Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Curse of Cousin Smith" (November 16, 1966)
In “Curse of Cousin Smith,” Jeremiah Smith (Henry Jones) -- citizen of the universe and cousin to Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) -- lands on the Robinsons’ planet in search of his long-lost relative.
It turns out, the two men have been competing for years to be the last surviving family member so as to inherit the considerable Smith family fortune.
Now, Jeremiah thinks he has discovered a way to exploit Dr. Smith’s avarice.
Working with his space gangster friend, Little Joe, he has a “Friendly Universal Gambling Machine” transported to the planet.
Dr. Smith, who can’t resist gambling, will not be able to pay his debts after losing big time at the cosmic slot machine, and the machine will kill him, thus leaving Jeremiah the heir to the estate.
Fortunately, John Robinson (Guy Williams) has other plans.
“Curse of Cousin Smith” is a terrible episode of Lost in Space (1965-1968). I thought last week’s show, “The Thief from Outer Space” was terribly weak, but it had nothing on this installment of the series.
Why is “Curse of Cousin Smith” so awful?
First and foremost, the creators of this series seem to have forgotten the title and premise of their own program. Here, without difficulty or delay, Jeremiah Smith finds the Robinsons and his cousin on a distant world. He says he "heard" that there were Earth people there.
So apparently the Robinsons' presence on the planet is common knowledge.
But how did Dr. Smith’s cousin get to deep space in the first place?
As the series premiere, “The Reluctant Stowaway” explains, the Robinsons are the first Earth people to attempt to reach another solar system. The family makes that journey in a state-of-the-art spaceship, and, so far as we know, no other ships like the Jupiter 2 have been constructed. The Robinsons have now been in space (or stranded on various planets) for perhaps two years.
So how does Jeremiah Smith have a history in space, and friendships with the likes of space gangsters? When did he launch into space?
If -- since the Robinsons’ departure -- Earth has made some technological breakthrough that permits casual and pervasive space travel, why has no one from Alpha Control attempted to find and rescue the family?
We know from this episode that the family, apparently, is easy to find, since Jeremiah not only knows there are humans on this world, but the particular human he is looking for, his cousin.
You can’t really be “lost in space” if everybody can find you, and travel to your location, right?
Beyond a faulty premise, “Curse of Cousin Smith” doesn’t remember anything about Dr. Smith’s background. He is introduced in “The Reluctant Stowaway” as a foreign saboteur, an agent in the service of a foreign country. His mission is to prevent America from launching the Jupiter 2 and winning the space race.
Well, come “Curse of Cousin Smith,” we find out that Smith’s cousin is a Southern Fried gentleman, right down to the accent and bolo tie. How exactly can we explain that Smith is an agent for a foreign power while his cousin is from the South, in North America?
Even in terms of dialogue, “Curse of Cousin Smith” is on shaky ground. Will (Bill Mumy) explicitly notes in the episode that Dr. Smith “never mentioned any of his relatives to me.”
That’s not strictly true. The first season episode “The Ghost in Space” revolves around a bog monster on Priplanus, whom Dr. Smith believes is his dead relative, Thaddeus Smith. He believes he is being haunted by Thaddeus, and takes Will on an adventure based on that very premise.
Also, in terms of continuity, note that the Robinsons have no problem, this week, believing in cosmic space gangsters and casino machines, where last week they ribbed Will about his unbelievable story of a space thief (Malachi Throne).
Basically, everything about this episode is a mess, and the stupidity of the narrative is astounding. I suppose the viewer is to assume that Jeremiah hitches a ride off the planet on the next outgoing spaceship, but doesn’t bother to take along the Robinsons, or help them escape their marooning. It's the Gilligan's Island syndrome all over again.
Still, there’s an intriguing insight in this episode. Maureen (June Lockhart) politely tells Jeremiah that Dr. Smith is just going through one of his “difficult periods.”
The fact that this comment comes from the family matriarch is important. It sounds very much like she is a Mom describing her naughty child, or teenager. Understand that fact, and you get a key to understanding Dr. Smith and the way the writers/creators of the series use him. He is not bad, he’s just a naughty kid going through a bad phase.
Finally, I will say I like the fanciful nature of the tech in this episode. The gambling machine is kind of neat in a fantastic, whimsical way, and I love the moment where it goes mobile, chasing Jeremiah and Dr. Smith through the desert, firing its lasers.
Next week: “West of Mars.”