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02 June 2013 @ 09:52 am
Review: Buck Rogers' "Unchained Woman", Part I of II  
unchained woman spl

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

S1, E9 "Unchained Woman"

Written by: Bill Taylor, Robert C. Dille
DIR by: Dick Lowry

Blurb: Buck Rogers takes the place of a convict so he can spring a young woman from jail, where she is serving time for the crimes that the Earth Directorate knows were committed by her boyfriend. The Directorate wants her to testify against him. However, she still loves him and refuses to cooperate. Further, Buck must deal with a tenacious prison android guard and with Pantera himself, who intends to ensure that he never comes up for another trial...


We review, ergo, spoilers presented.


Scene 01: We open on a space scape with a couple of planet and their moons in what must be a very interesting orbit. A shuttle ship is flying toward this planetary grouping.

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Scene 02: Cutting within, we meet our shuttle pilot who is directing a prison transport to a planetbound high security prison. Our pilot is transporting a prisoner who is currently unconscious in the back.


Scene 03: Just after transmission, he comes under warning fire by a pair of Star Fighters. Aboard one of the Star Fighters is Wilma and Buck, while the other has random guy. Wilma accuses the prison transport of carrying contraband and orders him to stop for inspection over pilot's insistence that they've intercepted a prison transport, not a smuggler vessel.

Pilot is uncooperative, because he's traveling outside of Directorate's territory and therefore Colonel Deering technically has no jurisdiction. She resolves this legal question by firing a few more rounds on near the prison transport [which in Buck Rogers, laser blasts always seem to end in exploding empty space for reasons, not shockingly, that are never explained].

With the legal matter resolved, our pilot slows and extends his docking bays for entry.

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Commentary: Yay, more great model work on the ships. And, I liked Erin's smile at Buck after she gets her way.


Scene 04: Aboard the prison shuttle, Wilma orders her lieutenant to take care of the pilot. Over his objections, our shuttle pilot is rendered insensate by what appears to be a Vulcan neck pinch!

But, actually, he was just disabled with his off button. It turns out that our pilot has been an android this entire time. Lieutenant pulls out his tools and makes a few modifications to the circuitry at the robot's neck.

Meanwhile, Buck drugs the actual prisoner to take his place going into the prison undercover. There is discussion about the usual dangers... Earth Directorate can't intervene if he fails to escape the facility, etc.

His only means of escape will be the secret agent medallion that he's wearing, which draws attention to it by taking up a quarter of his hairy chest.

The android's reprogramming is completed to accept Rogers as the prisoner expected, and to forget all about being boarded. In the meanwhile, replaced prisoner is being transported back to Earth by Lieutenant. Buck tries to assure Wilma that this whole mission will be a piece of cake.

After the Star Fighters peel off, the android comes to and the mission thus far is successful. Pilot has no idea that anything untoward had happened.


Commentary: This is a good sequence and our guest actors did a good job in their bit roles, which isn't always the case in this show. Excepting for the fact that Buck will be able to keep his secret weaponry gaudy necklace, the episode is starting off well.


Scene 05: Back on Earth, Huer is getting an update from Wilma about the substitution. He's quite pleased over their success thus far, though Wilma continues to be nervous about this mission. Before she can argue her point of view (and there is the impression we've already been through this), Huer has to disconnect for an Ambassador's arrival.

The Ambassador is an old friend of Huer's and had been working with the Zayten Government on an extradition for a woman named Jen Burton. He's there to report his failure in pressuring the opposing government to give her up to Earth's custody. We can intuit that this was fully expected by Defense Directorate, and ergo why Buck has already been sent in undercover.

We still haven't been told why Jen Burton is a Defense Directorate matter. We're about to correct that.

Elias tells his good friend that they expected the diplomatic refusal and have an operation underway to break Jen out. The Ambassador warns against this violation of Zayta sovereignty, but Huer explains that they have no choice. There is a pirate out in the outer system wreaking havok on supply shipping to the outer colonies and putting them all in deadly danger of collapse. Thus far, obviously, standard patrols have failed to discover a way to stop him.

Huer also informs his friend that they know they have a mole who is leaking shipping schedules to Pantera, and are hoping that Ms. Burton will provide the identity of Pantera's inside man. The Ambassador is disturbed at giving freedom to a convicted murderer, but Huer poo-poos this as Pantera having clearly committed the crime, while his now ex-girlfriend ended up doing the time to protect him.

The Ambassador tries to convince Huer that his agent will never be able to escape the high security of the prison colony, but our Earth Directorate is quite confident in Buck's abilities and blab all the details about the operation. Ambassador takes his leave, as he has to do some thinking about how he's going to handle the diplomatic backlash when everything comes out after the operation.


