Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Bionic Woman Season 2

"Principles that kill your friends don't fit my definition of principles."  Jaime Sommers makes that statement in the three-parter "Kill Oscar" during the second season of The Bionic Woman.  It captures what the show hinted at frequently during the first season and what it became in the second and third season. So does the screen snap below of Jaime (Lindsay Wagner) and Steve Austin (Lee Majors).

The Bionic Woman

"Kill Oscar" was one of the cross-over episodes between The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man.  In it and the other cross-over ("The Return of Bigfoot" and "The Return of Bigfoot Part II") Jaime's not a tag along.  She's an active participant even over Steve's objections.  It's a much stronger Jaime than season one hinted at.

 The Bionic Woman

She's not playing anyone else's game, she's playing her game with her rules such as "Principles that kill your friends don't fit my definition of principles."  This is obvious throughout the season including in the ambitious two-parter "Doomsday Is Tomorrow" (written by Kenneth Johnson) in which a mad scientist, played by Lew Ayers, creates a computer "Alex" to oversee a doomsday device that will kill the world if they can't stop murdering each other with deadly weapons.

The doomsday device doesn't actually exist, Jaime finds out after risking everything.  She explains that the scientist knew someday, someone would try to set off a bomb (triggering the doomsday device) and that this was a way of making the leaders appreciate life and hopefully bringing about peace.   A Russian scientist wonders "will they remember it tomorrow?"  But he's someone Jaime's made peace with, had to trust him to work with him even though it meant exposing her bionics to a foreign agent.   Trust threads its way through every episode of season two as does the motto she embroiders on a sampler "TO YOUR OWN SELF BE TRUE."


That's in the two-parter "Deadly Ringer."  Season two is full of multi-parters because it's a more ambitious and satisfying season.  Lindsay Wagner gets to deeper and richer characterization in the lead role and also gets to again play Jaime look-alike Lisa.  She's tossed in prison and Lisa's set free.  No one will believe her that she's really Jaime.  Again, issues of trust are explored and, as Lisa says at the end, "You know, sometimes it, uh, it does take seeing something in another person before you realize you have that something yourself."  Wagner gives a tour de force performance, one that resulted in the Emmy for Best Actress. 

Seasons one and two were ratings hits for ABC.  With season one, the network wanted a second season but with season two, they were done with it.  They apparently hoped they could have a more cartoonish series and nothing complex.  Season two was too rich and too strong for them.  They also weren't too keen on women.  Fall 1977 would find The Bionic Woman on NBC and The New Adventures of Wonder Woman on CBS.  ABC wasn't opposed to super heroes, you understand.  They kept The Six Million Dollar Man.  What was the difference?  Oh, right, that show had a male lead.

"Kill Oscar" is probably the most famous of any episodes of The Bionic Woman because it introduces the fembots -- robots that pose as women created by another mad scientist, this one played by John Houseman.  (Houseman won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Paper Chase -- Lindsay Wagner also starred in the film and played his daughter.)  The fembots were so popular that they ended up with an action figure, a season three return and overwhelmed the reality that there was also a 'him-bot.'  After kidnapping Oscar Goldman, Houseman sends a robot of Goldman back to OSI headquarters.


Along with John Houseman and Lew Ayers, second season guest stars included Stefanie Powers, John Saxon, Marj Dusay, Norman Fell, Hoyt Axton, Doc Severinson, George Maharis,  James Hong, Ed Walsh, Katherine Helmond, Jeff Corey and, pictured above, Vincent Price, Julie Newman, Hermione Baddeley, Abe Vigoda and William Windom.

 The Bionic Woman

As strong as the multi-episodes stories are, the stand alones work as well.  And one, "Road to Nashville" is one of two episodes that includes commentary from Lindsay Wagner who talks about Richard Dean Anderson's Oscar and how his performance on this show differed from his Oscar on The Six Million Dollar Man, the 'laws of bionics,' the importance of humor, humanity and fun to the show as well as how to sum up Jaime Sommers. The other she offers commentary on is "Biofeedback" which is both a strong episode and an interesting storyline considering Wagner's own interest in and work on holistic health.

The Bionic Woman

Artistically, season two is a huge leap.  Lindsay Wagner's offering a richer characterization than you normally see on TV for female or male characters.  Kenneth Johnson and others behind the scenes are digging deep for storylines that really resonate.  The show becomes haunting and is the perfect lead-in to season three.  Back when the likes of Starsky and Hutch and Baretta and all the rest were perfectly fine to have every season be like the one before, The Bionic Woman pioneered the kind of episodic TV we now expect from all our dramas.

In this series, we've offered "The Bionic Woman Season Three" and "The Bionic Woman Season One" and we actually have one more to do -- hopefully next week.
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