Saturday, February 27, 2021

Land of the Lost: "Ancient Guardian"

Is it wrong to observe that as the third season winds down, the Marshalls in the Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977) are starting to seem increasingly unlikable? 

In “Ancient Guardian” for example, the family happens upon a strange Altrusian statue while out on a hike, and decides to take it down and bring it back to the temple for examination.

By removing the statue from its perch, the Marshalls unloose a hairy Yeti-like creature (though explicitly not the yeti-like creature seen in “The Abominable Snowman”) upon the Lost City.  The beast goes on a violent rampage three and in one scene breaks into the Sleestak nursery where it starts breaking and devouring the eggs of their young.

So, just because they were curious, the Marshalls initiated a chain of events that ends with the death of Sleestak young.  

If you were a Sleestak, wouldn’t you have a tough time getting past this particular incident? If bad blood existed between the humans and Sleestaks in Altrusia before this episode, then certainly “Ancient Guardian” augments it. And in point of fact, the Sleestak have a point this time around.

The worst part of this dynamic is that the Marshalls show no awareness what they have done, and don’t even apologize for the fact that their actions caused this problem. Instead, as Will breaks into song one more time, Jack observes that maybe the Marshalls should leave things alone that they don’t understand.

You think?

This is a bizarre inversion of the Land of the Lost’s long-standing conceit that we all must be shepherds of the environment around us. Previous seasons saw the Marshalls correcting imbalances and recognizing their role in the scheme of things. Here, the breach is repaired, but the Marshalls show no remorse.  They caused a terrible, mortal imbalance, and it’s just, well, no big deal, right?  Jack, who dismisses Enik’s fears about the monster as “Sleestak Myth” certainly owes the Altrusian an apology.

The most enjoyable aspect of “Ancient Guardian” involves the nifty Altrusian statue itself. As the Marshalls learn, it is an Ancient relic and thus possessed of advanced technology. In particular, it harnesses and focuses solar energy so as to fire a heat beam at the valley where the monster lives, thus keeping it from journeying into the valley. I always find Land of the Lost intriguing when aspects of Altrusian technology and civilization are revealed and explored.

What doesn’t work so well, again, is the depiction of Enik (Walker Edmiston). Here, he calls the Yeti “the hairy monster,” or “the monster,” which just sounds ridiculous coming from someone of his advanced intellect. Lines of dialogue like “The Monster Comes. It is the Hairy One,” are difficult to take seriously, and diminish Enik’s dignity.

And one has to wonder why Enik reveals such little curiosity regarding the inscriptions on the statue, since they originate directly from his culture.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Planet of the Apes: "Up Above the World So High"

In “Up Above the World So High,” Galen (Roddy McDowall) spies a human flying a high glider.  Unfortunately, the pilot has also been detected by a curious gorilla patrol.

The fugitives make contact with the human pilot, Leuric (Frank Aletter), who has not quite perfected his hang glider.  He is suspicious that they want to steal his invention.

Shortly afterwards, an ape scientist, Carsia (Joanna Barnes), also makes contact with Leuric, and gives him the materials he needs to build a functional glider.  

She has a dastardly plan. She intends to use 20th century fragmentation bombs to destroy the ape council of Central City, a decapitation strike and coup that will create a new ape order.

Now, the fugitives must make sure that flying is seen as an impossibility, an act which requires Galen to be the first ape pilot in history.

“Up Above the World So High” is the second Planet of the Apes (1974) episode in two weeks that features the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and an upturning of the social order. 

In “The Liberator,” a human sought to use toxic gas to kill the ape overlords and free his people. Here, a human pilot’s creation of a glider has dark consequences. A chimpanzee insurgent wants to use the glider as a delivery system to destroy the Ape Council; using fragmentation bombs – another relic of the twentieth century and man’s self-destructive nature.

Perhaps these two stories appear at the end of the run because the earlier stories seem, well, inconsequential. The stakes tend to be “freedom,” or “escape.” In “Up Above the World So High” and “The Liberator,” the stakes are raised. The possibility of social disorder is high. If Galen, Virdon and Burke fail, people -- apes and humans -- will die.

This story is also an unusual inversion of the typical formula. Usually, Virdon and Burke embrace enlightenment and progress. They show the world of the future how to fish more efficiently (“Tomorrow’s Tide”), cure Malaria (“The Cure,”) and undertake blood transfusions successfully (“The Surgeon.”) In all these stories, enlightenment wins out over ignorance.  In this final tale, however, they sabotage flight intentionally, keeping that advance from the Dark Age world, so that it cannot be abused by power hungry people such as Carsia. Perhaps flight is too much, too fast, given the divisions and ignorance of this future world.  

