Thursday, September 23, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Doomsday Formula

"The Night of the Big Blackmail" 
Written by  Samuel Newman
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): When arms dealer kidnaps the inventor of a powerful new explosive, Jim and Artie attempt to rescue him before his formula's sold to the highest bidder.

Jim: First, we gotta discuss that groovy 60's music in this episode! At times it sounds like it could be the score for an episode of I Dream Of Jeannie! At times, it's so anachronistic that it completely pulls me out of the episode.

Trey: It's interesting that it's only aggressively modern in the cold open. The rest of the episode is scored a bit more conventionally, I think. I'm not sure about I Dream of Jeannie. It reminds me more of the 70s cop show work of Lalo Schifrin.

Jim: This episode does an admirable job giving both West and Gordon things to do. Gordon in his Middle Eastern guise provides Ross Martin lots of engaging screen time, and Conrad climbing through the air ducts and riding zip lines are entertaining physical sequences. In many ways, I think this is peak Wild Wild West, as this is probably how the characters are best utilized.

Trey: I agree that this episode really utilizes them both well and kind of in the archetypal way they ought to be used. Something to ponder, though: I feel like the "formula" is really most clear and most well executed in the episodes that are more conventional, less high concept. Is it a case of the writers who best understood the formula gravitated toward more straightforward plots, or is it an artifact of weirder episodes requiring the characters to work in different ways?

Jim: Hmm that's a good question. I can see how a conventional plot would allow the writers to focus on the characters strengths. I can also see how a weirder plot would require more exposition and setup, so it eats into the time West and Gordon get for their schtick.

Trey: I suppose it could always be that we notice the character stuff in more conventional episodes more because there is less other stuff to distract us!

Jim: There's that, too! Kevin McCarthy is okay as General Kroll, but he is lacking the qualities to make him standout. He doesn't have an interesting gimmick, appearance or motivation, and he's not charismatic enough to engage us without one of those things. That can be a challenge for some of the guest star villains on this show!

Trey: True. McCarthy's style makes me think that he's trying to convey a man of calculation and cruelty. Maybe the death trap he puts Lorna Crane in to convince Dr. Crane to give him the formula is evidence of that, but I feel like we needed more. Ultimately, his playing straight man to Gordon's mummery antics sort of robs him of the chance to shine. I mean, he's got a cane with a metal fist on the end, did he ever fight West with it?

Jim: You're right! I don't think he did. One thing I liked: the audio device playing Gordon singing might be a bit anachronistic, but I appreciate the steampunk looking design. 

Trey: It is definitely anachronistic, but it wasn't a bad design. Sometimes WWW fails because close ups of their gadgets show them to look like more modern gadgetry in terms of design or materials, but this time they got it right.

Jim: So you're saying you'll accept a miniature grappling gun in the 1870s, but not if it looks like it's made of plastic?

Trey: You gotta draw the line somewhere.

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