Thursday, April 19, 2018

Cult-TV Blogging: The Immortal: "Brother's Keeper" (January 14, 1971)

In “Brother’s Keeper,” Ben Richards (Christopher George) tracks down a man who could be his brother, Jason (Michael Strong). Unfortunately, Jason was in an accident some years earlier, and doesn’t recall if he is Ben’s brother, or not. This fact complicates their reunion.

Although Jason’s wife (Marj Dusay) is suspicious of the newcomer at first, Ben attempts to get the couple to leave their home and flee, before Fletcher (Don Knight) can locate them.

Unfortunately, Fletcher has already tracked Jason down via the orphanage where he and Ben were raised, and he offers Jason and his wife a deal to return to Maitland’s lab. Suffering under crippling debt, Jason agrees to Fletcher’s terms. 

Ben rescues Jason and his wife from captivity, but Fletcher is soon in hot pursuit.  During a scuffle, Jason is injured, and Ben realizes that Jason does not share the same special blood as his brother. 

Ben continues on his lonely journey…

“Brother’s Keeper” -- the final episode of the short-lived 1969-1971 series The Immortal -- is largely a bust. 

First of all, the episode was apparently aired out of sequential order by its network, and so not a legitimate “final” episode. The specific details of this narrative suggest that this tale occurs in the series continuity before “The Return.” 

In that episode, Fletcher notes that he and Ben have both visited the orphanage where he was raised for a time, and this episode shows those events. This episode also notes that Ben has not yet been “home,” to the family that raised him in his teenage years.  Those events are seen in “The Return.”

Even leaving aside the out-of-order airdate, “Brother’s Keeper” is a bit confusing. “The Return” suggests that Jason and Ben were raised by Joe, together, when they were both teenagers.  Yet here Ben doesn’t recognize Jason as the brother he was raised with.  This personal detail makes absolutely zero sense.  At most, it’s been fifteen years since Ben has seen Jason.  Jason may have amnesia at this point and not recognize Ben, but Ben would certainly recognize Jason!

Also, the episode brings absolutely no closure to the series’ themes or narrative, much in keeping with TV shows of the age.  Jason, we find out, may or may not be Ben’s brother.  However, he definitely does not bear the same type of “immortal” blood. So, we get no real answers about the “real” Jason, and this is just another episode (like “The Return” or “Paradise Bay”) where Ben encounters someone named Jason Richards, whom he believes, for a time, to be his sibling.  But again, there’s no certainty.

The episode also strains credibility at points. Jason and his wife are taken back to Maitland’s National Research Institute -- the belly of the beast, and Fletcher’s HQ -- and Ben effortlessly breaks in, rescues the couple, and breaks out.  Moment like these render the Fletcher character little more than the cliché of the “hapless pursuer.” His prey comes to him, faces incredible odds at his HQ, and gets away.  This is the point, obviously, where Maitland should fire Fletcher and get someone more competent to do the job.  The series has, overall, avoided having Ben engage in such crazy, suicidal heroic campaigns.

So The Immortal ends with a whimper rather than a bang, and yet I will admit it: it was totally worth it to watch this forty-five year old series. The production values were often outstanding, and some episodes (“The Queen’s Gambit,” “Man on a Punched Card,” “To the Gods Alone”) were great treasures.  I often cover series here on the blog, or in my books, that have survived the test of time.  They have endured beyond their original context and emerged as multi-generational favorites. Pretty clearly, The Immortal is not in this cherished camp, and remains an obscure, though intriguing series.  Apparently the culture has room for one “touchstone” of the man-on-the-run format, and that series is The Fugitive.  If I’m wrong, and it isn’t The Fugitive, it may be The Invaders, instead.  But it’s not The Immortal.

Despite the good episodes, The Immortal never manages to really overcome its formulaic nature, despite the occasional bright spots. As I wrote above, however, it was a treat to actually see the series for the first time, and to see some fine work on the part of choreographers, composers, writers, and directors, and the (late) Christopher George, and Don Knight.

It would be fascinating, I believe, to go back to James Gunn’s original book, The Immortal, and adapt that dystopian story utilizing modern special effects and sensibilities.

Next week, I move to a retrospective of another one season wonder: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974).


  1. Since one of your philosophies is that genre media must reflect the times in which it is made, consider that part of the idea of the original novel is that the rich, who can afford the treatment, can exist forever.

    Then, as now, the fear was that those with wealth would continue forever, continuing to consolidate their power over everyone else.

    That's far more interesting that a man on the run.

  2. John,

    First things first - I think some of the stuntmen in this episode had to have been either concussed or seriously hurt! That diving punch that (stunt)Ben delivers to (stunt)Fletcher - bouncing his chin off of a table - I reacted the way sports fanatics react to a hit in football, or MMA, or pro wrestling! That must've left a mark! I hope, like Ben Richards, that those stuntmen heal fast.

    Seeing Michael Strong is always a treat, and I thought he was credible here as Ben's brother, although he isn't as good of a fighter as Ben. One of my favorite moments is when he tells Fletcher that the cut on his face isn't really healing. The look on Fletcher's face is a thing of beauty. He may be a hapless hunter, but Don Knight really has given life to the character in a way that few actors could.

    Speaking of acting, I must confess to feeling genuinely sorry for Ben when he says goodbye to Jason. The heartbreak, the loneliness, the disappointment, the acceptance - it all is there in Ben's face. I felt real sorrow in that moment, and the realization that this was the very last episode of The Immortal.

    I've truly enjoyed taking this ride with you, John. I think it's wonderful that, around the time I acquired the series on dvd, you decided to examine the show. It was fun watching it with you, and looking at it through my Dad's eyes, since he'd told me of The Immortal, and I never thought I'd ever get a chance to see it. I'm grateful that I did, and for your thoughts each week.


  3. This final episode has some appalling errors in the script. Fletcher says to an underling something to the effect of "You're allowed one mistake. You made it, so you're out."

    Er, sorry, Fletcher. That would mean you're allowed ZERO mistakes.

    And earlier Ben says to Jason "You may be my brother". To which Jason replies, "How do you know so much about me?"

    Er, sorry, Jason. That's not so much. Although the long list of things Ben reels off afterwards IS a lot.

    These errors are nothing compared the logical problem you referred to: Ben's inability to recognise his own brother. But taken together it makes it look as if nobody was bothering to pay attention when this episode was put together. Maybe the episode was held back from broadcast because it is so bad. A sad end to a series which otherwise had some engaging episodes.


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