Thursday, October 21, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: "The Night of the Kraken"

"The Night of the Kraken" 
Written by  Stephen Kandel
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: In San Francisco, West's and Gordon's friend, Lt. Bartlett, is killed, apparently the victim of a tentacled sea creature. The navy keeps the fishermen away, but it soon becomes apparent that a conspiracy, not a monster, lies behind Bartlett's murder.

Trey: This episode is very enjoyable, but it's really kind of a retread of "The Night of the Watery Death" (which I think is superior) with the addition of the kraken....You know, this is kind of a Scooby-Doo plot!

Jim:  I can see why you might be reminded of "Watery Death," as there are a lot of similarities. Where this episode surpasses that one for me is with the addition of the character Jose Aguila, Ted Knight's performance and the mystery of the Kraken, which is presented more realistically than the serpentine torpedoes of Watery Death. However, once West enters the undersea fortress, this episode pretty much retreads all of "Watery Death."

Trey:  The kraken is pretty well realized, though, even it the fight scenes with it are not. Having Ted Knight here makes this episode feel a bit campy to me. Or probably better to say: a bit campier than usual. On the subject of guest stars, Darj Dusay (Dolores here) is another ST alum. She was in "Spock's Brain."

Jim: One of Star Trek's most celebrated episodes! I feel like they give away Dolores' involvement in the mystery a little quickly with her actions after the explosive assassination of Admiral Hammond.

Trey: How did she and Ted Knight's character get together? And who is he, particularly, anyway? It seems like a bit of backstory to tell us how we got to this status quo would have been useful.

Jim: I feel like you've just got something against Ted Knight.

Trey: I'll have to think about that. Anyway, I feel like the retrotech in this episode is a bit lazier than usual. Particularly that "scuba" tank. The design isn't awful, but since "standard diving dress" was in production from the 1840s, maybe just a little bit more futuristic version of that instead of working backwards from modern scuba gear would have been the way to go. 

Jim: I agree. Also, there's the thing they keep calling an "underwater missile." What they show us is not a missile at all, but a mine--and naval mines had been around a long time at this point. I guess Bartlett's innovation is the use of the magnetic guidance system, as the first magnetic mines weren't developed by Britain in WWI?

Trey: We can't end this discussion without talking about West's scuba diving attire. 

Jim: Oh yeah. Very specialized!

Trey: It's his regular tight pants...

Jim: And his boots!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Gruesome Games

"The Night of the Gruesome Games" 

Written by  Jackson Gillis

Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky

Synopsis: Racing the clock to recover a stolen vial of deadly germs, West and Gordon stumble upon a party hosted by an eccentric millionaire Rufus Krause who delights in playing dangerous--and potentially lethal--parlor games.

Jim: This episode starts off quite well, with the highlights for me being the missiles Dr. Raker set up to ambush West, and how Artermis riled up the yokels with his rabble rousing talk. However once Dr. Raker takes a dive into the river, I found myself perplexed by the path the story took from there!

Trey: This feels like a Season 1 story done in the S4 style--or maybe a mashup of two S1 stories! I don't feel like the ticking time bomb bacterial container isn't as well-integrated into the story of the party and the vicious games as it might be.

Jim: Yes, the bacterial threat does seem unnecessary given how the rest of the episode plays out. There are a number of other ways West and Gordon could have found themselves invited to Krause's manor. I will say, in defense of this specific plot element, that it provides time pressure for our heroes to work against. It's possible that was added in a second draft of the script or changed at some point, which is why it feels awkward.

Trey: They try to tie things in by making the hidden villains the source of the deadly games, but it's not explained why the old man doesn't care that some people have died. It seems quite a coincidence that these folks were invited to the party of an old man who played dangerous games and was indifferent to murder.

Jim: Well, at one point Krause says he often gives into his baser desires, so maybe murder isn’t that high up on his list of offenses. Long time television staple William Schallet makes a good Rufus Krause, even if he does constantly remind me of Dick Van Dyke's Mr. Dawes Senior from Mary Poppins.

Trey: Sherry Jackson (Lola Cortez) is always welcome, but there doesn't seem much point to her being here. She fades in and out as the "girl of week" being with our heroes in some endeavors but often just being one of the crowd of victims--or suspects.

Jim: You are so right about Jackson's minimal role in this episode. Her intermittent use gives me more reason to wonder about rewrites on this episode. Part of it plays like And Then They Were None. If that was the original direction, I could see how her character might have had more purpose. 

The music in this episode seems to fit better than in some of the previous episodes we've watched this season. Even when it sort of deviates from the standard fare, as with the cue at the first break, it still sounds more appropriate for the show than the modern sounding scores we heard so far.

Trey: Did you note the stereotypical Asian Henchman's name  was No Fun? Very Bondian pun, that.

Jim: Yes, No Fun's name also gave me a chuckle. It's definitely a Bondian style pun, but I also wonder if it's a possible tip of the hat to another CBS villain, Hawaii Five-0's Wo Fat.

Trey: That’s the fifth time you’ve brought up Hawaii 5-0 when discussing this series. How much is CBS paying you to promote it? 

Jim: Not enough!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Sedgewick Curse

"The Night of the Sedgewick Curse" 
Written by  Paul Playdon
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis: A mysterious disappearance at a hotel and spa leads West and Gordon to Sedgewick Manor and the sinister secrets its inhabitants are keeping.

Trey: This episode is probably the most effective Gothic riff in the series, so far. Even the music--different from the traditional WWW score, but also not the modern, jaunty stuff we've been hearing recently--supports that vibe.

