RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “The Hawk of Mu” (Season 2, Episode 3)

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I saw this one when it first ran back in October of ‘77, but curiously I only remember one scene clearly, and one other seems familiar after I saw it again. I quickly realized the reason: this was a completely pointless story with a beginning, a middle, but no end.

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Mister Schubert is back on an unnamed Polynesian island that seems more Caribbean, frankly. It’s a Caucasians-only community, apparently. He’s in a huge white house, and his scientist/lackey Brent is working on their latest incredibly stupid project. This time they’re transmitting signals that cause a white overscaled replica of the Maltese Falcon to glow. Eventually, for no adequately explained reason, this kills all power within an 80-mile radius. Even batteries won’t work.

The Cetacean goes in to investigate, because, you know, it’s not like they’re doing *research* or anything scientific like that. Power outages in third-world countries are waaaaaay more mysterious than the secrets of the ocean. Power comes back on the island, and Mark goes swimming. Schubert and Brent watch some TRS-80 Lowres graphics which they pretend tell them that the cetacean has arrived, then they watch a random spiral pattern in Lowres, which they pretend tells them he’s entered the cave. Mark climbs out of that same damn 'grotto' (obviously a hot tub) in the cave, and follows a path which eventually lead him to the ancient chamber in which the Maltese Falcon resides. He rolls a 3d6, and nothing happens, so he takes the statue and leaves. Then Shubert orders Brent to reactivate the machine in hopes it’ll kill Mark. Brent rolls a 4d6k3, however, and so the machine explodes instead. Mark makes it back to the sub. Then the director rolls a d20 so he has to cut directly to the next scene, in which Mark is for some reason wandering through a one-room museum on the island.

Schubert has hired a callgirl (Who happens to be Norman Mailer’s future mistress, but that’s not particularly relevant to the plot) to seduce Mark and get da’boid. There’s a brief inference that Schubert made her do all kinds of kinky things with him, but it’s left nebulous. She’s hot, cleavagey, and says “Fascinating” a lot as Mark rattles off nonsense about the “Lost Continent of Lemuria,” and then invites him back to her place. He declines, never really understanding what she was offering. She tells the local sheriff - inexplicably dressed like Foghorn Leghorn, but with less acting chops - that she doesn’t think the ‘seduction’ angle is gonna’ work on Mark.

Mark, meanwhile, is walking along the beach when a Janet Gerber from Fish falls in the water. He saves her. She’s self deprecating, and insists he come home to meet her daddy. Reluctantly, he does, and discovers (A) that they live in the old lobby set the Foundation used in the TV movies the year before, and also that (B) Brent is vacuuming the floor. (And that, my friends, might well be the first time I’ve ever managed to type “Vacuum” or any variation thereof correctly on a first try.) Yup, she’s Schubert’s daughter. Bum-bum-baaaaah!

Mark heads back to the sub, but before he can make it, Janet Gerber from Fish has told Schubert what Mark got away from the cave with. When Mark makes it to the sub, he’s told the authorities found out about it somehow, and have confiscated it. Schubert and Brent visit the museum planning to steal it, while Mark meets up with Janet Gerber from Fish. They sneak into her room, where they’re met by Schubert and The Man Who Would Be Foghorn Leghorn. (or is it Truman Capote?) Schubert pretends that Mark was breaking in to rape his daughter, despite all evidence to the contrary, and the sheriff takes Mark into custody.

Mark isn’t doing well in custody, because he’s got that whole “Water Addiction” thing going on. Schubert visits, asking him to marry his daughter. Mark says ‘no’, and Schubert says he’ll be back in a few hours, probably Mark will be more tractable by then. He tells the Man Who Would Be Foghorn Leghorn Or Possibly Truman Capote *NOT* to get Mark wet. Because, you know, you’ve got to keep an eye on Truman. He’s into some freaky stuff.

Janet Gerber from Fish visits, and explains to him that a conspicuous hose is used to punish bad or violent criminals, so he apologizes and attacks her with a pillow. She screams, Foghorn and Pals come a-runnin’, and turn the hose on Mark. Mark’s superpowers return and he bends open the bars and climbs out. Since the local constabulary have seen The Six Million Dollar Man and The Incredible Hulk, they know what comes next, and run away before Mark can get all bionic on their asses.

