Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Back to the Planet of the Apes: ep5 "The Legacy"

 "The Legacy"
Airdate: October 11, 1974
Written by Robert Hamner
Directed by Bernard McEveety
Synopsis: In the ruins of Oakland, Burke and Virdon discover a holographic message from scientists from their own time, which might help them return to the past. First, though, they must escape Urko and a cunning trap set by Zaius, baited with a young scavenger and his mother.

Trey: This one was interesting mostly due to the fact a writer finally thinks to give us a hook to drive the plot of future episodes: there are apparently caches of ancient tech scattered about. Maybe these can help the astronauts return home? 

Jason: Return to your home, Astronauts, but only, repeat only, do so after we've squeezed the last drop of juice from this series! 

Trey: Or maybe, you know, they could use the info to help rebuild the world? Anyway, I shouldn't say a writer finally thinks of that. There was the metal disk with the information on it that was important in the first two episodes, but spoiler...that disk never gets mentioned again.

Jason: I shall delete that disk and the plot coupons it represented from my expectations. I do wonder how much of the script survived contact with the shooting schedule.

I'll mention the director here as well, as I was immediately impressed by a marked change in aesthetic in this episode. The cameras are on the move this episode, tracking, panning, dollying, zooming all over the place, or at least that was my impression. I felt a definite change in energy. Am I crazy? 

Trey: No, I think you're right. We shouldn't over sell it. It's still pretty standard TV stuff, but more dynamic than what we've seen before.

This episode has as a guest star a young Jackie Earle Haley as Kraik. I used to the think of as "the kid from the Bad News Bears" but now I guess he's "Rorschach from Watchmen."

Jason: He's one of those character actors from the era that was immediately recognizable but seems always relegated to supporting parts. I don't think I ever learned his name until Watchmen. He's great at projecting a sinister vibe, even as a young kid, and never really escaped this type casting, so far as I know. He was great in Spielberg's Lincoln, but again, sinister. As soon as I recognized him, I was tipped off to the treachery that would soon be afoot.

Trey: Indeed! I feel like his character is the first time we've got a real "collaborator" sort of human character. I mean, we've had humans loyal to apes before, but mostly because of their upbringing and the fact they had never considered things might be different. They tend to wise up as the story progresses. But young Kraik is a wheeler dealer looking out for number one--and willing to sell out other humans to get by.

Jason: That boy is pure evil! Haley's performance is good, right down to the hollow insincerity of his "redemptive" weeping at the end! 

While he isn't as smart as he thinks in the end, Zaius proves himself the more deadly adversary to the humans than Urko. His psy-op here giving Virdon a surrogate family so he'll but his guard down and start revealing things is way more sophisticated than anything the gorilla's ever attempted.

Of course, his shallow understanding of human psychology is his undoing. While the ready-made family is working on Virdon, Virdon is working on the family.

Jason: Hopefully Zaius will get the picture and stop underestimating his opponents. Virdon is only human but made of stuff stern enough to resist the charms of a single-mom Wilma Flintstone and her villainous boy.

The scenes featuring Virdon's irrepressible urge to offer fatherly council to this almost-feral kid help solidify his stated motivation - to get home to his family. He is not a particularly colorful man, but holy moly is he resourceful and decent. 

Perhaps weirdly, Virdon's surrogate wife blithely allows the "man from the past" to tell her son what she must regard as all manner of bullshit stories, and she has no concerns about spending time incarcerated with a guy suffering from grandiose delusions.

Trey: Look, dating options are limited for single mothers of teenage delinquent kids, even in the post-apocalypse!

A continuity note here: Virdon says he's "forgotten what a city looks like" so this episode must take place prior to "The Trap" where they visit the ruins of San Francisco. The only oddity there is that they sort of seem surprised in that episode that there's a city nearby, which if they had already knew they were in the Bay Area, why would they be? 

Jason: Yes, the Bay Area. I had almost forgotten what a matte painting looked like, but this episode managed to get in a juicy one of the ruins of future-Oakland.

Trey: In any case, it's an argument perhaps that the internal chronology of the episodes isn't airing order but perhaps production order. This episode was 4th and "The Trap" 5th.

Jason: This kind of stuff is particularly jarring after a couple of decades worth of continuity-minded TV. 

Trey: Speaking of relics of TV past--and it happens a lot in plots like this in shows: why don't they make any effort to hide the computer before racing off to the cache? I realize it wasn't the most important thing, but why make it easy for the apes to find? 

Jason: Things got pretty choppy towards the end of the episode. I got the feeling they shot too much, and it was a brutal edit to make the target length. "Is it 43 minutes yet? I don't care if it makes perfect sense!"

Trey: Once again, the concepts and tropes on display here are hardly unique, but we do get a bit of actually sci-fi at last, and it's a pretty effective episode dramatically. It's only marred by the fact that I'm fairly certain the interesting plot development here will go nowhere.

Jason: They were definitely on the right track with this one, for my tastes. The result was far from perfect, but dammit, it was fun. 


Baron Greystone said...

I'll have to agree with you on this one. To the best of my recollection, this was the best episode of the series.

Trey said...

It's certainly a strong contender!


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