Still, I can’t believe that Carsia won’t try again, with or without the help of Leuric. I find her a fascinating character, both in terms of her intelligence and ambition. I wonder if, at some point, Wanda, the brilliant chimp we met in "The Interrogation" was intended to return in this episode.

One bizarre aspect or theory about the Planet of the Apes series that I find intriguing is this: Burke, and Virdon, essentially, prove the fears of Urko and Zaius. 

Just months after these future astronauts arrive near Central City, ape culture faces threats from nerve gas and fragmentation bombs, both products of man's self-destructive nature. Early on in the series, we heard Zaius and Urko lamenting how the astronauts promise to bring threatening ideas with them. Of course, it’s just a coincidence in terms of timing, but that’s precisely what occurs, it seems.

So far as execution is concerned, “Up Above the World So High” leaves much to be desired, particularly in its final act. 

While still in the sites of the apes, Galen, Leuric and the others are seen paddling away in the ocean.  Are we to believe that the apes didn’t go search for bodies? Or follow up to see if they survived?  OR recover the remains of the aircraft?  Here, our heroes (and the secret of flight, incidentally), make the lamest, most obvious escape imaginable.

And sadly, that’s our very last view of the series’ heroes. One can’t help but feel that the 1974 series represents a missed opportunity on a colossal scale. Some individual episodes are good, indeed, but there is no urgency or dynamism to the program.  It often feels small potatoes somehow.

Planet of the Apes: "The Cure"

In “The Cure,” Virdon (Ron Harper), Burke (James Naughton) and Galen (Roddy McDowall) learn that malaria is ravaging a village of humans they recently visited.  Over Galen’s objections, they return to help the infected.

Meanwhile, General Urko (Mark Lenard) wants to burn the village to the ground to destroy the disease, but Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman) sends a renowned Chimpanzee doctor to discover a cure, especially since the disease begins to fell apes as well…

“The Cure” is a not-particularly-scintillating episode of the short-lived Planet of the Apes series from 1974. The episode features an intellectual debate pitting determined ignorance (Urko) against the quest for knowledge (Burke/Virdon), but the debate is a little too simple-minded for my taste. 

It’s all well-and-good that the human astronauts represent knowledge and wisdom, but it would be nice if some apes could do the same occasionally. 

At its worst, the Planet of the Apes series is all about humans putting the “primitive” talking apes in their place for thinking they are so superior to man.  

Yet if one considers the history of Earth in this universe, this is really faulty thinking. It wasn’t the apes who destroyed the world, after all, but “advanced” humans.  When the series forgets that, it isn’t very dynamic, interesting, or -- frankly -- intellectually honest.  This is the same premise that scuttled some episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981).  

The guy from the era of global nuclear war and a worldwide holocaust is going to lecture the people of the future about being a good human being?

It’s a bit hypocritical.

The point is that for Planet of the Apes to really function adequately as a series, the human characters must confront and reinforce or alter their beliefs too.  When it's just about them smugly beating the apes, there's a flatness to the storytelling.

Also, it’s a little tiring that the human astronauts are always romancing, at least to some degree, human villagers that they encounter.  Virdon (a married man…) must gently turn down the advances of Amy (Sondra Locke) here, and he does the same thing with Arn in “The Legacy.”  

In “The Surgeon,” Burke shows more than normal concern for a shunned young woman.  

I realize that the series was trying to capture many demographics simultaneously, but it just seems terribly predictable and hackneyed that there is always a beautiful woman for the astronauts to romance…and then promptly leave behind.

Similarly, Virdon can be really insufferable as a lead character. He constantly gets his friends into trouble, and acts in a kind of imperious fashion.  He always does what he wants, and rarely consults the others.  

Galen calls him on that tendency here, and Virdon apologizes, but he doesn’t really take the feedback seriously. When Galen reminds Virdon that he not only trusted Amy with his life, but he trusted her with Galen’s, Virdon says “chalk it up to the fact that I’m only human.”

I hate to tell Virdon this, but not all humans act so inconsiderately, or so arrogantly.

