Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lost in Space Day: "The Oasis"


In “The Oasis,” a drought imperils the Robinson settlement.

Even the water conversion units that Don (Mark Goddard) has installed in the desert can’t keep up with the family’s demand for water. 

Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) makes the problem exponentially worse by taking a shower, using up all but two gallons of the water reserve.

Desperate and angry, the Robinsons go out in search of water, and find an oasis in the jungle.

There, the water tastes strange and toxic, but several moist, mango-like fruits are growing.  John (Guy Williams) insists that they test the fruit before sampling it, but Dr. Smith and Debbie both break the rules and try the fruits

Smith, believing the Robinsons have poisoned him, heads off into the desert alone. 

Back at the camp, Debbie grows to colossal size after eating the fruit. The Robinsons realize that the same thing could happen to Smith.  He will soon be a giant.

Maureen (June Lockhart) goes to the over-grown Smith and attempts to convince him to return to camp.



“The Oasis” is a not-particularly compelling episode of Lost in Space (1965 – 1968), and one that demonstrates the series’ propensity to veer towards outright fantasy. 

Here, Smith eats an alien fruit that transforms him into a giant.  Despite the overtly fantastic elements of the episode, the special effects are handled with remarkable aplomb, and several well-staged trick shots sell visually the concept of a giant Zachary Smith.



Additionally, this is a strong episode for Maureen Robinson, who demonstrates her forgiving and sympathetic character.  Again and again, she takes the initiative -- though always asking permission from John -- as a go-between for the two camps, the Robinsons and Dr. Smith.  Maureen acts as a peace maker and as a friend to both camps, and does so without ego or self-interest.



Less intriguing, and far less believable are the family’s reactions to Smith’s departure. Once more, Smith does something absolutely selfish -- taking a shower and using twenty-two gallons of the family’s water supply -- and when the family responds with irritation, he doesn’t even apologize. 

Then, when he believes he has been poisoned, Smith swears to kill the Robinsons.  He sabotages and steals the last water conversion unit device. If he is going to die, then they will die too, he swears.  

That’s….pathological.


Yet the Robinsons all mope about the camp, and discuss how much they miss Dr. Smith. They ponder the ways they could have been nicer to him, or more accommodating to him. Maureen has a sympathetic speech here about she considers Smith an “injustice collector,” and that basically, he’s harmless.

Only he’s demonstrated time and time again that he isn’t harmless.

One episode back he tried to sell Will to fifth dimension aliens.

Several episodes back, Smith sabotaged John’s rockets (or para jets), so he would crash-land and die on the planet. 

And, as mentioned above, in this adventure Smith sabotages the family’s technology so that its members will suffer a “lingering” death.

So why are the Robinsons’ so damn blind regarding Smith?  He’s an absolute danger to the family’s survival, especially on the frontier, and it makes no sense to romanticize him, or consider his antics “cute.”  They owe him absolutely nothing.

For me, this aspect of the series is the biggest stumbling block Lost in Space features at this point, and going forward too.  It’s not like Smith bumbles into trouble, is contrite, and learns from his mistakes. 

Contrarily, he seeks out trouble, is a coward, tries to extricate himself by any selfish means possible, and never learns a thing.  He just goes out and does the same thing again.

It’s Smith’s fault he eats the berries and his fault the water is almost gone. The Robinsons are not out of line to be irritated, angry with the guy. They could die from thirst.

Still, one artfully-composed shot in the episode explains the Smith vs. Robinsons conceit perfectly. In the foreground of the frame, sits Smith, self-satisfied and facing the camera. Far behind him, in the background, is the family. They are watching him. He is ignoring them. He is not only the paramount figure here in "The Oasis," but the paramount figure in the series.


In terms of questions of believability, there’s another funny aspect of “The Oasis” to consider.  When Smith grows to giant size, his clothes and boots grow with him.  How did the chemical properties of the alien mango manage that? 

Still, it’s far preferable to ask this question than to be confronted with the specter of a giant, naked Dr. Smith.

Next: “The Sky is Falling.”

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