Sunday, February 26, 2012

CULT TV BLOGGING: The Fantastic Journey: "Turnabout" (April 7, 1977)

It's funny how the world plays tricks on you.

When I began cult-tv blogging The Fantastic Journey some weeks ago, I thought immediately of the episode "Turnabout," a seemingly archaic battle-of-the-sexes episode in which the women of a province in the Bermuda Triangle zap away chauvinist men to a null-zone after suffering many personal and sexual indignities at male hands.

I had expected to write how "old" and tired this familiar story is.

After all, narratives such as "Turnabout" have been seen before many times in cult-TV history.  It's the old role reversal tale: the women -- gasp! -- take over society, dislodging males from their (rightful?) perches of authority.

The Fantastic Journey's "Turnabout" is not even the last instance of this conventional tale.  Star Trek: The Next Generation offered a similar, horribly hackneyed story in 1987, entitled "Angel One," about a matriarchy of women lording it over poor men.

A war between men and women?  I mean, come on, right?  How cliched is that?

But by the time I actually watched "Turnabout" last week, the national news was veritably filled with utterly horrifying stories of prominent male "leaders" in our 21st century culture making bizarre decisions regarding women and their rights.

For instance, Congress held a committee meeting about birth control and no women were present.  Then, the leading Republican candidate for President, Rick Santorum, made the claim that women are "too emotional" for combat assignments in the military.  Then Virginia considered passing a law that would - literally -- force non-medically-necessary "trans-vaginal" penetration upon women seeking to have an abortion, a procedure that, regardless of how you feel about it in terms of morality, is still technically legal in this country.

Hey, I thought these people didn't believe in Big Government dictating matters of health to individuals, top-down?  Now I suppose I understand Newt Gingrich's warning about "right wing social engineering."

Anyway, given this new battleground in the war of the sexes, perhaps "Turnabout" isn't so old and hackneyed after all...

In this final episode of The Fantastic Journey to feature Lianna (Katie Saylor), the wayward travelers enter a new time zone.  Male hunters quickly capture Lianna and take her back to an advanced kingdom.

Varian, Scott, Fred and Willaway follow, and learn that Queen Hayalana (Joan Collins) is plotting a rebellion against her husband, King Morgan (Paul Mantee).

Willaway, Varian, Fred and Scott are kept on hand as "breeding stock" while Hayalana utilizes a powerful computer called "The Complex" to zap away the men.  "What evil magic is this?" Morgan asks dumbly, before his untimely disappearance.

Unfortunately, Hayalana and her women prove to be just as despotic as the male rulers were.  "Be silent or you will be de-materialized" declares the Queen, squelching all debate.  Then, she poisons the travelers' food so they can't escape.

But when the Complex begins to malfunction, Hayalana needs men after all.  She requires Willaway's help reprogramming the machine.  The travelers utilize this opportunity to broker a tender peace between men and women...

As is par for the course in The Fantastic Journey, Willaway gets the best line in "Turnabout."

When confronted with the facts that women rulers are as merciless as men, he pinpoints their hypocrisy.  "It's not the lack of compassion I hate, it's the lack of justice," he declares. Well said.  I should also add, this episode does a nice job of filling in some of the blanks of the Willaway character.  We learn, for instance, that he worked at NASA, JPL and Cal Tech.

Meanwhile, the Complex certainly seems a pretty conflicted computer.  It possesses a female voice but a male chauvinist attitude.

The seemingly self-hating nature of this machine aside, "Turnabout" doesn't win any points on the women's lib front since the women are incapable of solving their problems on their own

Instead, Fred and Willaway explicitly come to the rescue, time after time.  As for Lianna, she disappears for long spells in "Turnabout," and I fear it's because Katie Saylor had fallen ill during filming.

Yet another civilization of the week story, I find "Turnabout" one of the most tiresome and long-winded episodes of The Fantastic Journey.  We've seen the split culture in stories such as "Atlantium" and "Beyond the Mountain," to name just two.  And, once more, the characters aren't really involved in the story on anything other than a very shallow basis.  They must fix the civilization of the week so they can escape, and that's it.

It's just a shame that real life events in 2012 have made this old story relevant again.  In that light, "Turnabout" is certainly a cautionary tale.  Tread lightly, male moralists, or there will be "an end to male domination."

You tell 'em, sister.

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