Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Bubbling Death"

We arrive at the third season premiere at a highly apt moment. The villain of the episode, Victor Freematle, is played by veteran character actor, Harold Gould. Gould passed away last week at the age of 86 after a long, varied career spanning from the early ’50’s until nearly his death.

Freematle isa revolutionary who has taken a strip of land between the United States and Mexico as his own. He is demanding diplomatic recognition as well as a large sum of money from the United States. In order to ensure, he has stolen the Constitution for ransom. We are fortunate he did not steal the Constitution under Barack Obama’s administration when the document has become all but irrelevant. We would never have gotten it back.

Jim escorts an expert from the National Archive into Freemantle’s fortress to inspect the captured document. They are blindfolded and spu around as misdirection before being lead oto a makeshift bridge over a pit of bubbling acid which gives the episode its title. The expert confirms the Constitution is real, then is held hostage, too, as assurance the ransom demand will be met.

Thus begins the bulk of the episode’s action. Jim and Artie know where the fortress is, just not exactly where the Constitution is within it. Their break in to the fortress and subsequent conquest of various obstacles and booby traps hints strongly at the Indiana Jones movies which will come decades later. It is not hard to see The Wild Wild West is as influenced by ’30’s serials as the esteemed archeologist’s advetures will be.

The twist is the history expert is in on the caper. He helped Freemantle steal the Constitution and falsely claimed the forgery Jim and Artie are trying to recover is the real deal. Our rediscover the real Constitution hidden elsewhere and eventually capture all parties involved.

In addition to Gould, “The Night of the Bubbling Death” has a stronger than usual cast for a genre show. The history expert, Silas Gigsby, is played by William Shallert, better known as Patty Due’s father, but has been a character actor for decades. The feeme fatale is played by Madlyn Rhue, fresh off her seduction by Khan in Star Trek’s “Space Seed.”

“The Night of the Bubbling Death” is for fans who care more about action than story. The episode is high on trills and gadgets, but low on any sort of well thought plot.. Admittedly, the twist that Gigsby is I on the crime is one of the better surprises, particularly considering the character goes from a nebbish bundle of nerves to a gun toting thief in 0-60, ut that is the only neat story element. Even Freematle’s capture is done off screen and mentioned only in passing shortly before the credits roll. Ut the action scenes are very much a saving grace.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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