I like the Planet of the Apes series more than many critics and fans do.  I think it is very good when it diagrams the differences between ape and human culture, a kind of race-based class system.  But some episodes tend toward dullness because they simply involve helping humans we don’t really care about, and outsmarting the ape establishment.

“The Cure” has a strong point to make about how it is necessary, sometimes, to undertake dangerous tasks to help others, and to simultaneously push forward the boundaries of science.  But “The Cure” could also be a little more lively, a little less rote.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Planet of the Apes: "The Tyrant"

In “The Tyrant,” the fugitives -- Galen (Roddy McDowall), Virdon (Ron Harper) and Burke (James Naughton) -- attempt to entrap a ruthless, corrupt gorilla named Aboro (Percy Rodrigues), who has been promoted to prefect of a local village. He has taken over from Galen’s cousin, Augustus.

In an effort to correct matters, Galen pretends to be an underling of Dr. Zaius named Octavio, and offers Aboro a new position: as a replacement for General Urko (Mark Lenard).  

This plan requires, however, Aboro to assassinate Urko, a step he is ultimately willing to take.

For the fugitives, the plan is less simple. They must convince the human-hating Urko to go along too, to prove Aboro’s corruption. But Urko cannot trust humans, or an ape who “chose to live with humans.”

“The Tyrant” may just be my least favorite episode, so far, of the short-lived Planet of the Apes (1974) TV series.  

In short, the episode is another pot-boiler, with no real social commentary or depth. Instead, this episode is plainly “Mission: Impossible on the Planet of the Apes,” as our trio of heroic fugitives successfully bring down a corrupt ape. They resort to subterfuge and trickery to do it, waging a kind of psychological warfare campaign against Aboro.

Galen is the Rollin Hand character of this team, adopting the disguise (accent, and gait) of Octavius, a hench-ape to Doctor Zaius. 

I understand the necessity of giving Roddy McDowall, the top-billed actor on the series, something of substance to do each week, but having his ape become a master of disguise is a risible solution. Galen works best, perhaps, as a guide to ape culture, and a curious “outsider” to human culture. But more and more, the series uses him as a wily trickster, fooling other apes into believing his disguise/fake identity of the week.

It is difficult to deny that episodes such as “The Tyrant” abandon all pretense that Planet of the Apes (1974) is a science fiction series, contending with legitimate science fiction issues. There is no real discussion of ape society in this episode, or even of human society, for that matter. Nor is there is “mythology” present to refer back to, regarding the astronauts’ plight. There aren’t even any futuristic futuristic touches, either.  On that last front, there was clearly a model from the feature films to work with: the subterranean human mutants.

Instead, “The Tyrant” is simply an espionage, M:I story with talking apes.

That’s a disappointment, especially since the series’ best episodes -- “The Legacy,” “The Deception,” and “The Trap” -- for instance are strong in terms of commentary and character development, at least.  Here, the character decisions are baffling, in a way. If planned out more cleverly, Galen, Virdon and Burke might have rid themselves of both Aboro and Urko in one stroke, instead of merely removing the former. But since this is a 1970’s series in which the status quo must always be rigorously maintained, that eventuality does not occur.

I suppose what I am complaining about here is that little thought seems to have gone into what kind of series this should, or could be. I suppose one might argue that Aboro is a symbol for the Watergate Scandal in the real world, but even that comparison seems incomplete, or facile.

Indeed, the most intriguing aspects of the episode actually make one sympathize a little with Aboro’s situation. Galen’s cousin, Augustus, is aghast that a gorilla has risen to the position of prefect, since “our kind” (meaning chimpanzees) “always fill administrative positions.”  

In other words, there seems to be a class stratification in ape society. Aboro rises to a role gorillas don’t frequently hold. Sure he’s a despot, but still, he’s taken advantage of his skills and his opportunities.  But then Galen and the others take him down, reinforcing the belief that gorillas can’t be trusted to hold administrative positions. In this case, the series establishes a prejudice in ape culture, and then confirms that prejudice: gorillas can’t be trusted to hold positions of power.

Surely, however, Urko is in an administrative position, right? (And he's definitely a gorilla).

Planet of the Apes: "The Interrogation"

In “The Interrogation,” Burke (James Naughton) is captured by apes, and immediately taken to Central City. There, a young ape scientist, Wanda (Beverly Garland) desires to conduct a brainwashing experiment on him, based on her research from ancient human texts.
Urko (Mark Lenard), by contrast, wants Burke lobotomized at once.

