Fletcher (Don Knight) chases Ben Richards (Christopher George) onto a Native American reservation in the desert.
Richards’ dune buggy breaks down in that territory, and he is unexpectedly aided by the land’s rebellious youth, and its leader, Tsinnajinni (Sal Mineo). He befriends Tsinnajinni, who has a bad impression of the white man, and his culture.
Meanwhile, Fletcher plans a full-scale assault on the reservation to attain his quarry. On the reservation, Richards attempts to repair his vehicle.
For my money, “The Sanctuary” is the least interesting episode of The Immortal (1969-1971) in the entire series run of sixteen episodes. The narratives trades in old clichés about Native Americans, fails to cast Native Americans in the central roles, and adds nothing to the series’ mythology…or even Ben Richards’ character. The episode attempts to be progressive, I suppose, in some ways, but just ends up looking and sounding clichéd. Time has done it no favors.
The episode begins with the non-Native American playing a Native American Sal Mineo making critical observations about white men and white society. “You’re always fighting a war for a cause,” he says with dissdain. This is not a small matter in the age of the Vietnam War. By episode’s end, however, we’re in straight-up “White Man’s Burden” territory as Richards lectures the young man about life in the city. He turns patronizing and asks him “Are you ready for it?” Who is he to decide, really? Is he ready for it? What has been his experience, based on what we’ve seen?
Also, the episode ends in hackneyed format with the leader of the Native American tribe offering to say a “chant” for Richards, as he continues his journey. It’s all clichéd, and condescending at the same time.
The worst part of the episode, however, is that it just plays as dull. We know Richards is going to win over Tsinnajinni, get his dune buggy working, and be on his way. At this point, the almost-weekly love interest would have been welcome!
For me, the most unique aspect of the episode finds Fletcher bribing one of Richards’ white friends at a local auto repair shop for the use of a vehicle, so he can launch a full-scale attack on the reservation. In this episode, Fletcher basically wages war, with vehicles, soldiers, and explosives against the Native Americans on the reservation. This subplot actually does have some cultural currency for 1971. Not only is it a callback to a grim chapter in American history, with westerners attempting to take the land of Native Americans, but it works as a metaphor, of sorts, for Vietnam, with soldiers bringing their advanced war technology to another culture, without really understanding the “enemy” or the terrain.
But this idea, like most in “The Sanctuary” is not very well-explored.
Next week: the final episode of The Immortal: “Brother’s Keeper.”