Thursday, August 01, 2019
Cult-TV Blogging: Buck Rogers: "Planet of the Amazon Women" (November 8, 1979)
In "Planet of the Amazon Women," Earth is mired in difficult negotiations with the hostile Ruathans. The bone of contention is a planet called Madrea, rich in a mineral known as Barbarite. Both planets need Barbarite and believe that Madrea is under their jurisdiction. War could break out over this matter at any time.
While Buck (Gil Gerard) is out patrolling to make certain that Ruathans have honored their promise not to blockade Madrea, he picks up a distress call from a xenophobic planet, Zantia. A space yacht is stranded in orbit, and Buck obligingly tows them to a space port, planetoid.
There, he is captured, and held prisoner by a slave trader, Cassius Thorne (Jay Robinson). It turns out that Zantia lost a war to Ruatha, and the vast majority of the planet's men are being held off-planet as prisoners of war.
Now, Zantia kidnaps men from other worlds and auctions them off to the highest bidder. Buck is auctioned, and sold to the prime minister's daughter, Ariel (Anne Dusenberry), She is launching a resistance movement against her mother's regime. Buck agrees to help Ariel capture the Ruathan ambassador, to return Zantia's men.
This plan, however, comes up against the Earth Directorate, and against Wilma (Erin Gray), who is flying escort to the Ruathan delegation.'
"Planet of the Amazon Women" is a pretty horrendous episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, for a number of reasons, from the exploitative title to the total whitewashing of the institution of slavery, to the contrived ending, which sells out an entire planet, Madrea, to the ruthless Ruathans.
In short, this isn't the series' finest hour.
Let's start with slavery.
Slavery is a horrendous evil, and one that our society, more than a century later, has not fully grappled with. Slaves are treated as property, not as individuals. They are abused, tortured and harassed. Families are separated. Slavery serves the rich, and destroys the idea of human dignity for everyone.
Yet here, in this story, slavery is but an excuse for Buck to be stripped down to his bare chest, so a room full of women can ogle his body. The whole concept of slavery as dehumanizing and immoral is lost in "Planet of the Amazon Women," as it is turned into a sexualized experience, with Buck even joking about it. He says at one point, as women bid on him, "this is degrading...I am worth more than that."
I understand and appreciate that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is a light and amusing program. But that fact is an indicator, probably, that it doesn't need to tread into topics of such seriousness as slavery, since there is no intention to handle them in a serious fashion.
Basically, the whole idea of Buck being enslaved by women becomes an excuse for a bunch of women to drool over him, and show Gil Gerard's hairy chest. It's a first season low-point.
The episode's denouement isn't much better, at least from a morality stand-point. Basically, Buck learns that Zantia is rich in Barbarite, a fact which the Ruathans do not know. So Buck and the Earth Defense Directorate willingly give up their hold on Madrea, knowing they have a Barbarite-rich ace in the hole: Zantia.
They hand over Madrea -- a populated planet, and an ally to the Earth-Defense Directorate -- to the harsh and unforgiving Ruathans. There is a throwaway line of dialogue here, from Buck, that people will have the option to leave Madrea if they don't want to be ruled by the Ruathans, but that is a band-aid on a huge problem.
How would you like it if someone said, America will now be ruled by Russia, but don't worry, you'll have an opportunity to move to Mexico or Canada? Would you want to leave your home? The place where you put down roots? Where your family lives? Where you were raised?
I didn't think so.
One might say that this is an example of Buck Rogers using "realpolitik" that should be appreciated as true to life, but it doesn't play as realpolitik, it plays as contrived. The Directorate decides that it can get its Barbarite from Zantia, and throws Madrea under the bus. Talk about being a fair-weather friend! It's very convenient storytelling, but poor state-craft.
There are some commendable aspects of this episode, that are indeed worth mentioning. Wilma Deering is well-played and utilized perfectly here. She goes to Zantia to rescue Buck, and holds Cassius Thorne captive, threatening to turn him into a "toasted cheese sandwich." Then, when she learns that Buck is working with the resistance -- and apparently against the Directorate -- she does her duty, threatening to shoot at Buck's starfighter if he interferes with negotiations. In short, she is depicted as an intelligent, capable operative and officer, one who knows where her duty rests. This doesn't sound revolutionary in 2019, but remember that as late as 1990, the female characters of Star Trek: The Next Generation were still smashing crockery over the heads of villains, rather than piloting spaceships, or launching rescue missions (and holding villains hostage with honest-to-goodness weaponry).
Also it must be said that the matte painting of the Zantian city in this episode is quite well-done, and remains impressive-looking, even in our age of CGI. Finally, in our weekly Battlestar Galactica prop-watch, the Ruathan shuttle miniature is actually one of the Colonial ships in the rag-tag fleet, from that other Glen Larson series.
Next week: "Cosmic Whiz Kid."
" Why is any object we don't understand always called a thing?" - Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) in Star Trek: The Mot...