Thursday, January 25, 2018
Cult-TV Blogging: The Immortal: "Legacy" (October 15, 1970)
Ben Richards (Christopher George) is shot in the shoulder while being pursued by Fletcher’s men in the desert. He is assisted by a kindly woman, Annie Williams (Susan Howard), a teacher who has been helping a local Mexican boy, Luis (Manuel Padilla). The boy’s grandfather is sick, dying of Typhoid Fever.
Richards, Annie, and Luis head to a remote camp in the mountains, to hide there and tend to Luis’s grandpa. The camp -- the site of an old mine -- is run by a charismatic but dangerous fugitive named Ramos (Mario Alcalde), who refuses to let Richards leave the site to seek help for the old man.
After the old man dies, Richards confronts Ramos, and Annie seeks to adopt Luis. Ramos would rather turn Richards in, than contend with him. Ultimately, he has a change of heart and proves himself a good man.
“The Legacy” is the episode of The Immortal (1970-1971) -- the fourth after the pilot movie -- that signals the program’s long slide into mediocrity and formulaic storytelling. This episode is the canary in the coal-mine, in other words. In keeping with the (now tired) man-on-the-run format, the series once again finds Richards romancing a beautiful woman, in this case the lovely and kind, Annie.
The problem is that for the series to follow up with another romantic relationship following Ben’s relationship with Dr. Koster (Rosemary Forsyth) in last week’s (superior) episode, both stories are cheapened. His connection with Dr. Koster feels a lot less special.
So is Ben Richards just going to love ’em and leave ’em, every darn week? No woman is more special to him than the last? As James McLean and I talked about in our podcast about this Fugitive formula, this “different woman in every port” approach may be actually a kind of fantasy for the male viewers.
I should hasten, Annie is a lot like Anne Koster. She is a do-gooder who finds herself instantly attracted to a stranger who is, clearly, keeping secrets. Yet she automatically trusts him. I think it would have been great if, at some point, the series explained that Ben Richards’ special blood also makes him irresistible to the opposite sex. Women just throw themselves at his feet.
This episode is also the most dated (thus far) of The Immortal episodes. For example, I understand that Ben is a test driver, but seconds after meeting Annie, he starts driving her pick-up truck. He does so with a brusque: “Get in. I’ll drive.” She goes along, asking no questions. Importantly, Ben doesn’t tell her that he is a test-car driver. He just orders her into her own vehicle, and tells her that he’s in the driver’s seat. Welcome to the unspoken, unquestioned white male dominance of the 1970’s. If there’s a man and a woman going somewhere, and it’s the woman’s car, the man is still going to drive it. Even if he’s just been shot in the shoulder.
The treatment of the Mexican criminals is slightly better, to one’s relief. Ramos is an interesting, dimensional character in some important ways. He knows that he is a criminal, and that all he will ever be is a criminal. It is too late for him to change. He never had an opportunity to be anything but a criminal. Despite this, he wants something better for young Luis. He can see that for Luis, a better life is within reach.
And, Ramos is aware of the racial dynamics here too, with Richards carrying the “great white burden,” teaching Luis the so-called “right way” to live. He sarcastically refers to Richards as “The great Anglo-American hero.” He’s not far wrong, and it’s good that the episode acknowledges this fact. The episode’s solution to Luis’s situation and future is adoption by Annie. To the show’s credit, it never feels as though this is the answer because she is white, but rather because she truly loves Luis. She cares deeply for the boy. Since his grandpa is dead, he has no one else.
“The Legacy” is a pretty pedestrian episode of The Immortal. There are still some strong episodes coming up (namely “Man on a Punched Card” and especially “The Queen’s Gambit,”) but one can’t help but feel that the series is losing its battle with a formulaic premise. The gravity of that premise is pulling down the fine performances, and the action, and making the stories feel less immediate, less individual, even.
Next week: “The Rainbow Butcher.”