Galen (Roddy McDowall) and Virdon (Ron Harper) must return to Central City to save Burke, but doing so also means that Galen must visit with his estranged family.  Galen’s father, Yulu (Norman Burton), in particular, has not forgiven him for siding with the humans and becoming a fugitive from ape society.

“The Interrogation” is an intriguing and entertaining, if nonetheless formulaic, hour of the 1974 Planet of the Apes series. 

Once more, an episode of the series eschews mythology and revolves, instead, around the capture of a fugitive (in this case, Burke), and his rescue by the others (in this case, Virdon, and Galen). At this point, it’s not an inspiring entrance point into an Apes story.  Worse, we know from the beginning how the story will end.

But, some aspects of the tale are indeed fascinating. Wanda, the ape brain-washer (described as a “brilliant young scientist,” by Zaius ) is a fascinating character, and in some ways quite brave and heroic, despite her allegiance to Dr. Zaius. 

For instance, Wanda sees no problem in relying on a human-written textbook from before the age of the apes. She doesn't ignore knowledge because of its origination point.  And she practices her brain-washing method -- which involves physical closeness with Burke, a human -- in a courageous way.  I

n the episode, we see Burke in a fantasy world, romantically involved with a young woman, romantically kissing her.  But in reality, Wanda and Burke are kissing one another. This whole approach is surprising and brave, considering that some people might call the relationship “bestiality.”  I remember, very vividly, seeing this episode as part of the movie syndication package in the early '80s, and being shocked at how far the relationship between ape and human progresses.

It’s also intriguing, and a call-back to the 1968 motion picture, that Urko recommends the usual course of action for menaces such as Burke: lobotomy. We saw the results of this process in Planet of the Apes (on astronaut Landon), and apparently the technique is practiced on humans in this time (or ape-o-verse) as well.

Another running theme of the series is also revisited in this episode, namely that ape society is one in a dark age of sorts, based entirely on “custom and habit,” according to Galen. In other words, this is a pre-enlightenment society, and in this case, enlightenment may never come because the apes have a crucial secret to protect: human superiority/self-destruction in the distant past. I very much like this aspect of the TV series. Burke and Virdon have landed in a medieval society, and must take on not only the apes, but generations of ignorance and superstition.

“The Interrogation” is less than stellar in a few important ways, too. We meet Galen’s father, Yalu, here, and it’s a soap opera story-line. The prodigal son returns home, to a disapproving father. Star Trek did it better in "Journey to Babel."  Also, it strikes me as supremely irresponsible that Galen would involve his family in this (Mission: Impossible) caper, given what his parents could lose. But a story of disapproving father and rebellious son has been done many times before, and with more flair than we see in “The Interrogation.”

Also, this seems an appropriate juncture to note that the apes authority has terrible security, even in the big HQ, Central City. In "The Interrogation," a wanted human and fugitive ape break into the office of Dr. Zaius, an important, high official, and are not captured for their trespass. Again, this occurs in the capital city, which is the ape society's seat of power.  Urko is, by definition, the “hapless pursuer” in The Fugitive formula, but he is also incompetent as a security officer.

Despite such drawbacks, “The Interrogation” is a sturdy, well-made entry in this short-lived series.  Much of that sturdiness arises from the creepiness of the scenario (ape and human kissing!) and Beverly Garland’s turn as Wanda, an enlightened ape in a pre-enlightenment society.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Planet of the Apes: "The Deception"

In “The Deception,” Galen (Roddy McDowall), Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) unexpectedly become enmeshed in a local racial dispute when the death of an ape at human hands results in vigilante acts by angry apes.

These vigilante apes ride on horses, wear hoods, and torch farms belonging to humans. They are also willing to commit murder to assert their supremacy (and their hatred for humans). These are the monsters known as the Dragoons.

The fugitives meet with the daughter, Fauna (Jane Acton), of the slain ape, Lucian, and learn that she is blind.  She mistakes Burke for an ape and falls in love with him, an act which precipitates an unfortunate deception on the part of the heroic trio.

Meanwhile, Galen pretends to be a human-hating ape so as to infiltrate “the dragoons,” the ape vigilante cult. His mission fails, which means that Alan and Pete have no choice but to seek the help of local ape authorities.

Although, again, there is no real mythology presented in this episode of Planet of the Apes (1974), “The Deception” is nonetheless one of the strongest episodes of the short-lived series. There are two reasons why this is the case.

