Tuesday, August 02, 2016
Man from Atlantis: "The Mudworm" (October 13, 1977)
Mr. Schubert’s (Victor Buono) latest invention -- an undersea robot probe called Mudworm -- goes rogue and refuses to respond to orders to dock.
Schubert realizes he needs Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy) to wrangle his creation.
The Cetacean is sent to subdue the Mudworm, a probe with grabbing arms that Schubert terms his “little runaway.” Mark thinks the Mudworm may actually be a life form.
The device quickly proves a danger by re-directing a torpedo at the submarine. Worse, it could detonate a volatile undersea mineral compound called K-7.
“The Mudworm” is very much crafted in the style of a Star Trek (1966-1969) story.
In stories of the classic series such as “The Changeling” or “The Ultimate Computer,” we see the Enterprise crew grappling with a robot or computerized intelligence that seems to have adopted its own (harmful) agenda.
The Mudworm probe in this episode is very much from the same school of concept, and Mark makes an implicit comparison to Frankenstein. “Monsters have been known to turn on their creators,” he tells Schubert.
How, exactly, a newcomer to human society, history and literature like Mark would know this example remains a mystery, however. Later in the series, we learn he hasn't read Romeo and Juliet, so Frankenstein seems an unlikely choice. On the other hand, both Mark and the Frankenstein Monster are joined by their status as outsiders.
Beyond the story of the probe come to malevolent life, this Man from Atlantis continues to depict Mark as an emotional naif, one who takes people at their word. Here, in a cringe-worthy subplot, a salesman attempts to sell Mark a set of encyclopedias. The offer is get one free, and then buy the set. Mark simply takes the free one.
Again, one has to think of Spock here. Like the first officer of the Enterprise, Mark does not understand human vices like corruption or avarice. Mr. Schubert also accurately tags Mark’s “single-minded devotion to virtue.” But to be clear, Mark is a worthwhile character, and no mere Spock rip-off because he although he is a newcomer to emotions, he doesn't shun or try to suppress them. In some ways he is more like Data (Brent Spiner), an individual opening himself up to emotions
“The Mudworm” is not a bad episode in he catalog, but it ends on an inadequate note. Mudworm is simply re-directed to attack Schubert, with no sense of how it will be stopped. The next time we encounter Schubert (in the very next episode, “Hawk of Mu,”) there is no mention whatsoever of the device, or how he stopped it. And if the Mudworm is alive, as Mark suspects, isn't it cruel that Schubert killed it? Or that the Cetacean crew permitted it to go after Schubert?
This lack of a convincing conclusion, not to mention logical follow-up, marks Man from Atlantis as a seventies series, for certain. Although ostensibly set in the same universe, with the same character, each episode is really a standalone, with little continuity between installments. In this day and age, people believed that audiences would forget, one week to the next, what events had occurred on the series.
Also, this episode continues a trend that runs throughout the series. Mark and Schubert have significant roles, but other regulars (including Alan Fudge and Belinda Montgomery) have very little of consequence to do. They are little more than bit-players.
Next episode: “Hawk of Mu.”