Jim: Oh yeah, this episode makes great use of the creepy vibe. Once West gets into Lavinia's dark mansion, it's one Gothic visual after another, culminating with the beautiful Lavinia aging before our eyes, a consequence of her doomed quest for eternal youth. Also, it starts with a variation on the Vanishing Lady/Hotel Room urban legend, which was popularized by another classic CBS show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the episode "Into Thin Air."

We have occasionally talked about how often the guest actors (villains) on the show may not have been the best choice for the given role. I have no such complaints about this episode! Jay Robinson is wonderfully unnerving as Dr. Maitland. His monologue about the historical portraits is almost Lovecraftian.

Trey: He is great, and he's one of three Star Trek alumni guest starring here. The other two are Sharon Acker and Anthony Jochim.

Jim: I don't remember Robinson from Star Trek, I DO remember him from "Dr. Shrinker" a segment from the short-lived Sid & Marty Kroft show, The Krofft Supershow.

Trey: Robinson's role in ST is pretty minor. He's the Troyian Ambassador in "Elaan of Troyius."  He's also got green alien make-up on and a wig, so not easy to spot except by that voice.

Jim: Yeah, he would have been pretty much invisible to me during that episode, as I would have only had eyes for France Nuyen!

One thing I admire about James West is that he is often so confident of his abilities that he doesn't worry about sleeping in a dangerous place. (Something he's done a few times in the series.) We never see him or Gordon quibble about who will have first watch, or how to best secure their area. I wish he was leading my D&D party.

Trey: He has the confidence of a man who knows he's the series lead. He's particularly lucky this episode, though. It's Gordon that gets put in two death traps whereas he's usually the rescuer!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Juggernaut

"The Night of the Juggernaut" 
Written by  Calvin Clements Jr.
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): West and Gordon discover homesteaders are being run off their land by some sort of armored machine.

Jim: I've been waiting for this episode. Whether it's Speed Racer vs the Mammoth Car or Six Million Dollar Man's Death Probe, I always find the concept of a hero facing off against an unstoppable menace enjoyable. Man, do we jump to the setup and action quick with this one! We're just in the cold open, and we already get West and Gordon facing off against the steam-powered juggernaut.

Trey: It definitely doesn't waste any time.

Jim: How "science fiction" do you judge the juggernaut to be?

Trey: Well, the basic idea is perhaps credibly in the realm of "near future" speculation, but the specific design of this juggernaut is pretty fanciful compared to the steam-powered cars of the era.

Jim: It does seem odd it's so fanciful. There's not really a reason for the villain to paint it like that.

Trey: The driver even has a matching uniform! Maybe there's some sort of villain infernal contraption road race, and this was going to be his entry?

Jim: Now, that's an episode I'd like to see! Back to this episode, though, I enjoyed Lyle Dixon (played by boxer/actor Floyd Patterson) as the homesteader in this episode.

Trey: He's good guest star. Season 4 has had more Black actors in the episodes we've watched than any 2 other whole seasons, I bet. The times were changing! Overall, while I still like this episode, I think it appealed to me more when I was younger. The "tank" was emblematic of this being a different sort of Western to me then. Now, it feels a bit like a gimmick to enliven a fairly average episode. But it does enliven it.

Jim: Yeah, if you remove the juggernaut, this was just another spin on the rancher chasing off homesteaders trope.

Trey: Yeah, it's very stereotypical, and it's also the second time we've gotten a "I want the land for the oil" plot in the episodes we've watched, the first being "The Night of the Golden Cobra."

Jim: One think I noticed at the end of the episode: Is Robert Conrad's hair getting longer? It looked longer, particularly the sideburns.

Trey: I did! Like I say, the times are changing!

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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Big Blackmail

"The Night of the Big Blackmail" 
Written by  David Moessinger
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: A foreign diplomate, Baron Hinterstoisser, plans to use a fake kinetoscope film of Grant making a secret alliance with a another nation to embarrass the United States for political gain. West and Gordon must break into the embassy and substitute their own film before it is shown to the public.

Trey: While we both prefer episodes with at least a tinge of weirdness, this one is about all you could want from a "straight" spy-fi episode: Good set up, groovy music, and great action. It was the 6th episode produced for the season, but CBS wanted it to air first and I can see why. It's really all around well written. It reminds me a bit of the Season 3 opener, "Bubbling Death" in its virtues.

Jim: Yeah, the episode has a real Mission Impossible vibe. From the start with West stealing the film strip, to the wax seal on the box, and then the ominous warning of seven dead agents, you can tell you are in for a fun reverse heist type of plot. I'm a fan of Mission Impossible, so I found myself enjoying this installment more than I was expecting, from reading the synopsis.

Coincidentally, Ron Rich, who plays Dick January in this episode, would later share the screen with Robert Conrad again in a two part Mission Impossible episode called "The Contender."

Trey: He isn't the only guest star here. The big one, of course, is Harvey Korman, best known from his time on The Carol Burnett Show.

Jim: Weirdly and against my expectations, he plays everything so straight here. It's perplexing because many actors found a way to put a little camp into their characters in earlier seasons. Maybe that was a directorial decision?

Trey: There's good interaction between West and Gordon in this episode. 

Jim: I found West disregarding Gordon's warning on the red lever pretty funny. but the highlight of this episode is the fake film with Gordon clowning around!