First, the episode focuses on an unfortunate mistake or accident. Fauna, an ape, falls in love with Burke, a human, and he can’t correct the situation without putting himself and his friends in danger. In other words, Burke must go on, with Galen’s help, pretending to be an ape, so as not to be discovered. Burke is acutely aware that this deception is hurtful to Fauna. Galen actually gets angry with Burke about the situation, though there is nothing else to be done.  

I could write that this is a very “human” predicament, but that may not be an appropriate description given the circumstances. The bottom line is that this episode allows Galen to show anger and irritation when he perceives that a gentle, kind ape is mistreated. And it also permits Burke to express regret over his own actions. Too often, the main characters on this series seem infallible or are grappling only with simple-minded action plot-lines. Here, the cost of the fugitives’ deception is very personal.

Secondly, “The Deception” works beautifully on an allegorical or metaphorical level. 

Here, apes who boast monstrous race-hatred towards humans don hoods, burn down human farms, and threaten humans with terror so as to achieve their agenda of dominance. “The Deception” calls these monsters “The Dragoons.” 

We recognize them, in our world, as the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan (and the Dragoons) believe first and foremost in their own superiority, and secondly, that their superiority gives them the right to circumvent the law to achieve their ends. The Dragoons, and their real life model, are but cowards who hide in hoods so they can commit their crimes without reprisals from law enforcement, and society at large.  

It is rewarding that Planet of the Apes would tackle the problem of race-based hate groups in America, in 1974, and the comparison to our world is powerful, and impossible to miss. The presentation of the “Dragoons” is similarly a reminder that not everybody accepts diversity, or people of different beliefs. Some people respond to evolving social order with terrible violence. Some people seek to destroy that which is different, or which they don't understand.

Notably, the gorilla sheriff, Perdix (Baynes Barron) in this episode is treated in an even-handed manner, which is quite a surprise given the franchise. He may be a gorilla, but nonetheless he sees the value in the rule of law, and does not succumb to the hatred that other apes -- including a chimpanzee -- do, in this situation.  

Gorillas are almost universally treated as one-note, or two-dimensional characters in this series; they are dumb, militaristic brutes. This episode stands out as a notable and remarkable exception.

Fauna is also a terrific character, and the fact that she is blind is not a gimmick. Instead, it is a significant reminder that we can't always "see" the truth, even when it is right in front of us. Fauna hates humans because she believed they killed her father. She is unaware that her own kind -- apes -- are responsible for this crime.  

She falls in love with Burke, as well, because of the kindness she senses him. She has closed herself off the possibility that the quality of kindness could exist in a human being. Without her eyes to confirm her hatred, she is a different person

“The Deception” is a powerful, well-constructed episode because it isn’t just a series of captures and rescues, but a story about people who make mistakes, and about dark tendencies that we recognize from our own world, even today.

Planet of the Apes: "The Surgeon"

In “The Surgeon,” Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) is shot by gorillas and his wounds require emergency medical care.  Unfortunately, there are no hospitals for humans in this topsy-turvy, unequal world.

Desperate to save their friend’s life, Galen (Roddy McDowall) and Burke (James Naughton) take Virdon to an ape hospital near Central City, where Galen’s ex fiancé, Kira (Jacqueline Scott) is a prominent surgeon.

At the hospital, Burke realizes that Virdon needs a blood transfusion, but there are many superstitions and stigmas associated with giving blood because of a failed transfusion between humans years earlier.  

Burke most conquer this societal fear, particularly for a human orderly, Travin (Michael Strong), and the daughter, Arna (Jamie Smith Jackson) that he has shunned since the earlier transfusion took the life of his son.

Also, the fugitives realize that a book of ancient human anatomy -- Principles of Surgery -- is necessary to save Virdon, and, unfortunately, it is stored in Dr. Zaius’s (Booth Colman) house.


“The Surgeon” sees our triumvirate of heroes return to Central City due to a medical emergency. This time, it is Virdon who is injured, and in need of medical attention. Much like other Planet of the Apes (1974) episodes -- particularly "The Good Seeds" -- this tale focuses on the human astronauts conquering superstition and bringing old knowledge to the future world of the apes.  Also, the episode exposes the racial breach that sees humans treated as second class citizens.  Here, we learn that medical advances don't typically benefit them.  "Health care" in this world is the province of the apes.

Many episodes of this short-lived series focus on the idea of the ape world as a kind of pre-Renaissance, medieval realm (except, significantly, for the presence of 20th century firearms). 

