Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep2 "The Gladiators"

 "The Gladiators"
Airdate: September 20, 1974
Written by Art Wallace
Directed by Don McDougall
Synopsis: Burke and Virdon are faced with having to fight to the death when they are captured, and the Ape Prefect amuses himself by staging gladiator-style fights between the humans in his village.

Jason: In the opening of this episode, Urko briefly recaps the current situation to one of his soldiers, and we're shown a wall-sized painted map of the western USA which I enjoyed seeing. What horrors lie on the other side of the very clearly marked line of X's and series of skulls south of that? 

Trey: I liked that too, but I couldn't help but noticing the scale seemed rather fanciful.

Jason: Urko's orders to his minion: tell the prefects in all the nearby settlements to arrest all strangers on sight, taken alive unless they try to escape."And I expect them to try. Understood?"

What a villain! I think Mark Lenard is getting slightly more comfortable in his ape makeup.

From there we cut to the wilderness where the fugitive trio eat fruit from the future and debate their plans.

Trey: Our heroes show their heroic nature by intervening with a couple of random dudes fighting in the wilderness.

Jason: Virdon jumps right in, as if it was any of his business! Burke seems less enthusiastic at first, but before you know it he's right in there with the full menu of Astronaut Judo at his disposal. It's a no-holds-barred tag team match. 

Trey: They definitely deliver some moves worthy of James Kirk. Clearly that unorthodox fighting style was already being taught in the alternative 1980 they rocketed from.

Jason: In the frenzy of battle, I couldn't tell if stunt doubles were involved. 

Trey: The sparrers they interrupted are Tolar and Dalton played respectively by frequent 70s-80s TV heavy William Smith (I last saw him in the Buck Rogers episode "The Trebor") and a young Marc (Beastmaster) Singer.

Jason: Smith, mildly surprisingly for a man so obviously devoted to the development of his triceps, turns in a solid performance as Dalton's gladiator father. The role requires Tolar to be the living embodiment of toxic masculinity. He repeatedly beats the crap out of his son - a gladiator in training - the only way to ensure Dalton's grim future on the Planet of Apes!

Anyway. the melee is broken up by the arrival of an ape on horseback, forcing our heroes to flee. To their horror, the ape immediately finds the flight data disk Burke dropped during the fight. Burke's convinced that the information encoded on the disk might somehow provide a means to return to the past and will risk anything to retrieve it, despite the protests of Galen and Virdon. Plot device detected!

Trey: Yes, well, said device is in the hands of Prefect Barlow now. He's an interesting character to me. I suspect he read more positively in 1974 than in 2023. Clearly, he's meant to be "one of the good ones." He treats the humans rather benignly, and rather paternalistically. And in the end, he can change for the better!  But he's still an uncritical participant in the system of ape supremacy--and he forces or at the very least strongly encourages and facilitates death sports as a means of social control over the human population. Compared to Urko he's a good guy, but it's really only his means that vary, not his ends.

Jason: Death sports as a means of keeping human aggression at bay seem to be working for his village like a charm. He's slowly cracking the code on human nature, and it's not good news! His pronouncements to Galen on the subject are enjoyably bleak. 

Trey: I think part of his charm is his portrayal by John Hoyt. Hoyt's been in a lot of stuff, but I remember him most as "Bones" Boyce, the doctor and bartender on the Enterprise in the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage." 

Jason: It is a charming performance. He gets most of the interesting lines, almost all of them dissing humans directly or damning with faint praise. 

Trey: It certainly for most the episode! So, my verdict on Episode 2: This is a very cliched episode from a classic genre tv standpoints. How many gladiatorial arenas have we seen? How many times have we heard killing isn't the answer? Still, the classics work, I guess.

Jason: They get the job done, at least.

Trey: Unlike Urko's minions! But what elevate this a bit, I think, is the need to deal with the fact that the world is the way it is because of human violence. In the face of that truth, Dalton's pacifist turn seems perhaps more necessary, and more believable.

Also, I liked the honesty of Virdon's reply when Barlow asks him if the ancient world was better. Also he can say, with a resigned expression on his face is: "it was different."

Jason: Differently horrible! I agree that they trotted out one seen-it-before situation after another, but hey, this time we're seeing it with apes. For all of its faults, I'm still enjoying the show. Maybe not so much as an immersive work of speculative fiction, but rather as an artifact of another time's mass media entertainment, far enough removed from today to provide many meta layers of interest. Hopefully enough to sustain me for twelve more episodes!

Trey: We'll just have to find out!

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