RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “The Naked Montague” (Season 2, Episode 8)

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There comes a time in every geek’s life when he or she (But more likely he) realizes he’s had enough, that the show he had so much hope for has let him down in such a way that it isn’t coming back. Sadly, this is a common experience, though it tends to happen more as we get older. It makes sense, right? We’ve seen things a million times, some ideas just begin to bore us they get repeated so much, our eyes get sharper to special effects and we realize what’s good and what’s slapdash, you can spot a variation on a theme you’re already sick of a mile away, that kind of thing. Is it a death of our sense of wonder, or simply an impatience with the kind of derivative hackery aimed at an audience of twelve year olds that still manages to insult their intelligence?

It happens to me a lot these days: the new Galactica, Flash Forward, virtually anything on SyFy other than Stargate; but the first time I can really remember it happening to me was on December 6th, 1978 when I watched this episode of Man From Atlantis, and I just gave up on the show.

PLAY BY PLAY

The Cetacean is off somewhere doing something. Mark is swimming around, placing an earthquake sensor on the sea floor, despite the fact that such a thing could have just as easily been dropped off a boat on the surface. He warns that a quake is coming, but the machinery hasn’t noticed anything yet. “Machinery can not sense an event that hasn’t happened yet,” Mark says, once again displaying his ill-defined superhuman abilities.

Sure enough, the quake happens. Exploring afterwards, Mark finds a big rift in the sea floor, swims into it and an aftershock causes the cave to collapse. Mark is trapped! If the episode - nay, the series - had ended there, that would have been great, but alas it doesn’t, and he wakes up in a lame production of Romeo and Juliet.

No, really. He’s discovered laying by a water fountain in Verona, and is found by Romeo and Mercutio. They take pity on him and are taking him to Friar Laurence when they’re intercepted by Tybalt, who dubs him “The Naked Montague” because he’s just wearing his swim trunks. From that point on, Mark is essentially a fly on the wall of the same old story. He interacts with the characters, but it comes to nothing, and the story follows its well-trod course up until the point where Juliet fakes her own death.

I’m not going to bother relating this to you because it’s freakin’ Julio and Romulet for Pete’s sake! How can anyone not know the story? Come on! I mean, The Flintstones did an episode revolving around it, for crying out loud!

Anyway, while all that is going on, we get a bunch of meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch scenes set on the sub. Jomo goes out in a diving suit to try and blast open the cave. CW meanwhile calls the Soviets to see if they’ll be willing to help with some new deep-diving equipment, and Elizabeth frets. None of this comes to anything, it only serves to pad out the story and remind viewers (If any) that they’re not watching PBS.

Once Juliet fakes her death, Mark hops in a hot tub that we’re supposed to pretend is a grotto that leads to the sea, and heads back to the sub. Once there, he tells Elizabeth what happened, but she won’t believe him, and thinks he was trapped in a rockslide and relived a fantasy while unconscious. Mark insists that he’s never read nor heard of Romy-0 and Julie-8, but Elizabeth insists, and tells him the end of the story. Realizing Juliet isn’t dead, he leaves the sub, swims back into the mind of a 16th century writer, and manages to prevent Romeo from killing himself like a chump.

Everyone lives happily ever after. They’re not supposed to, of course, but they do.

Back at the Foundation, no one will believe Mark about his adventure, even though he’s got proof - a small phial with Juliet-Poison in it. (“Instructions: Bait trap and place in sections of renaissance Italy where Juliets have been observed. Wash hands after setting. If you do not find a significant reduction in the number of Juliets within thirty days, double your money back.”)

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

You know, I resist the urge to start every one of these reviews out with “Just when you thought the show couldn’t get any stupider.” It’s not out of any respect for the show itself, it’s just that I’d be using it every damn week, and you, the readers (if any) would get desensitized to my hyperbole.

Now, up to this point we’ve had unexplained underwater passages to alternate worlds populated by NBA stars and unexplained underwater passages back in time. Those are implausible, badly thought out, and more than passingly dumb, but they are at least things that have some kind of almost-rational, or at least preternatural explanation. This one has *no* explanation whatsoever.

Seriously, try to figure it out: “Mark finds an unexplained underwater passage to a world where Romeo and Juliet are real?” What is this, another one of Heinlein’s crappy “World Is Myth” stories? One of those episodes of Gumby where Pokey gets lost in a storybook, and Prickle, Goo, and The Green One have to go in and rescue him? Evidently no one told writer Stephen Kandel that SF stories aren’t “Anything goes;” things need to make at least subjective sense, otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

And for what? To give a tragedy a happy ending? To burn off 50 minutes of network air time? To get a paycheck? What was the point of this? I don’t pretend to understand. Maybe I’m making too much out of all this, but more than any other episode - moreso even than ‘Imp’ - I’m utterly confounded. I have no idea what to make of it. I can’t wrap my mind around it. It is of inscrutable awfulness. In the words of the Medved brothers, “It is so bad it appears to have been made by trolls.”

Had the producers stopped caring this early on? Did they know they were already cancelled? Were they shocked to find that the guys at the country club chided them for making one o’ them thar’ “Sci-fi” shows that the kids all like so much, so they decided to torpedo their own show? Was Roddenberry behind this in somewise? “How dare that damn Herb Solow try to do an SF show! I’m the only one who can do SF! It’s all about me! It’s all about me! I’ll call in my friends at the network and have them foist terrible scripts on him! Yeah! Now that I‘ve sated my anti-Semitic rage by destroying a Jewish guy‘s show, I’ll go back to my creepy swinger/orgy lifestyle…”

Honestly, the whole thing is beyond me. I can not for the life of me figure out how this episode came to be, not on any level; nor can I figure out how the show can be tanking this early on. I have never, in all my born days, seen a network show that actually deliberately made this big of a show of wasting people’s time. I mean, I was ten years old when I saw this, and I turned it off. How bad does a show have to be to out-stupid a ten-year-old?

More of Mark’s unexpected abilities:

- He can sense earthquakes before they happen.
- He can change the outcome of Elizabethan plays.

He can not, however, swordfight. Doesn’t even bother to try.

CW speaks Russian.

David Gautreaux has a bit part in this one. David is somewhat infamous in Trek circles for being the actor hired to play “Xon,” Spock’s replacement in the aborted “Star Trek: Phase Two” TV series of the 1970s (Not to be confused with the fanfilm series of the same name).

I’ve been wondering if the submarine effects are shot underwater, or if they’re “Dry for wet” as they say in the SFX biz. Clearly the stuff from the original movie was underwater, but just as clearly the original footage in this episode was shot dry and simply ‘called’ underwater.

This has been bugging me for a while: each member of the Cetacean crew have insignia on the collars of their uniforms. I’ve been trying to make them out for some time, but I can’t figure out what they are. I am definite, however, that every member of the crew is wearing completely different, unrelated insignia.

I also noticed that the recessed portion of the deck in the control room doesn’t have a guardrail around it, so a bad step will make you fall ass-over-teakettle. That’s a bad design for a submarine.

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