Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
"Plot to Kill a City" Part I
Writers: Alan Brennert, Robert C. Dille
DIR: Dick Lowry
Scene 01: We open on the title of the episode over New Chicago and an jazzy-lite tune full of horns pretending to be funky.
Scene 02: We join Buck as he's entering a swanky bar and checking out a pair of women from behind. He asks the blonde if she comes here often and she turns around to reveal an elephant-face, as she's an alien. Whah-wha-whaaaah
Buck spots something more to his liking... a middle aged man... and approaches his table, interupting he and his drinks companion. Buck asks the man to confirm his identity, and presents himself as the brother of a man that our assassin, Raphael Argus, killed several months prior.
The assassin immediately reacts by drawing his blaster and shooting up the place, Buck just barely missing getting blown away.
Commentary: Oh, Buck. That was really flat-footed of you. I mean, seriously.... On the other hand, Argus appears to be a tragically bad shot for being a killer-for-hire. These scenes in Buck... I mean the shooting scenes... are always so much fun, if only for all of the spark-bangs that the lasers always cause no matter what they're hitting. I loves me some blaster-lasers hitting objects and flash-banging.
There is an energetic exchange of shots [Hah! See what I did there, with the laser guns being energy... or ferget it], but Buck finally brings down the bad guy by shooting a chandelier down on top of him. Wilma has been standing around in a doorway in her impractically shiny, skin tight uniform until it is over. Wilma and Buck share banter.
Before the rest of the customers return, she has Buck take off his brown jumper, which he then shoots ... leaving behind evidence that he was disintegrated and the assassin run off. He and Wilma drag the unconscious Argus away.
Scene 03: Back in New Chicago, Argus has been hooked up to a mind probe device. Huer informs Wilma and Buck that they've been able to confirm that he was about to join an intergalactic organization of assassins. This legion has a code to avenge its members, which the Defense Directorate happened to have killed one months earlier. Huer is sure that this league will be targeting the Directorate as payback.
Scene 04: In a corridor, Twiki is joking with Dr. Theo in ways that aren't funny -- as is his usual.
Huer, Buck and Wilma leave the interrogation room and are discussing what they do and don't know about the threat against the Directorate. There is a sudden explosion from a room that nearly takes them all out. Twiki is blown into a wall and falls to the floor.
There are no real injuries, just property damage. Huer informs Buck that this isn't the first time that the assassins have managed to get a bomb past their security measures.
Of course, Buck is recruited to find the group of assassins.
Scene 05: In Huer's office, he goes through the spiel of Argus' upcoming initiation into the "Legion of Death". A plan is hatched for Buck to take his place, as Argus operated under a variety of appearances and names, so the other assassin group members won't have a clear idea of his actual features.
Doctor Huer goes through the list of the other members that Argus was due to meet [Yes, the Directive could gather all of this information, but couldn't just swoop in and bust them en masse.]
We have Quince: a powerful telekinetic
Kellogg: A brilliant scientist
Marcos: A martial arts expert and someone who has had his nerve endings partially destroyed in order to feel less pain.
Sherese: A powerful empath who borders on telepathic when it comes to sensing emotions
Dr. Huer explains that while Buck is studying his quarry, Wilma will be going ahead of him to investigate as well. Buck objects to the danger, but Huer tells him that the gang is planning a final retribution against the Defense Directorate... something huge... and it's too important to leave to one person. He says it is likely that one of them will not survive the mission, so there needs to be a second operative [And, you'd think that the operatives wouldn't know about each other for security reasons, but...].
Scene 06: At a starbase on the planet's surface where our bad guys are gathering, Wilma has slipped into her undercover assignment as a barfly. Quince is also there and he has a brief and pointless scene with a rogue, so that we can see his awesome telekinetic abilities to summon the rogue's blaster to his hands.
We also meet Sherese, who seems to treat everyone else in the history of ever with contempt... except possibly Kellogg. She senses a presence of someone familiar in the bar and sees a "friend" of hers, an apparent 'working girl' at the establishment.
This is Joella [No, not the picture of the guy above, Smartasses]. Sherese treats her about the same as her other so-called friends.
