Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Balloon" (December 4, 1976)
In this episode of the Filmation Saturday morning series Ark II, the crew runs smack into a society that, as a whole, suffers from xenophobia, a fear of outsiders or “foreigners.”
Captain Jonah’s (Terry Lester) initial log entry describes people who “refuse to have contact with the outside world.”
While Ruth returns to the Ark II via hot air balloon to work on a cure for the new disease, Jonah attempts to convince the village’s leaders to “open” their hearts and minds to others. Unfortunately, he and a young boy fall prey to the disease, and only reinforce the fear of strangers. Now outsiders are disease carriers.
In real life, of course, America has witnessed periods of intense xenophobia over the last two centuries, not the least of which has been in the decade following the 9/11 terror attacks. Yet the rampant fear associated with xenophobia is ultimately counter-productive, as this episode of a 70's kid show rightly points out. If you close yourself off, you also close yourself down to certain options, to new solutions, and to improvements your life. When you come from a closed place, everything -- even learning -- can come to a stop. It’s not a healthy response to fear, even if it is, on some level, understandable.
In terms of Ark II continuity and lore, this episode reveals that the Ark II can fire a focused beam from its fore section, but the beam is still defined as “a force field,” keeping in tune with the idea of self-defense and no aggressive weaponry. Intriguingly, the force field is also quite a limited device. In trying to move heavy stones from the vehicle’s path, the force field’s power grid short circuits…
The series is in something of a rut, with tiny villages constantly being shown the error of their primitive ways by the Ark II team. The civilizations of the week -- battling superstition (“The Slaves”), xenophobia (“The Balloon”), cruelty to the weak (“The Rule”) and technophobia (“The Tank”) -- are a bit too predictable and one-note at this point. But the series is about to mix it up with some infusions of more science-fictional elements, from robots and suspended animation to telepathy, and that’s a good thing.