Basically, there is no enlightenment among the people, and the Ape Council wants to control all knowledge, for fear that knowledge will lead apes and humans down the same road that destroyed human culture in the distant past.  Without that learning, or knowledge, however, this is a world of superstition and ignorance.

I wish the series did a better job of noting that the "knowledgeable" human race destroyed itself, and that the apes, though ignorant and superstitious, at least have reasons (if not well-thought out ones) for keeping progress at a slow pace.

One quality I admire about “The Surgeon” is that it is unusually even-handed discussing this paradigm. Many episodes of the series feature Galen, Virdon and Burke outsmarting or tricking the dominant apes.  One way they do that is by superior knowledge of history, science, and so on.  Here, however, one important focus is Travin (Michael Strong), a human who is ignorant about blood transfusions. 

Travin blames Arna, his own flesh and blood, because of a transfusion that went wrong and killed her brother.  He thinks that her blood is “evil.”  He is unaware that blood donors have to be compatible, and this is something that Burke explains during the course of the story.  

The ape surgeons, including Kira, by contrast, seem informed by the desire to save lives, even a human life.  They permit the use of the human-written text, Principles of Surgery, putting their vocation as physicians above any need to prove or establish racial superiority, in this case. 

The Planet of the Apes series works better when there is some nuance to the story-telling; apes who are not bad, and humans are not all good.  This episode lives up to that ideal, so that stereotypes about the apes, and the humans, aren’t comfortably fulfilled. The whole point of a show like this is to remind us that we can’t fail to see people as individuals, because prejudice will grow worse.

In terms of the series’ formula or tropes, one can see how much of the action is repetitive or derivative. 

Another crisis, involving Burke this time, necessitates that the fugitives return to Central City again, in “The Interrogation.” And Galen certainly makes a habit of calling on his old friends/romantic interests when it suits him.  

Also, he likes to masquerade as an ape of different occupations, as we see in “The Deception,” “The Tyrant,” and “Up Above the Sky” to name just a few episodes.

“The Surgeon” is a relatively strong story in the limited format of Planet of the Apes, but it exposes again, how the series might have been more intriguing with a more mythology-based approach to storytelling.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Planet of the Apes: "The Legacy"

In “The Legacy,” refugees Virdon (Ron Harper), Burke (James Naughton) and Galen (Roddy McDowall) travel to the ruins of a 20th century city and discover a government think-tank there.  

The hologram of a long-dead scientist informs the visitors that in buildings around the world are seeded discs containing crucial scientific information that can save the human race. 

One such vault is in this very city.

Unfortunately, the ancient computer needs to be recharged, a task that becomes of primary importance to Virdon in his quest to return home to his family and the 20th century.  He and the others separate, in hopes of procuring supplies which can help them build a re-charger.

But Virdon is promptly captured by General Urko (Mark Lenard) and Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman) and held in a 20th century building that resembles a castle.

There, Zaius hopes to use a captured human female, Arn (Zina Bethune) and child, Kraik (Jackie Earle Haley) to gain Virdon’s confidence, believing that humans are “extremely vulnerable in family situations.”

Could man have ever known so much and done so little with it?” Galen asks his human friends in “The Legacy,” and that’s a good question.  

It’s an interrogative that gets right at the undercurrent of social commentary that runs through the 1974 series, and reminds viewers that man, after a fashion, is responsible  -- in this universe at least -- for his own destruction.

Unfortunately, the idea is not presented as clearly or as cleanly as it might be on Planet of the Apes because of some of the staging/background information/costuming choices we get here.  

For example, the hologram of the human scientist (Jon Lormer) appears at one point, and we see a wise old human in a futuristic kind of lab-coat or outfit.  How are we to square this gent’s futuristic appearance with the fact that the human race killed itself, essentially, in a nuclear war?  

How did humanity become advanced and destroy itself, in other words?  I don't believe that Virdon and Burke wore clothes like this in their everyday lives, so the implication is that this human existed long after they disappeared.  

So why does the city look so...mid-20th century?  

The Planet of the Apes TV series never quite explains these contradictions. The apes must rise because humanity falls. And humanity falls because of the species’ own, flawed, warring nature.  But this guy looks pretty peaceful and serene.