Sherese knows that Joella has entertained Argus in the past, and recruits her to hook up with him again as a way to confirm his identity, without revealing that is why she's informing her of Argus' imminent arrival.
Scene 07: In the meanwhile, Wilma has caught the wandering eye of Quince and she slinkily leaves the bar with obvious come-hither glances at him. He gives a thoughtful look over his drink.
Scene 08: Meanwhile, back in New Chicago: Buck has dressed in Argus' outfit. Huer is updating him that Argus' ship's computer has been programmed to recognize Buck's voice as the assassin's. He also reminds Buck about the convenient "black light bombs" attached to the waist of the costume that will provide a few seconds of darkness, but impresses on him that they are experimental. Finally, Huer tells Buck that the local authorities won't know he is an agent, so he'll have to deal with them on his own.
Commentary: Tim does some nice acting here as he watches Buck getting ready to leave. We can see in his face that he is doubting very much that Rogers may return and he feels the weight of responsibility for sending him out on this mission. Also, Gil looks good in his impractical outfit and he still has his impish grin that keeps him charming in these earlier episodes, before he became unhappy with the behind-the-scenes dramas. I'll really be missing early S1 Buck when we get to S2.
Scene 09: Buck boards Argus' vessel to find the AI is a flirty female personality. She also is completely able and used to controling all flight operations.
She takes "Argus" toward the Star Gate.
However, on their way to the device, Buck is intercepted by Police StarFighters, who obviously haven't been informed that 'Argus' is free to pass. The lead StarFighter informs Buck that he should prepare to be boarded.
Commentary: Which is stupid. Nobody wears space suits and these ships aren't large enough to have docking bays... how exactly are they going to board his ship from their fighters? One of the weird things about Buck Rogers is how the dimensions of the ships often change via clumsy dialog without any logical thought put behind their design. Often, the ships will be referred to as having entire portions of their vessels that simply don't exist. This is a case of that trend -- I'll buy that Argus' ship has a passenger compartment, but the StarFighters very clearly don't. There is no way to board a vessel without popping the pilot's hatch and sending him into space.
Scene 10: But anyway, the Patrol Ships (three of 'em) demand that he come to a stop. He chooses to try to outrun them. He has to argue with the computer about taking manual control for evasive manuevers, but takes a blast to the energy shields. The computer suggests using pulsar cannons on the pursuers, but of course Buck doesn't want to shoot the police.
One of the vessels gets ahead of him (probably because his evasive maneuvers ended up being flying in a straight line and this wasn't effective at dodging) and engages a tractor field around his ship. The computer tells him the star drive is going off line.
Buck's mission comes to a rather embarrassing interruption barely started.
Scene 11: Meanwhile on Aldebaron II, Kellogg arrives at the star port and is met by Quince. Kellogg introduces his bodyguard, Varek.
Kellogg tells Quince (and us) all about Varek's people and the fact he is some sort of mutant.
Commentary: Jeez... this is the worst type of data dump. This explanation did not need to be here, did not need to be delivered to Quince and did not need to be shared with us at this time. It's horribly shoehorned in to let us know that Varek has unnatural powers that will come into play, later. Another problem with Varek is, well, there is a bit of a problem with his backstory for one. Kellogg states that Varek's people had been through a nuclear war and was human until this happened (one of the Terran colonies, one would assume) and that each generation became more mutated from the radiation they'd been exposed to.
Except, of course, A) Varek isn't deformed, except for some warty makeup on his face that we won't see for a while because he wears a mask and B) The 'mutants' of Earth in the pilot were far more mutated than anything we see of Varek, so why they had him looking so relatively unaffected is weird continuity-wise with the whole "generations of mutations" thing and C) Varek has been given Kitty Pryde powers ... radiation doesn't work that way and this isn't a comic book universe and D) All of this radiation appears to have had zero impact on his general health and E) the tight-tights they dressed the actor in is very unfortunate; he looks ridiculous (Anthony James... a prolific character actor, who otherwise does his usually reliable work).
Kellogg sends Varek off to scout for police in the building that he has already left so we can see he has phasing powers.
