RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Crystal Water, Sudden Death” (Season 2, Episode 7)

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Oh, thank God: Mister Schubert is back. I realize he’s a hopelessly overused villain, but he’s a significant presence and his episodes generally have some kind of a plot, no matter how thin it may be. After the last couple of just-jerking-around episodes, I’m happy to see something with a little more narrative drive to it. Also: Shubert is no longer a comedic buffoon. He’s back in amiable badass mode.

PLAY BY PLAY

Shubert’s on his own private sub, trying to find some crystals at the bottom of the sea that no one believes exist. These’ll mess up worldwide communications, and allow him to dominate the world through some typically vague Schubertian plot. They find the crystals, but they also find a force field guarding them. Realizing they can’t get through themselves, they create some kind of underwater ruckus (Never explained - is it a seismic thing? A magnetic thing? And how did they manage to pull this off? We never find out) that the outside world will notice, and the Cetacean is sent in.

They quickly discover the force field, and so Mark swims in to find a hole through it. The field is nothing more than a hokey split screen effect, so he’s able to find his way through it really quickly, and discovers a secret world behind it, filled with air and pine trees and leftover sets from Planet of the Apes, just like California! What are the odds? Pretty good, actually.

Because of the force field, Mark can’t contact the sub, but in pretty short order he comes across a mime in a bodysuit and a shower cap, who tries to run away from him. Another mime shows up who immobilizes Mark with a crystal weapon thing, and then Shields and Yarnel walk him verrrrry deeeeliberately and mime-like back to Ape village, which has been spray painted white. Meanwhile, Mister Schubert and Special Guest Sidekick Rene Auberjonois swim through the gap in the force filed that they saw Mark go through. Or rather, I should say their stuntmen do. Honestly, who do they think they’re trying to kid here? Obviously neither of the divers are the people they’re supposed to be. Rene is like eleven feet tall, and while the other diver is a little bit hefty, there’s just no way in hell they could have found a size sixty-four triple-extra-fattass suit for Schubert to wear. Nor, if they had one, would anyone be willing to risk Victor Buono’s life by making him do anything mildly strenuous like swimming. I mean, granted, he’s only thirty-nine (!) when they were filming this, but, brother, he is *not* a young thirty nine. Trust me, if you didn’t know when he was born, you wouldn’t believe he was that young: he looks more like he’s in his mid-fifties. The guy was a stroke waiting to happen.

Sure enough, once inside the inexplicable bubble-world at the bottom of the ocean, we see Schubert/Buono unzipping what is obviously, obviously, obviously not a real wetsuit (because, again, most dive shops don’t carry size sixty-four triple-extra-fattass). It’s more like a loose-fitting one-piece tracksuit. Sad, really. And yet, you know, they say Buono got the chicks. Or maybe the dudes, I’m not really sure which side of the fence he was on, to be honest. But whichever it was he preferred, the word is he got a lot of ’em. Weird, huh? I live in the sexually permissive disco era when personal beauty and cocaine and really boring music are all that matter, and I choose to exercise this permissiveness by makin’ it with a 400-pound man who looks old enough to be my dad! Hot! (boom-chicka-wa-chicka-wa-wa-wa)

But getting back to our story, Mark is taken to the Apes village, where he meets more body suited mimes (Man, the zipper budget for the costume department in this episode must have been through the roof!), who mostly speak in badly-dubbed castanet sounds, but can speak halting English when called upon to do so. They think Mark is evil, and take him inside their split-level ape ranch home, which doubles as their shrine. Inside, the building is obviously a redress of the Seabase set. There, Mark is trapped in a superimposed cube while the meanest of the bottom people - who looks indistinguishable from the others - plays pong at him. No, really. Whenever the ball hits Mark, he writhes in pain, and they ask him a question. It’s not the most effective interrogation I’ve ever seen since the point of such things is to let the captive know answering the questions brings an end to the pain, and they’re just hurting him at random. It is rather visual, though, so I’ll give ‘em that.

