This is an unexpected episode because I was surprised by the premise. It features a group of aging fighters being called out of retirement to help with an attack on an enemy base. I’m not really sure it makes sense in the grand scheme because, where are all the other fighters that work for the Earth Defense, but let’s ignore that. Peter Graves stars as Noah, a sort of pseudo-father to Wilma who was forced into retirement too soon. Now he’s needed and the story goes out of its way to show us that sometimes the old ways are better. Surely you can’t be serious? I am serious and don’t call me Shirley.
Let’s take Buck and Wilma for instance: they are the ones that get captured and the newer starfighters are easily defeated by the enemy. The message is wonderfully modern for a show from the late 70’s. But I was vexed while watching it. I wanted Peter Graves to start asking Twiki if he’d ever seen a grown man naked or watched gladiator movies. At the very least, a “roger, Rogers” would have been so perfect. Unfortunately, this aired in October of 1979; Airplane came out less than a year later, but none of those referenced would have meant anything to someone watching Buck. And that’s such a shame.
A big problem with this episode is how campy the villains are. Roxanne has a cybernetic hand that looks like it was created by a kid in grade school. Commander Corliss has a (presumably) cybernetic eye and burns all over his face. As all villains do, they talk about their plans in front of the deaf/mute slave girl, Alicia, who doesn’t like what she’s (not) hearing. When she meets Buck, who knows sign language, she bonds with him. Let’s face it, Gil Gerard plays a very likable character. It was bound to happen! In fact, there are moments where I think he’s fantastic as well. At one point, he smiles broadly at these stoic guards hoping to break their immobile faces. Later, he grabs a gatling gun and our main villain says it’s a signaling device. Buck unloads and quips, “get the message?”
Unfortunately, the episode wastes a lot of time between Wilma asking Noah out of retirement which serves to establish that the reason she wanted him benched was because she couldn’t imagine a life without him. It’s a sweet sentiment, but takes too much of the story. We also waste too much time watching the baddies be baddies which just serves to make us like them less. These are not Darth Vader level villains despite the attempt at capturing some of the Star Wars aesthetic. In fact, the aliens that we’re starting to see sprinkled through the series all seem to hang out in bars. Anyway, about those villains, during one fight scene, Corliss runs to a nearby technician to have a chat while his wife and guards fight Buck and Wilma. It’s a little cringe-worthy. (Funny though because when he comes back, Buck and Wilma have been detained. It’s like he left the exciting stuff to do something tedious and for some reason the camera crew followed him instead of the action scene, then came back and found the action completed!)
I will be honest though: when the episode wrapped and it looked like Noah was lost when he successfully bombed the enemy base, I did get weepy-eyed. Even though this episode was not chock full of great characters, Erin Grey’s performance made Noah’s unexpected return have such meaning that I choked up. Maybe it was the dinner I had while watching it, but I did feel relief for this guy’s safe return! That surprised me. Then, Buck manages to reunite Alicia with her mom and dad, and I found myself overjoyed. It’s not every day a show from 1979 makes you punch the air!
Unfortunately, it’s not all rosy. When Wilma needs to distract 3 guards, the music gets all sexy in the same way that classic Trek used to go all soft focus. Then she asks the guard what time he gets off so maybe they can get together. The other two guards walk up and start smiling at her. She then says (and I’m not kidding…) “I’m talking to all three of you”. Wow… what did they think was going to happen!? Having managed to distract them, Alicia manages to help rescue Buck. Wilma then has the guards strip so they can take the uniforms. But Alicia is about a foot smaller than even the smallest of the guards. Yeah… I guess the clothes shrink to fit the wearer in the 25th Century?
It’s not a great episode but it does have a few funny moments. Buck tells two trainees to “clam up” and they ask, “what’s a clam”. While funny, it again establishes that these people live in a world that is not ours. Later, while one of the older fighters is piloting his ship, his copilot is giving tactical instructions mixed with the words, “stop humming” which caught me off-guard enough that I did laugh. Nothing to write home about overall, but I did find the theme of agism impressive. But maybe I’m getting older and I needed to hear that I still have some life in me yet too. Now I’ll consider that as I hum the theme tune before I go to bed. ML
Old ways can often seem better and it can easily take a story about one or more of our older heroes to make a new world come to grips with that. When we realize how over-dependent we’ve become to adapting to new things and new systems, particularly when they can dangerously let us down, it gives us an even healthier appreciation for our elders for their wisdom and those like Peter Graves who may shine all the brighter in such roles. As for separating Graves in this or anything else from his controversially comedic role as Capt. Oveur in the Airplane films, I for one found it easy enough when I started seeing him in other things including Mission: Impossible. I think it’s the best respect that we should have for any actor, despite our shares of naturally morbid imaginations. Thank you, ML, for your review.
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