Picking up from last time, my 11-year-old daughter Maddie and I continue our overview of The Six Million Dollar Man, which we watched via the superb Complete Collection DVD box set.
|"Who who, who who…?"|
Writer/producer Kenneth Johnson did an admirable job reversing the end of Jaime’s origin story, but in the name of compelling drama, he went one step further—he resurrected Jaime, but in wiping out her memory, he also killed the romance between her and Steve.
|Dr. Michael Marchetti—BOOOOOOOOOOO!|
I have to note that when Jaime “died” at the end of “The Bionic Woman Part II” and a heartbroken Steve mourned her, Maddie did not shed a tear. But at the end of “The Return of the Bionic Woman Part II,” when Jaime drives off with Michael to try to forge a new future for herself—with Steve downgraded to the “just good friends” category—Maddie was fairly inconsolable.
|"Mmmmmm, I smell ham—oh wait, it's ME!"|
MADDIE: “That was a good one, but not as good as the first episode with Barney. I was scared when they tuned his bionics back up and gave him back his super strength, because I remember what happened last time and how dangerous he was. Though I did always enjoy the moments when Barney was out to show how much better he was than Steve, and that’s what was missing in the sequel.”
|"Chewie, is that you…?"|
I watched this when it originally aired, and as I recall, it absolutely blew my mind. It had everything a fan of the show could want: mystery, suspense, action, the lovely Stefanie Powers as alien scientist Shalon, a surprise (and uncredited) guest appearance by Lindsay Wagner as Jaime, and, most importantly, a truly intimidating, worthy—and even downright scary—opponent for Steve in the form of wrestling legend Andre the Giant as Sasquatch.
|"Turn around, bright eyes…"|
MADDIE: “This one was very good. I loved the fight scenes between Bigfoot and Steve, because it was one of the very few times where Steve faced an enemy who could really challenge him. I liked the way the aliens could move through time with their little devices, and the whole plot was really strong. It was really different from most of the other episodes, and it was the first time in the series that we really got deep into science fiction. It was a real twist to find out that Bigfoot was a lot like Steve. He was so big, and his eyes were really creepy! I liked that they gave Jaime a little tip of the hat, it was nice to see her. Shalon was very pretty. I liked her character. It was clear she had a crush on Steve, but then again, every episode is like that!”
|Stefanie Powers as Shalon. >Sigh<|
Ask anyone what they remember most about The Six Million Dollar Man and chances are, Sasquatch will be one of the top three responses. The character was brought back numerous times—more on that later—and was even turned into a Kenner action figure.
|Alas, I never got to own one. >Sniff!<|
For fans like myself, who fully embraced the science-fictional “otherworldly” elements introduced in “The Secret of Bigfoot,” and were hoping that the series would continue in that direction from that point on, it was a bit disappointing to see the return to down-to-earth stories focusing on Steve combatting espionage and organized crime. That said, there’s a surprisingly small number of third-season episodes that qualify as genuine clunkers. For me, the weakest of the bunch were:
|Well, at least Lee Majors seems happy to have him there.|
MADDIE: “This was just a stupid episode. I didn’t care what happened in it, and the fight scene at the end was dumb, with Steve’s friend trying to act like he’s tough.”
|Lovely lady, lovely smile… awful hairdo.|
|What a difference a year will make...|
And Jaime Sommers makes a cameo appearance in both “Love Song for Tanya” and “Big Brother.” I actually remember my seven-year-old self watching “Love Song for Tanya” the night it aired, on February 15, 1976, and being quite excited about seeing Jaime show up—and also thinking guest-star Cathy Rigby, playing a Soviet gymnast wanting to defect to the U.S.—was really cute. The episode itself is not quite as good as I remember it being, but I don’t want to crush my seven-year-old self, so I continue to think of it fondly.
|Obviously, she's just beaten Steve's high score.|
“Big Brother” is a well-meaning episode written by Kenneth Johnson that helps promote the Big Brothers organization (now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters) and features Steve coming to the aid of a troubled ghetto youth. Watching it again, I’d say that the Jaime appearance is the best thing about it.
|"Hey, speaking of 'deadly missiles'…"|
In the third season, The Six Million Dollar Man really came into its own. It is arguably the best season, overall, of the series. And while the subsequent seasons would not maintain a consistent level of quality on a week-to-week basis, there were a number of fine episodes still to come.
