Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "Omega" (October 9, 1976)

“Omega” is one of those more-interesting-than-usual installments of the 1970s Filmation Saturday morning series Ark II.  The reason that this episode is more intriguing than most segments is that it -- like “Robot” or “The Lottery” -- features a specific science fiction concept other than just the one featured in the premise; that of a post-apocalyptic world.  In this case, that concept is a villainous, sentient super-computer, a Colossus for the Saturday morning set. 

Here, the Ark II team runs afoul of perhaps the most powerful nemesis it has yet grappled with: a super computer “built by a society that no longer exists.”  The super computer -- re-activated in a primitive village three weeks earlier -- is called a “checkpoint” device, model “Omega.”  And, in addition to its other functions, the machine can easily dominate and control human minds.  Visually, Omega resembles the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

As the episode begins, a kindly grandfather (played by Harry Townes), realizes that his daughter Diana, portrayed by a very young Helen Hunt, is now under the control of Omega.  Thus, Jonah and his team set out to de-activate the machine and free her from machine enslavement.  Unfortunately, Omega proves so powerful that Samuel begins to fall prey to its commands too.  He rejects Jonah as leader and serves Omega instead.

Jonah attempts to defeat the super computer by executing a series of “chess” moves designed to destroy the device.  Finally, even that strategy isn’t enough, and Jonah himself nearly succumbs to the machine’s wishes.  Finally, it is Adam the chimpanzee – whom Omega has derided as some kind of strange animal – who is able to pull Omega’s plug.

After the computer is defeated, Jonah notes that Omega will never again be able to impose “de-humanizing ideas” upon mankind.  Specifically, he’s referring to the idea that Omega has made all the elders of the local village the slave to youngsters, like Diana.  As Omega reports early on, “young minds are quicker” to accept him.

I enjoyed this episode of Ark II, because drama works better, in my opinion, when heroes are outmatched or over-matched by villains.  And that’s the case here.  The high-tech Ark II crew is nearly defeated by the high-tech machine.  Omega thus proves a powerful and insidious force and infuses the episode with a welcome sense of menace.  I also enjoyed seeing Harry Townes play a crucial role here -- as a fearful would-be-slave of a super computer -- since he played a similar character in Star Trek’s “Return of the Archons” back in the mid-1960s.


  1. Anonymous2:22 PM

    John nice Ark II “Omega” review. This is one of my favorite episodes. As a boy in ’76, I also enjoyed the drama of this episode because the Omega checkpoint device was finally a formidable nemesis for the Ark II crew. Us viewers were all brought to the point of no return as all the Ark II crew members were falling prey the Omega’s powers. I loved the Omega’s production design, as you stated, reminiscent of the 2001:A Space Odyssey’s Monolith but with the lethal intelligence beyond that of the Hal 9000 computer. The Omega’s ground perimeter with a chess board style layout is visually engaging as Jonah must attempt to execute his moves. Jonah using intellect[brains] in these moves instead of the writers using the Ark II bow laser force field weapon[brawn] was much more tense and realistically frustrating. It was similar to the original Star Trek when Kirk would confront a computer/android/unmanned probe that had become lethal. Omega’s own intellectual ignorance of prejudging allows the labeled inferior strange animal Adam to terminate it. I guess thus giving the viewer, ’70s children like you and me, another lesson that all beings have value and bring something to contribute to the common good, Adam the chimpanzee is the hero that saves the day. The Ark II’s on board computer makes it a rolling entity like that of Hal9000 running the U.S.S. Discovery in 2001. After this episode in ‘76, I was always grateful as a boy that the Ark II’s on board computer did not ‘turn evil’and attempt to kill off the crew and drive away to attack villages etc. The Ark II both interior sets and exterior full-scale working vehicle is truly one impressive on screen character itself. Damnation Alley(1976) Landmaster was also built fully functional full-scale working vehicle with twin tri-star wheels drive which still exists today in 2012, but is not as cool as the Ark II.


    1. A wonderful comment, as usual, SGB.

      This is one of my favorite episodes of ARK II as well. I agree with you that Omega represents a bigger threat than most villains on the series. There's actually some real tension here, as you note, as the Ark II crew falls prey to the mind powers of the machine.

      I also think you've crystallized well the point of the episode: all beings have value and bring something to the common good. It's done without being too preachy in this case, and I think the message is a great one.

      I agree with you about the Ark II sets and exteriors. Between this and the Damnation Alley Landmaster, the apocalypse didn't look quite so terrible! :)