Friday, February 05, 2021

Man from Atlantis: "The Naked Montague"

An underwater shock wave opens a rift inside a cliff, and Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy) disappears inside of it. 

Even as the Cetacean attempts to rescue him, Mark wakes up in the town square of Verona.

There, he becomes deeply enmeshed in the conflict between two houses,;Capulet and Montague. He also attempts to end the blood feud by supporting the marriage of young Romeo (John Shea) and beautiful Juliet (Lisa Eilbacher.)

Unfortunately, events seem to conspire against the young lovers, even with the help of the man from Atlantis.

So, “The Naked Montague” is probably the weirdest -- though by no means worst -- of all Man from Atlantis (1977-1978) episodes.  

Here, Mark inadvertently enters another world (again), in the tradition of stories such as “Giant” and “Shoot-Out at Land’s End.”  But in this case, he enters a world of fiction; one where the characters of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet are real individuals.

Again, it’s not strict-time travel, or even strictly an alternate universe.  In this episode, our hero interacts with fictional characters. And those fictional characters are living the precise events of the tragic play, even as Mark attempts to stop things from going badly.  He swims back to the Cetacean with a vial of the poison Juliet imbibes, and allows Elizabeth to study a sample.  Then he swims back to save Romeo and Juliet’s lives, and over-write the events of the famous tragedy.  

Even Elizabeth can't quite believe it.  She thinks Mark is delusional or suffering some injury.

Amusingly, Romeo and Juliet speak directly from the play’s dialogue and in iambic pentameter at points...which just ads to the overall weirdness of the episode.  I cannot fathom, honestly, why the makers of the series (and writer Stephen Kandel...) would opt to tell such a bizarre story, and send Mark into this particular universe.

One must wonder, is there a Hamlet universe out there too? A MacBeth dimension? Or has Mark merely entered the Romeo and Juliet portion of Shakespeare world? And if there is a Shakespeare world, how about a James Joyce world? An F. Scott Fitzgerald world? 

I think such an odd story speaks to the fact that Man from Atlantis, once a weekly series, couldn’t really decide on a direction.  Sometimes it was Batman, sometimes it was Star Trek, sometimes it was The Six Million Dollar Man, and sometimes it just didn’t know what the hell it was.  There’s certainly a fantasy element to the series, and this episode is a prime example of that idea, but there's no logic or set of rules underlying the fantasy.

Despite the utter weirdness of “The Naked Montague,” and the fact that Elizabeth and C.W. believe Markwas hallucinating his adventure (though he has never read Shakespeare…) this episode does feature a high degree of tension.

That tension arises from the fact that we all know how Romeo and Juliet ends. We know that events conspire to bring about a sad end for the young lovers.  So we wonder, throughout the episode, is Mark going to be able to bring them the happy ending readers always hoped for and sought?  

The answer is affirmative, but at points in the episode, it looks like fate is going to take over and render that unhappy end to a lover’s tale.

The episode is strange, but clever in its own way too, for the manner in which it creates tension from the viewer’s knowledge of the play.  I also like how the Capulets name Mark “The Naked Montague” since he shows up in Verona wearing nothing but his trademark yellow swim suit.

What's missing here, it seems to me, is a framework or context that would make this story meaningful to Mark Harris.  What does he learn by interacting with the Capulets and Montagues? By saving the tragic lovers?  What lessons does he understand about the human race, and emotions? 

I guess what I'm saying is that it's okay (if weird...) for Man from Atlantis to tell a story like "The Naked Montague," but the writer and director ought to transmit some notion about why this particular narrative adds to Mark's story, or understanding of our world.  The episode fails spectacularly in that regard.

It's still a lot better than much of what is yet to come.

1 comment:

  1. "One must wonder, is there a Hamlet universe out there too? A MacBeth dimension? Or has Mark merely entered the Romeo and Juliet portion of Shakespeare world? And if there is a Shakespeare world, how about a James Joyce world? An F. Scott Fitzgerald world?"

    Oooh.... which fictional worlds would you choose to live in if this were how the universe actually worked? I would have a devil of a time deciding!

    It is a bizarre choice of story for this show though. Funnily enough, I know I saw it as a kid but all I can remember is that swimming technique he used, and that a friend of mine and myself tried to copy it. It didn't work well for us.


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