Then Schubert busts in and subdues the entire mime village wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiith…..

A herring!

No, wait, that doesn’t make any sense. Ok, he subdues ‘em all wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiith……

A flashlight!

Yeah, I know, that doesn’t make sense either, but he does it, and mumbles some doubletalk about it being a super-secret scientific mojo doubletalk flashlight, but the bottom line is that all the people down here are very sensitive to light. Schubert accidentally blinds Mark with it as well. That would be shocking, but I’ve seen a few episodes by this point, I know the show revels in yanking our chains for no reason. Sure enough, once the commercial break is over we find out that it was just another fake cliffhanger to get people to sit through the K-tell commercials, or whatever the hell it was that they advertised on TV in those days. It seems Mark has pulled a Spock - literally - and has a nictitating membrane in his eye that “I didn’t know was there” which saved him. With everyone thinking he’s a cripple, he escapes through…sigh…a grotto.

Ok, a few words about this grotto. It’s been bugging me since the second time we’ve seen it, and it’s in nearly every episode of the show: a perfectly round, lit pool of water in a cave set, the same cave set every week. The set exists for no reason than to allow Mark to escape to the sea in every episode, and Mark escapes to the sea in every episode for no reason other than they’ve got a grotto set and they’re gonna’ use it. It’s the worst kind of bottle-show reasoning. What makes this even worse, however, is that it is *CLEARLY* just a hot tub. I mean, you can even see seats in the damn thing! They make no effort to hide them. At least in the early episodes, they had some dry ice fog or whatever, but now…’Yeah, it’s a hot tub, but it’s a hot tub that’s connected to the sea by a massive tunnel, as so many are these days.’

The thing vaguely creeps me out. I’m not sure if it’s a set or a practical location. Is it the infamous grotto in the Playboy mansion? I’m assuming not, it looks rather cheap for that. Is it in someone’s house, built especially for caveman-themed sex parties? Is it “The Grotto Room” at the local pay-by-the-hour hotel, the one on the bad side of town with the banner that says “Welcome Prostitution Enthusiasts Convention Members!” Something some mouth-breather built in their garage as a special place to work out their erotic Sigmund and the Seamonsters fixation? Even if it *is* a set, you know someone was sneaking in there after hours to try out some new moves they picked up on the casting couch. My point being: whatever that thing is, I hope they shocked the living hell out of it with chlorine and algaecide and gallons of Lysol and…lye…and I dunno, maybe a few quarts of spermicide before they made Patrick Duffy go in it. Ewww.

So anyway, there’s a big machine that keeps the force field up. Mark steals a crystal, jumps in the grotto (ewww! Sexwater!) and then swims out. He’s knocked out by an explosion that serves no purpose aside from setting up yet another fake commercial break cliffhanger. Why do they keep doing these ‘Mark’s unconscious underwater’ cliffhangers, anyway? Do they think we’ve forgotten he breathes water? ‘Oh my God! Mark’s fallen asleep in the tub! He’s dead! He’s dead…oh, no, wait, I forgot he’s the Man From Atlantis. Sorry. My bad. Oh my God! Mark’s got his head trapped in a sink with the water running He’s dead! He’s dead…oh, wait, fooled me again. Sorry.”

Anyway, Mark wakes up - and weirdly, in a closeup we can see he’s got a really big stye or something on his right eye. (So they *Didn’t* clean out the hottub before they stuck him in it!) He gives a crystal to Elizabeth, then wedges another hunk into the dish antenna on Schubert’s sub, which is now inexplicably pink. No, really.

Back in the lost underwater world of the mimes, he bluffs Schubert - who’s now cut off from his sub - and his men into putting the crystals back and leaving. This they then do, since the force field is about to collapse and drown them all, and they’ve got no way of calling in their ship. Mark then revisits the big wet-dry vac by the hot tub and shovels some crystals into it, which will also help. And it also gives him fifteen minutes of vacuum time to clean off the floor of his car. If he needs more time than that, he needs to deposit another crystal, of course.

