Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cult-TV Blogging: Otherworld: "Paradise Lost" (February 9, 1985)






In Otherworld’s third episode, “Paradise Lost,” things unexpectedly get a little…adult

While vacationing at a sort of alternate-universe Club Med with his wife and kids, family patriarch Hal Sterling (Sam Groom) soon falls hard for the sexy seductress, Scarla Raye (Barbara Stock), the siren who runs the establishment.

Of course, there’s a good explanation for Hal’s unexpected flirtation with infidelity.  Scarla Raye lures him away from his family responsibilities with a brand of pheromone perfume called “Coloma” (“the essence of life” and created literally from human desire.) 

And well, Hal’s clearly not in his right mind; he’s “under the influence.”

At first merely flattered by Scarla’s attentions, Hal soon stays out all night with her, unable to refuse her anything. He then becomes verbally abusive to his children, and downright rude to his wife.  So while “Paradise Lost” concerns a science-fiction concept and provides a (chemical) excuse for Dad’s extra-marital romp with another woman, it’s pretty clear that the episode concerns a serious “real” issue: a family on the verge of falling apart.

Things go pretty far too in this episode of Otherworld too. We don’t know (*ahem*) exactly what good old Dad is up to till 4:30 am with Scarla (though we can guess…), and at the end of the episode, while still under her spell, Hal explains to his wife and children his sincere desire to stay on the island with “the other woman:”  

From now on, I only think about me and what I need,” he tells his wife, a shell-shocked June (Gretchen Corbett). 

This is a particularly blunt and bracing moment, as Hal chooses the “pleasure” island over everything else of importance in his life.  The moment feels surprisingly real and harsh, and I’m sure Hal’s words, or variations of those words, have been spoken many times in too many families.


Fortunately, June is a fighter and isn’t about to lose her husband.  She tells Hal that Scarla has made him “forget” who he really is.  And then she pointedly contrasts herself with the immortal Scarla, a woman made perpetually young by ingestion of the Coloma.  “I can’t offer eternity.  I don’t even know what that means,” June admits.  But June does offer the “hope of growing old together,” and notes that she is Hal’s best friend.

That moving and well-delivered speech snaps Hal out of his stupor, and he flees with his family as the island paradise conveniently self-destructs and Scarla super-ages into an old hag in a matter of moments. 

Hal then concludes, in voice over narration that “paradise begins at home.”

Since this is a continuing TV series, you might have guessed there was going to be a happy ending and a re-affirmation of marriage and monogamy, right?  

Here, Hal is persuaded to return to his family, but in real life, that’s not always that way.  In real life, once a person starts thinking only about himself, it’s hard to draw him back on the basis of being a “best friend.”  People leave marriages or cheat because they are looking for the exotic, the different, and that’s precisely what Scarla Ray offers.  Despite the re-assertion of mainstream family values (and thus order), this Otherworld remains pretty daring since it risks making the audience hate, or at least dislike, Dad.  At the very least, the episode portrays him as weak.

Directed by Tom Wright (Millennium), “Paradise Lost,” like the previous two episodes of this 1985 series, combines a family story with a science fiction plot.  It does so, at least most of the time, with a degree of intelligence and humor.   This episode develops June's character very well, in particular, as she deals with the surprising changes in her husband.   The kids are shunted to the side a bit, but that's okay, because the family issue here is commitment, and how it relates, specifically, to husband and wife.  

Fans of cult-tv will note that the late Ian Abercrombie (Seinfeld, Birds of Prey) has a significant role here, as Scarla Ray's superior from the home land.  And lovers of good literature will recognize resonances of The Tempest here, in the setting, and of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Next week on Otherworld: "Rock and Roll Suicide."

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