Trey: Artemus Gordon: Inventor of Silent Film Comedy.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Death-Maker

"The Night of the Death-Maker" 
Written by  Robert E. Kent
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: After foiling an elaborate attempt to assassinate President Grant, West and Gordon discover the mastermind is a former Army officer who was stripped of his command, and is building a private army for another attack on the President.

Jim: And so we come to the end of Season 3. Will it end with a bang or a whimper I wonder?

Trey: Survey says...whimper. Nothing is bad, really, but we have seen it all before--and better done before. 

Jim: Agreed. I will tell you the first thing that struck me about this episode, though--

Trey: I bet it's the first thing that struck me!

Jim: This late 19th century town has better paved streets than some of the areas places around my town today!

Trey: And with as many oil stains!

Jim: The foiled assassination attempts makes for an exciting opening, I'd say. The episode takes a bit of a conventional Western path from there, but things get more intriguing when the missing monks and the Cullen Dane's forces are introduced. 

Trey: I kind of like Cullen Dane's girlfriend, the actress, is a true believer and not a dupe. She doesn't fall for West and get "rescued!"

Dane definitely has delusions of grandeur. He doesn't seem to have a large enough force to take California, much less the U.S. as a whole. In fact that goal seems so tacked on, they should have just left it at the revenge assassination.

Jim: I feel like this story could have been improved with monks guarding an ancient relic or alchemical formula. Especially if that monastic secret had been coupled with some fantastic element like invisibility or invulnerability!

Trey: Eh, I can't go with you on that one.

Jim: C'mon! I've decided that Wild Wild West works best in one of two modes: When it's delving into more scifi or weird stories like "Burning Diamonds" or "Simian Terror," or when it's using the team of Jim and Artemis in a more conventional television storyline like "Iron Fist." 

Trey: Well, that I would agree with, at least in broad strokes. 

Jim: Success!

Trey: And with that, we exit Season 3.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Simian Terror

"The Night of the Simian Terror" 
Written by  Earl Barret and Robert C. Dennis
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: The estate of a senator and his family is being stalked by a perhaps inhuman killer. What family secret do they harbor related to this horrifying events? West and Gordon must unravel the mystery before more people die.

Trey: In which Robert Conrad utters that immortal line: "Get your hands off me you dirty ape!"

Jim: That didn't happen. 

Trey: No, not really.

Jim: It should be no surprise that this episode is a favorite of mine. This is a perfect example of the type of gothic horror story I would have liked to have seen more often. 

Trey: Yes, this is definitely one of the more Gothic episodes. We get the same estate gates we see in all the Gothic episodes from the first season on.

Jim: They're part of a really atmospheric opening, with Jim and Artie standing at those gate at night, the wind blowing wildly, as they call on the forbidding mansion. 

Artie's use of the small drill and miniature spyglass feels like an appropriately retro bit of spyware. 

Trey: The drill is a bit weird, because there's no reason he needs to see who's in the room since he already knows! It's only purpose is to let the audience see the speakers to better sort them out and make the scene more interesting.

Jim: It was nice to see Richard Kiel return to the show! After this, he would later get a recurring role as Moose Maron owner on the short-lived William Shatner western Barbary Coast. I have to think his appearances on WWW helped get him that role. 

Trey: It is good to have Kiel back. This is his last appearance on the series, though.

Jim: A historical question here: I know that Thomas Savage found gorilla bones in 1847, but how well known would they actually have been at the time of this episode?

Trey: his episode probably takes place in 1874 or so. Gorrillas would probably have still be exotic, but stuffed ones (and fake ones) had toured around by over a decade at this point.

I feel like Dimas and gorilla are perhaps not handled as well as they might be. The episode seems to be trying to misdirect to the idea that a gorilla is doing the murders (and the title helps with that) in sort of a reverse "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" fakeout. But the family seems to know what the deal is the whole time (and they're right) and their behavior doesn't make sense if it's a gorilla, so you're never entirely convinced. Then, we find out the murderer's Dimas AND there's a real gorilla. It allows for the escape scene and the pathos at the end, but I feel like restructuring to either utilize the gorilla more or eliminate it entirely would have been best.

Jim: I never thought I'd see the day when you were saying you wanted fewer apes in a tv show! Don't you have a statute of the Lawgiver from Planet of the Apes in your house?

Trey: Look, my religion is a private affair, ok?

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Amnesiac


The Night of the Amnesiac

Written by: Robert Bloomfield, Leigh Chapman

Directed by: Lawrence Dobkin

Synopsis: West is wounded while guarding a shipment of smallpox vaccine and both he and the vaccine disappear, having been hijacked by outlaws who leave Jim for dead. The Secret Service receives an ultimatum: pardon and free Furman Crotty (Edward Asner), a nihilistic crime lord currently serving time in Leavenworth, or the vaccine will not be returned. Since waiting six days for a new supply means that many more people will die of the disease, the thieves' demands are met. Gordon sets out to follow Crotty, find West and stop an epidemic in the making. And finding Jim won't be easy, since the outlaws' attack left him with amnesia and he's wandering around trying to remember who he is...

Trey: This episode has a fair amount of action and moves along reasonably well. The opening business with the guy drinking out of the gun barrel is cinematic feeling, like some quirkiness you might see in a Spaghetti Western.

Jim: That was a neat scene. There are a number of flourishes in this episode that were enjoyable, but overall, I think the sum was less than its parts.

Trey: How so?

Jim: The key to a successful amnesiac themed episode is watching the hero discover their skills and abilities throughout the episode. Usually they are accompanied by a helpful stranger as they face off against a group of opponents. It's such a common way to run with this idea that it could be describing anything ranging from The Bourne Identity to the Six Million Dollar Man episode Stranger in Broken Fork.

