Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Man from Atlantis: "Giant" (October 25, 1977)

A scoundrel and rogue, Muldoon (Ted Neeley) has discovered an undersea doorway between worlds. 

In one desert world, Muldoon and a giant miner, Thark (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), vie for possession of vast repositories of gold. 

In our world, however, the ocean is draining out into the other world. The seas are literally being emptied from Earth.

The Cetacean investigates the vortex and Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy) encounters Muldoon, who has escaped from the other world, but wants to go back to collect the gold.

Mark and Muldoon attempt to convince Thark that his efforts mining are “bleeding the oceans” of Earth dry, but Muldoon just wants to get rich, even at the expense of escaping.

“Giant” is the first episode of Man from Atlantis which posits the idea that the ocean contains portals to other world or dimensions.  As the series goes on, this conceit becomes significant. Mark soon encounters portals to an Old West town (“Shoot Out at Land’s End,”) a domed world of white-skinned aliens (“Crystal Water, Sudden Death”) and even a gateway to the world of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (“The Naked Montague.”)

Were this admittedly-intriguing conceit applied the series' narratives with any sense of coherence or purpose, it might also explain Mark and his origin.  Perhaps Atlantis -- his home -- didn’t sink, but rather disappeared (and continues to exist…) in another world; a world like the one featured in “Giant.”   Perhaps the tales we know, from antiquity, of Atlantis, are actually stories from travelers who went through these doors to other worlds. Perhaps Mark himself traveled through such a door before being washed up on the shore in California (in the TV movie).

Instead of really exploring such an amazing, solid sci-fi story, viewers are left merely to speculate, as Mark randomly encounters one parallel or alternative universe in the sea after another. None of the characters express much surprise here about portals to other worlds existing in Earth's oceans.

“Giant” isn’t a great story, perhaps, but it is nonetheless a relief, in some sense, since it is the series’ first non-Schubert episode. 

Also, stories of this type at least begin to get to the mystery/wonder aspect of the format that I wish had been focused on to a greater degree.  Specifically, Mark’s background is a mystery. The sea offers the possibility of answers (like the portals to other universes).  Instead of Mark acting a secret agent/superhero for the Foundation of Oceanic Research, I would rather see him in Spock mode, aboard the Cetacean, investigating the world beneath the waves, and coming to reckon with his own nature.

It is fair to state that “Giant” is a first step towards exploring that idea, but it’s not a great first step. 

We learn very little about Thark -- the miner in the other world -- which is here represented by the ubiquitous Vasquez Rocks, for example.  The character of Muldoon takes up most of the episode's running time, proving a bad guy with a heart of gold.  He’s supposed to be love-able, but in this and the second episode in which he is featured (“Scavenger Hunt”), he willingly puts his wealth over the welfare of others.  I guess in the 1970s this was supposed to be charming.

I could do without “Giant’s” silly bar fight (wherein Muldoon does 6,000 dollars of damage…), but I’ll admit that the idea of Muldoon teaching Mark how to play poker is amusing.  It also plays into the episode’s final punctuation.  

Hoping to collect his gold, Muldoon stays in the other world seconds too long, and is trapped there, ostensibly, for eternity, after the portal shuts.  

As Mark notes in the episode's coda, “He stood pat a few minutes too long.”

Next episode: “Man O’War.”

1 comment:

  1. I would not be adverse to a revamp of this series, with the episodes like this one (that laid some interesting groundwork for future stories), have their full potential brought out.