Overlooking this problem in internal historical consistency, “The Legacy” is still likely one of the stronger episodes of the short-lived series in part because it at least attempts to move forward the overall story-arc about the fall of man, and the mechanism by which Virdon hopes to return home and warn the species.

The episode’s title “The Legacy” also works dramatically in a number of intriguing ways. One of mankind’s legacies is the destroyed city itself, a place that was once a paradise but is now in ruins. 

To put a fine point on the matter: Destruction is humanity's legacy.

The vaults filled with scientific knowledge also represent man’s legacy.  They symbolize his ability to look to the future even when all seems lost in the present. Virdon is understandably giddy about excavating this particular legacy.  He waxes poetic about the idea of a “lot of long-forgotten ideas that would make this a nicer world.”  

In part, this is because Virdon is an optimist.  Even after everything, he would rather see the good in mankind than the evil.

Similarly, we might think of the a legacy in terms of Zaius’s dialogue about humanity being vulnerable in family situations.  

Virdon is a family man through and through, and that legacy of family leads him to accept Kraik and Arn as family members, at least after a fashion.  But the idea of family proves not to be the deadly weakness that Zaius hopes, but rather the strength by which the humans survive and endure.  

Eventually, this human family comes together, and escapes the trap Zaius has set.  Perhaps our legacy is that in bad times, we stick together, and accept others into our "tribe."

Finally, Virdon makes specific mention of a legacy in regards to the human custom of the hand-shake.  He notes that people don’t really know why they do it….they just do it.  The original purpose for the hand shake (involving the drawing of a sword...) is long since inoperative by the 20th century, and by Virdon's time. Yet the tradition endures.

This raises another significant question about mankind.  Is he simply a mindless being who does things by rote, because they are familiar to him?  Does this account for his propensity to make war?

Or does man lean on tradition and convention because they honor who he hopes to be as a species?  It is true that he makes war, but he also clings to family.

The idea of legacy, threaded throughout the episode, makes this installment a fairly-layered and compelling one.

Unfortunately, the story arc about the knowledge vaults introduced in “The Legacy” is never continued in the short-lived series.  It would have been great to see the astronauts go in search of and perhaps find another vault, one possessing different secrets.  This is a series with such a rich backdrop, and such rich potential.  And yet most of the stories fail to mine the possibilities.

Planet of the Apes: "The Trap:

There's a long-standing, honorable and familiar tradition in cult television regarding a particular story scenario:

Two committed enemies are forced to work together to extract themselves from a difficult, life-threatening spot despite their extreme differences.

You may have seen this dramatic idea played out, large scale -- human pilot against alien Drac -- in Wolfgang Peterson's epic film, Enemy Mine (1985), for instance. But a similar tale has also been a staple of sci-fi TV programs across the decades

This "My Enemy/My Ally" narrative conceit, as I sometimes term it, proved especially popular during the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps it was a coded reflection of the Global Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, a conflict that separated the world into two intractable sides, two ideologies, two superpowers.

Since many cult TV programs are geared explicitly towards the idea of imagining and presenting a better, more positive future -- pointing towards the evolution and growth of our species -- this explanation certainly makes abundant sense. 

Episodes of the "My Enemy/My Ally" variety often suggest that -- once thrown together into a life-threatening scenario -- enemies can find a common bond if only they leave their pre-existing, hostile, cultural beliefs behind. The notion is that understanding and trust are seeds that can grow inside people over time, and even blossom into peaceful co-existence, tolerance and hopefully, real friendship. 

In the era of mutually assured destruction, it was powerful for sci-fi television to suggest that -- just by being thrown together into a common danger with our mortal enemies -- we could prevent nuclear annihilation. By personally knowing our enemy, we could make a better choice...for the planet.

One highly-intriguing variation of the "My Enemy/My Ally" theme involves the controversial issue of race relations in America. By and large, this sub-text was the thematic territory for most episodes of the short-lived, 1974 Planet of the Apes series that aired on Friday nights (on CBS) in the fall of 1974. 

Writing about the TV series in his book, Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics and Popular Culture (Wesleyan University Press, 1998, page 157), author Eric Greene noted that the TV version of the popular franchise showed: "the victory of "reverse racism" over equality, as the formerly oppressed apes lord it over the degraded humans, who are now apes' servants and, in some cases, slaves. (In this aspect, the Apes show may have anticipated the white cry of reverse racism that would later gain currency...)"

In "The Trap," (original airdate: September 27, 1974) written by Edward J. Lakso and directed by Arnold Laven, our three heroic fugitives make for a village called Numai that has "a reputation for harboring fugitives."