This episode starts off in this direction, with West being taken in by Cloris Colton, played by the lovely Sharon Farrell. Farrell may be best known from later seasons of Hawaii Five-O in the role of Detective Lori Wilson.

However, that's about all the play we get out of the usual amnesiac formula. True, with the fight scenes, we get to see West use some of his skills (the bar fight was excellent) but that's about it. I think the problem is, this episode demonstrates that West's skills, as remembered by the writers of this episode, are a bit limited - or the writers just didn't want to go in that direction.

Trey: I can see what you’re saying. To me, the episode just feels very conventional (for lack of a better word) . Like the amnesia plot is so played, this could have been in virtually any action show of the era.


There's also some evidence, I think, of script changes. The subplot with the usurper brother seems under-fed and so pointless. Asner's character reveals himself to be a full blown super-villain with his discussion about unleashing a plague, but the "nothing but me and machines" comes out of nowhere. Perhaps he was supposed to be some mad tinkerer or something, but little in the episode as presented supports that.


Jim: You're right - that "machines and me" line comes out of nowhere. This episode had three writers, Robert Bloomfield is credited with the story, while Leigh Chapman and Michael Garrison wrote the script. Your suggestion that the script was tweaked during production makes me wonder what the original story looked like.


Trey: Ed Asner makes a good villain, though! I think this is the first villainous live action role I've seen him in, though he's done villainous voices on a number of DC animated things.


Jim: I agree with you on Asner in this episode. I wondered how he might be in the role of a villain. On one hand, his demeanor and physical presence make him seem like a natural, but unlike many guys with the same qualities, he seemed to avoid getting type casted in that role.

Trey: It sounds like we’ve covered this episode pretty well. Any final thoughts?

Jim: The banner saying Bible Class closed due to Epidemic spoke to me on several levels!

Trey: It was all too real!

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Undead

"The Night of the Undead" 
Written by  Marvin J. Chomsky
Directed by Calvin Clements Jr.
Synopsis: Searching for a missing scientist, West stumbles upon a voodoo ceremony--and possibly the walking dead.

Trey: I would be tempted to think this episode was inspired by Live And Let Die--if it didn't predate the film by by four years! Thinking about it more, I think White Zombie (1932) is it's likely antecedent.

Jim: Yeah, this episode busts out of the gate hard with the voodoo motif - and I like it! From the Stork hooded voodoo priestess to the seemingly zombie henchman, this episode really starts off in a way that suggests we are going to have another dip in the world of supernatural--an area not explored since the Sammy Davis Jr. episode, "The Night of the Returning Dead."

Trey: Though the answer is mad science, not magic, we are definitely back in the realm of the weird. An area this season as mostly avoided!

Jim: Well, this episode was written by a guy who gave us a first season episode with a strong premise, "The Night of the Steel Assassin." Though it felt that one didn't live up to its promise.

Trey: I feel like he delivers in this one.

Jim: Oh yeah. Artie's search for the source of the skull medallion gives Ross Martin a good bit of screentime. I suspect that on any other show, the amount of lines Martin is often given over Conrad would be a point of contention. However, I'm willing to bet that as long as he got some prime action scenes, Conrad was okay with Martin getting a lot dialogue.

Trey: Conrad was like: "Give me a shirtless scene and some fights. That's what the audience is here for!"

Jim: Ha! A quick question about West's fight scenes: Are they better than those of Captain Kirk's? I want to say yes. I feel like Conrad puts more physical intensity into his fight scenes, but that's just my unscientific opinion.

Trey: Absolutely, yeah. Conrad was into both stunt work and fighting. I don't think Shatner particularly cared about those things.

Jim: The underground vineyard is one of the better setpieces we've seen this season. It has multiple levels even!

Trey: Yeah, I thought that was really good, too, though I was suspicious it might be a redress/rearrangement of the set from "The Night of the Bubbling Death." But very Bond-like, I think, and also pulpy.

Jim: Dr. Articulus' plan to marry the daughter of his long lost love has got to be the creepiest master plan we've ever had on this show! Combined with the web covered mansion, this weird romantic angle gives the episode a very gothic feel. 

Trey: Agreed. It's like "The Night of the Man-Eating House" in that respect...Which also featured Hurd Hatfield!

Jim: You're right! So the voodoo setup we got in the beginning may have been a ruse, but it all works.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Death Masks

"The Night of the Death Masks" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder
Synopsis: West and Gordon are caught up in deadly mind games, part of an elaborate revenge plot by an escaped criminal they put away.

Jim: Conrad spends a lot of time walking around with his mouth open in this episode. Is that going to be some new affectation that I can't stop noticing now? Or has he always done that, and I'm just now noticing it?

Trey: That's where you're going to start? But anyway, I think it's new.

Jim: Well, how's this? The opening scene with West fighting the three soldiers was sort of funny. West is over at the piano plinking away a few notes as he calls out the soldier's behavior. He doesn't bother trying to diffuse the situation. He knows how it's going to go down. He's all out of fucks, as the kids say.

Trey: I agree, though ironically, I feel like this is (for much of the episode) a bit darker than the usual WWW fare.

Jim: Yeah. It definitely goes in that direction. I get the feeling that West wandering the empty town is supposed to be a big gimmick in the episode. However, a lot of the creepy tension of Paradox is undercut by our knowledge that West was shanghaied and taken there by Stark's cronies. 

