RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Giant” (Season 2, Episode 4)

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Wow. I don’t throw the phrase “Stupidest thing I ever saw” around lightly, but this might be a contender.

Certainly there’s one sequence in this episode that might actually be the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I remember this episode from when it first aired - vaguely - so I remembered the scene. A year or so later, my mom was in the hospital, and this episode came on the Waiting Room TV, presumably to fill up dead air on the schedule. At first I remember being excited, but when I realized what episode it was, I sighed and flipped around looking for Hogan’s Heroes or whatever. It was so bad that I wouldn’t sit through it a second time as an eleven year old.

So I vaguely remembered the scene in question, but not the context. That was a generation ago. How bad could it really be? Pretty bad, actually.

PLAY BY PLAY

A guy with a disco haircut and a bad mustache is putting on a wetsuit in the desert when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar busts through the wall dressed like a cowboy. Mr. Mustache runs off and jumps in a well, but Kareem manages to break his air tank as he goes. Mustache swims away, unaware that he’s leaking air.

Meanwhile, the oceans are draining - no, really - and the Cetacean is inspecting it. Mark finds a big hole in the ocean floor, which appears artificial. Elizabeth informs CW (Back at the Foundation) that unless they figure out a way to stop the flow, the oceans will completely drain in five days, and the world will be thrown off its orbit as a result. (I’m sorry - what?)

Mark, meanwhile, finds the diver and drags him back to the sub. He awakes in the infirmary, says he’s dying, needs to be taken to Medusa Cove, but what with the world ending and all, they can’t really spare the time, so they decide to take him to a nearby weather station. He tries to fleece Mark at cards so they’ll have to take him to Medusa, but Elizabeth stops him.

Some stuff happens, and they decide that Mustache Man Muldoon Must (ooh! Quadruple Alliteration) be in some way related to the mysterious doings that are transpiring, but he’s already left the weather station, so they head to Medusa Cove, and Mark finds him in a bar, schmoozing some chicks, one of whom is kinda’ fat. (Not to be confused with “Phat.”)

He starts a barfight to get away from Mark, and escapes, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is there, and he snatches a little pouch of gold nuggets away from Muldoon, and throws him through the window and back into the bar, where he’s promptly arrested. Mark visits him in prison, explaining that he needs a guide though the bathtub drain in the bottom of the ocean. Muldoon refuses at first, but realizing the bartender is going to kill him, he relents.

Back at the drain, they dive through - Mark pretending to be human - and come out the other side, which Mark quickly identifies as some kind of parallel world or alternate plane of reality or whatever. As with all parallel worlds, it’s looks like Zabreski Point. Captain Kirks’ rock is clearly visible in the background.

Mark discovers water is invisible in this alternate reality, and he finds a hillbilly shack that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lives in. To kill time, they inexplicably hide inside the thing when he comes home, then sneak out again when he leaves. Mark follows the invisible water to a miner’s sluiceway also "filled" with invisible pretend water, with someone off-screen chucking little fake gold nuggets down the thing. Mark reasons that this is the thing that’s draining the oceans.

Muldoon takes some gold and abandons Mark, and then Kareem comes by, threatening to kill Mark, but Mark points out that he’s got first billing on the show, whereas Kareem is just a guest star, and the NBA pro relents. Mark convinces him that this sluice dealywhacker is somehow draining our world dry. “This makes me sad,” Kareem emotes. The two of them try to close the Watergate of the sluice, but it’s blocked by a rock spray painted gold. Mark - oh boy.

Ok, so here’s the scene I warned you about above, which really might actually be the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life: Patrick Duffy gets in the sluice, pretends to swim against the invisible water, while getting pelted with fake gold nuggets, and pulls one of them out of the sluice then crawls out of the thing, all the while pretending to be fighting a dangerous, painful current. It’s pretty humiliating to watch. I imagine it was even moreso to film. I can imagine a lot of “You’ve got to be F__king kidding me, right?” conversations between him and the director. (He’d have to say “F__k” because it was 1978, and “Frack” wouldn’t be invented for another year.) I imagine profanity. I imagine the quiet resignation that sets in when Patrick realizes he has no other choice, and does it, realizing he’ll never work again, that this is the end, that he won’t be able to get a guest starring spot on Kaptain Kool and the Kongs once this thing airs. It’s the end of the world.

If there *IS* such a think as Karma - which I don’t really believe in - I imagine that he earned his decade-plus role on Dallas strictly as a result of subjecting himself to this. Twice. Yeah, twice. As the episode is running a bit short, he has to go back in the “Water” for him and Kareem to fix it, but it’s still not enough, so Muldoon comes back and helps them.

The world now saved, yet drier, Karrem bids them hurry, as the connection between our world and this one won’t last long, and they’ll be trapped forever. Mark sits on the well while Muldoon tarries unwisely in the bushes, looking for his bag o’ gold, and the well - and Mark - disappear. Muldoon is trapped, which immediately bums him out since this entire universe appears to consist of a desert, gold, and a NBA star looking to expand his career, but then he realizes “Hey, no cops!” and decides he likes it.

Back on the sub, Mark basically refuses to tell Elizabeth what happened, and then shows her a card trick. Everyone smiles and freeze-frames as if to say 'these crazy water-breathin' men - what are ya' gonna' do? Am I right folks? Am I right?'

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Man, all kinds of bad science in this one. They clearly aren’t even trying.

