RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Scavenger Hunt” (Season 2, Episode 10)

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I don’t have too much to say about this one, other than it isn’t completely terrible (Though unintentionally hilarious at one point), and it probably would have made a fair Fourth Season episode of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea or a second season SeaQuest episode. Both those shows appeared to have more-or-less given up on trying to do anything non-ludicrous by that period, but they still managed to entertain (Infrequently). Still, if you’re the kind of person who can enjoy an episode of Ultraman and not feel dirty afterwards (And God knows I am), then you might like this one a little bit. At the very least, it’s better than the damn “Imp” and “Naked Montegue” episodes.

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On a generic Polynesian island somewhere near the Philippines, a bunch of Asian and Hispanic people are pretending to be Polynesians by wearing bad wigs. Ted Cassidy is their leader, presumably because he has the grandest bad wig of all. Presumably they’re trying to assimilate into the greater Polynesian culture. No, that doesn’t make sense, as Polynesia is nowhere near the Philippines. Maybe they’re just one of those historic recreation societies, like Civil War Re-enactors or Renaissance Festival types, or Trekies? Well, no matter.

Anyway, because they’ve chosen to re-enact a *primitive* batch of Polynesians, Lurch is sacrificing a maiden (Who looks about 25. A bit old for someone of that status in primative Polynesia, if’n you get my meaning) to “The Powerful One,” along with two ping pong balls that we’re supposed to believe are giant pearls. A horrific monster of the like unseen since Sigmund and the Sea Monsters ended comes out of the cave, and suddenly everyone in the home audience laughs themselves into incontinence, and then, wiping their eyes, they flipped over to see what was on Real People instead.

Seriously, this thing is unendingly hilarious. Even after the initial reveal - which is supposed to be scary - I found myself tittering hebephrenicly at random intervals throughout the ep. It’s a rubber suit monster, a two-headed two-legged armless seahorse that makes land-horse noises. It’s like they got it discounted at Godzilla’s yardsale. Wow.

Anyway, so the Maiden and the pearls go into the cave, and we find Muldoon, who is, of course, running a scam. When we last saw Muldoon six episodes ago, you’ll recall I said it felt like he was being groomed as a recurring comedic adversary. I was right. And as punishment for being right, I’m sentenced to watching more Man From Atlantis episodes. Ah well. Onward and downward…

So Muldoon is running a scam where the stereotypical stone-age natives worship his pet, and sacrifice pearls and girls to it. Muldoon explains to the girl - “Trivi” is her name - that her duties are now cooking and some occasional sex. He then sends her off to hang out with the other women who’ve been “Sacrificed.”

Meanwhile, back in the part of California where people believe Polynesians still live like they’re depicted in the show, CW explains how the UN sank a canister containing five canisters of some kind of dangerous MagGuffinium (He never tells us what’s in the canisters, or why it’s important, so I’ve just taken to calling it that) were sunk in the deepest part of the Philippine Deep, where no one would ever be able to get to them, so the world would be safe from the dangers and ravages of whatever the hell it is.

The Cetacean is dispatched to Cholo island (No, really, they call it that. They’re as bold as brass about it), but since the budget for this episode was already blown on the monster, they can’t afford any new miniature effects. Hence the island is surrounded by an (unseen) reef that keeps the sub from getting close, thereby allowing them to recycle old stock shots we’ve seen like fifty times by now.

Meanwhile, on the island, Ted Cassidy’s son is diving looking for pearls, and gets in trouble. He’s rescued by Mark, who swims him to the beech and gives him the most ludicrous form of resuscitation seen on screen “The Paradise Syndrome” in TOS. The modern form of CPR was developed in 1962, but they resisted showing it on TV until the late 80s/early 90s, even on shows like “Emergency,” and when it *was* shown, it was generally a man administering it to a woman, or vice versa, frequently as a segue into a gag where the two of them end up making out. Presumably the reason they resisted showing it accurately on TV for such a long time is that it involves mouth-to-mouth contact, and if both the onscreen characters are dudes, well….you see where this is going, right? I totally get why the network suits might have felt the site of two half-naked, hairless guys doing something that no doubt looked to network execs like the beach scene from “From Here To Eternity” might have seemed a bit too homoerotic for their target demographic.