Commentary: Yeah, you see... this whole scene is badly written and plotted. Anyway, for those not familiar with comic-book powers, 'phasing' is the ability to become intangible so that you can pass through solid objects and is some cases energy.
We also hear that the effects of radiation (like granting super powers) is endlessly fascinating to Kellogg.
Scene 12: Wilma, meanwhile, is reporting into Huer over secured radio to let him know that Buck hasn't arrived at the space port. She's worried.
Commentary: So worried about Buck, that she forgot she's supposed to be in disguise and is in her real hair and Defense Directorate blue catsuit uniform. Stupid.
With Buck a no show for their rendevous, Huer orders Deering to resort to Plan B. She's to make direct contact with Quince and play up her attraction to him. She's then to proceed to find out where the secret cabal is meeting, so she can use advanced listening devices to circumvent any jamming fields and listen in on their plans to strike New Chicago.
Huer further reveals to Doctor Theopolous that he believes Buck has been waylaid by a spy within the Directorate and asks him to investigate.
Commentary: *Sigh* So, the fact that Buck is playing a criminal and using his ship isn't taken as a reason that he might be detained on his way to the rendevous. No, instead it is because a spy arranged it. But, didn't bother to report to Kellogg that Buck isn't Argus or to warn anyone that Wilma is undercover on the planet already. Instead, this informant just arranged to have police vessels intercept Buck-as-Argus.
And, shouldn't the Directorate already have an intense security investigation in process -- they've been bombed! From within a secured room! And, it was mentioned this wasn't the first one! STUPID SCRIPTING
Scene 13: Meanwhile, we catch up with Buck who has been taken to a space station. He's escorted to a holding cell, where he meets his comic-relief cellmate.
Bernard Smith stares at Buck like he can't wait for the first communal shower. Barney finds himself impressed that he's sharing cells with such an infamous figure as Argus. Buck recruits him immediately and without preamble into planning an escape.
Barney calls for the guards, claiming that Buck is an Arcturian and his trying to forcibly telepathically meld with him.
Naturally, the guards buy this and lower the forcefield to have Bernard transferred. Just as naturally, they're taken completely by surprise when Barney and Buck turn on them.
Commentary: In a horribly done bit of choreography on top of the lameness.
Buck resorts to the first of those black light devices. They make a run for it from the two guards they have in the facility and are able to make it all the way back to Argus' vessel.
Seeing as how the hanger is open to space without any safeguards to keep this sort of thing from easily happening, Buck is able to launch with Barney. We're informed by the computer that the police also hadn't checked out her memory for his flight plans (argggh!) and that they'll be out of jurisdictional range after the Star Gate transit.
Commentary: Well, that was unexciting and anti-climactic. Especially, since the pursuing Star Fighters do their usual great job of firing on enemy ships who are going in a completely straight line with no apparent attempts to evade capture. *Sigh*
Scene 14: On Aldebaron II, Wilma is back in her wig and spangled dress and slinks her way to the bar. Quince is immediately interested in her and uses his mighty TK powers to... ... move his used drink down the bar to her.
Commentary: Do I even need to mention what a silly gag that was? And... EW! She wants you to BUY her a drink, not give her yours!
Wilma uses the opportunity to chat him up with some dirty talk we don't hear... thankfully. Whatever it was has him blushing....
Scene 15: Wilma brings Quince back to her room. As they chat, he goes through her things. He finds her blaster and a subspace transmitter, but allows her to get close enough to him anyway to inject him with a dose of happy.
Commentary: Professional assassin OF THE FUTURE, ladies and gentlemen. *grumble-grumble* damned script *grumble*
The happy injection allows Wilma to question him, as it acts as a truth serum similar to the pill that Buck fed the Security Chief of Sinaloa in "Vegas in Space". He informs her of the meeting with Kellogg, but doesn't yet know the details of their plan to "punish the Earth people". She commands him to close his eyes and only remember that he had a wonderful time when he wakes up.
Scene 16: At the port, Buck and Barney arrive, where Barney tries to convince "Argus" to form a partnership with him. Buck gives him the slip.
He leaves the building, only to be ambushed by Sherese, who flips him to the walkway and pulls a small handgun on him... right there... out in the open.
