Buck Rogers #4: The Plot to Kill a City, Part 1

"Sometimes you get hurt no matter what you do."

WHAT'S UP, BUCK?: Buck infiltrates the Legion of Death, which plans to wreak vengeance on Earth by obliterating New Chicago.

The first proper two-parter (the others aired in a two-hour slot), The Plot to Kill a City is an Alan Brennert story that exposes his background in comics. How else to interpret the Legion of Death, who are terrorists with super-powers? Kellogg is a master tactician (that's not so fancy, but he's played by recognizable supervillain Frank Gorshin); Sherese is a nasty empath who knows when you're lying; Quince has telekinetic powers; Varek can turn intangible; Marcos is a martial artist who can't feel pain... And Buck is posing as a new recruit who is just damn good at thinking on his feet and taking care of business. Very comic book, though it still feels of a piece with the Buck Rogers universe. It makes me wonder about humanity in the 25th Century - did "humans" just evolve independently on different planets, or did they all start on Earth and evolve/mutate this way in just 500 years? There are more fantastical aliens - an Elephant Girl is briefly seen in this episode - but they're rare and usually the butt of a joke. (It would fit the pulp origins of the character for "humanish" cultures to be all over the galaxy, I'm just waiting for someone to say something.)

New Chicago is suffering through various terrorist attacks at this point, as the Legion has infiltrated various levels of society. An explosion almost does Twiki in (he moans about being dead), but alas, he's fine. So the situation is dire indeed, and Buck and Wilma go undercover separately, neither's chances thought to be very good. I don't know what it is about Wilma's disguise (the make-up? the way her wig frames her face?), but I'd never realized before how much Erin Gray looks like Kristen Bell. Wilma uses the happy pill trick on Quince (well, happy epipen) to get information, and when she gets made (by the empath, who else?), she still manages to get off-planet (on Buck's ship, piloted by a jealous, catty A.I.) with one of the Legion as a prisoner, but has to strand Buck behind. Embedded in the Legion, Buck's situation is more precarious - Sherese keeps testing him - but it's pretty obvious the slave-like Varek is going to be his eventual way out. Varek is a sympathetic character, his flesh mangled by anti-matter wars on his planet, and only really shown kindness by Buck. The bad guys' plan involves doing something similar to Earth, so it's unlikely to surprise us when he turns on Kellogg.

One of the tests Buck wasn't planning on is that there's a girl who knows the real "Raphael Argus" on the planet, so a meeting is engineered. Joella (Markie Post) is stunned, but plays along, and we're not sure why. Buck's studly charms? Argus was a bastard anyway? We're only 4 episodes in and we sure have seen a lot of pseudo-prostitutes on the program. Women who are either "slave girls" or just hang around in bars waiting for a rich man to walk in. The implication is that they have a sexual function, but on TV, they can't say that. Joella's status is even more ambiguous than usual, playing it as a barfly waiting for someone to take her off-planet if possible, pay her bills otherwise. She's bitter about having been used and thrown away many times, what Tangie (Vegas in Space) might have been like in less sympathetic hands. At the end of the episode, he's got enough info than rather than press the issue, he tries to leave, and for some reason needs to bring Joella with him. I guess she'd be in danger because she vouched for him. But he fails ANOTHER test. A fast-talking crook he shared a cell with in the first half the episode actually knew the real Argus too, and exposes him for a quick pay-off. Buck couldn't break cover and was arrested, see, and his cell mate Barney helped him escape... but couldn't be trusted. Felt like padding at the time, but proved relevant. And that's our cliffhanger.

SPACE DISCO: Every bar in Buck Rogers plays light disco, and the two (yes, TWO) in this episode are no different. Wilma goes undercover in a sparkly purple dress that would look right on a disco queen. And who doesn't look a rainbow hologram pattern on one's wrench or key card?

STAR GAZING: The second Batman '66 villain to show up in Buck Rogers, Frank Gorshin (Kellog) is best known as the Riddler on that series. Markie Post, made famous by Night Court is Joella. James Sloyan (Barney) was a frequent Star Trek guest star across TNG, DS9 and Voyager, perhaps most prominently as Odo's Bajoran "dad", Dr. Mora. And though he's hiding his face here, Anthony James (Varek) is perhaps one of the most recognizable, having played sleazes in many westerns, crime shows, and sci-fi. You'd know him if you saw him.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A good set-up with memorable characters and Buck being a smart, competent hero. But its true value will really depend on Part 2.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, that dress Erin Gray is wearing is slit right up to her hipbone ... no wonder she charmed the villain. Markie post sure looks different than a few years later on Night Court ... I almost didn't recognize her.

I hadn't really thought about the "super-villain" aspect of the bad guys, but it makes sense; not very sci-fi, but then Buck Rogers (and Flash Gordon) was always more pulp-adventure than hard sci-fi.

Mike W.


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