I feel like if you are going to go with a gaslighting plot like this one, then there's some value to holding out information from the viewer. The mystery should be drawn out more. When Artemis gets the news that Stark has broken out of prison that should be our first reveal as to what's going on.

As it is, there isn't a lot of narrative tension in the empty town. Even when Betsy Cole is supposedly killed and vanishes, and it's pretty obviously part of the game. Cole, by the way, is played by Patty McCormack who alarmed audiences ten years earlier as the murderous little girl in The Bad Seed.

Trey: Your point is well  taken, but I wasn't bothered as much as you by what was going on being obvious to the viewer and not to West. Indeed, I think this episode plays that sort of  The Prisoner-esque plot better than the season 1 Loveless episode that dips its toe into the same thing. 

Jim: The back story of Emmet Stark and the robbery at the mint, even though it's apocryphal, makes me wish we saw more old adversaries return to the series. In some ways, it's a hallmark of the series that's not capitalized on enough.

Trey: Seems like we've gotten a couple of those, but yeah, it's not common. Stark is one of the weaknesses in the episode to me, though. Ultimately, Emmett Stark is just a name. Beyond this plot he's  a cypher. I think a better actor with more lines could have made him seem a worthy foe. Also, I think it's too bad we don't see all the conspirators brought to justice. I know they were minor, but still!

Jim: Totally agree on the vacuum created by Stark's absence for most of the episode. The problem is, how do you work him into more of the episode, but keep the mystery going? What we really could have used was a scene with Stark addressing his cronies, which could have served the dual purpose of explaining why they were helping him.

Trey: Though expected, the one part that works really well is the unknowing gunfight between West and Gordon. 

Jim: It definitely seems the intended set piece of this episode, but it feels like we got to it in a bit of a roundabout fashion. Once it's in full swing though, it makes for a rousing action scene. My only complaint is the resolution depended on Gordon flat out missing West when shooting at him. 

Trey: Does he practice his marksmanship more after that, I wonder?

Friday, July 30, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Underground Terror

"The Night of the Underground Terror" 
Written by  Max Hodge
Directed by James B. Clark
Synopsis: On the trail of Colonel Mosely, a Confederate war criminal, West encounters Major Hazard, the leader of a gang of crippled veterans who are seeking revenge on Mosely for the tortured he inflicted on them while they were detained in a prisoner of war camp.

Jim: This was by far, my favorite episode of the season so yet.

Trey: Yeah, It's one of the most memorable episodes to me, even though it doesn't have the "weirdness" I often like to see in WWW.

Jim: The masquerade ball makes for a great opening setting. Seeing West in a domino mask makes me wish the show had worked in a crossover with Zorro at one point. Maybe an older, retired Zorro would be fit in the WWW continuity.

Trey: It would have to a really old Zorro, but the crossover has appeal.

Jim: The flaming skull that turns into a gas bomb is a great gimmick. It makes a perfect prop for Artie's Hamlet costume, too.

Trey: There are a lot of details here that are so well done. And then we've got Nehemiah Pershoff.

Jim: He gets his third appearance on the show, this time as Major Hazard. Pershoff is another one of those exceptional actors who uses vocal dynamics and facial expressions to convey a wide range of emotions. 

Trey: He makes a good, laconic villain. One of a couple of villains in this story.

Jim: You gotta mention the Wagner story. Having watched this episode, the inspiration seems obvious. In addition to the cadre of maimed veterans, there is also a similarity between Mosley and Masale. Combine that with the quest for hidden treasure, and I think it's an open and shut case.

Trey: I thought so too! It's a Sword & Sorcery short-story by Karl Edward Wagner called "Lynortis Reprise." It's definitely worth checking out, as is all of Wagner's stuff.

Jim: Anyway, West's piercing of Hazard's ruse is handled well. This is a rare glimpse of a smarter agent West than what we normally see in the show. 

Trey: Despite his shrewd skills of observation, he's in dire straits until Gordon shows up.

Jim: Yeah, his diviner is a humorous addition to this episode. That the gold was actually hidden in a water container is a nice bit of symmetry! And then we learn that West actually fights better when he's shirtless. Damn, he makes quick work of Hazard's gang. 

Trey: Given how tight his clothes are, I feel like that's actually plausible! So, there's only one thing that bothers me about this episode. The daughter is apparently unaware of the true plan (and identities) of Hazard and his cronies. Was she too young during the war to know her dad was on the Confederate and not the Union side? Does her father and the gang stay in character constantly around her, including wearing the uncomfortable stuff to make them appear disabled? That's dedication to a bit!

Jim: That's some Jared Leto level of commitment to a role!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Headless Woman

"The Night of the Running Death" 
Written by Edward J Lasko
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis: West and Gordon investigate a plot to decimate America's cotton crops using boll weevils.

Trey: Two in a row written by Lasko! I have to say: he's not my favorite.

Jim: He's trying! With the threat of a boll weevil infestation, I believe this is our second biological warfare episode in the series, the first being "TNOT Deadly Spring".

Trey: There's a couple more, I would say: the threatened disease carrying rats of "Man-Eating House," and the first season Theo Marcuse appearance in "Sudden Plague."

Jim: Oh yeah! Marcuse gets very little screentime as Abdul Hassan here. Especially compared to The Six Million Dollar Man's Richard Anderson as Harbor Commissioner James Jeffers.

Trey: Hassan is more intriguing.

Jim: Yeah. His hacienda makes quite the spectacular villain's lair. The set decorators added some eye-catching details. Among the attributes that make this show stand out amongst other western fare, I feel like lavish sets are one of them. It goes hand and hand with a notably eccentric villain.