Uhm…let’s see…what’s next…uhm…oh, yeah, so Mark goes to Schubert’s house and warns him not to do the poorly-defined experimentation he’s doing, or possibly to *start* doing some poorly defined experimentation. It’s a little vague. The Maltese Falcon comes to life - it's now being played by an actual real-life hawk - and inexplicably attacks Mark. Coincidentally, the fight goes on for whatever length of time this week’s episode happened to be running short, then, when they’ve padded it up to 45 minutes, he notices a little message-holder on the bird’s leg. He rips it off, and tosses it in the water, where it explodes, then bubbles. The bird flies away.

Janet Gerber from Fish runs up, and he explains - get this - “The energy was the bird’s life force, coming from the band on its leg.” We’re told everything is back to normal now, then the two of them make out for a bit. Back on the sub, Mark explains the situation to CW back at the base, then tells the helmsman - who now has a name - to set a course for home.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Disappointing.

Disappointing, and I had low expectations to begin with. We're only three episodes into the regular series, and we're already into full-on stupid. Aggresively full-on stupid.

As of this episode, Mister Schubert has stopped being a recurring poorly-drawn foil for Mark, and is instead an overused buffoon. Once again, we have a bad guy who’s supposed to be Southern: The Man Who Would Be Foghorn Leghorn And Truman Capote’s Illegitimate (And Biologically Confusing) Love Child. Odd trend, huh? This is Schubert's fourth appearance overall, and his third apperance since the regular series started. I can't help but think they're overusing him - three appearances in three weeks? This is also Brent's third appearance. His plot this week seems vaguely consistent with his larger goals in "Mudworm."

There is really no plot to this episode whatsoever: Schubert wants a MacGuffin for no adequately explained reason, Mark gets it first, Schubert wants it back, it comes to life, the end. In between, there’s a whole bunch of walking around and a near-drowning and a pretty hot call girl, but even those elements can’t really save a plot that isn’t there.

Why a bird? Why does it come to life? What’s this whole ‘life force’ nonsense about? What did this have to do with Lemuria? Why do they say “Mu” in the title, and “Lemuria” in the episode? How much is Alan Fudge getting paid to sit in the Seabase set and talk on the phone for two minutes every week? Is Patrick Duffy getting depressed? Is Belinda Montgomery looking for other work? Was this a left-over Six Million Dollar Man script, gussied up for Man From Atlantis? (“Six Million Dollar Man From Atlantis”) Why the hell is Schubert - who’s tried to start a nuclear war, and flood the world - allowed to run around free, without even his corporation being taken away from him? Why does Schubert have a fake southern accent when his daughter, Janet Gerber from Fish, has a New Joysie accent? These and other questions will fail to be answered in this episode. As Bart Simpson said, “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

Elizabeth is in full-on Wilma Deering mode this time out. It’s sad to see the marginalization of a character that started out so strong and important. Sadder still to see it happen so quickly. She does a couple “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” scenes on the sub, she exposits, she holds Mark’s coat so to speak, while he’s off Gil Gerrarding about. She does get in a dive scene, I think just to get her some more screen time. It’s supposed to be suspenseful, but ultimately her scene doesn’t matter, it’s just an act-break cliffhanger that’s resolved immediately after the commercial break with no fuss.

Did I mention that Mark can read Lemurian? Because he does it twice in this ep.

Schubert has something on Brent. We don’t know what it is, but whenever Brent protests too loudly or seems to be growing a spine, Schubert says “Oxnard,” and Brent calms right down , apologizes, and goes on to do whatever heinous thing Schubert wants.

The Man Who Would Be…blah blah blah…Love Child is in full on Boss Hogg mode, though he doesn’t have an accent. What’s interesting is that the Dukes of Hazzard wouldn’t air for another year. I guess it was just the zeitgeist.

The helmsman of the Cetacean is named “Chomo.”

