I really don’t like the way so much of the story of a Tales of the Gold Monkey episode is blown in advance by the pre-credits highlights reel. I know it’s meant to entice the viewer into sticking round and not changing channels, by promising them fun and excitement, but it’s like a saw in a Warner Brothers cartoon, cutting a circle underneath a character who drops through the floor. So we knew before we even knew anything about the story that Jake was going to shock the entire Monkey Bar by kissing – I’m sorry, snogging – a nun.
Said nun was a real nun, or at any rate a novitiate under the care of a more senior Nun, en route to a Shanghai convent into which she would disappear in self-abnegation, but to Jake Cutter, she was his old girlfriend, Brigid Harrington, a bit of a wild girl, fun-loving, tricksy and with a habit (ouch) of dressing up in costumes. An easy mistake to make, I suppose.
Sister Theresa and Mother Agnes were escorting essential medical supplies and cholera vaccine to China, and using that as a cover to transport gold bullion to relieve poverty. Unfortunately, an unscrupulous and anonymous villain stole the Air Clipper with the cargo, and dear, sweet, retiring nun Brigid stole the Goose to follow him and get the supplies back. Jake, and a very much pushed into the background Corky, managed to get on board in the nick of time, and agreed to help, although the storm-damaged Goose was in extremely poor nick and low on fuel too.
And that, basically, was the whole of the story, apart from some amusing byplay when the Goose ran out of fuel and Louie’s 180 percent proof aged rum had to be poured into the tanks to keep it flying. Sarah and Louie are left helpless and ignorant on the island, Mother Agnes still prays in the Reverend Willie Tenbaum’s chapel, even after she learns how he gives ‘blessings’, and Jake and Brigid struggle with the effect their old relationship still has on both of them. Will-she, won’t-she? Her order demands she renounce everything, including acknowledgement of her past, but now she’s seen her old lover again, can she?
Actually, she does. Brigid can’t bring herself to kill the villain who has the drop on Jake, showing that her decision has been taken long before she arrived on Bora Gora, but really it’s Jake, being all Saturday morning hero at his most boyish, unable to be tied down by love, incapable of saying what ought to be said, until she turns away, unable to wait any longer.
What it’s really called is immaturity, and besides, he’s the lead in an adventure series and he has a romantic lead co-starring with him, so guest stars have to move on, though it’s plain for all to see, and if you want to take it on a deeper level than the show is prepared to go, utterly melancholy that Sarah will wait as long as Brigid and longer, renewal willing, for Jake to offer her any kind of commitment.
The hero as overgrown schoolboy. I’m sure that wasn’t what we were meant to think of this episode but it was what I thought. The Nun’s Last Fling could have been the formulaic template, but it was none of it sufficiently convincing to entirely work, as it was a little too deep for the surface on which Gold Monkey operates. Pamela Susan Shoop, showing literally nothing but her face and hands, was good at conveying to us that here was a beautiful young woman.
Three-quarters of the way through this one and only series, it’s time to look a little at its clumsiness. The show runs with a seven person cast, of whom only three play any kind of significant role on a regular basis. The three ‘villains’, the German spy, the Eurasian Princess and her loyal Samurai, barely appear, and the German spy is nothing but a figure of fun: a clear miscalculation on Bellisario’s part.
And the female lead, the romantic interest, who’s supposed to be an American spy, might as well not be there, which is an even bigger waste. Jake Cutter is a deliberately shallow figure, despite his philosophical voiceovers, but it’s disappointing to find him being written as a latter-series Captain Kirk, with the rge to rush after whatever pretty new face swims across his ken, whilst Sarah Stickney White moons around doing nothing, and gets treated like a joke when she is allowed something of the action.
I still like the series, but it’s starting to wear a bit against my memories. In 1983, I was disappointed that it never came back. In 2017, I’m rather more aware of the slow failings of it’s imagination.