Trey: Definitely. Kesler doesn't think this episode is particularly good, and I'm inclined to agree. The basic villain plot is good, and the mystery regarding the true villain are good stuff to work with, but there's too much skulking around on docks and the fights aren't as exciting as what we're used to. Hassan with his elaborate lair and moll is clearly meant to seem the primary villain, but his meeting with West is all too brief and perhaps too early in the episode. I think a restructuring with parallel investigations by West and Gordon for more  of the run time would have worked better.

Jim: Plotwise, this episode does feel like it's all over the place with the various villains. But seeing Artemis wander around the docks of San Francisco, I again think this show should have been based in this town. The setting seems to lend itself to some of the general air of intrigue and skullduggery that benefits the show. Not only that, but such a location would have provided a means to build up a supporting cast that could have helped in many ways.

Trey: That is an opinion you've expressed before. Season 1 won you over to San Francisco, then you liked getting away from it, now you want it back again.

Jim: See, perfectly consistently...Anyway, back to skulking: West skulking around in his pancho really shows us why Artie is the Disguise Guy on the show!

Trey: True! Oh, In our guest star run down we forget to mention Dawn Wells.

Jim: Wells won't be the last Gilligan's Island alumni to make an appearance on this show. It's a shame Russell Johnson didn't give us a turn as a scientist at some point, though.

Trey: Does this episode have the weirdest ending of any we've watched?

Jim: Yep. The bug sex watching bit at the end is a rather odd coda. I have no idea how the writers got that by the censors.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Running Death

"The Night of the Running Death" 
Written by Edward J Lasko
Directed by Gunnar Hellström
Synopsis: Gordon and West join up with a wagon train of itinerant entertainers while on the trail of an elusive assassin. Can they undercover his identity before he kills his target?

Jim: Before I get into the overall episode, I gotta talk about the final scene(s)...

Trey: Starting at the ending! That may be a first for this.

Jim: I'm a switching it up a little! Anyway, here were two places were I thought the episode was going to end and go into a freeze frame, but it didn't: When West bid farewell to the princess, and the again when Artie was wincing over the taste of cherry jubilee with molasses. But then, we get the poker scene, I began to wonder if I had missed some important plot detail.

Trey: Yeah, the "Three Act" denouement was weird.

Jim: Also, I think we are looking at a major rewrite for some reason. The way so many characters are introduced when West shows up to save the caravan from Indians makes me think this episode was going to lean on the wagon train setting more than it actually did. When the story moves to Denver, I feel like it loses its momentum a bit. Then the fight in the bar is completely unnecessary. It may have been tacked on, just like the three endings.

Trey: I can definitely buy your rewrite hypothesis, perhaps as a mashup of two ideas, neither of which added up to a full episode on their own? I am suspicious that everyone on the wagon train besides the ones that died and our two agents were Enzo's accomplices at some point in the script, but I could be wrong. Anyway, we are left with a lot of plot holes: How did Topaz escape being buried alive (or not getting buried)? What happens to Coco? Why does Enzo kill the people he kills? Do they even tell the authorities that two people were murdered on the trail and one disappeared?

Jim: On the positive side, It was nice to see Maggie Threat again in the show.  I also enjoyed seeing Ken Swofford in the bar fight scene. Swofford was a staple of 60s and 70s television, showing up in almost everything. He finally made it big with a recurring rule on Fame

Trey: I do think it's an effective episode in many ways. Enzo seems a real threat for West and Gordon in a way that super-villains with armies of thugs often don't on the show.

Jim: The reveal of Enzo's identity made for a good twist, though I find West's explanation of how he spotted the ruse to be a little unconvincing. 

Trey: He's a man with who pays attention to details. Matronly women's hands just happens to be one of them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Iron Fist

"The Night of the Iron Fist" 
Written by Ken Pettus
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis: West and Gordon are assigned to bring the Bosnian Count Draja to Washington for extradition, but the Count has a hidden gold stash and a hefty price on his head, so the trip is complicated by treasure-seeking criminals and reward-seeking vigilantes.

Trey: While this episode isn't one of the greats, I don't agree with Kesler's assessment in her book that it is flat or boring. It's a perfectly serviceable episode with nice action and enough wrinkles to keep the fairly simple plot engaging for the runtime. It's (like many this season) a good mixture of spy-fi and Western that leans heavier to the Western.

Jim: I also enjoyed it more than Kesler seemed to. I liked this WWW take on the classic lawman and prisoner plot, but what I enjoyed the most was the format of the show. It was like watching two separate shows as West and Gordon are involved in their own predicaments!

Trey: And both survive by their wits in this one. That's a trait we often see in Gordon, but it's good to see it in West.

Jim: I definitely enjoyed seeing West use a few clever tricks to get out of tight spots. And it was good to see his horse again. 

Trey: A Western hero has got to have a well-trained horse to rely on.

Jim: Other highlights of the episode for me: The way West switched out Draja, and Gordon took his place; the way Gordon dispatched his captors out the train car door--and how West used a stack of cookware to distract his attackers. 

Trey: All good bits! I do feel like there are a few story aspects that could have done with a bit more explanation. The basic plot, lawman and prisoner forced to work together, typically goes one of two ways in classic TV. One way is the prisoner is proven to be innocent or at least sympathetic in some way, and it ends with the lawman being willing to help the prisoner out in some fashion. The other is for the villain's inadequate justifications for their misdeeds to contrast with and emphasize the hero's goodness. The problems they face essentially just mean that the villain makes events more complicated for the hero. This story is more like the second version, but Count Draja isn't really developed in any way to accentuate the difference between him and West. We don't really know what he did, and what little explanation we are given of his actions is vague.

