Thursday, April 06, 2017

Logan's Run 40th Anniversary Blogging: "Turnabout" (January 30th, 1978)


Here’s some bad news: the best hours of Logan’s Run: The Series (1977-1978) are behind us. Only two episodes remain, “Turnabout” and “Stargate,” and both are very poorly done.  If I had to compare them, I’d say that “Turnabout” is somewhat better than “Stargate,” while still proving largely unsatisfactory.


"Turnabout" is a story by Michael Michaelian and Al Hayes wherein Logan (Gregory Harrison), Jessica (Heather Menzies) and REM (Donald Moffat) stop for water in desert and find an unconscious woman in the sand. She's wearing a burqa to hide her face.

An armed patrol on horseback finds the Runners and escorts them to the city of Zidar, a repressive, theocratic society where books are not permitted.  In fact, knowledge is considered a danger.  Soon, Francis (Randy Powell) and another Sandman show up in pursuit of Logan and his friends, and are captured too.

Both groups are taken before "the Judgment Chair.” There, the city leader, a restrictive, draconian man, proclaims that they should be executed in accordance with the traditions of the city With the help of Mia -- the woman they saved in the desert -- Logan and his pals escape, but are captured by Francis. 

Then, they are all captured again, and Francis is forced into a "duel" before the Judgment Chair. 

At the end of the day, there is regime change in Zidor to a more moderate ruling philosophy, and the Runners continue on their way, seeking Sanctuary.


“Turnabout” features some fascinating, if ultimately poorly explored underpinnings.

The desert city of Zidar is depicted, for instance, through a fantastic and intricate matte painting. What the matte painting reveals is very intriguing: Zidar looks like an Islamic city of the Middle East. Just take a gander at some of the architectural flourishes. Look hard enough you’ll spy the domes, and arabesque touches we associate with the historic architecture from this region of our globe.


That’s important, because clearly this episode is an attempted commentary on the restrictions of Islamic fundamentalism, or radicalism. Women in the theocracy of Zidar are treated as second class citizens, with abrogated rights and freedoms, and they forced to hide their features. Furthermore, books and knowledge outside of tradition are considered frightening, and therefore banned by the government.

Since Logan’s Run: The Series suggests here a post-holocaust version of restrictive, extremist Sharia Law in America, the episode seems more relevant post-9/11 than it did when it was produced in the mid-1970’s.  Still, one wonders how this restrictive, anti-woman society came about post-Holocaust, especially in the America heartland.



What world events were the writers responding to here to attempt this social commentary? I suspect that they probably looked at the demonstrations occurring in Iran in 1978. Although the Iranian Revolution didn’t technically occur until April of 1979, there were protests against the Shah, and general unrest in 1978. Perhaps the writers saw where it was going, and what a theocracy would be like.

The fascinating thing about “Turnabout” is that it suggests -- again drawing a parallel to history -- that Zidar was once a society of glittering advancement and advanced judicial precepts. It was a place of learning, and knowledge and freedom. It was a place that welcomed visitors.  But extremists have taken over, and transformed the state to a restrictive one.

This is all quite fascinating material, especially given our 21st century context, but “Turnabout” treats the themes inherent in this story with a kind of slapdash inadequacy.  Basically, the allegorical extremist state is but an excuse for a Star Wars-esque sword fight between Francis and a Zidor guard (played by Gerald McRaney).


And, Logan, Jessica and REM are so busy running to and fro that they don’t actually cause the revolution that turns-over the society.  Instead, we are simply told at story’s end that the leader has been deposed in favor of a new, and less radical one.  


So our heroes take no productive part in changing the society for the better, and restoring it to its historical nature as a just, civil, even artistic state.  It just happens while they are there…being captured, escaping, being captured, and escaping again.

So even though “Turnabout” clearly references a real life culture (and shift to extremism in that culture), Zidor is still a "straw man" society, there for the collapsing, in accordance with our 1970's American values.  I must admit, I find this cognitive dissonance laughable. According to Logan’s Run lore, the world destroyed itself, based on the values of the Cold War Era.  Russia and the U.S. fight to the death, and launch global nuclear war, over possession of a fearsome technology: time travel (per "Man out of Time.")

Now, long after, Logan, Jessica and REM are championing those very ideals, against other cultures…even though these ideasl destroyed their world. I’m not saying that our values here are bad, just that in a series that discusses how our culture fell, it is weird that our culture is championed…even though it was at least partially responsible for destroying civilization. 

Another series that I love, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), features the same fallacy.  Future heroes pursue the ideals American Exceptionalism, but do so after America has been a key player in the destruction, essentially, of the human race in some form of holocaust.

But the real problem with “Turnabout” isn’t this. It’s the general lack of meaningful plot development. Who's rescuing whom? Who's going back for whom?

These plot machinations are all become increasingly tedious.  o much so that it’s clear that the series is on its last legs.  Running around has supplanted ideas as the central tenet of the series.


Next week: The last Logan’s Run episode: “Stargate.”

3 comments:

  1. "Turnabout" was almost written as though Logan, Jessica and REM in their solar hover vehicle have traveled around the world to Zidar in the Middle East. I suspect that it is just the writers are using new settings for them to encounter in the continental United States. We assume Zidar was built in the U.S. after the apocalypse happened perhaps based on books about the Middle East. If so, it is what happened with the Chicago mobs book influencing Star Trek "A Piece of the Action". I suspect that if the series had continued we would have seen many other Earth cultures and religious groups encountered in other new settlements.

    SGB

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  2. Post-apocalyptic series did not have a vehicle that allowed them to travel the Earth and not be set only in the United States, e.g., Ark II, Logan's Run and Planet of the Apes. However, Genesis II(1973)/Planet Earth(1974) pilot telefilms had a NASA Subshuttle system that covered the Earth underground. A script was written for the aborted series that had them going to London via subshuttle.

    SGB

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  3. John,
    I recognized Nehemiah Persoff from the photo. He played a similar role in a Land of the Giants episode "Land of the Lost," as a dictator named Titus. He was also an Eastern Alliance leader on Battlestar Galactica. I guess whenever a show in the 60's or 70's needed a despot, Nehemiah Persoff got the call!
    Steve

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