Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wild Wild West--"The Night of the Bleak Island"

“The Night of the Bleak Island” is another of the wonderfully weird episodes of the fourth season. Like yesterday’s homage to The Phantom of the Opera, this episode borrows quite liberally from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. On a much lighter note, the episode also borrows yet again from Gilligan’s Island. Jim arrives on Bleak Island by way of the S. S. Monnow.

Jim is assigned to attend the reading of eccentric millionaire John Bleak’s will. Bleak has left one of his most prized possessions, the Moon Diamond, to the National Museum. When he arrives, he discovers a legend the island is haunted by a demonic hound no one has ever seen, but has been howling constantly since Bleak died. The rest of those attending the will’s reading are a motley crew of decent family members, greedy family members, a crooked business partner, and the loyal housekeeper with whom bleak was carrying on a love affair.

The butler is murdered at dinner. When Jim pursues the killer, he runs into a bunch of his compatriots and Sir Nigel Scott, a stiff upper lipped Scotland Yard detective he worked with at some point in the past. Scott is an uber detective like Sherlock Holmes. He claims that his arch enemy, Dr. Jacob Calendar, a thinly veiled Prof. Moriarty, plans to steal the Moon Diamond himself. When the diamond goes missing, the two team up to uncover the murder/thief.

It does not take long before Jim figures out Calendar is not on the island. Scott, tired of his low paying job watching criminals make easy money, stole the diamond for himself and killed the butler for stumbling onto his scheme. Scott trained a dog to howl at his command to scare people away from the island. That sounds like a Scooby Doo plot, but it works, really. The dog, angry at the brutal treatment he received from Scott, mauls him in the end. So he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling Secret Service agent and dog.

There are only two faults with “The Night of the Bleak Island.” One, the dog aggressively attacks three people during the episode before killing Scott. But it completely leaves Jim alone once Scott is dead. Perhaps its bloodlust was satisfied, but sudden passive behavior is strange. Two, when Jim is trapped in a dry well, he pops out metal claws from under his sleeves to climb out. (The camera is turned to the side, like when Batman and Robin climbed the sides of buildings. At least Conrad actually faked the strain of having to lift his body weight, unlike the Dynamic Duo.) ) They are not only convenient for him to just happen to have, but earlier in the night he also used the small derringer that is up his right sleeve the same night. How did he have both a gun and claws up his sleeve at the same time? Jim is going all Harpo Marx on us there.

I cannot let those two points ruin the episode for me, though. It is a fun episode. Jim and Scott have a certain chemistry together, even if it is fairly obvious early on he is secretly the bad guy. Scott is the last of replacement partners for Jim. It is Artie from here on out.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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