Saturday, January 02, 2021

Saturday Morning Flashback: Land of the Lost: "The Orb."

The third episode of Land of the Lost’s final season, titled “The Orb,” is only a slight improvement over the disastrous second installment, “Survival Kit.”  

Here, Enik (Walker Edmiston) is transformed suddenly into a clone of Mr. Spock, adopting the term “logical” no less than seven times in a twenty-two minute span. I counted, because the use of the term became so egregious after the first couple of uses.

Of course, “logic” is Spock’s buzzword, derived from his planet’s obsession with logical behavior.  Why should Enik -- the resident alien of Land of the Lost -- suddenly adopt this obsession with “logical” behavior?  In all of Land of the Lost history, in every Enik episode -- if you added them up -- he wouldn’t have used the word logical seven times. It’s insulting here, and even as a kid I knew that Star Trek was being ripped-off.  I felt cheated, but also baffled.  Enik was a well-established, well-defined character by the third-season.  Why was he being re-written as a Spock clone?

In “The Orb,” the Sleestak spontaneously decide to eradicate all humans in Altrusia and believe that the key to doing so involves a mystical Sleestak orb that will plunge the world into total, permanent darkness.  Unfortunately, this plan -- making it permanently night -- was also at the heart of “Blackout,” the second-to-last episode of Land of the Lost’s second season. There, the Sleestak used a secret second clock pylon to freeze time.

So…in a relatively short span, the Sleestak have forgotten they already attempted this plan...and it didn’t work the first time.  Permanent midnight in Altrusia means, as that episode explained, that the moths that fertilize Sleestak will die in the cold. Permanent night is thus a death sentence not for humans, but for the Sleestak race.  

Alas, there’s no sense of continuity between this installment, and “Blackout.”

In hopes of acquiring the orb, the Sleestak capture Enik and Chaka (Philip Paley) in the hopes that the Marshalls will come for them and retrieve the orb from the God in the pit.  Fortunately, Will (Wesley Eure) happens into a pylon that no one has ever seen before, and it unexpectedly grants him invisibility. Invisibility, it turns out, is quite handy in stealing the orb and releasing Chaka and Sleestak.

Long story short: the writing here is just unbelievably bad. Forget Enik’s aping of Mr. Spock. Forget the fact that the Sleestak strategy was just attempted…five episodes ago in terms of chronology.  

But isn’t it awfully convenient that Will should develop the power of invisibility just when that one, specific power can solve the crisis of the day?  In a sense, all of dramatic writing is about fashioning manufactured crises, but a problem arises when there is so much contrivance involved.  That’s the case with “The Orb.”  The contrivances stack-up.

On top of all these concerns, “The Orb” is the second episode in row in which Holly (Kathy Coleman) has virtually nothing of consequence to do. There is a case that could be made that she is the true main character of Land of the Lost, but the third season so far simply dismisses her as a little girl, and lets Will and Jack do the heavy lifting.  

And in terms of Jack (Ron Harper), one can see why he proves necessary to the series in this episode. He brings a long a new influx of important equipment from matches and antibiotics to flare guns and flashlights.  All those items, incidentally, make it much easier to solve the problem of the week. That established, the moments with flares lighting a dark Altrusia are memorably wrought.

I’m a long-time admirer of Land of the Lost, and not one to dismiss the third season out of hand. But between “Survival Kit” and “The Orb” one can detect that the series is on a fatal downward slide.

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