RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Quark: “Goodbye, Polumbus” (Episode 5)

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We’re now more than halfway through the run of this series, and this is the third mostly-decent episode in a row, so I think we can fairly start to make some generalizations about the series: Quark’s modus operandi in 1978 was to do whatever Star Trek did in 1968.

This is the third episode in a row to rip off a specific Star Trek episode. In this case, it’s “Shore Leave.” While I’m a fan of on-target parodies and laziness, this one is so close to the original - right down to a lost love from the Academy - that I can only hope Ted Sturgeon got some royalties for it. Yeah, I know Parody is a legitimate form of free speech, and I support that (Obviously I would. I’m a funny guy. Where would I be without irony?), but at some point you’re not really skewering an already-skewed world view, you’re just ripping people off.

That said: Kinda’ funny.

Following the standard model for these episodes: Quark and two other commanders meet up at Palindrome’s office to get their assignments. One of ‘em is a huge alien named “Freddy Estro,” whom Quark used to babysit “When you were just twelve feet tall. Wow! You’ve really shortened well, but I guess you must get that a lot!” and a jackass robot called “Commander Walker.” (“Nobody likes you, Commander Walker.”) Dink makes a token appearance. We’re also introduced to another alien named - if I heard correctly - “Dunk,” which is basically Dink with fake eyebrows and some blonde highlights in his (?) Cousin Itt costume.

Their assignments: Freddy is given “A five day mission to explore strange new worlds and new civilizations.” Walker is sent to a wine-tasting party by the Head (“I’d go myself, but wine goes straight to my head”). Quark is assigned to go to the planet Polumbus and find out why no one’s ever come back from Polumbus. He’s less than thrilled, since eight starships have been lost in the area. “Can you at least give me some idea as to why they never come back?” “No, because no one’s ever come back to tell us.” Quark argues that he’s just a garbage man, but Palindrome explains that starships are too noticeable, too well armed, too threatening, too high-profile, but who’d suspect an old out of date garbage scow? Oh, and also he suspects the Gorgons are behind this.

Quark decides to leave Gene/Jean on the ship, and takes Ficus and the Bettys with him. “We’d follow you to the ends of the world, Adam,” they say. “I’ll follow you to the door,” Andy says. By the way, this is the third time in a row that we’ve seen the Betty’s fatalistic streak: In “The Old and the Beautiful,” and “The Good, The Bad, and the Ficus,” they instantly concluded that Quark was going to die, and this was (Creepily) kind of a turn on for them. This time out, they both grab on to him and start babbling about how romantic it’ll be to die with him. “That’s great girls, but I’m hoping it won’t end up being all that romantic down there.”

On the planet, they immediately find people. The Bettys get waylaid by identical Adam Quarks in silver leotards (Again, they shoot this with body doubles and close ups in such a way as to avoid costly split-screen effects. MAN is this show cheap!). The four of them start dancing in slow motion. The Bettys are really bad at it. I mean, I’m a heterosexual man, and even I can tell they’re really sloppy and un-focused. Quark has them beamed back up to the scow, but they whine to Andy, who gives in and sends them back down. They start dancing again.

Quark keeps seeing this really hot auburn-haired chick running around in a nightgown (Ty Randolph, better known as “Mindi Miller,” from “Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back.” She’s also known as Lisa Berenger, Kirstie Deveraux and Windsor Taylor Randolph. Here’s one of the few non-nude shots of her I could find: She’s the one on the right, though she’s quite a bit younger in this episode. Despite the multiplicity of names, she wasn’t a porn chick as far as I can tell, but rather a former stuntwoman.) He goes off to investigate, though Ficus warns him that this planet has the ability to cloud people’s minds.

One of the captains of one of the previous expeditions is making out with this hot chick, and doesn’t want to leave because, hey, hot chicks! He also mentions that they all worship “The Limbacon,” which is “In the sacred valley beyond the Roddenberry bush.” (I admit it: I laughed that that, both for the obvious reasons and the less obvious dirty one) Ficus gets distracted by a hot teacher (Maggie Sullivan, who I can’t find a picture of) and the two of them talk dirty equations, with her voice sounding more orgasmic as they go along. “And we haven’t even gotten to calculus yet,” Ficus smirks.