Commentary: Professional assassin OF THE FUTURE, ladies and gentlemen.
She actually fires at him and he barely dodges out of the way, before stunning her with his own gun. When Buck runs around the corner of the port, he's fired on again, this time by Quince. He draws his gun again, but the telekinetic is able to disarm him. Buck retreats.
Very suddenly, he's confronted by the phaser, Varek on whom Buck's kung fu kicks don't work. The body guard moves in menacingly as Buck looks confused.
Scene 17: He offers Buck his hand and helps him up to his feet. They're joined by Kellogg, along with Sherese and Quince and we find out that Kellogg was just testing Argus' reflexes and physical prowess. Somehow, despite Buck's complete failure, he apparently impresses this sad, little lot of professional assassins OF THE FUTURE.
Commentary: Script... oh, script....
With this bit out of the way, Sherese mentions that Joella is waiting to be reacquainted with Argus.
Scene 18: In New Chicago, their dealing with more sabotage as the fighter launchers are "misfiring" and threatening to blow up the entire hanger (on a budget).
Doctor Theo talks some technicians through partially de-powering the bay to stop the energy surges causing the explosions around them. They're successful and Dr. Theo confirms with Huer that he realizes that the surges were no accident as we tight-pan onto dayplayer #34 who looks self-satisfied at the chaos caused.
Scene 19: Back in our conspirators' meeting, they're waiting for Joella to arrive and confirm that Argus is actually Argus with a smirk. We're unclear on if she suspects something because of her empathic abilities, or if she's just a paranoid bitca ... since Huer did mention that she's obsessively paranoid during his briefing.
Kellogg orders Varek to get everyone drinks as they wait. Buck offers to get them, but Kellogg tells him Varek will handle it.
Scene 20: Buck follows the mutant to the mini-bar and uses this opportunity to ask him about himself and why he allows Kellogg to treat him like a servant.
Commentary: Um... because Kellogg employs him as a Guy Friday, maybe? It isn't like he's been shown to mistreat him, except in a casual disinterest in 'the help'. I have no idea why Buck thinks that Varek is being treated badly over being asked to get everyone drinks. (*script... script... sigh*)
This allows Varek to wax on about how his people were arrogant and now they deserve to be treated like slaves (even though, again, there isn't any evidence that he's being treated like a slave, so much as he's being treated like a general personal butler and bodyguard for Kellogg). He also shares that his world enslaved others before their ruin.
Commentary: Which, leads back to his backstory... I thought he was human?! When did they have time to leave Earth, found a colony, create a culture that doesn't consider themselves to have any attachment to Earth at all [both he and Kellogg refer to them as having a distinct culture from humanity, even though Varek himself states that he used to be human], and then destroy themselves all in 500 years -- approximately. I don't know... it's the tone of this monologue that sounds like his planet's cultural was around for milennia before their fall... even though they're apparently from Earth since their human. I don't think a lot of thought went into providing this backdrop for him.
Buck sympathizes. Varek tells him Earth was luckier than they.
Commentary: Again, the tone is that Varek doesn't consider himself to be part of Earth, even though if he's human his world had to have started off from there and since the last space flights from Earth had to have been around 500 years ago, at most, just prior to Earth's holocaust... how did his people lose their roots so quickly in order to speak of themselves as if their an entirely alien culture to Earth?
Both Gil and Anthony do a great job in the acting department with this intensely quiet scene, especially Anthony's harsh whispering of his tale of woe. But this script just leaves everything with so many holes. Including how Buck is able to shield his emotions enough from Sherese that this empath-on-the-verge-of-telepathy isn't picking up any discrepancy at all ... and it gets worse after Joella makes the scene. If you were going to make her a mega-empath, then handling her powers in the story needed to be much better planned than they apparently were. Making a big deal about how sensitive she was turns out to be a mistake -- if her powers weren't so played up in her development, then we could overlook her obvious lack of sensing that Buck is lying (and later, even more aggregiously - Joella).
