RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Siren” (Season 2, Episode 12)

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Curiouser and curiouser: Here we are at the ragged end of this clearly-failing season, in a sinking ship of a show that must have been clearly obvious to all concerned that it wasn’t going to finish out the season, down to the wire, nearing the end of its life. Beyond that, they’re almost undoubtedly still reeling from the shot of last week’s episode - “Imp” - which very likely could be the single most embarrassing science fiction-related thing in the entire decade. (Seriously, the “Triad” scenes from the original Galactica are less humiliating. ) And then, one episode before what surely everyone must have known was the end, one of the co-stars conspicuously disappears!

PLAY BY PLAY

Laurette Spang is scuba diving. She comes up and swims to a boat where she meets some old dude. She comments about how there was a call for him when he was diving, but she decided not to tell him about it before she dove. He says he need quiet time to catch up with his daughter. A submarine comes by, and a man dressed in pirate clothes looks through the periscope and says “that one man is a treasure.” Mark is swimming around this whole time. On the sub, the Pirate Captain goes into a cabin that has a young Asian mermaid girl, and tells her to sing, or else he’ll kill her fuzzy little pet. She does. “It’s nice, isn’t it? Like a narcotic.”

A whole bunch of people we’ve never seen before come onto the Cetacean and take various duty stations. Jomo, the helmsman is stuck on some undefined console off to the side, replaced by a white dude. The mustachioed Hispanic guy is likewise replaced by a white dude, and busted down to running the airlock. Jane, the Asian communications chick is simply gone, and her position has been filled by a white chick. A woman named “Jenny” announces herself as the Cetacean’s science officer, as if we’re supposed to already know who she is, and takes another console.

Mark sees the boat, and climbs aboard, to find Laurette Spang in a bikini and terrified. She won’t calm down, so he takes her back to the Cetacean, then back to Seabase, and from thence to a hospital. Mark decides to go to the beach to think. Jenny comes by and talks to him. He talks about sound that can affect people’s nervous systems. Jenny says “There’s a legend.” Mark says ‘tell me?” but Jenny says “It’s just a myth, you can’t hear a myth.” Mark has vague memories of a creature that could do such a thing. CW informs Mark that the missing man from the boat was a big muckety-muck defense scientist, and if he’s been kidnapped the entire country is in danger.

Mark visits Laurette Spang in the hospital, where, unfortunately, she’s no longer wearing the bikini. He sings to her in the goofiest fashion imaginable - he just lets his mouth hang open and they dub sounds over it - and she comes out of her coma, tells Mark of the pirate sub, and her dad.

Out goes the Cetacean again. In relatively short order, they find the pirate sub (I just sort of like the sound of that: “Pirate Sub.”) which attacks them using the Siren’s song broadcast out of a directional speaker. This incapacitates the sub. Mark swims outside to make some repairs, and they they get attacked again because the episode’s running short this week. Mark swims over to the bad guys and gets in. He quickly finds the muckety muck old dude, who’s been attacked with the Siren’s song, and has given up all his secrets to the pirates, who intend to sell them to various foreign powers. Mark frees the guy - who’s having trouble walking - and goes in the next room to find the siren. Mark sings to her in the goofy manner previously described, and she is happy to see him, realizing he’s an ally, or at least a man who travels with his own Foley team. Then she sees his webbed hands: Yup, he’s an ally.

Mark and the old muckety muck dude get caught, and the pirate instructs the siren to sing him to death, which she does only because the pirate captain threatens her pet again. Mark dies. The pirates come to clean out the body, and Mark suddenly resurrects, KOs them, frees the old dude again, and makes his escape. The pirate sub depth-charges the Cetacean, so they do the old “Play dead” trick while Mark swims out and bends their directional speaker around to point at the pirate sub, then swims back. The pirate captain orders a siren attack on the Cetacean, but of course this immediately backfires thanks to Mark’s chicanery, and all the pirates get sung to death.

Mark leaves the siren on a beach with her little pet. They smile at each other, and as he turns back to look at her, she’s gone. Jenny asks Mark to explain what the hell this whole episode was about, and he says “Nothing happened. As you told me yourself, no one can hear a myth singing.”

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

The most striking thing about this episode is the complete and total absence of Elizabeth. They mention that she’s in Washington on assignment. That’s the same excuse they used to explain Artie’s absence from the fifth season of The Wild Wild West. Had this show continued, I can only imagine that Elizabeth would have returned ten episodes later, having dropped 40 pounds, dressing like a Mississippi riverboat gambler, and walking with a cane.

But seriously, what’s going on here? This episode shows every evidence of having been rewritten on a moment’s notice. The new character, “Jenny,” has one line of introduction, and CW claims he’s talking on the phone to Elizabeth at one point, but both of those are blink-and-you-miss-’em scenes that could have been tacked on to the script in literally a few minutes. Apart from these, “Jenny” delivers “Elizabeth”-styled lines in pretty much the same way Elizabeth does so, and more-or-less fulfils Belinda Montgomery’s normal role in the show. Obviously, the script was adapted by holding it up to the wall and banging a few nails through it.