(By the way, what the hell *was* the target demographic for this show? I’ve been wondering since the second episode. Was it Tiger-Beat-Buying girls? Gay guys? Certainly, it wasn’t aimed at emerging heterosexual ten-year-olds like myself)

So Ted Cassidy shows up with the Bad Wig Brigade, and they instantly grock that Mark is some kinda’ water breathing man fish thing. Chief Ted’s son doesn’t want to get a whuppin’ from his daddy for diving in an unsafe manner without a buddy, so he lies and says Mark tried to kill him. Ted declares Mark a “Sea Devil” (I like the sound of that) and they chain him to a stake to be killed by The Powerful One (Who, you’ll recall is utterly hilariously non-frightening), then scamper off to do clichéd primitive things. Mark frees himself more-or-less instantly, then realizes the Monster has the same personality as a well-trained Labrador Retriever, and goes into the cave, where he meets Muldoon.

Muldoon once again intimates that he likes the group sex, and points out that he’s got a harem of hot Guatemalan chicks who are pretending they’re Polynesian for some reason. He says they’re free to leave any time they want, but they don’t because they worship the monster - “Oscar” - rather than the silly giant pearls they’d worshiped before he got to the island. The two of them quickly realize that “Oscar” is the one who dug up the canisters, and they’re presumably in his cave somewhere, but Muldoon won’t let Mark look unless he bring up The Giant Pearl the natives have been trying to get. Ted Cassidy, meanwhile, is also diving for The Giant Pearl, and gets his arm trapped in a Giant Clam. Mark frees him, and gets his own arm trapped in the clam. Lurch gets away, but since the script calls for both Muldoon and Ted to be idiots, they think Mark is dead. (What? They forgot he breathed water?)

Mark shows up like 30 seconds later - so much for suspense - and says there’s no super-giant pearl, it’s just a myth. Muldoon relents and lets him check out Oscar’s cave, but they find nothing there. Mark goes wandering through the woods for no good reason, and is jumped by the Ted Cassidy Tribe, who want him dead. Oscar lumbers through, carrying another of the canisters, but in the brouhaha he drops it, and it breaks and spews out a purple smoke. (Wait, it was built to withstand the pressure six miles down, but it can’t handle being dropped four feet? What kinda’ mickey mouse operation is the UN running here, anyway? Oh, wait, my bad: that’s entirely typical for the U.N. Sorry.)

Fortunately, this turns out to be a harmless “Buffer Gas,” whatever that is, and then the episode gets a bit fuzzy in its third act, as Man From Atlantis always does. Suffice to say Ted’s son reveals that he’s the kind of liar who’d rather see an innocent man dead than have is dad find out he went swimming without waiting thirty minutes after eating. Lurch seems happy with this realization. Muldoon is outed as a con man, and the Natives decide to burn Oscar to death. The final canister and Trivi are in the cave at the time, however, so Muldoon and Mark try to save them by opening up the “Ceremonial entrance” to the cave, which is blocked “By a boulder the size of Cleveland.” Once they actually get there, it turns out that Muldoon was revering to the president, not the city, and Mark is able to move the ten-ton rock without any great difficulty. Trivi and the rubber suit monster are saved, and they close up the cave so the natives won’t discover their subterfuge.

True to form, the Lurch Clan investigate the cave, find no body, and declare Oscar must have turned into a spirit.