Scene 21: Joella arrives for the big reunion set up by Sherese. Obviously when Buck turns around, Joella is confused by not seeing the man she expected. Buck tells her that he knows they didn't part on the best of terms, but asks her to give him a second chance. With an air of calculation, she switches gears and tells him he has a deal, walking into his waiting embrace in front of a disappointed, Sherese.
The others leave Argus' room and Kellogg reminds him of their appointment with Marcos in ten minutes time.
Commentary: And, here is where we run into the problem of Sherese and her powers. I don't care that Joella decides to play along, or feels an instant sexual attraction that she plays up by hot-kissing Buck. This shouldn't be nearly enough to trick the superpowered empath in the room. And, there isn't any explanation for how this ruse could have worked, when Joella's immediate reaction to seeing Buck should very clearly have been a big "HUH? Who are you?!" confusion, not to mention her obvious emotional impulse as soon as she decides to join in on the obvious deception in a split second decision until she could hear about what is going on.
This is especially true since Sherese knows her well enough to have sensed her presence in the crowded *sort of* bar before actually seeing her and recognizing her.
Now, I could wank this by stating that Joella is from the same planet as Sherese and also has the same highly evolved empathic powers -- except the scripting gives us zero reason to think this would be true. She's presented as just another Earth girl who ended up in a dingy backwater bar and didn't have the funds or a plan to get herself off planet. If there had just been a single line of dialog to present her as being empathic enough to confuse Sherese, this whole scene would have flowed by without a problem. But because of Sherese's super-empath powers, it just doesn't make sense that Joella could plaster a fake grin on her face and get away with this.
This is especially true in retrospect in a bit, when Sherese will sense Wilma spying from a fair distance away, which makes this plot hole in this scene even larger.
Scene 22: As soon as the others are out of their hair, Joella confronts faux-Argus. Except not really, because they engage in a debate on trust that is completely out of place for this scene.
Commentary: Damn this script. All of these scenes can actually work, but their so clumsily inserted into the narrative, that everything is undercut. This shouldn't be about Buck trusting Joella and vice versa, yet, this should be about Joella wondering who the hell he is and what he's up to and where Argus is and what cynical and hurt Joella wants in return for not going directly to Sherese with Buck's deception. This just plays completely wrong, despite the characterization and dialog being good.
Scene 23: Buck rushes off to the super secret meeting in a solar collector plant that is naturally entirely empty of actual employees. Wilma is up on a catwalk listening in.
Kellogg over-theatrics about revenge plots. His plan, boiled down, is detonate the fusion reactors that power New Chicago, destroying it and its 10 million people.
Somehow, Sherese doesn't detect any of Buck's apprehension or horror or desire to stop this plot from being carried out, despite standing right there. But, she can detect Wilma's presence on a catwalk pointing her directional antennae in their direction. She sounds the alarm on their spy.
Wilma runs for it and Buck offers to go after her. There is a complication when Kellogg orders Marcos to accompany him.
Scene 24: For some reason, Wilma is running instead of just shooting her stun blaster at the assembled plotters, starting with the telekinetic. With Buck standing right there, armed with his own blaster, this whole conspiracy would have been undone inside of one minute.
Buck and Marcos runs past her as she's hiding.
Instead of just shooting Marcos and then deciding with Buck on how to handle things... she waits for them to run off and then slips out of hiding. But, because she's a girl, she trips over something in the floor and not only falls, but loses her blaster just as Marcos circles back.
Buck calls Marcos off as the brute intends to beat Wilma to death and then turns and shoots him. But, because of that advanced surgery thingie we heard about, the stun setting doesn't take effect.
Buck uses a second black light bomb. When it clears, Marcos is unconscious on the floor. He sends Wilma to Argus' ship with Marcos in custody, while he returns to the cabal to find out more usable details on how they're going to carry out their nefarious plan [which I spoiled above, but which Buck and Wilma don't learn yet].
Scene 25: Back in New Chicago: Doctors Huer and Theopolous confer on the sabotage in the flight hanger. They fret about Wilma and Buck's fates.
Scene 26: In Argus' vessel, Wilma uses pressure points to control Marcos until she can render him unconscious [and leaves him in a chair, completely unrestrained... clever].
She attempts to power up the ship for pre-flight, but the AI isn't having anything of that and gives her a good shock to keep her hands off of the controls.
