"An Act of Love" is either one of The Fantastic Journey's finest episodes, or one of the series' worst, depending on your point of view. Specifically, the emotional content and heartfelt handling of the dramatis personae is deeply affecting.
But, contrarily, the gimmick by which this character development arises is actually pretty ham handed and ridiculous.
So appreciating "An Act of Love" is all about loving the sinner, perhaps, but not the sin. I don't know...
Despite the fact that they have just met.
Now in love with the high priestess's daughter, Varian is next in line for this treatment.
Scott is deeply upset to be losing Varian, a friend who has become a father to him, but -- trying to be a grown-up -- he accepts Varian's decision.
As the ritual of eternal unification nears, Gwyneth makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her would-be husband's life, and an angry Varian rains destruction upon the worshippers of Vetticus...
In other words, grow the hell up.
When we believe God is actually speaking to us, what we're really doing is interpreting our own desires and biases...and often with disastrous results.
Believing that God speaks to us and shares his/her desires with us and us alone, is the ultimate in vanity (Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, j'accuse), and a wholly feeble excuse to validate a belief system that doesn't bear up to close scrutiny, logic, rationality or science. I love that in 1977 The Fantastic Journey had the brass balls to make this point about this religious fallacy, and to do so in a manner that is absolutely unmistakable.
More to the point, the episode never really deals with the fact that Varian is manipulated into feeling so strongly for Gwyneth. His free will (and thus real love) is not involved.
The writer of this episode wanted Varian to engage deeply with a woman, fall in love, and then feel rage and vengeance at her unnecessary death. Fine. I buy that. But by using the gimmick of the dart, the whole enterprise feels a little...hollow.
Basically, every woman of marrying age would know what marriage portends for her spouse. The episode doesn't deal with this problem, and so the society feels like a bit of a straw man culture. I don't see how it could possible exist for any length of time under these circumstances.
Speaking of getting a lot of action, Varian gets to have (off-screen) sex in this episode, and right beforehand, Gwyneth informs him that she's a virgin. She has "never known another man." This whole aspect of the episode is kind of kinky, especially as mother and daughter dance around the whole intercourse issue. "The pain is brief. The memory is eternal," one character, says, speaking of death in the fire pit, not sex. "Have this moment to remember Varian for all time..." and so forth. All the erupting volcanoes also play as perverse visual subtext for this, ahem, "act of love."
Heck, it was the seventies...