Commentary: And, I'm sorry, but this part starts out so well because of the acting, before it ends up stupid because of the script. There is no way in Hell Huer would be blabbing all of the details of such a secret operation to anyone, even his good friend. It is even more appalling that Doctor Theo then freely blabs Buck's identity!

Also, the Ambassador is immediately pegged as the leak simply because he starts to act funny toward the end and his leave is so abrupt.

But, really, I can overlook the only other semi-main guest character turning out to be the bad guy, if it turns out to be so. I can't forgive as easily the complete illogic of having Huer and Doctor Theopolous laying out their entire operation for some diplomat, no matter how good a friend he is of Huer's.



Scene 06: When the Ambassador is out of the room, Dr. Theo opines that for being a member of the Earth's government, our Ambassador seems quite conflicted about this operation of the Security Directorate's. Huer plays this off as his friend being a diplomat, and trained to see both sides' viewpoints in every situation. Plus, he's sure that the Ambassador doesn't appreciate what might appear as Huer trading on their friendship.

The lingering shot of Theo's featureless face leaves the impression that at least someone in the room might wonder about the Ambassador enough to do some investigating on the side... maybe....


Commentary: I do like this scene, and having it be Theo that notices the Ambassador's ambiguous behavior. I also like the way the camera work hints that Theo may at least be wondering if the Diplomatic Corp might not be the source of the leak... though I'll freely admit I could be reading into things.

It's been a loooong time since I've seen the episode and I didn't do a rewatch before starting the review. And, it's never clear in Buck Rogers whether the scripts are going to follow logical storytelling or not. As mentioned in previous reviews, I like these characters and I like the settings. The special effects for this period are often quite good and I usually like the plots (there are a few exceptions), but the scripting seems to always zag when it really should have zigged. Or it works to actively fly in the face of any real-world logic, such as my extensive complaining in the review for the episode, "Return of the Fighting 69th" where they piss me off by making Wilma wrong, when in actuality she was completely right the whole time.



Scene 07: Back on the penal moon, Buck is transported to the underground entrance to the facility. There is minimal security in the transport across the barren wasteland, as really, even if he were to take off from the back of the transport truck, where is there to go except to death by dehydration.

The android escorts Buck to the elevator that will transport him down to his alleged fate, all the while spouting pro-Zayten justice propoganda.

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Commentary: I love this shot. It is gorgeous, and I want to give a kudo to the cinematographer for it: Ben Colman. And, while I'm passing out kudos, let me pass one onto the miniatures creators as well: David M. Garber & Wayne Smith.


Scene 08: Buck is passed through the intake procedure, where he cracks wise and shares banter with "Hugo". Buck is kitted with a plastic bracelet OF THE FUTURE and then sent into a cubby in the wall, where he's subjected to an intense energy field for decontamination. It isn't pleasant.


Scene 09: Back on Earth, Huer's friend and the Ambassador to Zayta rendezvous with Pantera [and both men have a lot of guts to arrange this in the Star Fighter hanger bay... WTH?!?]. He's greeted at first by Pantera's assistant, and presumably new squeeze and insists that he instructed Pantera to be there himself. At this Pantera appears and tells the Ambassador that he doesn't tell him to do anything in vaguely bad-guy talk-guy threat-speak.

The Ambassador doesn't react to his vague threats, but counters with the information that he has and Pantera doesn't. The Earth government isn't bothering with negotiating Jen Burton's extradition, as thought, but is engaged in a plot to break her out.

Pantera decides that love of his life, Jen, needs to be killed straight away. Ambassador suddenly gets cold feet when actual murder is involved to protect his criminal partnership with Pantera, but Big Bad starts listing all of the details that Jen knows about the Ambassador's role in facilitating and profiting from the hijacking of those transports.

Well, when he puts it that way... The Ambassador squeals the details that he's aware of about where Jen's rendevous point will be when the Directorate's agent gets her free. Pantera and Majel are to be there to see that both Jen and the agent are eliminated. Ambassador looks like he wants to vomit.


Scene 10: Back with Buck, he's completed his decom and is woozy on his feet. The prison guards next subject him to a scan, suggesting that the guards are also androids. They locate contraband on him. The necklace that Buck was wearing is confiscated, despite his protests that it's a sentimental keepsake.


Commentary: And, obviously I'm immediately suspicious that Earth Directorate already knew that this must be found and taken and that the fact Buck didn't get to keep it inside is part of the break out plan.


Scene 11: "Hugo" escorts Buck into the prison proper, and it seems pretty roomy and clean for a hellhole. He's in a "dayroom", which is basically a room with a few bits of furniture and nothing more. There are bright white lights, meant to simulate the "comfort" of natural sunlight... badly....

There are perhaps two dozen other prisoners there whiling away their leisure time with nothing in particular to do. One of these is the target, Jen.


Commentary: Jen is an early role of fabulous Jamie Lee Curtis and it would have been SO awesome if they'd asked her for a short interview or... *gasp*... even a commentary for the episode. Oh, the opportunity lost.


