everything that happened once they got to The Island Of Disturbing Shirtless Beefy Guys.

As a final note, I got to wondering where my increasingly-obvious bootlegs came from. Were they culled from generation-old VHS reel-to-reel? Betacassette? What? Well, last weeks episode had a British announcer talking over the closing credits, announcing what was coming up next on Sky-1, so evidently they re-ran ‘em reasonably recently there. Today’s episode, meanwhile, had an occasional Station ID stamp for WPWR-50, an Indiana station that services Chicago. Since this station didn’t exist until 1982, and didn’t switch to channel 50 until 1987, this suggests that I’m wrong, and that Man From Atlantis *was* indeed syndicated in some fashion in the last 30 years, much to my surprise.

That said, this copy was obviously taken from a VHS tape, and it was obviously a pretty old one based on the telltales. Color bleeding, stretched out, etc.

So, anyway, this is the end of season 1, and we’ll begin the regular series next week. For no reason I can discern, I’m looking forward to it.

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