RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Man Of War” (Season 2, Episode 5)

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Ah, memory, how you fail me in my dotage. At first I was absolutely certain I hadn’t seen this episode, but suddenly - out of nowhere - comes a line of dialog I remember, and then nothing else. Aside from one brief conversation in the middle of this episode, I have no memory of it whatsoever, but I know I must have seen it. That’s disquieting.

PLAY BY PLAY

Mister Schubert is back with a brand new angle: he’s broke. Taking over the world is an expensive proposition, and he’s tried and failed many times now. He decides to rebuild his coffers - as so many of us have - by genetically engineering the biggest jellyfish the world has ever seen, and using it to terrorize a beach so he can extort a million bucks out of them. Who “Them” is remains a bit vague: The beachgoers? The municipal area that runs the beach? Fishermen? Seafood aficionados? Travel agents? Who? But no matter, that’s his half-assed plan, and he’s sticking to it.

“Why a Jellyfish?” Brent asks, “Why not a shark?”
“It’s been done, Brent, It’s been done.”

The beach in question happens to be holding an international swim meet which, for some reason that’s never explained, CW Crawford of the Foundation is running. It’s not a Foundation thing, it appears to be a diplomatic dealie. Odd. Anyway, while CW is taking flack from an EXTREMELY stereotypical portrayal of an Indian fellow, the Jellyfish (Named “Poobah,” by the way) attacks a girl in the same rubber raft we saw in “Hawk of Mu” two weeks earlier.

The foundation investigates. Using their Submarine. Really, that seems like overkill since they openly admit it’s too shallow there to even fit in, but, eh, they’ve obviously got some kind of federal funding and by damn they’re gonna’ use it all or else their allocations for next year will be reduced. The Jellyfish almost attacks Mark while swimming, but Schubert calls it back coincidentally.

Shubert has Brent deliver his extortionate demands via anonymous letters signed with a trident, so the good guys dub him “King of the sea,” which is the one scene I remembered. Mark goes swimming and eventually follows Poobah (“Poo” for short. No, really, they call him that in this, and they’re just as bold as brass about it. No shame whatsoever in these actors.) and meets up with Mister Schubert. Schubert has Brent subdue Mark with a gasgun of some sort, and when he wakes up he’s tied to a chair and dehydrating. They won’t let him go, so he does this utterly embarrassing Aquaman dolphin noise kinda’ thing, and something - we never find out what - starts ramming the pier they’re on until the fire sprinklers start up. Drenched, Mark Steve Austins his way out of the chair, and leaves.

He blusters past yet another outrageous stereotype - a flamingly gay maitre d’ in the restaurant Elizabeth and CW are eating lunch at - and informs them that Schubert is King Neptune. This surprises them more than it really should. I mean, nine episodes over two years thus far, and Schubert’s been in four, possibly five of ‘em, really it’s even-money odds that the guy’s behind anything that goes wrong in the Man From Atlantis universe.

“Toilet’s backed up again.”
“Probably another of Schubert’s ill-defined evil schemes for world domination.”

“I’ve got a hangnail.”
“Schubert must be trying to extort money!”

“After thirty years of suppressing my rage, I finally snapped and murdered that clown who plays Ronald McDonald.”
“Are you sure you did it? Because I’m sure Schubert was manipulating you in some way.”

They call the feds, who storm Schubert’s rented house on the very same pier CW and Elizabeth were eating at, and he welcomes them all in with charm and effusion. They can’t find the tank Mark told them about - Schubert’s had it paneled over with parquet flooring - so they decide to just watch him. Brent, meanwhile, is keeping “Poo” at an auxiliary tank on the far side of the bay. (Wait, this is a bay? But people were surfing in it, and there’s clearly no land in site from the beach.)

The Diplomatic Swim Meet starts - whoa. Excuse me. I’m laughing really hard. Gimmie a moment to catch my breath over that one. [Time passes] Ok, I’m back. Anyway, the Diplomatic Swim Meet - nope, nope, I lost it again. Excuse me. [More time passes] Phew. Wow. I keep laughing like that, I’m gonna’ get my washboard abs back. Anyway, so the…uhm…thing starts, and you can tell it’s an extremely important part of the international peace efforts and détente itself because they got Gary Owens to cover it. It must have been really important to lure such A-list talent away from his day job at Hee-Haw.

Schubert sics Poobah on the swimmers, but Mark evidently talks the jellyfish out of it, and it heads back to Schubert’s place, which is now inexplicably is no longer paneled over, but Poo won’t listen to his master’s commands. Mark has explained self determination to the Jellyfish, about how you can’t be a slave or a dependant feeding on the scraps a fat actor deigns to give you in the autumn days of his career. Rather, you need to get out there on your own twenty-or-so tendrils and make your own way. Or maybe he doesn’t. It’s hard to say. Basically, one minute the Jellyfish is trying to kill Mark, and the next minute the two of them are best pals, going to the bars and stripper clubs together, shouting lewdities at the dancers. It’s weird. But what I *assume* is implied here is that the Jellyfish has been reasoned with, and sees the purpose in putting off larval ways and, you know, going to graduate school or something.

