RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Melt Down” (Season 2, Episode 1)

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Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, and the ‘real’ main sequence of the show has begun, there’s a whole lot of changes in Man From Atlantis, some for the better and some for the worse. Well, really, no, I can’t think of anything that isn’t better, actually. Maybe some of the set redesign, but generally everything is way better than it was before. In many ways, this is a rebirth of the series, so let’s just jump right to it, shall we?

PLAY BY PLAY

Mister Schubert is back, and with a butler. He commences a plan to melt the polar ice cap, because, hey, it’s trendy these days. He voted for Gore, and likes the guy so much that even if the ninny’s scientific prognostications are full of crap, he - Schubert - will *make* them correct.

The Cetacean is coming back to base, and nearly wrecks on the rocks, hit by a current that shouldn’t be there. Mark goes to the beach to look around, and realizes that the water level is rising. He meets up with Dee Wallace Stone, who’s cute, perky, younger than you’ve probably seen her before, and runs a hot dog stand.

Mark and Elizabeth try to figure out where the new water is coming from, and CW informs them that Mr. Schubert has contacted the president and informed him that he’ll do what he can to lower sea levels if they’ll give him Mark Harris. They realize Schubert must be behind the floods, and discover unusual plankton in the sea that indicates where he’s coming from - the Chukchi sea. The Cetacean heads up, and they find a big microwave oven melting the ocean. Mark swims out, but can’t get close so they load a remote-controlled shuttle - basically a little underwater bike thing like divers use - with a device to generate a counter shield and send it out to him, saving a trip back to the sub. This was actually pretty cool.

Mark destroys the device with a really loud sonic blast. No, really, it’s too goofy for words. The Chukchi sea *Immediately* starts to ice up again, nearly destroying the Cetacean, but they get away. Mark breaks through the icepack - really, it’s frozen over that quickly - and is rescued by Schubert. He gives Mark an underwater living room with furniture and waterproofed copies of Scientific American (Again, this is really cool). And says he simply wants to study Mark, but Marks’ free to go if he wants. If he goes, however, Schubert will start flooding the world again. Mark goes.

The world is flooding faster than ever, and Dee Wallace Stone is about to loose her hot dog stand. Mark feels guilty about this in a way that only people who’s seen Dee talk about her life’s savings being $1200 dollars can truly understand, and heads back to Schubert. (I mean, hell, that’s $4,062.42 in today’s money, who can blame him for feeling guilty? That’s almost a plasma screen TV, for cryin’ out loud!)

Shubert shows Mark faked newscasts that the world is getting back to normal, and begins testing Mark, but eventually the titular Man From Atlantis realizes that the water level shouldn’t be going down fast enough for people to notice. “All you can do is stop the water rising, it is not like pulling the plug in a bathtub. The water can not recede until it evaporates.” He busts out of the lab, and is attacked by Schubert’s goons, who he takes out easily, then runs back to his underwater living room to fight them all again because the episode is running a bit short. Then he captures Schubert, who explains there’s no way to shut off his death-dealing array of microwave ovens. (Seriously, what is it about this guy and weapons he can’t turn off?) Mark destroys the machinery with his sonar abilities, and leaves.

Schubert screams threats at Mark until his lair explodes.

Back on the beach, Dee Wallace Stone sells hot dogs to Elizabeth and CW, and offers to let Mark eat some of the seaweed out of the clam soup broth.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Man, there’ve been a lot of changes since the end of the last TV movie. I’ll just run through ‘em here as quickly as I can:

1) We have an actual opening title sequence, with a re-worked, up-tempo version of the theme.

2) Dr. Miller Simon is gone. I totally get that. The character was kind of superfluous, and tended to steal Elizabeth’s thunder, he was written conspicuously different in each of the three movies he was in, almost like they didn’t really know what they wanted to do with him, and the actor never really appealed to me. I do kind of feel sorry for him in retrospect, though. Always tough to see a guy try to hard with a role, and still fail. Even so, Kenneth Tigar went on to have one hell of a long TV career, he’s got scores of credits. Most recently he played “Warden Lennox” on Fringe.

3) With Miller gone, Elizabeth is now the scientific head of the Foundation for Oceanic Research, and she doesn’t need to jostle with Miller for goofy pseudoscientific doubletalk. Now she’s got all the scientific nimrodery to herself, and not a bit of it makes any sense.

4) The “What the hell were they thinking?” secretary is gone.

5) Mark is now the captain of the sub. Captain Bracey is gone.

6) The lobby/lab set which looked like Mork and Mindy’s apartment is gone. The Foundation is still set in that big old Victorian house on the Cliffside, but now all the action appears to take place in…

7) A big set - presumably underground - that has nice clean, modern lines, lots of maps, fake computers and scientific geegaws on the walls, lots of staff bustling about, a long tunnel that connects the set to the sub, and an office for CW. There’s even a big table for staff meetings! This has replaced the gloomy series of service tunnels that used to connect the Foundation to the sub pen.

8) The sub pen itself is gone, along with the conning tower set.

9) The whole submarine docking/launching sequence has been changed: where the sub used to just sail on in or out, now it lands on a gantry/cart thing, secures itself, and is hauled inside. I never bothered to think about it before, but that does seem a lot safer than what we saw them doing. We’re told the tunnel in the main foundation set connects directly to the sub.