The alternate world - or whatever - is particularly badly defined. Invisible water? Why? And why isn’t the water in the well invisible? And what kind of society exists here? Kareem’s dialog would seem to explain that…well, that mining is his job, actually. He says it in the most ponderous, metaphysical way possible, but it boils down to him being a miner. In a parallel world. Dressed like a cowboy. In a parallel world. Oh, and he’s super-strong, and despite the fact that nothing in this parallel world would appear to be more advanced than the 1850s old west, he’s got a top-of-the-line diving rig. And expresses no confusion as to where Muldoon went. And can punch through walls, and withstand direct hits from boulders. And totally believes Mark when Mark explains the situation with no proof. Yeah. Stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. They could have dressed people up as chickens and it wouldn't have been any more random than it already is.

Kareem is, of course, terrible. He’s acceptably terrible when he’s just lumbering around, doing a low-rent Richard Kiel or Ted Cassidy impression, but then he starts talking and it’s just sad. Poor guy. He’s saddled with the unfortunate task of trying to look like he understands stuff that he clearly doesn’t, and why should he? This episode makes no freakin’ sense whatsoever. Let me restate that: Nothing. In. This. Episode. Makes. Any. Sense. At all.

Oh, I should mention that the damage isn't undone at the end of the episode. They manage to stop the draining, but there's no mention of re-filling the oceans or anything like that. So the episode starts with the world going to hell, and ends with it halfway to hell. Sloppy.

Michael I. Wagner wrote this. He later went on to write three TNG episodes, which were also rather incoherent - “Survivors,” “Booby Trap,” and “Evolution” - granted, those mostly make more sense than this, but they certainly ain’t good by any stretch. Eventually he became the head writer for “Capitol Critters.” The only thing I can figure is that by this point in the season, they’d seen the ratings and knew they were done for, and nobody even cared anymore. “Hey, you know that Wagner script we swore we’d never do in a million years because it’s so bad?” “Yeah?” “I’m green lighting it.” And then they’d laugh uproariously and do another line of coke. I mean, this is Episode 4 of season 2 (Episode 8 overall), can they really have *already* given up?

Elizabeth is in “Holding your coat” mode in this one, she’s neither assertive, submissive, nor imperiled, she just exposits during the “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” scenes on the sub.

Patrick Duffy is pretty good, though. By this point in the series, he seems to have found a balance between childlike innocence and supersmart main character. I’m beginning to appreciate how hard it must have been to play Mark. I mean, I knew the physical rigors of the part must have been pretty daunting, but even ignoring that, this was a touch character to nail down, like the writers never quite figured out what they wanted him to be. Duffy does the best with it he can, and in the jailhouse scene he’s actually rather swashbucklingly charming.

Speaking of grueling, this is the first episode I’ve seen where Duffy puts on a dive tank to hide his abilities, and doesn’t immediately ditch it when he hits the water. Instead he wears it the whole time and pretends to breathe air. I presume this was to give the actor a break. I mean, they did have him walking barefoot in the desert, it seems only fair.

Muldoon is obviously intended as a comedic villain like Cyrano Jones or Harry Mudd from ‘Trek. Unlike them, however, he’s not really at all funny, and again I blame this on the writing. Once again, we have a southerner (Texan) as the bad guy. Interesting. They play a little celtic theme whenever he’s onscreen, which sounds overly familiar, but I can’t quite nail it down. I think it’s a lot like the “Finnegan” theme from “Shore Leave” (TOS), but maybe not. His fate is open-ended, and pretty clearly they intend on bringing him back again later in the series. It's anyone's guess as to whether or not the show will last long enough for them to do that.

Muldoon gets a surprisingly dirty joke in here: He's hitting on two chicks at the bar - one of whom is fat - and when he's talking to Mark, he says "They're both great girls. They're from the sandwich islands, if you get my meaning. You don't get my meaning? Oh well."

My hunch is that this was probably written with *real* water in mind, but they either didn’t have the budget for it, or the Sierra Club balked at the idea of them pumping thousands of gallons of water into the desert. The whole “oh, yeah, it’s invisible here” thing is too stupid to have been anything other than a halfassed last minute on-site script fix. If I ever get a chance to talk to Patrick Duffy (Which I hope I do. I’ve always liked him, and I’m told he’s a nice guy), I’ll ask him about that.

Really, I’ve got a lot of questions I’d like to ask any surviving cast member of the show. Alan Fudge? Belinda Montgomery? You out there? Contact me at Three@republibot.com

Tom Morga is, I think, Patrick Duffy’s stunt double for this episode, and he does a pretty horrific looking flying crash into the sand. Kind of a face-plant at the end of it.

We see the Cetacean’s sickbay in this episode. It totally doesn’t fit the style of the other sets, and there’s clearly no room for it in the sub. Curiously, I didn’t notice that as a kid.

The little auxiliary airlock for the “Shuttles” we saw in “Melt Down” is gone, replaced by dive lockers in this one.

The Cetacean crew appears to be pretty stable, with a helmsman, a communications woman, and a mustachioed guy who randomly punches buttons, but I have no idea what it is he’s supposed to be doing. Ergo, he must be an engineer.

Finally, a related unrelated oddity: last night I took out the trash and realized I was whistling something. Presently I realized it was the Man From Atlantis theme, and got this sudden weird feeling knowing that I was unquestionably the only person in North America, nay the world, who was thinking of that tune at that moment. In fact, I’m probably the only one to have thought of it in years, much less whistled it. It’s an odd feeling.

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