Saturday, September 20, 2008

CULT TV BLOGGING: Quark: "May the Source Be With You" (1978)

Buck Henry's first target on Quark (1978) was Star Trek, in particular those episodes of the classic series that concerned dangerous cosmic space phenomena ("The Immunity Syndrome"). Henry's second target is - naturally - the (then) recent blockbuster, Star Wars.

The first regular episode of Quark is thus appropriately entitled "May the Source Be With You," and it ribs almost every aspect of Lucas's supreme space fantasy. To wit Henry Silva appears as the evil High Gorgon Leader (wearing a Darth Vader helmet and boasting a mechanical arm); he commands a massive space-fortress (like the Death Star), and harnesses a weapon that could easily destroy space station Perma One.

Once more, it is Captain Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) and his crew of colorful misfits to the rescue. This week, Ficus (Richard Kelton) is added to the mix as the logical alien Ficus, a Vegeton. In the best tradition of the original Star Trek, Ficus and Quark debate human emotions (particularly love), and Quark ends up flustered and irritated by the talkative resident alien.

But the Star Wars parody comes fully into play as Quark takes on the Gorgons with the help of the United Galaxy's secret weapon: a disembodied voice called The Source (think Ben Kenobi saying "use the Force" to Luke Skywalker during the final Death Star trench nauseum.)

The only problem is that the Source has been out to pasture for 200 years and is, well, kind of rusty. Oh, and the Source is also insecure and easily offended. For instance, he demands unquestioning belief from Quark, even though the Source keeps making mistakes...or forgetting to share important information (like the fact that Quark should be carrying a bomb across a light bridge so as to destroy the Gorgon doomsday weapon).... The Source is also a vain know-it-all, and a nag. To complete the job of destroying the Gorgon weapon, for instance, he demands that Quark and his crew cheer him on. They do so, under great duress.

Remember the scene in Star Wars on the Millennium Falcon, in which Luke adorns a helmet and uses the Force - instead of his eyes - to repel a small spherical probe? Quark parodies that scene in "May the Source Be With You" as the Source instructs Gene/Jean, the Betty Clones and Ficus to tune their lasers to a low setting, and then fire simultaneously -- and repeatedly -- at Quark. Meanwhile, if Quark believes in the Source, he will be able to use a small glowing sphere to repel all the blasts. Not a single gamma gun blast will touch him...

Guess whether or not Quark gets shot. Or more accurately, guess how many times Quark gets shot. And where.

Besides mocking elements of Star Wars, "May the Source Be With You" also takes the time to develop many of the Quark supporting characters here. Andy the robot is cowardly (again), but then finds his courage and charges a group of three or four Gorgon soldiers. Over the course of the episode, Andy continues to recount this heroic story, adding to the number of enemies he faced down. By the end, the robot is saying "did I ever tell you about the time I charged 57 Gorgons?"

Gene/Jean the transmute, meanwhile, alternates between attacking Gorgon soldiers, and going totally femme, as you might expect given his nature as both male and female. Also, the Clones attempt to send a long distance call to Perma One, and - in the face of Gorgon resistance -- claim (ridiculously) not to know one another. Despite the fact they are identical twins. And dressed identically too...

In the final analysis, the thing that makes "May the Source Be With You" so memorable is the fact that -- after all the fireworks and comedy -- the series aims for something deeper. Allow me to explain: Quark must return "The Source" to a small container on Perma One. There the Source will wait alone, perhaps for another two hundred years or more, until needed again. The strange thing is that despite the comedy, despite the silliness, this final goodbye between Quark and the Source is actually touching in some strange way. All episode long, the Source has been an irritant to Quark, getting him into all kinds of trouble. And yet, there's also something heroic and wonderful about this "force.". And then, in the coda, Quark seems to acknowledge that their relationship has been more than an irritant. He is is courteous and downright tender to the Old Source as the old spirit is put out to pasture again. There's something magical and right and very human about this valedictory moment.

What it reveals is that Quark -- like the "source" material it borrows from (Star Trek and Star Wars) -- boasts a heart as well as a funny bone.


  1. Glad they finally released this! Great series! BTW, before the Sci-Fi Channel started up, they were at a convention we attended, asking people what they would like to see on the channel. We mentioned Quark and they said they hadn't considered it because they "heard sci-fi fans don't like humor." ::cough::

  2. I still have to get around to ordering the DVD of Quark !!