Scene 12: So, as Buck is planning how to approach Ms. Burton with the escape plan, his confiscated necklace is busy smoking in the bin where it was laid. This goes unnoticed by Android-Blah and Hugo.


Scene 13: In the 'dayroom', Buck introduces himself and goes for the direct approach. Jen Burton already knows him as Valzan, though, as the new prisoner arrival is what counts as news in this deadly dull place. She also marches away while telling him that she's had the "here to break you out" line played on her before.

Buck tries to argue that this time it isn't a line, but Jen's not biting. Buck wonders aloud about when the penal system went coed, which of course is a total non-sequitor to Burton. He gets back on track by warning her to hit the deck and when she has no clue what he's just said, he tells her to get down while he tackles her to the floor and half-covers her with his strong, virile body.


Scene 14: Over at the intake center, Android-Blah notices the smoking going on in the bin. It blows up, rocketing fiery doom up the shaft of the prison, but amazingly doesn't obliterate completely the room it was in or wiping out the prisoners.

What it does do, is damages the intake center room and blows in the high security door to the dayroom, allowing a mass exit.

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Commentary: Wow. Earth's Directorate are selfish pricks. Instead of just convoying freighter ships with Star Fighter escorts to the outer colonies, they send in Buck to break out Pantera's ex by also releasing dozens of other prisoners, a good majority of which you have to think were violent in order to end up at this sort of maximum security hole in the ground.

Thanks Directorate, for releasing rapists and murderers on civilized space because you can't deal with one hijacker!!

I do want to give a small kudo to the set design for this scene though. It's done really well, if you ignore the size of that explosion that should have reduced the room to a burned out slag heap.



So, Buck, Jen and all of the prisoners flee out into the control room and for whatever exit they manage to find -- though the survival chances of many may not be so good, considering the surrounding terrain.

While this is happening, we see Android-Blah out of commission. Hugo is damaged and stuck in a repeating loop of "escape is not possible" mantra.

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Scene 15: On the desert moon's surface, Jen asks where her expected boyfriend is but Buck has to break it to her that he didn't send Buck for her. She asks who did, but he's not ready to break that information to her or the reason for this escape. Instead, he just insists that they keep moving toward the rendezvous point with Wilma.


Scene 16: From space, Wilma is able to detect the seismic disturbance from the explosion of the prison. The Ambassador asks her, from Huer's office, if she can verify that Buck and Jen Burton weren't trapped in the explosion and are, in fact, free. Wilma isn't able to provide this information because the colony has defense shielding that blocks closer scans.

Deering is ordered to the rendevous point outside the shield's radius.

In the meanwhile, Huer again apologizes to his friend for causing him these upcoming headaches with the Zaytens. But Doctor Theo pulls out the "it's all their faults for being so stubborn" excuse as to why it was totally justifiable to unleash dozens of high-security prisoners onto the innocent Zayten population.

Ambassador Warwick points out that Zayta has always been suspicious of Earth's influence with independent systems, such as their own. Huer dismisses Theopolous, so he can spend some time for personal chat with his old friend.


Commentary: I want to give a kudo here to Robert Cornthwaite in the role of the Ambassador. He does a fine job throughout as the duplicitous diplomat and avoids the over-acting that Michael Delano and Tara Buckman slip into as Pantera and Majel.

Also, of course, Jamie Lee is great as Jen Burton.



Scene 17: After Huer and Warwick leave to go to dinner, Twiki bee-dee bee-dee's to Theopolous that something feels off with the Ambassador's attitude in regards to this operation. Theo agrees and starts to wonder about any pattern in Malary Pantera's successful attacks on their shipping where it intersects with the Ambassador's whereabouts and activities. He has Twiki take him to the Central Data Room so he can begin a closer analysis.

Twiki worries about Buck, but Theo points out that with no way to communicate with him, there is nothing to be done at this time.


Scene 18: Meanwhile, in the middle of the desert, Jen is feeling a bit annoyed. She refuses to move another step until she gets more information about what the hell is going on. Buck tries to put this off by telling her she isn't going to like hearing it and it's a long story to boot. But, as you can see, there isn't a lot other to do but walk and talk. Buck agrees if she'll keep moving to fill her in.


Commentary: Wow, this shooting location was fantastic and the director, cinematographer and camera crew really showed it off. Kudos to the behind-the-scenes crew!

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Buck drops some 20th century lingo and Jen doesn't understand the references, but is pretty sure she's not going to be happy.


Scene 19: Back at the wreckage of the prison elevator, Hugo pops his head out of the hole and scans the horizon. He bionic-eyes the dozens of prisoners wandering the desert landscapes in all directions, but his focus is on Buck, of course. He begins his pursuit.