After the bad guys leave, the Mimes speak to Mark, he heads back to the sub, CW wants the crystals for the Department of Defense, Mark fakes a radio problem, everyone laughs,

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

This is the first time we’ve seen Schubert without his sidekick Brent since the season began. The last time we saw him was at the end of “Man of War,” when Schubert said he’d “burn the negatives from the Oxnard Motel” if Brent would save his life. Evidently, he must have kept the promise. But whether Schubert freed Brent, or merely killed him, he seems to have recovered very nicely from his financial problems of just two episodes before. He’s got a World War II submarine (or at least stock footage of one), all tricked out in Captain Nemo style with brass fixtures, object d’art, velvet curtains hiding metal walls, etc, and a crew of 150. (Which is more people than I think you could even fit into a World War II sub at one time, but no matter.)

Most of Schubert’s past plots have been a little vaguely defined - “Start a nuclear war and breed a water breathing man”, “Flood the world for no good reason, and study a water breathing man,” “Black out the world power supply and go down in history for discovering an ancient artifact,” and so on. He was more focused in his previous episode, and here he’s also keeping his eyes on the prize of world domination. He couldn’t care less about Mark this time out, and he’s more manipulative.

He’s also no longer Southern. Both Victor Buono and the writers seem to have completely forgotten about that, so there’s not even a token attempt to keep up his dodgy accent this time out. Everyone else in the script seems to be taking him more seriously, too.

I think we’re supposed to believe that the seafloor people are walking around naked. I think the bodysuits and shower caps are supposed to be their skin, and they’re not quite human, or a parallel strain of humanity or whatever.

I note that Herb Solow is no longer producing the show, though he’s still listed as “Co-Creator.” That’s never a good sign when the show runner walks, or is fired.

Last time out I complained about the collar insignia on the Cetacean uniforms. This time out, I noticed that the insignia are not only unique for every person, they’re also changing from episode to episode. Elizabeth wears a little golden fish this time out that was never there before. The crew of the Cetacean is a bit different this time out, as well. The Asian communications lady is gone, and there’s a new chick running the diving hatch.

In the early scenes in the episode, Schubert’s sub is clearly battleship grey, and clearly stock footage from a World War II movie. Later on, it’s pink. Obviously, they grabbed footage from the “Operation Petticoat” TV show that was running concurrently with this series. (Remember that one? It had Jamie Lee Curtis in it, and starred John “Gomez” Astin as Cary Grant. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076503/ ) They probably meant to run it through a filter to take out the color, but then thought “Ah, screw it, no one’s watching this show anyway. Let’s go have sex in the hot tub over on stage B!”

I’ve been holding off saying so, but this show’s utter lack of aquatic knowledge is utterly astounding. We’re repeatedly told they’re down at 35,000 feet (More than six and a half miles, about a mile and a half deeper than the ocean actually is), but we see people scuba diving as though they’re in a swimming pool.

The crystals would appear to be dyed transparent plastic, since when Mark lets go of one underwater, it doesn’t sink.

Curiously, Schubert refers to Mark as an “Alien” in this one. As you’ll recall, “The Death Scouts” seemed to have been written to show that Mark was an alien, but then seemed to have been hastily re-written so as not to give up the secret so early. ( http://www.republibot.com/content/retrospeculative-tv-man-atlantis-%E2%8... ) There have been scattered references to Mark being “From another world” here and there, but these were always nebulous, as in “I’m rich, and she’s poor, we’re from different worlds.” This is the first mention of Mark actually being extraterrestrial. And how would Schubert know that, anyway?

I think that’s it. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got. Well, no, it’s not all I’ve got. I could go on for another page or so easily because I’m obviously OCD as hell, but I have to learn how to pace myself…

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