I’m starting to think half the fun of these episodes is seeing who I’ll recognize. The volume of celebs that were part of this series is really amazing me and I am enjoying seeing who turns up from my childhood. In Unchained Woman, screen legend Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Jen Burton, a wrongly imprisoned woman. Buck is going to rescue her to find out more about the person who committed the criminal acts she’s taken the rap for, Malary Pantera.
Surprisingly, the rescue is all completed in the first act, but what follows is very reminiscent of genre classic Westworld. In an episode that goes out of its way to establish that androids are part of Bucks world, one android, damaged during the escape attempt, goes berserk looking for Buck and Jen (even though he spots a number of other escapees clustered together). The sequence might as well feature Yul Brynner recreating his role in the scifi western. This android, Hugo, the name Buck gives this droid, is determined to get Buck and Jem back at any cost. During a fight in the desert, Hugo falls into a pit with a sand squid, and is dispatched… only to emerge later, having defeated the squid. It’s all alarming but enthralling too. When he arrives in town, after his hike across the desert, I had to laugh that the android lets out a deep bellow, but I almost wonder if that was a nervous laugh. It was a bit freaky in its intensity. In fact, there’s a brief scene at the end where we are lead to believe the android might still be functional and might go on the rampage once more. Well done capturing some of the qualities of a classic!
Equally surprising is a message that probably would have blown past the average teenager, but it was worth including. Jen always thought Pantera would come for her and now that she’s free, she finds he has another woman (Majel) under his thrall. Jen tells Majel that she’ll be next. In other words, once Pantera is done with her or she has outlived her usefulness, he’ll turn on her too. When it happens at the end, Jen turns and reminds her; “I told you, you’d be next!” Perhaps not what people want to hear, but it is good to be able to identify a user.
There are also a few noteworthy moments that don’t add a lot to the story, but do enhance the writing. When Dr. Hauer finds out that his old friend Ted Warwick has been secretly sharing information with Pantera, he reacts casually and says he wishes he were more surprised, then asks for the data. In other words, he doesn’t try to fight it; he acknowledges it with resignation and approaches the news logically and seeks a solution. Again, surprisingly mature writing. Also, when Jen asks “with who?”, Buck corrects her: “whom!” Maybe this wasn’t groundbreaking writing, but it did stand out to me. Not to mention, the writers kept track of little things like how Buck uses phrases that have been out of circulation for over 500 years. He even questions the co-ed penal system that’s in place. Jen asks incredulously, “how else would you do it?” I like that the writers add little touches like this. Some of today’s shows fail to do this level of worldbuilding!
There’s also a little weaselly fellow named Sergio (“twerp”) who steals every scene he’s in. His best line however is his insult to Buck who is “unnaturally tall”. He refers to Buck as “Hyperthyroid!” (I never thought to use that as an insult, but it made me laugh deeply.) He is both deplorable as a person and infinitely watchable as a character.
The episode might as well have had a lesson like the old G.I. Joe cartoons with “the more you know” floating over Buck’s head. I felt the overall message on this story was “loose lips sink ships.” From the start Hauer tells Ted what’s going on for no logical reason and it nearly costs them everything. In fact, everyone who talks out of turn in this story gets to feel the wrath of loose lips. Still, it ends up being a very fast paced episode of Buck Rogers. It still retains a lot of the pulp qualities of its origin (including the title) but tells the story with style. Considering it’s only 2 years after Space: 1999, it’s amazing how much more fun was added to these scripts. John Koenig could have learned something here. ML
It was interesting seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in this Buck Rogers episode after first seeing her in a few slasher films. Being cast as a wrongfully convicted woman whom Buck can fatefully rescue can be another good sign of how Buck being awakened in this future is a Godsend for many people. For a show that was meant to give us an inspiring hero in troubling times, it was certainly important. In these trying times it’s refreshing to reflect on such heroes, both fictional and real. Thank you, ML.
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