Saturday, June 02, 2012

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Slaves" (September 18, 1976)

In “The Slaves,” the Ark II team catches wind of a nearby village using slavery, a “miserable and immoral practice,” and Jonah sets out to observe.  Unfortunately, he is captured by the forces of Baron Vargas (Michael Kermoyan), a tyrant who deploys magic tricks to keep the slaves from attempting escape, banding together, or asserting their rights.

In particular, Baron Vargas has convinced many of his exhausted slaves that he possesses the power to turn people into mindless animals.  The people, having no education or experience with such things, cower in fear.  One man, Gideon, has even become an informant for Vargas, because he believes his sister has been transformed into an animal.

When Jonah stands up to Vargas, the devious Baron stages a fire and light show in which he appears to transform Jonah into a rooster.  In truth, Jonah is simply put in prison, abducted in a cloud of smoke, out of the eyes of the crowd. 

Seeing the deception for what it is, Ruth and Samuel at the Ark II decide to out-magic the evil magician.  They rescue Jonah, and assert their own technological magic to free the slaves.  

In “The Slaves,” written by David Dworski, the audience gets to see a bit more of the grand Ark II’s interesting capabilities.  In this case, the vehicle projects a force field beam; one that is able to make it look like Jonah is actually walking on air.  The force field beam looks dangerous, like a laser, but like all of the Ark II’s devices is entirely defensive in nature. 

Other than that touch, this episode, directed by Hollingsworth Morse, hammers home the worthy point that fear stems from ignorance, and that knowledge can overcome ignorance, and thus fear.  The villager slaves are all superstitious and terrified, but Jonah and his team pull back the curtain, to use a Wizard of Oz metaphor, to reveal the truth about the manipulative Vargas.  It’s a worthwhile point, especially because so many tyrants in today’s world use ignorant beliefs (usually of a religious nature) to hold back their populations. 

Watching this episode of Ark II, I understood, perhaps for the first time, what’s missing from the series format: a sense of how Ruth, Jonah and Samuel are educated and trained, and what kind of organization, specifically they hail from.  What are their skill-sets?  How did they become trained?   How were they chosen for these assignments?

It would have been great if the makers of Ark II had provided a bit more detail about these adventurers, and why they became involved with the Ark II mission, and what skills, precisely, they bring to the table.  It would have been neat to get an episode where they check back in at home base, as well. I'd love to see the society they hail from, and what it is like.

I also got to wondering, perhaps because this episode is a little dull: is Ark II the only vehicle in the fleet?  Is there also an Ark III or Ark IV out there, patrolling a different area of the post-apocalyptic terrain?

Of course, I realize that this Filmation series was designed for children.  But the episodes create an interesting enough world that as a viewer, you want to know more about the characters, their backgrounds, and the world they inhabit.  This is truly a series that would benefit from an intelligent remake:  You could take the core series concept, the characters, the production design and the world-view and then spin out new details about all of them, significantly deepening the Ark II-iverse.

Next week: “The Balloon.”


  1. Anonymous4:49 PM

    Some of the questions you raise about the background of the Ark II characters might have been answered if the show had a second season. 'Space Academy' might not have been put into production if 'Ark II' had been greenlighted for a second season, so I can't be too upset.

    Again, as with all your reviews you try to put in perpective what the writers were trying to convey. All too often, critics dismiss 70's sci-fi as 'cheesy' as if it wasn't worth looking into. I'm currently enjoying the primetime 70's post-apocalyptic series 'Logan's Run', so it's interesting to look into how the theme was handled on Saturday morning tv. 'Logan's Run' is also dismissed as 'cheesy'. On the contrary, I don't find either 'Ark II' or 'Logan's Run' to be cheesy. The sets, costumes, and effects for both series were made with care. The 'laser-beams' and other effects are still effective today as compared to some of the video (laser and forecfield) effects in the Krofft shows of the seventies.

    I find 'Ark II's serious approach more satisfying than the 'Flash Gordon/Star Wars' approach of 'Jason of Star Command'. Again, one has to make allowances for this being a children's show. The regulations against violence on Saturday morning shows led to some creative solutions. In your review of the last ep of 'Ark II' you discussed the use of a light weapon (which caused no injury) to disable a foe. 'Land of the Lost' and 'Jason of Star Command' also used non-violent light to disable a threat ('Big Alice' in Land of the Lost's "The Test" and an insectoid creature in 'Jason').

  2. Anonymous6:04 PM

    John great review. As a boy, I remember this episode form 1976 because it aired on my birthday. Agree, we only got a glimpse in the opening credits of scientists walking around to hint of an organization. John you are right, this series needed an episode to show the base camp of operations of Ark II and to a better point state if there are a fleet of Arks roaming the Earth. Jonah recorded logs like a old Earth sailing ship explorer of 15th-19th century or Kirk on the Enterprise both to report back to their point of origin. As we saw the hint of multiple Subshuttles going out under the Earth’s surface on missions from PAX(former NASA Facility) Carlsbad Caverns NM, they returned to base. I think you are right that Ark II needed to define the organization and extent of it’s influence on future Earth. ARK II would be brilliant to remake now as we even have the other extreme of a future post-apocalyptic Earth in the new George Miller’s Mad Max:Thunder Road to be filmed this year.



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