Saturday, August 04, 2012

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Cryogenic Man" (October 23, 1976)

Ark II conjures up a surprisingly sharp and witty installment this Saturday morning with “The Cryogenic Man,” an episode guest starring Gilligan’s Island actor Jim Backus -- Thurston Howell himself -- as “Arnold Pool.”  Pool is a twentieth-century business tycoon awakened into the twenty-fifth century, along with his assistant, Norman Funk (John Fiedler).

In “The Cryogenic Man,” Jonah, Ruth, Samuel and Adam revive these two men from five hundred years in the past, and the episode pauses first for a Planet of the Apes joke.  Upon seeing Adam, the talking chimpanzee, Pool exclaims “Good grief, we’ve been taken over by apes.”

After that nice self-reflexive bit of humor, the tale gets down to the meat of its social commentary.  Pool takes one look around the primitive village that represents his new home and asks: “Where are the high rises?  And the shopping centers?  Where are the stores?”  These are the things that a rich man of the twentieth century misses first, the teleplay notes.

Then, Pool promptly asks the confused leader of the village whether he is a “Democrat or a Republican.”  Ruth’s answer is charming and forthright: “There are no Democrats and Republicans anymore…”

Even though he’s awakened into a new and post-apocalyptic world, the entitled Pool believes he can still buy happiness with his vast fortune.  He offers the villagers cold hard cash (ten dollars an hour) to build him a big new house in the center of town.  Naturally, they’ve never even seen money. 

They’re a sick group,” Pool notes condescendingly.  “They don’t know what money is.” 

Before long, Pool learns that the villagers are starving, and can’t grow food successfully because of contaminated soil.  The problem is that their village stands on the location of Pool’s old industrial factory, where he produced a product known as Pool’s Power Plant, a kind of “miracle grow” for vegetation. 

Unfortunately, as Ruth confirms, the product is actually a toxic chemical; one harmful to human beings.

Rather than accept the facts, Pool derides the Ark II crew as “bureaucrats” not “scientists,” and warns that bureaucrats will always take “food” from people’s mouths.   He then instructs the villagers to trap Ruth and Jonah in the cryogenic chambers.

While Samuel and Adam attempt to rescue Ruth and Jonah from their enforced slumber, Pool starts up his factory, and it begins to spew poison into the atmosphere, thereby creating another serious problem.

Finally, the Ark II crew shuts down the factory (with a well-placed laser blast), and Pool promises to change his ways; to think about ecology, not just making money. 

At episode’s end, Jonah notes in his log that we can either “make the same mistakes over and over again…or learn and grow.”

“The Cryogenic Man” is particularly prescient in understanding a dynamic that we are, alas, all too familiar with today.  A businessman who stands to make vast sums of money wishes to deride “scientific findings” as socialist “bureaucracy” and ignore hard evidence…with the safety of the community endangered as a result of his selfishness. 

I guess Ark II saw the same problem in 1976, and made this episode in response.  But it’s discouraging that we haven’t taken many steps to change the problem in the intervening thirty-six years.  It’s one thing to be in favor of capitalism, another entirely to be in favor of irresponsible, unfettered capitalism.  One person’s right to personal wealth ends, I submit, when that quest harms another person’s right to breathe clean air, or drink clean water.   

But overall, today’s world suggests that Jonah’s belief that we can “learn and grow” has not yet come to pass in the real world.  Instead, we seem to be making the same mistakes over and over.

In terms of Ark II, this episode’s wholly unexpected sense of humor leavens the didacticism a bit. The writing here is clearer and edgier than many installments, making this one of the series’ smartest entries.

Finally, the idea of a money-hungry, irresponsible businessman awaking up in a future sans capitalism is an idea that also appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994), in the first season finale, “The Neutral Zone.”

Next week: “Don Quixote.”

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:06 PM

    John, I fondly remember watching this Ark II “The Cryogenic Man” episode on Saturday morning in 1976 as a boy due to the obvious typecasting of Thurston Howell(Jim Backus) from Gilligan’s Island. I think Arnold Pool’s Power Plant was a proper warning against polluting for profit. Jonah’s belief that we can “learn and grow” is a nice counterpoint play on words of Pool’s Power Plant for vegetation.
    This episode was made six years after President Nixon established the E.P.A. Environmental Protection Agency, however, this 1976 episode warns that “The more things change the more they stay the same” even in the 25th century. On a lighter note, I enjoyed the Planet Of The Apes nod regarding Adam and the technology use of Jonah‘s laser.