Ms. Montgomery’s only other credit during this period is a move called “Blackout,” which, I suppose, *could* have been in production at the same time as this episode was filming, but I don’t know that, and why is an actor under contract to a show working on a movie during the TV season? That’s highly unusual and rarely done. But here’s the thing: If she got a part in a movie and they wanted to accommodate her, clearly they’d know about it weeks or months in advance and write around it. Conversely, when an episode is rewritten in such a haphazard fashion as this one was, it pretty much *only* happens when there’s a last-minute surprise that no one anticipated. It pretty much only happens when they’re left in the lurch.

So more than likely, they hadn’t been anticipated Belinda Montgomery’s absence when they went into preproduction for this one. So where was she? Pretty clearly it wasn’t “Blackout,” unless she just quit the show and ran off to do a movie, giving no one any warning. Ms. Montgomery has worked steadily for thirty years, I can’t imagine she’d do that. So what happened? Did she quit? Was she fired? Was she sick? If I ever get a chance to speak with her about this series, that’s the first thing I’m gonna’ ask her. The second will be “When did you realize it was all going horribly wrong on the show?”

Presumably, some of these questions will be answered when we review Episode 13. If “Jenny” is there, rather than “Elizabeth,” then presumably Ms. Montgomery was off the show. If she’s back, then it was just a sudden attack of la grippe or something.

Storywise, this one is far less goofy than the last one, it’s nowhere near as embarrassing, but it’s still pretty weak, and there’s lots of imponderables: How did the prates get the sub? Why does the sub use depth charges rather than torpedoes? How did the pirates get the siren? What is the siren, anyway? How is it possible that modern science hasn’t discovered a race of merfolk. What was her ’fuzzy little pet?’ We’re never told. It’s weird since it felt like it was going to be relevant to the plot, a big reveal later on, like it was her baby or something, but, nope, it’s just a pet. We don’t get a good look at it, but it looks like a small basket sponge with Christmas lights run through it.

A couple new abilities for Mark:
- He speaks siren
- He can sing without moving his lips.
- Mark can cure some people of siren-related comas.

The episode moves briskly, at least, and without the tedium that has plagued this show thus far. And it’s got Laurette Spang - best known as “Cassiopeia” from the original Battlestar Galactica - in a bikini. Granted, I always preferred Maren Jensen, as I tend towards brunettes, but still….grrrrrrrrrowl!

Living as I do in the 21st century, it took me a few moments to realize the little Asian mer-girl was wearing a blonde Edgar Winter wig. I mean, blonde Asian girls are fairly commonplace these days, just look at Sierra from Dollhouse. It took me a minute to remember how strange that would have looked back in the day. She’s got a prosthetic forehead with a kind of ‘Vulcan monobrow’ thing going on.

Playboy Centerfold/hubba hubba actress Colleen Camp is allegedly in this episode somewhere, but I couldn’t spot her. I presume she’s one of the new button-pushers on the bridge of the sub.

Neville Brand plays the pirate captain. He’s an extremely distinctive looking guy with a strong voice. I don’t say this much about the casting on this show, but he’s right for the part, though it seems a bit much to have the guy dress like an actual pirate. Also: how did Mark mysteriously know the guy’s name, since no one said it through the entire story?

We get a few new special effects this time out - depth charges going off near the sub, a goofy sonic-ray effect, the sub sinking to the bottom with red emergency lights on, that sort of thing. There’s also an interestingly bad new special effect they’re trying out where Mark is clearly underwater, clearly swimming, but they appear to have tried to matte in a background. It’s like he’s swimming in a water tank in front of a blue screen. It really doesn’t work, there’s heavy matte lines around him in all these shots, though I can certainly see the appeal of trying that approach. This show had to be grueling on the actor and time consuming for the production staff.

We also get a good low-angle shot of the control room, showing that the original lighting has been mostly replaced. We also get a good look at the sickbay for the first time.

Man, did the interior of that pirate sub look fake! Oh, and all the external shots of the sub in motion had their aspect wildly out of whack. Sometimes the sub is all scrunched up and stocky, sometimes it’s impossibly thin, as if it was grabbed from a cinemascope film and compressed to fit the screen. I’m sure it was, really. It feels like stock footage. Oh, almost forgot: at one point the pirate captain refers to their sound projector dealie as "The outside mic." It should obviously be "The outside speaker." Clearly, if the writers can't keep track of such simple things, more demanding stuff like logic and coherence are gonna' be lost on them.

And that's exactly what we see here: In the end, a story without subtlety, nuance, or dash, but with no shortage of stupid.

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