Sunday, April 08, 2012
The Bionic Woman Season Three
In the end, life is whatever a series of events add up to. Take The Bionic Woman and how different it all could have been. A different actress could have played Jamie Sommers:
* if Lindsay Wagner had decided to pursue a career as a child actress and taken a TV offer while performing in This Property Is Condemned.
* if she'd enjoyed fronting the rock group she was a member of briefly in 1968.
* if her acting hadn't impressed Monique James and led to her being placed under contract with Universal
* if Frank Price had realized a year or two later that Steve Austin needed a girlfriend
* if Lindsay's 14-year-old half-sister hadn't been a fan of The Six Million Dollar Man
Alter any of the above and Jamie Sommers might have been played by someone else. Remove Lindsay Wagner in the role and Jamie might well have died after the original two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man the way everyone planned for her to do.
While executive producer Harve Bennett cast Wagner because he knew she'd leave an impression (in Two People, she reminded him of Judy Garland), even he wasn't prepared for how much of an impression she made though writer Kenneth Johnson seemed prepared for the massive audience outrage over Jamie's death.
The story of TV bionics is one of chance as well. Lee Majors, a big TV star due to Big Valley, was added to the cast of Owen Marshall to beef up the ratings and, while doing that show, did an ABC movie of the week based on Martin Caidin's Cyborg in which Majors played astronaut Steve Austin who was wounded in a crash and receives replacement limbs (both legs and the right arm) and a new left eye costing the government six million dollars -- these are bionics, able to perform better than limbs and eyes people are born with. The government doesn't just give out of generosity, they expect Steve to work as a spy. The TV movie was such a success in March of 1973 that ABC ordered two more for the fall (while Majors continued filming Owen Marshall). The three TV movies led to the TV series that kicked off in January of 1974 and concluded in March of 1978.
In the second season, Steve returns to Ojai where he grew up and reunites with former high school flame Jaime who's now a professional tennis player. This time around, they set a wedding date; however, before they can walk down the aisle comes a skydiving trip in which Jamie is badly injured and Steve convinces everyone to give Jaime bionics -- two legs, a right arm and a right ear. As the two-part episode winds down, Jaime's body begins rejecting the new limbs and, following an operation, Steve is given the news that Jaime died on the operating table.
That's where the fans kicked in. They weren't going to have it. And ABC brought her back in season three for another two-part episode which aired in September of 1975. Jaime didn't die. She was going to but was placed in a cryogenic coma. When she emerges from her coma, she doesn't remember Steve at all. And she's plagued by headaches leading everyone to conclude that Steve and Jaime might need to live apart.
That sets the stage for the spin-off series The Bionic Woman (January 1976 to May 1978). 2010 saw the first season released on DVD in the US while seasons two and three were released last year.
For a variety of reasons, season three is the finest and, if you're only buying one boxed set, the must-have.
Though Steve and Jamie would reteam for two 80s TV movies (The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman and Bionic Showdown) and one 90s TV movie (Bionic Ever After?), not everyone thought Steve and Jamie belonged together. In seasons one and two of The Bionic Woman, Jaime would pop up in six episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man while Steve would show up in five episodes of The Bionic Woman. Both programs aired on ABC.
Season three saw The Bionic Woman move to NBC and though the OSI's Oscar (Richard Anderson) and Rudy (Martin E. Brooks) appeared on both programs, Steve stayed on ABC. [Oscar's assistant Peggy (Jennifer Darling) appeared only on The Bionic Woman in the final seasons of both shows.]
The lack of crossover allows Jamie not to be perceived as waiting for Steve (or, more importantly, audiences waiting for them to get back together). So Wagner gets to perform opposite Dale Robinette in one episode and the two show a warmth that makes you hope Park Ranger Roger will be back. He's not but Christopher Stone (below with Wagner) shows up in the third season as Jaime's boyfriend Chris Williams for five episodes.
Others showing up in this DVD set include Academy Award winner Helen Hunt as a young girl from another planet, Christopher Knight (Brady Bunch's Peter) as the boys who loses Max (the bionic dog), Neile Adams-McQueen (actress, dancer and Steve McQueen's first wife), Keenan Wynn and Evil Knievel. And, yeah, we said the bionic dog.
Max. His story opens the third season when Jamie is at OSI and discovers two men yelling at a dog. He's lethargic and depressed and won't do what they want him too. His backstory, Jaime learns is that he pre-dates Steve and her and was Rudy's first successful bionics subject. But Rudy believes that Max has grown dangerous and needs to be put down. Jaime disagrees and argues he's depressed from being cooped up. She ends up running off with him when Oscar backs Rudy's plan to put Max down.