Mark prevails upon Muldoon to send Oscar back to his own dimension - the Dimension of washed up NBA players, as you’ll recall - and the con man agrees so long as he, himself, doesn’t have to go back. The gateway turns out to be a boring old fade between two identical shots of a cliff so that things appear to disappear when you switch between them. Yawn. As Muldoon is saying goodbye to Oscar, Oscar pulls him through the gateway.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

“Cholo” is a racial slur. It’s pretty old Hispanic slang for a person of mixed ethnicity. Presumably its use here was intended as an in-joke, since the people on the island are obviously a mixed group of Caucasians, Asians, and Hispanics, and clearly none of them are real Polynesians. It might also have been a vague reference to Jonathan Swift, who named his famous floating island “Laputa.” In Spanish, that means “The Whore.” Swift was fully aware of this, he just thought it was really funny to have people running around saying “The Whore” a lot without realizing what it meant.

Tony Urbano was the man in the Oscar suit, and he deserves a lot of credit for the performance. He’s required by the script to pick up things and manipulate stuff without an articulated costume, and he also manages to inject a surprising amount of dog-like emotion into the big dumb thing. He’s given an utterly unforgiving and goofy part, and manages to make it almost work. Urbano is a professional puppeteer who’s been working since the early seventies. In addition to this, he did the “Truck Shackley” puppet on the Mandrell show, as well as puppet work “Flight of the Navigator,” “Short Circuit,” “The Abyss“, and “Team America: World Police.” Mister Urbano, if you ever stumble across this review, we’d love to talk to you about your work!

I gotta’ say, Ted Cassidy looks fairly buff for a Marfan Syndrome-afflicted guy pushing fifty. He died about a year after this. Neither here nor there, but Ted was the first choice for the voice of the Imperious Leader on the original Galactica. After production wrapped, they decided it wasn’t working out, and they had Patrick McNee redub all his lines.

Needless to say, the portrayal of Polynesians in this episode is extremely condescending, perhaps even bordering on well-meaning racism. It's hard for me to believe that anyone in the post-civil-rights 1970s would think they could still portray ethnic societies in this way. It amazes me to realize that people evidently thought they all still lived that way.

Muldoon tells his brides to keep hidden from the other villagers, but they’re continually running around on the beach in plain sight. There’s a vague intimation that they’re actually coming out of a secret rear opening to his cave, onto a private beach, but very obviously it’s the same cave on ’Both ends.’ Also, Oscar’s cave, which is allegedly a completely separate one, is obviously the same cave.

Ted Neely is much better this time out as "Muldoon" than he was the first time we saw him. There, he was badly written, and though he had a certain charm, most of that was washed out by his delivery, which can best be described as doing a bad impression of Dirk Bennedict doing a good impression of James Garner as Brett Maverick. (Which is kind of remarkable since "Starbuck" wouldn't be invented for another year). It's toned down quite a bit here, more relaxed, and while I wouldn't call it a "Nuanced" or "Superlative" performance by any stretch of the imagination, he *is* the most interesting character in this episode, far more so than Mark this time out. Frankly, the smoothe-talking dimention-hopping southern con man with an inconvenient concience is far more interesting than the stolid water-breathing superhero. I make no secret of the fact that this show is wearing me down. They only made seventeen episodes, and that's too many by at least sixteen, but, you know, I kind of wouldn't have minded a "Jack Muldoon" spinoff. That would have been cool. Neely appears to have eventually settled for working mostly behind the camera, and he appears to be completely retired now. The most recent credit I can find for him is thirteen years ago.

Remember back in the first movie when they said that Mark is super-strong underwater, but actually is somewhat weaker than an average man on dry land, and tires quickly? Clearly they’ve forgotten that here, as he can move a ten-ton president-sized boulder with only moderate difficulty.

Mark’s superhuman abilities:

- CPR
- Superstrength above water.

Elizabeth gets about three minutes of screen time in this episode, and there’s really no need for the sub in it at all.

I think we’ve got four more episodes to go, and then the long national nightmare known as “Man From Atlantis” will be over.

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