No, Steve’s mustache was meticulously groomed and thin, sort of like David Niven’s.
My theory has always been that Majors was trying to emulate Burt Reynolds, who at the time was the biggest movie star in the world.
|"I'm a substitute for another guy…"|
Cassidy performs well, but I prefer Andre, both in appearance and in overall approach to the part.
|"Interesting friends you have, Steve."|
Admittedly, all the slow-motion action gets a bit tiresome after a while, and the production budget prevents the key set pieces from being truly impressive, certainly by today’s standards. But it’s exciting to watch Jaime become more immersed into Steve’s world and, of course, it’s always great to see the two of them together. However, their budding romance seems to have cooled somewhat—maybe Jaime didn’t like the mustache either.
|Talk about a face-off!|
Parts one and two are great, thoroughly entertaining, and represent the bionic shows doing what they do best. But the storyline crashes right into a brick wall with part three, a talky, boring, and increasingly tedious exercise. Veteran actor Sam Jaffe shows up as an elderly U.S. Navy admiral, and he gets waaaay too much screen time and seems like he’s about to keel over at any moment. The scenes involving the U.S. military and government officials plotting a strategy against Dr. Franklin are deadly dull. It’s not a totally awful conclusion, but it certainly doesn’t live up to the two parts that preceded it, and is thus a big disappointment. It would also be the last time that Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers would be seen on screen together until the first reunion movie in 1987.
“Nightmare in the Sky,” in which Farrah Fawcett makes her final appearance in the series by playing astronaut/test pilot Kelly Wood, the character she portrayed back in the Season One episode “The Rescue of Athena One.” Kelly comes under suspicion when her plane—a $15 million aircraft—disappears. She claims the plane had been attacked by a World War II fighter, but no other aircraft was detected in the area. Steve, convinced of Kelly’s innocence, sets out to clear her name.
|The doctor is out—of his mind.|
The oddball “A Bionic Christmas Carol” is exactly what you think it would be, with Ray Walston as Ebenezer Scrooge—er, I mean Horton Budge, a penny-pinching businessman developing technology for America’s space program. But it seems that the project is being sabotaged, so Steve is sent to check it out—over the Christmas holiday, much to his annoyance. Dick Sargent (Bewitched’s Darren No. 2) plays Bob Cratchit—er, I mean Bob Crandall. Steve ends up functioning as the ghosts from the Dickens story, subjecting Budge to a night that will transform him from a miser to a mensch. I got a kick out of this one, don’t ask me why.
(By the way, there’s a scene in this episode where Steve is in a department store, and over his shoulder, in the background, you can see an original Six Million Dollar Man action figure on a shelf!)
|"You up for a game of stickball?"|
Watching “Death Probe” all these years later, it’s not nearly as exciting or as epic as I thought it was back in 1977. Cool story concept, and the probe itself has an interesting design, but the action gets a little tedious—a result of the limited production budget, no doubt. I’m sure it worked a lot better on paper.
|This kid would probably be a billionaire today, laughing at the whole lot of us.|
For the most part, other episodes in Season Four range from good (“Task Force,” another fun adventure pairing Steve with Callahan) to decent (“The Infiltrators,” guest-starring Yvonne [Batgirl] Craig, in which Steve goes undercover as a boxer and wears a hilariously ridiculous “belly shirt” while training) to mediocre (“Double Trouble,” featuring Flip Wilson, “Vulture of the Andes,” and the two-hour “The Thunderbird Connection”).
I must also mention “To Catch the Eagle,” the next-to-last episode of the season, which is most notable for featuring Steve without his mustache for the first time since Season Three. Perhaps to compensate, Lee Majors then started letting his hair get much longer and bushier.
|One trip to the well too many.|
“The Bionic Woman” wasn’t intended as anything other than a particularly good installment of The Six Million Dollar Man—there were no future plans for Jaime, so there was a lot of freedom to do whatever it took to make the story as strong as possible. Hell, they killed her, with no intention of bringing her back. By and large, the story is about Steve, and how he’s affected by what happens throughout. Steve has a personal history with Jaime right from the start, and we watch their love grow. The chemistry between Majors and Wagner was strong and unique.
|Uh… who are you, and why should we care?|
Overall, Season Four was creatively uneven, but still, by and large, it was enjoyable. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, Season Five would not be an improvement.
NEXT TIME: The end, a new beginning, and another end.
© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2013.