Tuesday, June 25, 2019

UFO: "The Responsibility Seat"

In "The Responsibility Seat," Straker (Ed Bishop) reluctantly agrees to an interview -- as a movie studio head -- with reporter Josephine Fraser (Jane Merrow). The interview goes smoothly, but she leaves her microphone-equipped purse in his office, and it records a SHADO intercom summons, identifying him as "Commander Straker."

Straker pursues Fraser to recover the tape before she can become a security threat, leaving Alec Freeman (George Sewell) in charge of SHADO. In Straker's absence, Alec has a crisis of his own to solve. A Russian lunar rover is, for some reason, on a collision course with Moonbase.

Straker and Jo get to know each other, but Straker soon learns that she is a criminal, one who will use blackmail and extortion to get ahead in what she deems to be a "man's world."

Depending on one's point of view, "The Responsibility Seat" is either sexist itself, or a commentary on sexism. I prefer to see it as the latter.  

The world of UFO posits a future in which racism has ended, but sexism, apparently, has not. In this "man's world," Jo Fraser has found difficulty succeeding, professionally and personally, according to the rules.  So, she has broken the rules...and the law, to overcome this injustice.

It is clear that Straker is attracted to Jo, and they nearly have sex in this episode. One suspects he is attracted to her not only physically, but in terms of her personality. Jo is intelligent and strong, and  has found a way to succeed in the (unfair) world on her wits.

This is one of the few episodes of UFO that features a romantic interest for Straker, so Jo's unique attributes as a person who functions outside of law and order, and outside society, is fascinating.  Is Straker attracted to her because she is so unlike him?  She is strong, like he is, but separate from any hierarchy or organization. Is he drawn to her because he admires, in some way, her freedom and independence? Her ability to behave and do as she sees fit, free from the heavy burden of "responsibility" that he, by contrast, carries?

Since the episode is titled "The Responsibility Seat," this is certainly a possibility to consider. Straker wants to escape the so-called responsibility seat, and Jo is the perfect example of someone else who has done so. She goes from job to job, payday to payday, with no sense of responsibility or accountability for her actions.

Of course, the episode is also termed "The Responsibility Seat," because Alec is asked to fill in for Straker while he attempts to plug any possible security leak. And, in his role as commander of SHADO, Alec does face a crisis.  What's so intriguing about the episode's depiction of this crisis is that Alec is the one deemed to be carrying the heavy burden of responsibility, yet it is Paul Foster (Michael Billington) actually on the line. He must get aboard a runaway Russian rig, outmaneuver two husky pilots (who are basically drunk and disorderly), and turn off the rig's power before it strikes Moonbase. 

Yet Alec is the one feeling the heat? 

This is an administrator's view of responsibility and pressure, for certain. He is thousands of miles from the actual action, but knows the buck stops with him. But Foster is the one who could die, of course. All Alec really does is have to report failure or success to his higher-ups. What's at stake for him? A demotion?

Finally, the sexist reading of this episode is that Straker falls for an attractive con-woman, one who uses her looks to get ahead, illicitly.  I think my reading is preferable, however, because it suggests that Jo Fraser is fighting for more than merely herself, but rather against an unfair system. This reading also improves the characterization of Straker. He's not just a man running after an attractive woman and hoping to score with her, but a man looking for an escape from "responsibility" with a woman whom he admires, and is almost uncontrollably drawn to.

If one looks at "The Responsibility Seat" in this fashion, it fits in well as part of the tragedy of Ed Straker.  He is a man who has lost his family, and his personal life, for his role as commander of SHADO, defender of the Earth.  In this story, he finds a woman he could truly love, and yet, again, must give her up, in this case because they are from two such different worlds.

Next week: "Ordeal."

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