Thursday, August 04, 2016

Man from Atlantis: "Crystal Water, Sudden Death" (November 22, 1977)

Mr. Schubert (Victor Buono) and his minions (including one played by Rene Auberjonois) have discovered a bubble of inhabitable land at the bottom of the sea.  

It is called Killsborough Deep and is surrounded by a protective force-field. It is rich in rare crystals that can make Schubert wealthy and powerful.  He can use the crystals to block or jam all world broadcasts.  Taking the crystals out of the land, however, threatens the stability of the island.

As Schubert seeks to exploit the strange, ivory-skinned beings who live on the island at the bottom of the sea, Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy) finds a way to penetrate the force field -- which “is the equivalent of a brick wall” -- and come to the culture’s rescue. 

But first he must gain the trust of the strange denizens…

Man from Atlantis (1977) is in its Star Trek (1966-1969) mode this week, as a strange (and fragile) alien world is discovered at the bottom of the sea.

Consider: Schubert is the Harry Mudd-like character who sees only the opportunity for exploitation, while Mark Harris and the crew of the Cetacean are concerned for the indigenous population, as well as the environment.

In the end, the land -- apparently called Killsborough Deep -- is left intact, and its people are left in peace.  Intriguingly, Mark even has to run interference with C.W. (Alan Fudge) who, acting on the accord of the U.S. government, wants to acquire the crystals too.

There’s another Star Trek element here too, worth mentioning.  Schubert rigs a flashlight to blind the light-sensitive inhabitants of Killsborough Deep.  He also uses the device on Mark, and blinds him as well.  

Mark’s sight is returned, however, because his people possess a membrane over the inner eye.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because Spock (one of Mark Harris’s clear inspirations, at least in terms of alien-ness and temperament) was saved from blindness by the existence of an inner eyelid in the classic episode “Operation: Annihilate.”

Speaking of eyes, Patrick Duffy clearly has some sort of growth or stye on his eyelid in this episode, and it is visible in quite a few shots.  I wonder if it was caused by all the time he spent underwater…

Man from Atlantis does not feature the world’s greatest production values, even for 1977, and that is clear from the jelly fish monster in “Man o’ War” and the underwater aliens seen in this episode.  

These beings look and move like mimes, and have a passing reference to the “sperm” featured in Woody Allen’s 1972 film, Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.  

Contrarily, the force field -- an optical -- that Mark is trapped in looks relatively impressive. Eagle-eyed viewers may recognize the alien city in this episode as a piece of Ape City from Planet of the Apes (1968) and its spin-offs.

Finally, this is the last episode of the series to feature Victor Buono’s Mr. Schubert.  The character appeared in five of the thirteen episodes, but serves as the primary villain in the first three shows (“Melt Down,” “The Mudworm” and “Hawk of Mu,”) and this is an unfortunate happenstance. It seems like the writers and directors would have wanted to more fully establish a flexible format and tone for the series, instead of doing so many episodes with the serio-comic villain right out the gate.

Next episode: “The Naked Montague.”

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