Nearby stands the ruins of San Francisco, and Virdon believes that there may be some operational computers there...some computers that could help them get back to their own time.

Unfortunately, General Urko and his Lieutenant, Zako (Norman Alden) are hot in pursuit. An earthquake rattles the ruined city, and Burke and Urko tumble down a deep hole into the Earth...into a subterranean subway system from years past...from a time when humans ruled the planet.

While Zako and Virdon negotiate above to rescue their trapped comrades, Urko and Burke attempt to forge an uneasy alliance below. Urko, a pro-apes, anti-human bigot repeatedly trades in insulting stereotypes. "I always assume a human is lying. It makes things easier," he notes. "I don't work with humans," he likewise insists. 

Finally, he refuses to help Pete build a steel support cross (a metaphor for a well-known religious symbol, perhaps, of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness), because to do so is "human labor" and, well, he doesn't do human labor.

Up above, Zako similarly informs Virdon, "No bargains with humans. You are worth nothing."

As human viewers living in modern America, the audience instantly recognizes Urko's protests for what they are: prejudice. 

Urko boasts a pre-existing belief that humans are inferior, but his belief is not based on facts or science. 

It's just...a strongly-held (and absolutely wrong) personal belief. Burke actually shows Urko "the facts:" a line of posters for organ replacement technology, disposable clothing and mass transit. He even shows the gorilla a human-manufactured solar battery that has operated for centuries. All these artifacts reveal that human beings are intelligent, resourceful creatures, but Urko refuses to believe his lying eyes.

So the crux of "The Trap" involves a very interesting notion; that Urko's (and by extension Ape Culture's)... bigotry results from a deeply-felt sense of historical insecurity. 

The apes already know that their culture was built on man's civilization a long time ago and still feel inferior. Rather than face this truth, they deny it. They try to erase it.

When Urko discovers a poster in the subway for the San Francisco Zoo (depicting a primitive gorilla in a cage, eating a banana...) he goes ballistic because his irrational belief about humans has been challenged; his strongly-held racism has gone up against that inconvenience known as "reality." Facts will not sway him.

In gazing specifically at racism (and in making human beings -- all of us -- the victims of entrenched racism), "The Trap" exposes the vast gulf in understanding and sense of extreme anger that often precludes the development of trust between people of different backgrounds, whether ideological or based on skin color.

To both sides in the on-going "racism" debate, the long span of existing history becomes only an opportunity to relive old hurts. Thus, no progress is forged. It's just tit-for-tat. Urko can't let go of a past in which humans, he believes, threatened ape power and superiority. 

And Burke, at least tacitly, views the ape's world as "upside down." He wants to go back in time and prevent the ape planet from existing in the first place. He wants to take his planet back. So long as these attitudes remain locked, there can be little progress between opposed personalities/viewpoints.

Interestingly, "The Trap" offers a smidgen of hope about entrenched racism...and then skillfully draws back from that hope in time for a very dark ending. 

Zako gives his word that he will allow Burke, Virdon and Galen to go free once Urko and Burke have been rescued from the station below. Going up against Urko...the diffident Zako keeps his word. He is a man (er...Ape) of honor

But then, after the fugitives are gone, Zako sees the point of contention between Urko and Burke: that poster of the San Francisco zoo; that relic of old hatreds. In a tirade of violence, Zako shreds it to pieces...realizing that there is a secret to be protected after all. He feels duped by the fugitives; like they used him. The implication is that he will not -- as he did here -- trust humans any time soon.

What "The Trap" intimates is that real progress can occur between racial "enemies" only when the past is no longer a daily prologue and incitement to anger. That's a tough lesson to learn...especially when people on all sides feel wronged.

But "The Trap" remains valuable because it occurs almost entirely in a location -- the post-holocaust city -- where out-of-control human hatreds finally turned on themselves and destroyed virtually everything.

That's the final destination of sustained ideological and racial hatred, isn't it? Annihilation. For everyone. (And we know, from Beneath the Planet of the Apes that's the destiny this franchise envisions for beings of the planet Earth).

So, in this dark "My Enemy/My Ally"-styled story from the Darwinian Planet of the Apes, audiences detect how deep-seated prejudice survives. And how learning -- and therefore forgiveness - is possible...but may be outright refused, even in the face of reality. And in the face of cold, rational facts too.

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...