Scene 20: With Buck, Jen is insisting that she's not going to tell the Earth Defense Directorate anything, so Buck went to a lot of effort for nothing.

Jen tries to get Buck to just let her slip away, but that's a no dice.


Scene 21: Behind them, Hugo doggedly follows, sounding like he's got wires arcing with every step.


Scene 22: At the outpost village that is the rendezvous point, Malary and Majel have somehow beaten Wilma there with Anonymous H. Enchman. Majel issues orders for Mr. Enchman to detain Wilma at the spaceport and pays him partially now, the rest to come later when they've gotten done what they need to do.

Meanwhile Pantera is futzing with a blaster.


Scene 23: In the desert, Hugo stomps around. He kicks rocks out of his way, which is supposed to indicate his robot-strength (rather than that they placed Styrofoam in his path).


Commentary: And once again, like when they sent Buck and Duke into the desert, they've dressed the actor in clothing that seems hellishly inappropriate. This time its a black body stocking and a heavy black jacket and full black hood. Black, black and more black. Now keeping marching, actor, mush - mush!


Scene 24: Ahead of Hugo, Buck is impressed with the time they're making and asks if Jen needs a rest. She insists that she's fine. Buck stops for a short respite from the walking and Jen Burton tells him that she's not going to just let him take her into custody.

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He suggests they push off that confrontation until they reach some sort of civilization and directs her in the direction of the next village.


Commentary: I'm telling you, this episode is all about the scenery porn.


Scene 25: Behind them, Hugo is catching up rapidly and is able to spot them rounding a rock outcropping from a bit of high ground.


Scene 26: Meanwhile, at Station Post 7, which is the rendezvous village, Anonymous greets Wilma on the street {so much for orders to intercept her at the space port}. She goes into kung-fu stance.

His answer is to pull out a blaster, which he tells her he'd rather not stun her with as carrying unconscious people is hard to deal with. This takes place in the open surrounded by the villagers, but like any decent old west town, everyone ignores the scene.

He marches her toward the "service station" which is apparently on the opposite side of town from the star port, which just seems like bad urban design.


Scene 27: Out in the desert, Buck and Jen argue over how much Malary actually cares for her with Buck trying to convince her that Pantera was going to leave her to rot in that prison forever. She tries to reason that the time for him to break her out just hadn't come yet.

We see Hugo closing on their position.

Their argument is waylaid by a sand-creature tentacle coming up from the ground and wrapping around Jen's leg where it tries to drag her under the sand to be devoured by the tentacle's owner. She's half buried before Buck can drive the creature away/kill it by jabbing it with a piece of wood pole that Jen had been using as a walking stick throughout the previous scenes.

As they're both recovering from the exertion, Jen hears a squeak and looks up only to get a look of surprised panic. Behind Buck, stands Hugo.

Rogers avoids a punch, but when he returns a chop to the android's chest, he finds that not useful. He's quickly tossed away to the ground. Jen tries to help by hitting the android across the back with the pole, which only gets her shoved to the ground and puts the improvised weapon into Hugo's hands for his returned attention to Buck.

He and Jen work together to send Hugo tumbling onto the ground, right over the sand-squid, which reaches up its arms to grab the Android and pull it down.


Scene 28: It's sometime later after Buck and Jen have fled from Hugo's presumed demise and fleeing into the deep desert with no water is probably seeming like a poorly executed plan.

They take another short respite to catch their breath and Buck works on a charm offensive, which seems to be working on bringing Jen around.


Commentary: I want to mention here that Gil and Jamie Lee have a really nice chemistry between them in these dialog scenes. It's easy to like these two together and it would have been really nice to have her back a few more times as a semi-romantic interest for Buck. Alas, not to be.


Scene 29: Back on Earth, Theo and Twiki are reviewing shipping records for the freighters that were hit by Pantera's group. Something they see in the schedules makes Twiki tell Theo that he smells a rat. While Theo doesn't understand the phrasing, he does notice that all of the locations for the freighters' drop off points happen to fall under Ambassador Warwick's jurisdiction.

Theo tells Twiki they'll have to tap the Ambassador's computer records, which the ambuquad isn't thrilled with. He points out Huer won't like it, but Theo states there isn't much of a choice, if they think Warwick is involved in the piracy.


Scene 30: Back at Station Post 7, Wilma is nowhere to be found in the village and Buck isn't happy. He tells Jen that she should have been there an hour ago for their rendezvous. Buck and Jen head toward the spaceport to check on if her ship has been docked.

As Burton and Rogers are wandering in town, their prison issue uniforms are drawing unwanted attention. Not knowing that the villagers are strictly "see no evil, hear no evil", this is a concern. Fortunately, the fates smile upon them and two drunks who just happen to be close to Buck and Jen's size stumble by headed for a convenient alley. Jen points them out and Buck suggests a "mugging".

TBC