Jim: I totally agree with you on the lack of character/story development with Count Draja. That's where such episodes shine, as the villain is revealed to be more heroic than initially thought, or at least more sympathetic, as you say. Draja just seems like he's along for the ride most of the time. It's a very disappointing use of Mark "Sarek" Lenard. 

Trey: Likewise, Countess Zorana's motivations are murky. When she didn't denounce Gordon as a Draja imposter, I assumed at first that she might be a scammer as well, but that doesn't appear to be the case. We are left to infer that she thought that turning Artie in wouldn't help her, and she might have need of him, but there are a lot of assumptions on her part there that I think required a few lines of dialogue to explain why she went that route.

Jim: I just found Zoranna to be a bit of a bore. I'm not sure the writers really knew who she was throughout the entire episode.

Trey: Lisa Pera gives a decent performance, but it's true she doesn't have a lot to work with. Interestingly, this is her second WWW appearance: she was the medium Amelia Maitland in "The Night of the Tottering Tontine."

Jim: Huh. I didn't recognize her as a blonde!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Legion of Death

"The Night of the Legion of Death" 
Written by Robert C. Dennis and Earl Barrett
Directed by Alex Nicol
Synopsis: West and Gordon work to free a territory from the grip of a legion under the command of a dictatorial governor with presidential ambitions.

Trey: This episode could be called "The Night of the Very Shallow Citizenry." They'll accept a fascist police state from a guy who's "politician handsome," but they stand up and walk out on an average guy with a bit of a unsightly scar.

Jim: Yeah well, it's television, thankfully. If they had kept following him the episode might hit a little too close to home given the past four years.

Trey: But here we are giving away the ending right out of the gate!

Jim: There were a lot of nice scenes I noted here: West falling through several floors of the building was a great stunt. The lack of background music as he explored the house helped to build suspense. And that court room scene was a nice change of pace.

Trey: And a humorous one! In fact, this episode presents a more humorous West and Gordon than we typically see. 

In addition to the guest star Anthony Zerbe (from Omega Man and so many other films and TV shows), there are not one but two lovely ladies to flirt with West! Karen Jensen as Catherine Kitteridge and Toian Matchinga (in her 2nd of 3 WWW appearances) as Henrietta Fauer.

I feel like there was one thing this episode was missing though.

Jim: What was that?

Trey: A fight between West and Captain Dansby (long-time character actor Donnelly Rhodes) was called for, and we never got it!

Jim: Man! you are right about the missing fight scene. Where was that? You could have had a few seconds devoted to that, and less of Zerbe's yammering. Overall, this was an episode with some nice bits here and there, but the resolution to the chief problem seemed a bit pat - or maybe I was expecting something a bit more bombastic.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Cut-Throats

"The Night of the Cut-Throats" 
Written by Edward J. Lasko
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis (from IMDB): A newly released ex-con returns to get revenge on the town of New Athens than sent him away, and brings a band of outlaws with him. West and Gordon are the only thing keeping them from burning the town to the ground.

Trey: Kesler in The Wild Wild West: The Series calls this a "mediocre episode" with a villain that's "small potatoes for our versatile agents." What say you, Jim?

Jim: Well...I feel the cold open with the stagecoach battle is classic Western action. It’s a perfect intro for what is admittedly one of the series most conventional western plots. At least of those we've watched. It’s interesting - as much as I am a fan of the more fantastic episodes, I’m finding I enjoy this season’s more standard Western settings and plots more than most of the stories from Season Two.

Trey: You're like Goldilocks and The Wild Wild West is the porridge.

Jim: As far as the villain Trayne played by Bradford Dillman...

Trey: Forever Lewis Dixon in Escape from the Planet of the Apes to me.

Jim: Yeah, well, Dillman is really a great classic television villain. He gives Mike Trayne an air of sophistication that is often lacking in the show’s villains; possibly on par with Michael Dunn’s Loveless.

Trey: High praise, indeed! Don't forgot Victor Buono.

Jim: Of course, him too.

Trey: I liked the fact that this episode is actually a mystery, though that isn't apparent at the outset.

Jim: I feel like this episode is one of the show's rare actual mystery episodes. It’s a change of pace I greatly appreciate.

Trey: We should also mention that Jackie Coogan is in this episode.

Jim: I like how the initial scene with Coogan (the sheriff) is shot with the cake in the foreground! Another good sequence is the battle to save the town, but some of the excitement is undercut by the fact that Trayne’s searching for the money, and the backstabbing of his various partners. 

Trey: I feel like that actually works to the scenes benefit. Had we seen the siege play out all on its own, I think the repetitive nature of if would have been much more apparent.

Jim: You may be right. The fight between Trayne and West was also impressive. Trayne gets punched through a second floor railing and falls on a table in the saloon below. My hat is off to the stunt man who pulled off that stunt. I don’t see how that fall could have been buffered in any meaningful way. That had to hurt!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Falcon

"The Night of the Falcon" 
Written by Robert E. Kent
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis (from IMDB): A powerful artillery shell destroys an entire town, and Denver is next if the government doesn't pay a ransom to the mysterious Falcon. West and Gordon race to neutralize the threat, but find the Falcon intends to auction off his weapon to highest bidding criminal organization.

Trey: This is the most James Bond episode we've had in some time: from the cultural stereotype representatives of international crime, to the Falcon's costumed guards. 

