Buck Rogers #18: A Dream of Jennifer

"I'm just an image of someone you lost a long, long time ago."

WHAT'S UP, BUCK?: Buck spots a dead ringer for his 20th-Century girlfriend.

REVIEW: This is the one with Anne Lockhart in it, and I loved her as Sheba in Battlestar Galactica, and I tend to love her here as an agent (Leila) who is given a face from Buck's past (the girl he left behind, Jennifer) so as to lure him into a trap. She has to make a quick heel turn, as this is TV, but meeting Buck is all it takes for her to realize she's working for the wrong people and towards the wrong goals. We don't know who she was before, though she does tell the alien Koven she wants her old face back after the job, except that she was poor (so Earth is not a egalitarian society, or she may not be FROM Earth, I guess), but she obviously never had someone look at her with this much love. It changes her. And because Lockhart wears her emotions on her sleeve, I'm happy to believe it. In the end, she'll be used as collateral so Buck accomplishes a mission for the Koven, and since she's a convincing continuing love interest, sacrifices herself for him and gets a poignant death scene. It got to me, okay?! If there ever was an episode worthy of being a little more serious and melancholy, it's this one.

I wouldn't blame you for saying this episode should have come sooner, since Buck is portrayed as still dreaming of Jennifer when we've just seen him gallivanting around the galaxy with different "Buck babes". And yet, we've mocked how often he was denied or denied himself anything too racy or serious. This episode actually shows us more of his apartment, and he sleeps in a bunk bed! We know he's entertained, but it doesn't seem a great set-up for sleepovers. (Oh go ahead and finish your drink right then and there.) So has he been relatively celibate out of grief for Jennifer, whose picture is still displayed in his living area (ever since the pilot)? "A Dream of Jennifer" seems to riff on "I Dream of Jeannie" but I rather think the too-little-known "Portrait of Jennie", a time travel romance from 1948 is a better reference (we'll never know if it was on Alan Brennert's mind). At the end, Buck is so shook that he has to take several weeks off, as if to finally grieve for Jennifer and the world he lost. He tells his friends that he can't live in the past anymore, which makes me wonder if that's really the end of the often lame bits where he tries to expose the others to 20th Century stuff (not likely). The lesson is a bit heavy-handed since its point is made twice before in the episode, once in an otherwise pointless scene with a street entertainer. The final joke, as if a release, features a more genuine burst of laughter than we've gotten to date.

Maybe Buck's new outlook explains why, having discovered "Old Chicago", he does move there right away. I mean, it was there all along?! Though given the 25th-Centurians' mangling of history, it probably wouldn't feel any more at home that his skyscraper apartment. The world-building in this episode also sends us to what used to be New Orleans, now City-on-the-Sea, and at its evolution of Mardi Gras, the Festival of Masks. We also meet the Koven, rare ACTUAL aliens (well, they have bright red skin and the leader, Reeve, speaks in an odd cadence. His partner Nola is bit of an Amazon and puts the moves on Buck - he of course rejects her, read the room, Nola. Her name is no doubt a New Orleans joke, but it also creates a confusion in the dialog. As Reeve explains the mission, he tells Buck Nola will accompany him and furthermore than long range sensors will track him, but I hear "No one will accompany you", then cut to Nola being in the cockpit with him. But this is also an episode where I had to double-check if the Koven's enemy planet was Vega 5, Beta 5, or Bega 5. The Koven costumes are a little 1930s serials, if you ask me, but they're smart and dangerous, with contingency plans for (almost) everything. What I don't know is if they're in the right when they say Vega 5 is actually the aggressor and that the Terran Federation is helping them with supplies because its unjustly trusts one planet's word over the other. Reeve doesn't seem to have a reason to lie, but his methods are so bad, we sort of have to root for Vega 5 on principle. There's a piece of dialog missing at the end that would clear the matter up.

What raises the stakes is that Wilma will secretly be on this supply mission, escorting what normally would be an android crew. So Buck might begrudgingly agree to blow up an automated freighter, but obviously not to kill people. He and Wilma work very well together to disarm Nola and fake the explosion. For once, both the heroes and the villains are acting smartly - moves and countermoves. This may seem superficial, but this is really the episode where Wilma becomes a dark brunette, though it changes from scene to scene. I thought that was a Season 2 thing, but I guess Erin Gray prevailed on the producers. Less superficial is her performance. Though they've only been "pals" after the evident attraction in the pilot movie, and Wilma is quite supportive of Buck's attempt to track down his love's doppelganger, there's a note of regret or disappointment when it looks like Buck will find what he's looking for. Tim O'Connor also does a lot with his touching scene in which he reveals Dr. Huer is a widower and also had vivid dreams about his late wife. It's not often they play on the fact that he and Buck share a bond because they're effectively the two "old men", but it's appreciated.

SPACE DISCO: Buck wants to build himself a hot tub. The new trippy tachyon drive looks like the rainbow warp drive from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, out only months earlier. Dr. Huer gives him a nature documentary that turns out to be Jaws, and Twiki quips "Just when you thought it was safe in the 25th Century", a paraphrase of the movie's tag line. We also get a scene in Buck's 20th-Century bachelor pad. If the episode really is named after I Dream of Jeannie, it's that the show was being rerun all through the 70s.

STAR GAZING: Anne Lockhart was, as mentioned, a regular on Battlestar Galactica. Paul Koslo (Reeve) was a cult film favorite and in such remembered flicks as Vanishing Point and The Omega Man before guest-starring on TV shows. Mary Woronov (Nola) had a similar career - Calamity Jane in Death Race 2000, and after Buck in such films as Eating Raoul, Night of the Comet, and Warlock. Another cult actor in this one is Jessie Lawrence Ferguson (part of Wilma's bridge crew) who went on to star in Darkman, Prince of Darkness, and Buckaroo Banzai (as a Lectroid). And yet, this one has to be remembered for giving an early role to Dennis Haysbert; the spaceport guard will become a major TV star with his roles in 24 and The Unit (plus those Allstate commercials).

The first time we see Anne Lockhart, she's wearing a beigeish pink outfit that isn't too far from her colors on Battlestar. The spaceport P.A. pages both Christopher Pike (from Star Trek) and Norin Radd (the Silver Surfer).

VERSIONS: Brennert's original script did not have the spaceport employee recognize him, since so many plots hinged on him being off the grid; instead, they took pity on him for being lovelorn. There were apparently enough changes that he took his name off it.

- Could this be the best episode of the show, ever?


Mike W. said...

Yeah, this one tried to be a bit more serious and it generally works, although I saw Leila's sacrifice coming a mile away. As for the bunk beds, I couldn't help thinking of that scene in Big with Tom Hanks: "I get to be on top!" Maybe Twiki sleeps over sometimes?


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