BR25C: The Plot to Kill a City

May 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 28, 2013 

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

“The Plot to Kill a City” — Season 1, Episodes 6 and 7

Originally aired Oct. 11 and 18, 1979

Synopsis

Our hero enters a bar and finds Rafael Argus, a notorious assassin. A scuffle ensues that ends with Buck Rogers seemingly knocking Argus unconscious. Dr. Elias Huer scans Argus’ mind. Afterward, Huer tells Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering that Argus is about to be inducted into an organization called the Legion of Death. (It is also referred to at least once as the League of Interstellar Mercenaries.)

As the trio leaves Huer’s office, a bomb explodes, knocking down Twiki and Dr. Theopolis. Both are unharmed, but Rogers is disturbed. It turns out that this is part of a string of bombings that the league (or legion) has undertaken in order to avenge Earth’s having killed a legion (or league) member. Rogers agrees to take part in an effort to defang the Legion of Death.

Since Argus operates in the shadows, Huer says, no one in the legion about to welcome him into its ranks has a clear-cut idea of what he looks like. Thus Rogers shall assume his identity. Deering will also go undercover in a backup effort to discover how the legion intends to take its revenge on Earth. Huer briefs the pair on legion members: strategist Kellogg, psychokinetic Quince, token female Cherise and tough guy Markos.

Rogers dons Argus’ S&M outfit and heads to Argus’ ship. A very somber Huer outfits Rogers with special capsules that unleash a few seconds of darkness. After they say farewell, the protagonist enters the spaceship, which is controlled by a sassy female-voiced computer.

En route to the stargate, three police starfighters intercept Argus’ ship. Rogers unsuccessfully attempts to evade them but is taken into custody. He is, evidently without any questioning, placed into a holding cell with a rogue named Barney. After perhaps two minutes of confinement, they are able to escape (the entire prison — which on-screen evidence indicates has a staff of just two!!!) using a classic Star Trek-style diversion and a darkness capsule. Earth-system policemen are made to seem fairly incompetent in this sequence, despite their ability to apprehend Argus-cum-Rogers.

As the villains assemble at an Aldebaran spaceport, we become acquainted with their various characteristics: Cherise is bitchy, Quince is fat, Kellogg, arrogant. We also see Quince use his telekinesis power to intimidate a bar patron; Cherise arrange to have Jo-Ella, a friend of hers who has slept with Argus, verify that the new Legion of Death member is who he says he is; and Kellogg meanly treats his assistant, Varick, a human mutated by the aftereffects of nuclear war on his home world. Although the mutations have left Varick with a hideous face, they have also enabled him to walk through solid walls.

Also, a black-wigged Deering seduces and drugs Quince, which allows her to learn where and when the legion will meet to scheme against Earth.

Rogers and Barney land on the planet and go separate ways, but not before Barney tries to persuade the hero to join him in a partnership. Outside the spaceport, Rogers is assaulted by the Legion of Death. He survives a rather perfunctory assault and is welcomed into their ranks.

Back on Earth, there is another attack — one that threatens to blow up one of the starfighter hangar bays. It is defused thanks to the quick thinking of Theopolis.

Cherise reunites Jo-Ella with Argus, or the man playing him; Jo-Ella pretends that Rogers is the man she previously knew. In private, Rogers tells her that not everyone hurts everyone else. They agree to meet in the hotel bar after the big gathering of assassins.

The villains and Rogers go to the hotel’s solar collector to meet with Markos. They discuss avenging themselves on Earth, but before they get down to brass tacks, Cherise psychically detects that Deering is spying on them. Rogers and Markos pursue Deering; away from the other assassins, the Terrans knock out Markos. Rogers tells Deering to take Markos back to Earth in Argus’ ship while he reunites with the legion.

Kellogg tells the assassins that they will destroy New Chicago, a city of 10 million people, by creating an antimatter explosion at the city’s contraterrene energy generation plant. The matter decided, Rogers joins Jo-Ella in the bar. But within moments, the other assassins apprehend them and herd them back into Kellogg’s hotel room. There, they find Barney, who declares that Rogers is not the Rafael Argus that Barney met on Sutter’s World two years previously. (The episode breaks here.)

Rogers argues that this matter has nothing to do with Jo-Ella; he uses a darkness capsule to help the two of them escape. After they split up, however, Rogers is recaptured. He insists that he is one Aaron Whist, a criminal who has assumed Argus’ identity. A legion mole on Earth taps into the Earth defense directorate personnel database and confirms Rogers’ story.

The mole also eavesdrops on Huer to ensure that he knows nothing of the impending attack. Right after the mole, Hartstein, does so, he is apprehended by Huer, Theo, Twiki and Earth police. They ask him what the legion is planning, but Hartstein doesn’t know.

As the legion is making its way through the spaceport, they somehow tumble to the fact that Rogers has lied yet again about his identity. (Less than 24 hours after watching this episode, I already forgot how the bad guys saw through the Aaron Whist cover story.) With an assist from Jo-Ella, Rogers gets away from the assassins, but he is eventually trapped by the group in an airlock of some sort.