In the mountains, she figures out that Max goes nuts around fire -- a lighter, a lit fire place. Sadly, she realizes it moments before a forest fire breaks out Max is being shot at. They manage to escape and Oscar and Rudy agree Max should live with Jaime.
Though that alone was enough to fill out two episodes, Max does something even more important. When the OSI believes he's going mad and/or his bionics are betraying him, Jaime asks if the plan is to put her down when she's no longer of use to the OSI? That question is the theme of the third season.
Jaime started with the OSI in part to have something to do with her new and bionic life and also due to guilt over the government bringing her back from death. Though usually 100% successful on all of her missions throughout the program's three seasons, Jaime always comes off much happier when she's in her classroom teaching middle schoolers.
There will be moments throughout the season that deal with change and destiny and moments where its clear that the OSI is not a compatible fit for Jaime. Or for others. We'll see scientists angry that the OSI and the government have ripped off their work -- one will attempt to blow things up, the other will fake his own kidnapping. All of these elements lead up to the series finale where Jaime decides to leave the OSI only to learn that talk that she can was never sincere and that she'll basically be kept a prisoner by the government. This comes on the heels of Jaime having to protect a young girl (child of a defector) -- a bratty, young girl -- who sees Jaime's artificial limb and freaks out asking, "What is that? What are you?" If bratty seems harsh, picture the little brat doing the same thing to the survivor of a car accident or combat who receives an artificial limb.
She tries to reassure the girl that she's normal in a conversation that echoes her admitting she's bionic to Chris in "Pyramid" -- but that conversation had gone much easier. The little brat insists upon calling her "the robot lady" and worse.
So questions that have been emerging throughout the third season come to head as Jaime makes a decision she explains in a voice over:
Dear Oscar, I think I know what's been bothering me these past few weeks. It's, uh, it's the OSI. It's that 100th of 1% of the world that deals with espionage and security and secrets and paranoia. This minute piece of life has become my whole existence. Almost everything I do, every day, relates to it. And I've got to get back to some reality. I never asked for this arm -- this army called the OSI. I didn't even really enlist. I was drafted. Oscar, you've been so kind to me and you've been fair and, in spite of the system, you've even been loving. But I'm -- I'm tired of answering the bugle. I'm tired of being called a winner just because Rudy's genius made it impossible for me to lose. And I'm tired of looking in the mirror and seeing an OSI agent instead of a woman. I'm just tired. Tired. I feel like i have been on the front line for three years. Now I know it's going to take a little adjustment to get back into civilian life and, realistically speaking, I could be taking a chance by not being under Rudy's constant surveillance but no one knows if that's actually necessary. And the way I'm feeling now, it's more important to me to find out if I can live a normal life. I'm willing to take the chance. It goes without saying that I'm going to miss you all very much. But my mind is made up. And, as of today, I am resigning from the OSI.
They won't let her go. They're prepared to drug and kidnap her. Whatever it takes. So when Oscar tips her off to the cage they have waiting for her, Jaime goes on the run. As she confronts the reality of what she's up against and who she is, she makes a conditional return to the OSI provided they follow her terms.
Her strong work the previous season had resulted in Lindsay Wagner winning the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Dramatic Series. As the third season demonstrates, she would have been a good choice for that year as well. She also created a memorable character who battled evil doers and Fembots (Jaime runs from the Fembots below) without murdering anyone. In the process, Lindsay Wagner brought to life one of TV's most vivid female superheroes.
Gladys L. Knight observes in her book Female Actions Heroes: A Guide to Women in Comics, Video Games, Films and Television:
From a sociological point of view, The Bionic Woman had perhaps an even greater impact, changing as it did the perception of strong and independent women beyond the intention even of its creators. Because of Sommers, young girls across the country had a female action hero to emulate, one who broadened the horizons of a generation.
Kenneth Johnson created the character on paper and wrote many of the episodes. He deserves tremendous praise and applause. But Lindsay Wagner brought the character to life and the series they worked on was a combination of their vision. Few TV shows ever leave a strong impression. Most are all too quickly forgotten. The Bionic Woman, far more than The Six Million Dollar Man, survives in warm memories because it had levels to it and humanity at the core. It was an action show with humor and with several important themes including perseverance and peace.
[All screen snaps are from the third season DVDs. When Elaine wrote about the show at her site -- here and here -- several readers wrote to inform her the DVD set was currently on sale in Target stores for $19.99. We checked. Right now it is on sale. We can't guarantee that it will stay that amoungt -- currently it's on sale for $19.99 at Amazon as well -- the list price is $26.98. It's a five disc set with 22 episodes, commentary on the two parter "The Bionic Dog" by writer James D. Parriott; commentary on "Brainwash" by Bionic Collector James Sherrid; Q&A with Lindsay Wagner; photo gallery' and "On the Run" commentary with writer Steven E. De Souza.]]