Jim:  Definitely. I had to smile at the different representatives of foreign organizations watching the destruction of Tonka Flats. It was a nice bit of camp. And speaking of Tonka Flats, it's destruction makes for one of the show's best cold openings I've ever seen. 

Is this the first time we've ever seen what the adjoining train car looks like? I don't recall ever seeing the chemistry lab Artemus uses in this episode. It's a great addition to the show that probably should've come up sooner.

Trey: I had those same thoughts. No, I don't think we've seen it before, unless it was in season one.

Jim: Ross Martin gets a lot of time to shine in this episode, from his moments in the train car lab, to the stage coach and finally at the Falcon's bidding table.

Trey: liked all the stuff Artemus got to do, but I feel like we missed some of West's acerbic one-liners in conversation with the villain. 

Jim: But did get see him zipline across a room. And we got a guest appearance by Robert Duvall. What can one really say about Robert Duvall in a green falcon helmet? Maybe this awkward choice in clothing is why Michael Corleone didn't pick him as a wartime consigliere.

Trey: That was presumably the Falcon's costume choice, not Duvall's. Unless you think he brought his own clothes to the shoot?

Jim: I'm not saying he didn't

Trey: It would have been nice to know more about the Falcon. He winds up being pretty much a cipher. He doesn't really even have much personality. 

Jim: True. I enjoyed this episode, but I think the beginning set us up for a more exciting episode than what we got. It ended up being a bit by the numbers once it really got going.

Trey:  I think you're right. While I wouldn't call it a bad episode by any stretch, it is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

Jim: That Falcon shaped cannon is impressive, though! If Sideshow made a replica, you'd buy it.

Trey: Only in an auction with stereotypically-dressed, foreign stereotypes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Circus of Death

"The Night of the Circus of Death" 
Written by Arthur Weingarten
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): When masterfully forged bills appear in circulation, West and Gordon must catch the forgers to prevent the collapse of the U.S. economy from a flood of nearly perfect counterfeit bills. The trail leads to a circus..

Trey: I feel like this episode pulls a bait and switch! "Circus of Death?" How about "Circus of Only Tangentially Related?"

Jim: True! I'm surprised as well at how little the actual Circus plays in this episode. It feels like we spend more time in the boutique! 

Trey: Or the Denver Mint.

Jim: There, too. But yeah, a better title would have been "The Night of the Funny Money." The circus was a nice change of pace, though. West versus the lion is well shot I think. I sincerely doubt that's Conrad in the cage, but the camera work does a good job of not letting on. 

Trey: It was colorful too.

Jim: True. We've commented on the show's efforts to take advantage of the new color television technology, and the circus does that, but the boutique scene at the start of this show is the best example so far.

Trey: The opening scene in the boutique is amusing.

Jim: Goodbody's spiel about dynamic numerology feels like the show is making fun of some of the sillier counter culture beliefs of the era.

Trey: Artie's return to the boutique is good too. Like several episodes this season it shows how formidable he is in his own right.

Jim:  I was a little disappointed when Artie showed up in his Mr. Gentry guise. I just seemed a bit too ordinary. But Martin had so much fun with the role that I quickly got over my disappointment.

Trey: Would it upset you if I told you this episode was historically inaccurate? The Denver Mint was an assay office until 1906. Even then, it made coins not notes.

Jim: You've ruined the entire episode for me!

Trey: I think you'll be alright.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of Montezuma's Horde

"The Night of Montezuma's Horde" 
Written by Max Ehrlich
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: West and Gordon accompany a professor and his team and a Mexican Colonel to retrieve the lost treasure of Montezuma. The professor turns out to be a phony and his hired help a gang of criminals, but biggest danger comes from a hidden temple of surviving Aztecs.

Jim: I was looking forward to this episode because of Ray Walston, and he kills it in his first scene on the show. He's delightfully sinister with his various facial tics and holding the saw over the skull. Kudos to whoever set up this scene. This is also an exceptionally clever fake out on a show that does a lot of fake outs. 

Trey: Yeah, this episode has a lot of everything--including renowned character actor Jack Elam as a heavy. Despite this seasons reputation and being less fantastical and more straight Western, you wouldn't know it here.

Jim: A lot of action in this one, too. The fight inside--and outside--the bar is pretty spectacular, though it does feel like one of those times West forgets he has a gun! Still, as fight scenes go, this feels well choreographed for the times.

One of the reasons given for this show's cancellation was that it was too violent. Given that the majority of the violence is fisticuffs or brawls, it hardly seems to compare to the cop and detective shows that were emerging at this time. I don't know where the "too violent" label came from, but I think it's subjective, perhaps, and outright wrong.

Trey: I suspect they were cherry-picking episodes.

Jim: Anyway, Artie's solution to the lack of a willing guide is quite elegant.

Trey: Yeah, Artie has been given time to shine this whole season, so far.

Jim: I really enjoyed this one. It's quest through the desert is unlike anything we've seen on this show before. At times, it gives me a bit of a Johnny Quest or H. Rider Haggard vibe with the Aztecs and their goddess. Some great visuals in this episode too. I loved the skeleton guarded entrance, the Aztec temple and the royal treasure room.

Trey: Yeah, the only failing is budgetary. The Aztec's seem like they're down to about 4 guys, 2 ladies and the "goddess." And the goddess' throne room seems pretty cramped.

Jim: True. All the more reason this episode should have been extended into a really amazing Wild Wild West movie. 

Trey: Or at least better than the ones we got.


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