Varick enters to kill Rogers. However, he spares the hero’s life, saying the Rogers must prevent the kind of holocaust on Earth that his people experienced. Varick says he can’t block the mercenaries on his own because he is indebted to Kellogg, without whom he has no place. After this conversation, Varick acts in front of the legion as if he has killed Rogers.

The hero, having unsuccessfully tried to send a message to warn Earth, reunites with Jo-Ella, who knows how they can get a ship off-world. It turns out Barney is the new owner of a starfighter, but Rogers persuades him to hand it over.

The villains find and blackmail an Earth engineer who can give them access to the contraterrene plant. They then set to infiltrating the generation facility, even as Rogers arrives on Earth and warns Huer and Deering of the legion’s target.

The plant is lightly guarded, although it’s secured by a variety of clever devices that the superpowered mercenaries are able to circumvent. When time comes to destabilize the magnetic containment vessel that safeguards the generator’s antimatter, the engineer and Varick revolt. Both are knocked out, and after blasting the containment controls, the villains take off.

Rogers, having landed on Earth and pawned off Jo-Ella on Twiki (“What a fox,” the robot enthuses), takes flight with Deering and one Lt. Murphy. They engage the three small vessels in which the mercenaries are fleeing. Two ships are destroyed, but Cherise escapes.

Back at the plant, Huer and two police officers have arrived at the control room, but a catastrophic explosion is just minutes away. Varick agrees to enter the hazardous generation room and restore the magnetic bottle. Moments before meltdown, Rogers and Deering arrive, just in time to see Varick save the day.

Varick then seems to be annihilated by antimatter, but it turns out that he has merely been wounded. He reluctantly accepts Deering’s offer of help.

The episode ends with a celebratory toast in Rogers’ quarters; Jo-Ella and everyone exchange smiles.

Analysis

One question I hope to sort through at some point in my viewing of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is how much of the series’ corniness is intentional, due to the property’s roots in film serials and comics; how much is unintentional due to the series being made at the tail end of the 1970s; and how much is unintentional due to the series have been made by Glenn Larson and company.

I’m not yet prepared to make a ruling on these matters. I will say that this episode is another large ball of meh. A big problem is that the Legion of Death is only intermittently menacing. The episode sets up some tense situations, but unfortunately there are really no good action sequences, so the resolutions are disappointing.

Another issue is that this two-parter episode shifts tones rapidly. The most hilarious such shift occurs right after Rogers rendezvouses with the mercenaries and suddenly becomes an interstellar therapist in a pair of one-one-one conversations — first with Varick, then with Jo-Ella. These talks, which are obviously meant to send a Serious Television Message about Self-Esteem and Trusting People, strike entirely false notes.

That said, “The Plot to Kill a City” has some intentionally cute and/or funny moments, including when Jo-Ella flashes a thumbs-up sign at Rogers and then does a double-take. The exchange at the very end of the episode, where Jo-Ella can understand Twiki’s trademark “digi-digi-digi,” is rather twee yet genuinely amusing.

In my review of “Vegas in Space,” I wrote that I found it curious that a new character, Maj. Marla Landers, was sent to Sinaloa rather than Col. Deering. I also wrote, however, that it was logical that Earth would not needlessly risk its chief military officer on such a mission. No such logic reigns in this episode, although arguably the threat from the Legion of Death is so serious that risking Deering’s life might be worth the potential reward. Still, it strikes me as odd.

There’s a terrific scene in this episode while a very grave Huer sends off Rogers. Rogers notices this and asks why the doctor is so somber — after all, Rogers jokes, he isn’t dead yet. Huer smiles, but after he turns away from the hotshot adventurer, his expression is just as grave.

The beginning of this episode is baffling to me. At first, it seems Rogers has entered the bar on a social call. But after he knocks out Argus, we see Deering lounging in the doorway. Did they know that the mercenary was in the bar beforehand or not? The episode seems to try to play it both ways.

The character of Varick was fascinating (although it was relatively easy to perceive his narrative arc). Unfortunately, he raises unanswered question. Did Varick’s people arise independent of Earth? Were they settlers who originated on Earth?

It also beggars belief that Earthlings would have forgotten how to make wine, as is shown in the episode’s final scene. I honestly suspect that humans will sooner forget how to speak English than how to ferment grapes. (Perhaps the skill has been forgotten because grapes went extinct…?)

Credits 

Cast

Gil Gerard…Buck Rogers

Erin Gray…Wilma Deering

Tim O’Connor…Elias Huer

Felix Silla…Twiki

Mel Blanc…Twiki (voice)

Guest stars

Frank Gorshin

John Quade

Anthony James

Nancy DeCarl

Markie Post

Robert Tessier

James Sloyan…Barney

Victor Argo…Rafael Argus

Mitch Reta…Technician

John Furlong…First Cop

Richard Reed…First Rowdy

Seamon Glass…Pirate

Sena Black…Woman

Whitney Rydbeck…Hartstein

Gwen Mitchell…Ticket Clerk

Nonice Williams…Katrina

Crew  

Alan Brennert…Writer

Dick Lowry…Director

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