Buck Rogers: Ardala Returns

buck rogersI’ve said before when referring to all of the shows we watch: they can’t all be winners.  And I stand by that with Ardala Returns because most of the episode had me waiting for something exciting to happen and, if I’m honest, it never really does.  Yeah, the astronaut found in the shuttle with the head that falls off was surprising but that was a brief moment at best.  Then, about mid-way in, I found I was invested regardless and I credit that to the actors.  They are hugely entertaining even when the plot could be stronger.

Our favorite Draconian princess is back, if the title didn’t help figure it out.  She’s angry about how she was treated by Earth and plans to destroy New Chicago.  You know, because it’s the only city everyone knows.  To do this, she has Kane (Michael Ansara) produce copies of Buck with the plan to send him back to Earth with an atom bomb planted inside him and blow the place up…

This episode has a lot to take in despite being a bit slow moving.  First off, a copy of Buck interacting with himself is comedy gold.  Gerard takes all that we love about our Buck and puts it on steroids to create a much more exuberant version of himself and that leads to some great moments.  Even his escape attempt, pretending to be an automaton, is hilarious.  Later, when Ardala has 3 versions of him in the same room, we get to see many aspects of the same character and I think it’s a shame we didn’t get to explore this in more detail because it had hints of Trek’s The Enemy Within where we could have delved into the human psyche more.  Now, on that note,  perhaps this episode should have been remade on another network.

“What can she conceivably do with three Buck Rogers’ for an hour and a half?”  Kane sums up so much about this episode with one line.  Ardala has 3 copies of Buck in her room as she continues to wear the sexiest attire in space history so there’s little doubt what she wants to do with him.  But Buck won’t have it.  He can’t even accept her as a consort because he just doesn’t love her.  Aw.  But this leads to a powerful and unexpected moment: Ardala looks at herself in the mirror and cries.  This may have been foreshadowed earlier in the episode when Kane thinks he pays her a compliment and says “you are truly your father’s daughter”; she looks somewhat shaken by this.  She knows something prevents Buck from loving her but can’t quite come to grips with exactly what that is; she doesn’t know how to be anything but herself.  And yet, in the end, she still harbors a crush on him.  To my surprise, this may have been one of my earliest memories of a villain who is more than a traditional “bad-guy”.

I was also impressed with the idea that for all the copying Kane pulled off, he was not able to capture the human spirit.  Again, this is deeper than I would have expected but the show misses the mark in not exploring that a little more; there was something good here if they just spent a bit more time on it.  “Congratulations Champ!”  As usual, there are loads of great lines.  Twiki ends up making me laugh more and more, and I’m surprised to think I didn’t like him when I started watching.  Ansara is always a great villain (and ironically appeared in The Outer Limits episode Soldier with Dr. Huer’s Tim O’Connor) and at one point he questions Ardala with, “If you doubt me, why are you aiding me?”  It may not be the writing gold of today’s shows, but the fact that it was a line at all felt refreshing.  It’s beyond the caricature villains we’ve come to expect.

Two things need to be addressed.  One of the rogue Buck’s does make it to the planet and a countdown begins before the bomb goes off.  With 1 second to go, Wilma realizes the bomb is Buck and shoots him – with a dematerialization beam!  First, how long have they had that tech and second, if she were wrong, she would have just murdered her friend.  Granted she’d have less than a second to live with her life choices, but it was a shock move.  Also, how did Kane make such a good copy of Buck??  This, like the Space: 1999 episode The Taybor, makes us wonder how many other events this technology just neutralized.  I’ll have to see how it might impact future episodes.    The irony is that by referencing Space:1999, I’m reminded again of how often that show failed where characterization was concerned and how often this one gets it right.  Even if Buck Rogers fails with a future story, I think I’ll be quicker to forgive it.

The episode opened with Buck asking for a ping pong table and getting a “ping pool” table instead.  That bizarre amalgam of two things works surprisingly well to explain this episode.  It’s part comedy, part melodrama, but somehow it remains fun to play even if it doesn’t quite do what it set out to do.  It’s definitely not the best I’ve seen and it does make me wonder if Ardala can change and maybe, before the series ends, Buck might fall for the Princess.  I feel like she may deserve it because she does seem to really want to be with Buck and, to my surprise, I would actually like to see it happen!  But maybe that’s too much to hope for.  ML

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1 Response to Buck Rogers: Ardala Returns

  1. scifimike70 says:

    When a villain is more than just a villain, enough to earn some kind of sympathy, it’s always good mind and heart candy for the audience. Ardala qualifies here and certainly when she looks into a mirror, tries to maintain her self-resolve and says “I am Princess Ardala!”. Seeing her and Buck in true love would be nice in that sense. Thank you, ML, for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

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