Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep 4 "The Good Seeds"

 "The Good Seeds"
Airdate: October 4, 1974
Written by Robert W. Lenski
Directed by Don Wies
Synopsis: When Galen hurts his leg and can't travel, Virdon and Burke seek refuge on a farm so he can recover. The tenant farmer and his family are mistrustful of humans but agrees to let them stay so long as the humans' work. Most of the family warms to our heroes as their knowledge proves useful around the farm, Anto, the eldest son, resents the strangers, fearing they will hex his cow that is about to give birth, and ruin his change to start a farm of his own. When Virdon helps deliver not one but two bull calves, Anto is won over and names the calves after the astronauts.

Trey: This episode should be subtitled "or how astronauts from a technologically advanced society know way more about farming that mutli-generation ape farmers." 

Jason: It's my 2nd favorite episode of Little House on the Planet of the Apes, just behind the one with  guest star Johnny Cash! 

Trey: Don't give our readers false hope.

Jason: But yeah, it seems like Virdon has forgotten more about farming than these apes will ever know.

Trey: We're given a preview of this theme in the obligatory "heroes on the run" bit in the beginning: We're told apes don't know anything about the compass and can only tell direction at night by the stars. They can make firearms and snazzy uniforms, but not a compass.

Jason: Priorities! If you're going to run an ape-centric fascist society you're gonna need guns and jackboots. Advanced farming strategies can wait. 

Galen's first reaction when shown Virdon's hand-crafted compass is to ask "Is it witchcraft?"-- statement heavy with implications, none of which will be explored here. Give me ape witches, please!  

Trey: I think this may also be the first references to ape superstition/religion in the series! There is certainly much more talk of spirits here than in previous episodes.

Jason: Yes, and it's nice to be thrown a little world-building here and there in this otherwise standard pastoral tale. No details, but it makes my ears perk up when such hints are dropped about the setting. Speaking of which, we also get another glimpse of that wall map of North America, including additional X's and skulls, presumably to indicate areas still too irradiated for habitation, but we are given no clues. Give me Journey Into the Forbidden Zone on the Planet of the Apes! Okay, I'll stop making unreasonable demands now. 

Trey: Well, don't stop on my account! Anyway, the tenant farmer family is a mix of Old West and Medieval. Polar and his wife are like Western homesteaders. Remus could be the kid from Shane or similar. Anto on the other hand, acts like the superstitious villager from a time travel story.

Jason: The whole production skews toward the Western. I expect most of the actors and stuntmen portraying gorilla thugs on horseback were wearing cowboy hats and menacing Hoss and the boys at the Ponderosa not too long before. 

Trey: The scenic Fox Movie Ranch adds to that effect. So, the tenant farmers status adds another aspect to ape society we haven't before. IMDB says the script originally called for them to be gorillas. That would have been interesting, because we don't really get any "good" gorillas (or orangutans) in the series. On the other hand, having them be chimpanzees and disparage poor farmers breaks up the species caste system.

Jason: Low-status chimps..Or perhaps part of some back-to-nature movement?

Trey: Surely not chimp hippies! Though there is precedent with the anti-war protestors in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Amusing that these poor farmers even have a strong idea of what is "human work" vs. "ape work."

Jason: The social commentary in this episode, as progressive as mid-70s TV productions got, of course, is definitely in the forefront. Uncomfortably so at times! One not-so-hilarious remark from Burke in particular sticks out like a sore thumb.  

Trey: I know the one you mean! But I like that the writers are thinking of the implications of ape vegetarianism and their society. The fact that they believe humans are dangerous to cows or could never keep them because they would just eat them is funny.

Jason: I enjoyed this as well. One of the few reminders that this program is ostensibly science fiction instead of a fantastic parable. It's nice to see something speculative once in a while.

Trey: The best part of the episode for me, though, is Anto's human impression. I feel like that ape should give up farming and move to the big city and become a comic on the simian equivalent of Vaudeville.

Jason: Oh yeah? I say ape humor has advanced about as much as their farming techniques. Keep trying, apes!

Trey: This episode was lower on the action/adventure aspect but took more time with the characters and worldbuilding (in a way) than previous episodes. The story, I suppose, is as formulaic as what came before, just in different ways, but the script perhaps made better use of that formula.

Jason: Formulaic, to be sure, but I agree that this episode worked better than it had the right to. It was my favorite so far. Sci-Fi action it was not, but it gave us some fun insights into ape culture as it ticked off the boxes. What's next, I wonder?

Trey: Well, from "good seeds" to a bad seed--or at least a kid in need of a good father figure. He's played by Jackie Earle Haley!

Jason: Onward!

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