10) The interior of the sub has been modified slightly, but the exteriors remain the same. The painful lighting has been scaled back, The helm - which was previously in the floor in the center of the control room, has been moved forward into the front wall. It’s space in the center of the floor has been replaced by Mark’s command console, which doesn’t appear to do anything. The view screen, which was previously on the left side of the control room has now been moved front-and-center above the helm. There appear to be changes to the lab set as well, but we didn’t see too much of it, so I couldn’t get a good sense of what they were.

11) The crew now wear uniforms. Damn! I hate that!

That’s a *lot* of changes to take place between seasons, and really the closest parallel is Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which similarly overhauled itself between year one and year two. In neither that case nor this one are the changes ever addressed onscreen, much less explained.

There’s a kind of Wild Wild West/Six Million Dollar Man vibe going on here, where bad stuff is going down, the threat is real, but there’s a hokey-jokey quality that lets you know no one is taking it terribly seriously. Fortunately, I like The Wild Wild West, so I respond positively to this vibe. It is a vast, vast, vast improvement over the movies, nothing feels stretched out or forced (Well, excepting the final fight sequence), the story flows nicely even if it never makes a lot of logical sense. It’s fun. And thank God for that. I was getting apprehensive at the thought of sitting through thirteen more episodes like “Death Scouts” and “Killer Spores.”

Finally they do an episode that has something to do with the oceans! The plot is vaguely similar to a story I was writing in college, though the details and point were all wrong, and no one could breathe water. I wonder if I was subconsciously remembering this episode? No, no, probably I wasn’t. I never actually saw this one before now. John Polson told me about it at school, but they never reran it.

Mister Schubert - the main recurring foil for this series - is a bit different than the last time we saw him. He’s still fat and shaggy, but he’s no longer a complete slob. In fact, this time out, he’s something of an effete - snobby about wine, precise about his French food, with a string quartet on staff, and he seems to know a bit about art, whereas in the pilot he was simply told the stuff on display in his base was ‘the finest’ but didn’t really know for sure. He’s still southern, and he does a better accent this time out, though he tends to wander in and out of it. Really, he’s more in the mode of a James Bond villain than the strange figure he was in the pilot.

His motivations are no more clear than they were then, however: On the one hand, he seems to really want to help the world, on the other he floods it for no particular reason, and promises he’ll “Make it up to them later.” He’s delightfully overjoyed to catch Mark, but then he’s more than willing to kill him to find out what makes him tick. He knows how strong Mark is, but then he stupidly orders his goons to fight him in the water.

And seeing as he tried to start a nuclear war four episodes back, why is he walking around semi-openly, without anyone trying to get him? Apparently he’s still got a mega corporation, and access to limitless cash.

“Brent” is introduced in this episode. The butler was obviously intended to be a recurring sidekick character for Schubert, but he never turns up again. Just as well, he's kind of a schlub.

There’s some confusion about the plankton, which is alive, but Elizabeth refers to it as “Fossil.”

So what the heck is that big curved glowy niche in Schubert’s lair supposed to be? I thought it was supposed to imply that he was underwater, but, no, he’s just in a warehouse somewhere.

Mark suddenly has emotions: “There are so many emotions I have not yet experienced.” No one mentions or alludes to his amnesia in this episode. The romantic tension between Mark and Elizabeth from the pilot appears to have completely evaporated by this point.

Man, the science in this episode is bad. When the waters start rising, Elizabeth suspects it might have something to do with a “Rupture of the lunar magnetic pull,” but that “The moon hasn’t made a peep in six months.” The moon hasn’t got a magnetic field, and even if it did, tides are formed by gravity, not magnetics. They’re completely unrelated phenomenon. And what kind of magnetic noise is the moon expected to make, anyway? They also discuss “Solar explosions” when talking about solar flares. While I guess this is technically sort of correct, it’s terminology no one would use if they knew what they were talking about. There’s no way in hell the Chukchi sea could ice up that fast, either.

I actually think they really did have Patrick Duffy (Or a stuntman) swim under some ice. The shots are pretty intimidating, and probably scary as hell to do.

Mark’s heretofore unsuspected sonar abilities are so goofy they fill me with the urge to recount all of his superhuman abilities to date:

1) Breathing water
2) Superhuman strength under water.
3) Immunity to all cold
4) Able to talk underwater
5) Able to see in pitch blackness
6) Able to withstand a pressure equivalent to being seven miles underwater
8) Above average intelligence
9) Swims faster than a submarine
10) Immune to Mind Control Bracelets
11) Immune to Mind Control Hot Tubs
12) Able to sense the compositions of rocks and identify the minerals within at a glance.
13) No Keratin layer in his skin
14) Super-loud sonar abilities that can evidently ramp up to hundreds of decibels and ruin machinery.
15) Chicks dig him.

Also, though we’re told in the pilot that he’s weaker than a man on land, they seem to have forgotten that, as he takes out four bouncers easily in Schubert’s office.

The series never makes use of his "Black Canary Shreik" again, nor does it even make reference to his having sonar again. As with most of Mark's superpowers, they're introduced one and then forgotten, as we shall see.

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