Thursday, March 08, 2018

Cult-TV Blogging: The Immortal: "Dead Man, Dead Man" (December 3, 1970)

Continuing his flight from Fletcher and captivity, Ben Richards (Christopher George) gets a lift in the desert from a police detective from Philadelphia named Tom McWade (John Garwood). 

After a terrible car accident on a winding road, McWade is killed, but Richards is thrown from the car and survives.

Richards wakens in the nearby town of Vernal Park, where the local sheriff (Byron Keith) has mistaken the fugitive for the police detective. With Fletcher hot on his heels, Ben goes along with the case of mistaken identity, pretending to be McWade until he can escape from town.

However, matters get complicated when Richards learns why McWade was headed to Vernal Park in the first place: to arrest the town doctor, Dr. Kinneson (Henry Beckman). 

Kinneson has been practicing medicine without a license, only pretending to be a qualified M.D.  The townspeople, however, love their doctor dearly, and are out to get McWade for arresting him.

Now, Richards’ plan to masquerade as McWade could have fatal consequences for him.

“Dead Man, Dead Man” is a clever episode of The Immortal (1969-1971), though it is another story that focuses on strangers instead of the lead character, Ben Richards.  However, in some sense, this story is actually about Ben Richards; or at least the life that Ben Richards has selected for himself.

Specifically, Ben Richards in “Dead Man, Dead Man,” pretends to be someone he is not, so that he can survive, and “live free” as he chooses.

He encounters a man, Dr. Kinneson, who has done precisely the same thing. Kinneson wants to heal people, but taught himself how to be a doctor.  He is not, however, a real physician, and only pretends to be one.

In both cases, the pretender must hide, or run, or otherwise escape from a judgmental society.  In this story, Ben starts to feel like a hypocrite for his behavior, pretending to be a cop tracking down an innocent man. He knows what it is like to be an innocent man on the run, after all.  At one point, Kinneson tells Richards that his whole life has just been a “series of roles,” and this is certainly a comment that Ben can identify with.

In choosing to “live free,” and run, ironically, both men have actually selected lives in which they are trapped, unable to find peace or respite.

During the moments when “Dead Man, Dead Man,” draws parallels between Kinneson and Richards, it is a successful and dramatic installment of this short-lived series. Kinneson’s plight gives us a new insight on Richards’ plight, without Richards having to lament it himself.  At the end of the story, Kinneson tells Richards “there are so few of us free souls left,” and it’s a fascinating point to make.   I’m not certain it is accurate, however.

Are Kinneson and Richards really free at all?

Some elements in “Dead Man, Dead Man” don’t work as well as the comparison between characters. For instance, the whole town is against Richards, thinking he is a police officer. A town nutcase, Van Ryerson, even tries to kill him. This seems a bit over the top.

Even someone who likes and appreciates the good doctor (and whose son was saved by the doctor) is not likely to become homicidal, and attempt to kill a police officer.

Finally, we get yet another romance this week.

The sheriff’s sister, Helen (Joan Hotchkis), is a widower, and let’s just say that she has not had, well, the comforts of a husband for some time. Though Ben reminds Helen that he is “just passing through,” he nonetheless goes to bed with her, after initially resisting the impulse to do so. 

The episode is surprisingly straightforward and frank about this relationship and what’s involved. There’s no talk of love, or staying together, or the long term.  The relationship is very....transactional, I suppose one might conclude. Helen needs a man, and Richards is ready and willing.  Still, this seems the most knowingly casual hook-up for Richards on the series thus far.

Next week: “Paradise Bay.”

1 comment:

  1. This was almost a perfect episode. Almost five out of five stars, until... Tell me, John, did Richard Kimble get as lucky as Ben Richards does every single week?

    I started to tune out when the show served up another awkward romance, but the strength of the story pulled me back in. I really liked the idea of finding out, along with Ben, what's going on in the town and realizing that he's taken on the identity of a man who has a few secrets of his own. The parallels between Ben and Kinneson were also nicely handled.

    I was reading ahead on the dvd plot synopsis for the remaining episodes, and it sounds like there are some intriguing premises as we head towards the home stretch. Even though these shows haven't all been perfect, I haven't regretted watching any of them, in spite of the fact that I've become convinced that Ben Richards will sleep with any girl with a pulse.