Buck Rogers: The Plot to Kill a City

buck rogersI have to say I was genuinely surprised to find another two part story so close to the start of this series.  It’s not unheard of to do a longer pilot, so having the first story go on for 2 parts felt natural.  When the second one was also a two part story, maybe it could be written off that the pilot was a movie and this is the first episode.  Then we had a standalone before coming here, to the 3rd two-parter.  Now, with this one  done, we don’t get another until the season finale.

I’ve already explained how much I hate those previews at the start of the episodes, so I skip right past them but when I started this, I saw faces I remembered with clarity.  I don’t know why this one stood out to me because I found it a very slow, tedious affair, but I was immediately excited to watch it again because of some vague memory.  Also of interest is that this costars Frank Gorshin as Kellogg, the strategist behind the Legion of Death.  I flag this because just one episode ago, we had Cesar Romero costar.  Both actors were very well known for their roles in Adam West’s Batman series.  Gorshin was the Riddler and Romero was The Joker.

Gorshin’s Kellogg is no Riddler in this episode.  He was actually very akin to Peter Cushing’s character in Star Wars, Grand Moff Tarkin complete with what looks like discarded Imperial attire.  He leads the Legion of Death (and I can’t help but laugh when I think about how they brainstormed that name when they were becoming a corporation…), partnered with a telekinetic name Quince, an empath named Sharese, a martial arts expert (who is quickly dispatched), and a dude who can walk through walls named Varek.  Buck has to infiltrate the group and get them to think he’s another top rated criminal so he can get information on terrorist activities happening back on Earth.  He discovers that the group plan to detonate an antimatter bomb to destroy the “Terran capital” of Chicago.

And the rest is a lot of talking and walking and talking… you get the idea.  The cliffhanger makes us wonder if Buck’s cover has been blown, which it has, but he recovers, only for his cover to be blown again shortly thereafter.  Luckily Batman gave him a utility belt because he keeps these flash grenade things with him that do this wicked liquid swirl effect on the camera which somehow means the bad guys can’t see the good ones, but the heroes can navigate their way around without a problem.  Not sure I buy it!

Speaking of things that haven’t aged well, Buck calling Quince “Porky” because he’s heavy, doesn’t sit well anymore.  Also, that aforementioned martial arts expert?  He had his nerves “partially severed” so he wouldn’t feel pain.  Thing is, when he’s incapacitated, Wilma is able to hold him in check with a neck pinch.  Again, doesn’t work so well, does it?  And, although this episode is basically Varek’s, he does fail on one sense: when Kellogg needs a door opened and they hold a guard hostage to do it, Varek should have just walked through it.  It’s never an easy thing when writing to connect all the dots, but when you make a character who can walk through walls, doing a heist of any sort should come easily.

On the other hand, one thing that really does this episode justice is the outdoor shooting.  It gives the episode a grand scale that is hard to dismiss.  It was probably enormous fun filming this one too.  And as I said, Varek makes the episode.  I always found masked characters interesting and I wonder if it started here.  He wears a nondescript blank face mask that covers all but his mouth.  Eventually we see why.  His people were victims of nuclear radiation and mutated as a result.  When he eventually turns on his master, it’s a triumphant moment, but he’s badly hurt in the process.  In a clever bit of storytelling, he’s left alive while Wilma takes him for help.  While I’ve no expectation of seeing him again, Sharese also survives and escapes while her confederates are destroyed in their starfighters.  I do hope she returns at some point.  Interesting, isn’t it?  If the good guys shoot and kill the bad guys, their actions are questionable but if you shoot and destroy the bad guy’s spaceship while he’s in it, it’s not viewed as harshly.  Make of it what you will.

When I was wrapping up my discussion about the last episode, I had commented unknowingly on the lack of aliens in this series – or at least aliens that look alien.  Well, my wish came true and it was a “be careful what you wish for” moment.  Buck sees a woman at a bar and flirts with her.  She turns and has the head of an elephant.  Buck leaves in a hurry, as do my hopes of there being more aliens in Buck Rogers.  I’m just hoping for more good stories; we don’t need aliens to make that happen.  This one had a good idea and about enough plot for one episode.  Still you can see the cast and crew are having fun while making it.  That should count for something.   ML  

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4 Responses to Buck Rogers: The Plot to Kill a City

  1. Roger Pocock says:

    Doctor Who gave us rhino headed aliens. Why not an elephant? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    This one brings back some good memories of how serious this show could be. Certainly regarding Varek (a very good performance by Anthony James) whom I felt great compassion for. It was also another good sci-fi performance by Frank Gorshin as Kellogg after Star Trek and Wonder Woman. To comprehend how manipulatively evil and corrupt a villainous force could be, this episode was among the most important in my childhood. Thank you, ML, for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the best episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

    Agreed that Anthony James, who typically played bad guys, turned in a wonderfully subtle, sympathetic performance.

    I also thought it was interesting that pretty much every actor who guest starred as a villain on this show went completely over the top — Jack Palance as Kaeel really set the stage for this — except for Frank Gorshin on this story. He’d already given a completely manic performance as the Riddler on Batman a decade earlier, so it’s cool to see Gorshin go in completely the opposite direction here, playing Seton Kellogg as this intense, brooding, dangerously low-key figure.

    This one was written by Alan Brennert, who is a huge comic book fan, and who during the 1980s wrote a handful of incredibly well-done stories for DC Comics. A few years ago on Facebook when I asked him about this story Brennert acknowledged that the Legion of Death was loosely inspired by the Legion of Super-Villains from the Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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