Scene 27: When Buck returns to his room, the others are waiting for him. He reports that Wilma was stopped, but Marcos didn't make it.
Commentary: Hello, super-empath Sherese? Would you like to chime in on that blatant deception from the only lying-liar in the room? No? Okay, then.
So, Kellogg over-emotes his rage at Marcos' fate and then moves on to describing the "act of God" they're going to manufacture to destroy New Chicago. He further tells them that they'll be leaving later that night. Buck takes this as his way to duck out, claiming he has a "protracted good bye" to deliver to Joella.
Just after he goes, his room phone rings and Sherese answers it... she gets a pissy look....
Scene 28: In Argus' ship, Wilma takes the more direct approach with bypassing the AI by yanking out one of the panels in a shower of sparks. With the intelligence out, Wilma is able to begin the prelaunch sequence.
Scene 29: Buck has returned to the port bar. He grabs Joella and tells her they need to get off planet immediately to her confused protest. But as they go to leave, they run right into Sherese and Quince waiting for them. Quince TKs Buck above the floor, where Rogers makes a cheesy joke that isn't worth repeating.
Scene 30: In the launch bay, Wilma frets for Buck as he doesn't make their agreed rendevous time. She angsts about it, but she launches without him for Earth.
Scene 31: As Wilma is taking Marcos back to New Chicago, Joella and Buck are escorted back to Kellogg. In the room also, is Barney. He apologizes to Buck, but he's had a reversal of fortune at the port and needs some money. He informs Kellogg that he had met Argus two years earlier and ergo knows that Rogers isn't him.
Sherese looks self-satisfyingly smug....
Commentary: I have no idea what she's looking smug about, since he and Joella have been able to lie to her face all episode. I'm choosing to believe it's just pleasure at the idea that she'll be able to torture and kill somebody soon. I also like the idea that she's tickled pleased at Kellogg being duped, but why exactly that would be I don't know. Or... she's just naturally smug, since she seems to have an extremely limited facial expression range on which to draw indicating she only has access to a few emotions of her own, when she isn't busy empathing. And, I'm giving her backstory much more thought than the script ever attempted.
So... Buck is screwed and he's taking Joella down with him....
The Good: Despite my ribbing, I always liked the music and sound effects on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. That opening cheezy lite jazzy thingie is pretty catchy.
I like Sherese and the oily Jolen Quince, but that could just be because they get the majority of 'bad guy' screen time.
Tim O'Conner does some nice acting as mother-hen Huer.
Props go to Anthony James for his acting during his backstory data dump to Buck. It's badly handled by the scripting, but he handles the scene quite well.
The mild humor is cute with the female AI, especially "her" instant dislike of Wilma fiddling with her controls.
The Bad: The scripting. It's quite frustrating because the actors handle their dialog well and the scenes would work if the script hadn't set up obvious data dumps, anti-climactic escapes, easily bamboozled bad guys and out of place backstory details that don't make sense without some sort of additional explanation that never comes. It's just messy and awkward.
Other Thoughts: Unfortunately, I also have to report that Frank Gorshin is wasted in the role of tactical genius, Kellogg -- and he overacts, as well. I'm hoping that he'll have more of a role in Part II where the nefarious plan actually gets underway.
Also, Marcos' whole backstory with the nerve-ending surgery that helps him shrug of injury was wasted as well. He got shot with a blaster on stun and ignored it... awesome. But, then we miss out on the entirety of how Buck overcomes him in hand to hand, thanks to the magic dark-light bomb. WTF? Why bring out this character development at all? It isn't like Marcos impacted the plot any. Again, I'm hoping that he'll suddenly have something "powers related" to do in Part II -- perhaps an escape attempt or something.
The Score: The episode's plot is fine and the developments to get us to the evil plot are interesting. The characters are pretty cool, what with their alien abilities, but the scripting just leaves everything being shot in the foot over and over. This could have really been an exceptional Buck episode if there had just been more care and some more development during the script writing and editing phase of production. I will say that the directing though does help recover somewhat from the more boneheaded script moments.
I wish I could give this one a much higher rating:
3.25 out of 5