There’s a scene where Schubert is rambling on about Lemuria and the ancient forces that built the statues of Easter island which is genuinely pretty funny. After Schubert gets done rambling, an awestruck Brent says “That was almost poetry!” Schubert replies, “Poetry and Science become indistinguishable at some high level.” Then, as Brent beams at him in adoration, he says “Can you remember what I said?” “Yes sir!” “Well then go type it up before you forget it, and put it in the files.” During said rant, Schubert says that "Easter Island isn't far" from where they are. Really? Easter Island is one of the most remote places on earth. The closest island to it - Pitcarn - is 1500 miles away. That strikes me as pretty damn far by anyone's measure. Clearly, whoever wrote this mess didn't have access to an encyclopedia.

Victor Buono seems to me to be vamping a bit in the beginning and ending of all his scenes, improvising little bits of dialog and mumbled asides. To his credit, he’s given a complete turd of a character, and he still manages to pull out lines like this one: “You’ll tell me what he took from the vault.” “No. I won’t tell you. Not ever.” “That’s a good girl, always an open mind.”

Once again, I have no idea what the hell Schubert was trying to accomplish. Did he want the bird? Why? For a bit there, he wanted to knock out all power in the world, though the reason is never clear. Presumably to take over, but details are scant. In any event, this is dropped almost immediately. As with all of his appearances to date, it appears like the writer was toying with two separate plots and couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted the story to be about.

“Lemuria” is a concept that was originated by biologists in the 19th century in order to explain the wide distribution of Lemurs around the Indian and Pacific oceans. You find Lemurs on widely-separated masses of land, far further afield than monkeys can swim. This was a huge consternation to biologists of the day trying to make sense of how this happened. Ultimately they hit on the idea that there must have been - at one time - a “Land Bridge” connecting Asia and South America, Madagascar, and maybe Africa as well. This was the worst kind of circular reasoning: "They can't swim that far, so they must have walked." Where’s the proof? "It sank." Since the scientists in question were only particularly interested in Lemurs, they named their hypothetical networks of land bridges “Lemuria.” The theory was not really taken seriously outside of biological circles, and even there, most people admitted it had a lot of holes in it.

In the 1890s, the Theosophical movement got ahold of the concept and turned “Lemuria” into a full-fledged lost continent, an “Atlantis” of their own devising, free of all that philosophical Greek claptrap. They could make Lemuria anything they wanted it to be to spread their own nonsense, rather than relying on the nonsense of others. Eventually this concept became more-or-less interchangeable with the lost continent of “Mu,” which was cooked up around the same time. For all intents and purposes, “Mu” and “LeMUria” are the same thing, and they’re both equally fictional.

The discovery of continental drift in the 20th century sealed the death knell for these kinds of nouveau myths, as well as the older Atlantean ones, and it simultaneously solved the riddle of the Lemurs themselves: They did indeed walk from one continent to another, back when the land masses were connected as one huge super continent. We know that these fantasylands never existed because there’s simply no room for them to fit if you puzzle all the continents back together in one mass.

So here we are a month into this series about a submarine and a marine biologist and a water-breathing man, and the ocean is more-or-less completely incidental to the stories. Instead we’re doing Star Trekian “Planet of the Week” stories, substituting Islands for planets, and without any sense of adventure, conflict, or even coherence. Seriously: When Space: 1999 is making more sense than your show, you know you’re doing something wrong.

The inherent problem in Submarine-based shows is that the subs can’t do real much: They dive, they surface, the go forward and back, left and right, they get attacked and attack others, and if you’re really damn lucky as a viewer, they have occasional mutinies or subjacking. Pretty much everything you could really hope to logically do with a sub you can do in fifteen episodes. Adding the whole “Research” thing doesn’t buy you all that much latitude: any reasonable sub-related plots will be used up in about a season. This is the problem “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” had, and then they started repeating themselves. A lot. Nearly any episode of that show feels like a repeat the first time you see it. “Seaquest DSV” had the same problem, and so they were introducing Aliens fairly early on, and once the camel’s nose is in the tent, can Time Travel and other goofball stuff be far behind? (Answer: no.)

What amazes me about Man From Atlantis is that they’re attempting to circumvent this problem mostly by ignoring the sea entirely. It’s really, really, really weird.

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