Quark meets up with the hot chick he’s been following. She looks familiar, but he can’t place it. They make out for a while. Gene/Jean and Andy are watching this from the ship. Gene gets annoyed and beams down to (once again) declare the captain incompetent and attempt to take command of the ship. “We finally get a good suicide mission, and I’m stuck on the ship while you’re down here doing mushy stuff!” suddenly some amazingly gay-looking villains show up wearing women’s hosiery. (I mean “Gay” literally here) and start shooting at Quark and the others. They run away as Gene identifies them as the bad guys from “Zoltar the Magnificent.”

“You’re a Zoltar fan, aren’t you commander?”
“Those are stories intended for nine year olds!”
“Yeah, I’m a big fan, too!”

Eventually they meet up with Zoltar, who’s an archetypical superhero: Cape, leotard, underwear on the outside, boots (And seriously, what is it about this episode and guys in tights?) Quark protests the absurdity of them getting killed by fictional characters from a children’s entertainment tape. “Twenty five entertainment tapes, actually,” Zoltar corrects, “With a combined total sales of eight billion copies, second only to the earth Bible and Foofar the Foo.” A dustup ensues, with Quark taking a swing at one of the gay-looking (But not actually gay, we’re informed, in fact extremely horny) bad guys. He misses and KOs Gene/Jean. The moment the Transmute goes down, Zoltar and the horny warriors in the women’s underwear disappear.

Quark realizes they disappeared because it was an illusion generated by Gene’s mind, and once he went unconscious, it disappeared. He goes to find the Limbicon. By this point, Quark has realized the hot chick he’s making out with is Diana, the girl he was in love with from his academy days, but he couldn’t even get her to look at him. She informs him in no uncertain terms that she’ll be his forever, and never age if he just accepts things as they are. If he destroys the Limbicon, however, he’ll be “Destroying heaven.” He decides to do it anyway, and tells her to get out of his line of sight. She tells him to take one last look, and I’ve gotta’ say, she’s pretty smoking’ for a seventies chick.

“I hope Palindrome appreciates what I’m sacrificing for this mission.”

He shoots, the Limbicon blows up, and he meets a woman - still Ty Randolph, but now wearing a leotard, and covered in clay - who explains she’s the queen of The Clay People, the true in habitants of Polumbus, who have been enslaved by the Limbicon, a device put there by the Gorgons to drain information from the scientists and military folk who came there to study the place. Sure, why not. She wants to make out with Quark some more, but he’s repulsed by her (In fact, she’s still pretty smoking’), but he ends up covered in clay as she goes back to her people.

Back on the ship, Quark reports in and Palindrome pretty much just thinks he’s nuts, which makes no sense whatsoever, given that he knew something weird was afoot there when he sent Quark out on the suicide mission in the first place.

Oh, and there’s a subplot about Andy having a crush on the Bettys, and a robogirlfriend back on Perma One named “Mandy.” (She’s Commander Walker’s body, with Andy’s head on top of it) They get into a fight because he keeps accidentally calling her “Betty.”

The End.

The title of the episode is a nod to the 1969 film, “Goodbye, Columbus,” which was based on a Philip Roth novella of the same name, and which starred Richard “Adam Quark” Benjamin. That movie (And the story) are about class differences in the Jewish-American community at the time, and about Benjamin’s doomed love for a woman he can have, but can’t keep for class reasons. It’s a pretty good movie, even if it does co-star Ali MacGraw.

Mostly, however, that’s really just a throwaway gag, and any link between that story and Quark’s doomed romance with the hubba-hubba stuntwoman is pretty tendentious at best. Mostly, this is just a ripoff (or “Homage” if you’re feeling generous) of another ‘Trek episode.

On the whole, the acting is getting better. Keltner/Ficus - really the best thing about the show - has settled into his very dry comedy nicely. Quark/Benjamin has finally gotten a bead on Quark’s frustrated ambitions and neurotic aversion to danger, turning him into a serviceable comedic leading man, rather than just a cipher. Thomerson/Gene is less histrionic. Andy is genuinely funny now in small doses. The Bettys are still terrible in everything they do, but you can’t have everything.

(As a side-note, one of the Bettys slides into an accent for just an instant in this episode, obviously accidentally. I looked ‘em up, and sure enough, the girls are from Kentucky. Could that be part of their oddly oversexed sexlessness on this show? That they‘re putting so much energy into suppressing an accent as well as remembering lines and dancing badly? )

Direction and blocking are better. The story was more involved (because they’re ripping off a better quality of TOS episodes now).

This was kind of a prize for me, actually: I definitely didn’t see this episode in the original run of the series thirty-two years ago.

So is the series great? No. Is it getting better? Yes. Is it funny? Well, really more “Funny-ish” would be a better way to describe it.