Anyway, so the Jellyfish subdues Brent and Schubert, but Schubert’s able to run away. Yeah, whatever. Back at the foundation, they say they just let Poobah go, they monitored him/her/it/they on sonar about 10,000 feet down, and don’t think they’ll se him/her/it/they again before their show is cancelled. As with all the scientific predictions made during the three-and-a-quarter months this show ran, their thoughts turned out to be startlingly prescient.

OBSERVATIONS

I was fairly savage in my recap, but in fact this was kind of a fun little episode. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn’t stink out loud, and unlike several of the episodes, it has a conclusion. Also, the story follows more-or-less logically (At least as far as stories about extortionist-trained giant mutant attack jellyfish go), and Schubert’s money woes are actually played pretty well. Maybe it’s just diminished expectations on my part, but this is only the second of the hour-long episodes that hasn’t filled me with the urge to defecate uncontrollably. Hooray for controlled defecation!

Much as I like Victor Buono, I’m now officially sick to death of Mr. Schubert and his fake (And frequently forgotten) Southern accent. Just the same, he’s given more to do here than simply be malevolent, and the concept of a super-villain who’s down on his luck is always worth a few yucks. He goes a long way towards redeeming the character in this episode, but it’s just too damn much. We see the guy practically every week. It’s the GI Joe vs. Cobra syndrome. This is his fifth appearance since the start of the series, and the fourth one this season, out of just five episodes so far. It's also Brent's fourth appearance.

I do like that for once his plan had nothing to do with Mark or the Foundation. They only got into it because Schubert didn’t do enough research to realize CW *worked* for the foundation. I also like his entirely ludicrous approach to extortion, and I love that he wasn’t handling poverty well at all. My favorite was when he tells Brent, “After you drop off the extortion letter, run by the Chinese restaurant. I think our credit’s still good there.” Another good moment was when he realizes the last thing to eat in the house is an egg. “Well surely, we could afford a little fish roe? No?” Other people’s reactions to his penury aren’t as good, but are still pretty funny just the same. “Schubert is doing this? But it’s so petty!”

There’s a funny scene where Brent is just effusive with his praise of Schubert, and vows to stick with him to the end, through any privation. Schubert’s response? “I’m not burning the negatives from the Oxnard Motel.” So now we know what he’s holding over Brent’s head. Later on, he offers to burn the negatives if Brent will rescue him. Brent more-or-less succeeds, but we know full well Schubert won’t keep his word.

There’s also a really funny scene when he realizes that he’s once again brought the Foundation down upon his head: “He haunts me! That man haunts me! What have I ever done to him?” Giving Victor Buono room to play a bit is always a good idea, and while it doesn’t stop this from being a bad episode of a bad show best forgotten, it does at least bring it up to watchable levels.

We get a couple completely useless scenes on the sub, mainly to remind us they’ve got a sub. They’re entirely in the lab. They could have been set in a Burger King for all the relevance they have. It’s also interesting that the disused Foundation Lobby Set from the season 1 movies makes its first return appearance here. Well, that’s not technically true: In “Hawk of Mu” it turns up redressed as the living room of Schubert’s Polynesian home. Here we see its first appearance as the Lobby again. A secretary runs a message to CW at one point, and has a couple lines of dialog. I don’t think it’s the same inexplicably awful secretary from the movies, but it’s hard to tell, harsh lighting and ‘70s haircuts being what they were and all.

I remembered Schubert and Brent as being a comedy duo for the ages. This is another area where my memory has betrayed me. Robert Lussier - as Brent - isn’t nearly as funny as I remembered. He’s also not *who* I remembered. For some reason, I remembered him as being Dennis Dugan from “Richie Brockelman, Private Eye.” No idea how I did that. My Democrat friends can blame this sort of thing on drugs in college, but as a Republican, obviously, I can’t use that excuse. I got this sop-headed entirely through natural means. Alas.

Nice to see Alan Fudge (CW) actually have something to do, though of course that means Belinda Montgomery (Elizabeth) has even less to do.

The Jellyfish is quite obviously *supposed* to be a giant Portugese Man o’ War, however it *actually* is clearly a large plastic bag with some hoses and latex splashed on it. It would have been embarrassing a decade before this. It’s nearly hilarious here. Inexplicably, it has no stingers on its tentacles - I’m assuming the writer didn’t know such things existed - and it can use its arms/tendrils like an octopus. In fact, pretty much the thing behaves like an octopus through the whole thing, almost like the writer didn’t know the difference. It’s intelligent enough to follow simple commands and understand when it’s spoken to a bit, like a horse or a smart dog, when in fact Jellyfish don’t have brains at all.

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