Thursday, February 22, 2018
Cult-TV Blogging: The Immortal: "The Queen's Gambit" (November 12, 1970)
A beautiful and duplicitous double agent, Sigrid Bergen (Lee Meriwether), captures Ben Richards (Christopher George) and then stages his death, so that Fletcher (Don Knight) will call off the hunt for the immortal,
Then, Sigrid flies Ben via helicopter to the remote estate of millionaire Simon Brent (Nico Minardos), who wishes to study Ben’s blood, and produce medicine that will cure the world of disease, and perhaps even old age.
As Ben soon discovers, escape seems impossible as the estate is heavily patrolled, and geographically isolated. Ben attempts to get a message out via a visiting doctor, but fails.
Sigrid, however, begins to develop an affection for her former prey, and teams with Richards to help him escape.
“The Queen’s Gambit” is likely my favorite of all The Immortal (1969-1971) episodes produced since the pilot. It features a terrific central performance from Lee Meriwether as a mercenary who, for a considerable time, outsmarts Ben Richards, Fletcher, and even her employer, Brent.
Meriwether is a beloved cult-TV actress (Time Tunnel ; Batman: The Movie , Star Trek: “That Which Survives”) but I’ll go on record as stating that The Immortal gives the actress an opportunity to deliver her most dynamic (and sexiest) performance in this medium.
Although Sigrid eventually succumbs to Ben’s charms -- as every single woman on the series must, at some point -- she is otherwise depicted as a brilliant tactician and expert in her field. Sigrid is one of the most imposing antagonists Ben has yet faced, even if that antagonism gives way, eventually to sexual attraction.
On that front, I will merely note that Meriwether and George boast good romantic chemistry here, and that such chemistry hasn’t always been the case for the romance-of-the-week.
“The Queen’s Gambit” is such a strong episode, no doubt, because it isn’t some random story about Ben Richards arbitrarily walking into a ranching conflict, or randomly encountering a corrupt sheriff. It’s a story actually about Ben, his predicament, and his life choices. There is some excellent dialogue in this episode about the fact that, from a certain perspective, it is selfish of Richards to continue to run rather than making a pro-social use of his unusual blood.
At first Ben says “I’d like to be free to decide what I want to do with my life,” but it’s clear that the arguments for helping the human race have an impact on him.His stubbornness is reinforced, ultimately, by the fact that Brent -- like Maitland -- is more concerned about himself than humanitarian causes. Brent isn’t so much concerned that everyone “share” Richards’ blood, so much as he is concerned that he reap the rewards.
There's even a discussion of immortality in this episode -- what it means, how it could change things -- and if you have watched The Immortal you know this subject almost never comes up.
“The Queen’s Gambit” succeeds, as well, because of its twisting narrative. The episode starts with Ben encountering Sigrid seemingly at random. Then the audience sees her attempting to cash in, with Fletcher, for the reward. This too, however, is a carefully set-up ruse to throw Fletcher off Richards’ scent. Basically, Sigrid is a version of Fletcher, only a competent (and better looking) one. I should add that, unlike Fletcher, she has a conscience and comes to regret imprisoning a man for what could be an eternity. Then, there's another twist, Sigrid's change of allegiance, and the final whammy: Brent's estate isn't on another continent after all, by outside Los Angeles!
So many The Immortal episodes are just re-heated versions of tales already featured on The Fugitive (1963-1967). “The Queen’s Gambit” is a high point in the catalog because it feels individual to the series, because Meriwether's performance drives the drama, and because surprises drive each plot twist.
Next week, we’re back to random adventuring in “By Gift of Chance.”