Tales of the Gold Monkey: e11- The Sultan of Swat

Jake and Zita

It was a Boy’s Club edition this week on Tales of the Gold Monkey, with Sarah on another island for the week, and the only female role that of the young Zita Henriques, a sweet, fresh-faced, bare-legged native girl going around draping garlands round the neck of blokes like Jake Cutter, and the visiting Gamble Rogers (guest star John DiSanti) as a fairly blatant signal that she wants a damned good blessing from them.

Unfortunately, all young Zita (Nia Peeples) is there to do is to be raped and murdered to set off the story. It’s done with rather less lingering than we’d get in these modern times, but it’s the age old story: the woman has nothing to do but be the victim.

Those with even a passing knowledge of Baseball history will know that the Sultan of Swat was the legendary batter Babe Ruth. “Home-run” Gamble is an obvious take-off: 43, retired, big, boisterous, boozing, womanising and on a goodwill tour of Japan and its possessions. Gamble is Jake’s hero and he’s everything the legend says he is.

So when Zita is discovered in his bedroom, naked, raped and strangled with the light cord, he’s the obvious suspect. To everyone, that is, but Jake, who can’t believe his hero has that kind of feet of clay, no matter how strong the evidence (all of which is merely collateral).

There is one witness to the crime but he got kicked in the head, is concussed, and is barking funny, or should I say, howling? There are no straight answers out of Jack this week, not until nearly the end, when it doesn’t matter, though one has to sympathise with the American Secret Service agent who’s trying to keep Gamble out of scrapes, when he suggests that the testimony might not stand up in Court.

Jake’s determined to prove his hero is innocent, a task made more urgent by the fact that Zita’s father has made his mind up as to his daughter’s killer, and is determined on making him pay without benefit of trial.

Given its era and its underlying theme, this is not going to be an episode where Jake’s faith is shown to be misplaced. The real rapist/murderer is Gamble’s manager, another and less famous ex-player named Harvey Bean. Heends up shooting, and catching a bullet from Jake, which spares the island a trial, and also spares the writer a motive, since Bean dies without saying why he’s tried to frame Gamble – who he’s handed over to Henriques.

So Jake and Corky take to a motorbike and sidecar and interrupt the lynching, with the impassioned Henriques repenting immediately his nearly having executed an innocent man.

Cue closer where, in an impromptu exhibition, Jake is pitching to Gamble. He strikes out once! He strikes out twice! Corky as catcher signals a play. Jake overrules him. And “Home-run” Gamble swats the third pitch into the ocean!

All in all, a bit predictable, a bit perfunctory, a bit too boys only. There were the usual nice touches along the way, the sign of a show comfortable in its own skin, but this was a worryingly slight story to reach halfway.

I’m hoping for better next week, with Caitlin O’Heaney back in the action.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e07 – Let he who is without sin…

I make no comment

What an odd episode that was. It’s no surprise to me that, on reading up about it afterwards, I learned that writers, director (Rene Auberjonois) and producers all wanted to go back and have another crack at it, because they felt it didn’t work, which justifies me in feeling that it didn’t work, though I think I come to it from a slightly different standpoint.

The idea behind ‘Let he who is without sin…’ is pretty simple. Dax and Worf’s relationship is now well-established, enough that Sisko and Odo can joke about the number of minor injuries their violent love-making is causing to each other. That in itself fulfills the episode’s self-set brief, to address 24th century sexuality. But it isn’t the shocking thing it’s meant to be, partly because we are twenty years on and attitudes, understanding and acceptance are correspondingly more developed, but also because the open, and the early part of the episode are played so much for laughs, and character-driven laughs at that, that the idea is turned too far into a comedic element  and not as potentially transgressive.

But the differences in culture and personality between Dax and Worf are causing them some difficulties in that both are expecting something the other finds makes them uneasy. Worf’s uptight, Dax is free-spirited, to put this in Sixties’ terms, and each is simultaneously trying to change the other whilst refusing to budge from themselves.

The lovers are off on vacation to the pleasure planet, Risa, Dax to enjoy, Worf to talk about their relationship. Circumstances force on them Bashir and Leeta (another splendid guest appearance by Chase Masterson, here to show those areas of the female body that Terry Farrell can’t), and, more unpleasantly, Quark. He’s thee to be a Greek Chorus, they’re here to conduct the Bajoran Rite of Separation, though we don’t learn this until halfway through (after this, Leeta is free to go and shag the brains out of, of all people, Rom.) All of them are really there to confuse and frustrate Worf even more.

And this is where the whole problem lies. Risa is a pleasure planet, supposed to be about sexual and sybaritic indulgence, under an artificial resort climate. It’s supposed to be decadent, it’s supposed to make the viewer think about the acceptability of that kind of lifestyle four centuries hence (after they’ve finished w*nking, of course).

But this is Prime Time American Network TV in the mid-Nineties, and there isn’t a hope in hell of getting to show anything that remotely indicates that kind of hedonistic lifestyle, and without that you have a colossal failure on your hands. People wander round in beach gear, and even then that means swimsuits for the women (I saw one extra in a rather unskimpy bikini in the background), with kaftan-like shirts tied round their waists. Decadent?

Oh sure, it’s implied that everyone’s having sex all the time, nonstop, except when the camera’s on them, which means that the imagination has to do what it can, unstimulated by the rather antiseptic atmosphere of the resort (even Southport is racier). But nobody except the most diehard of puritan is going to be shocked by something that is all Tell and no Show.

And, speaking of puritans, this paradise has to have them. They are the Essentialists, led by Pascal Fullerton (Monte Markham). They wear the guise of a political movement, fundamentalists harking back to the days of blood, toil, sweat and tears, by which the Federation was originally built in a hostile galaxy, and they are determined to return the Federation to that essential basis of fear, paranoia and eternal, rigorous watchfulness against its enemies. To them, Risa is a canker, the ruination of the Federation, an artificial pleasure world, softening, weakening, poisoning America’s… sorry, the Federation’s precious bodily fluids. To prove their point, they insist on dressing up in floor-length, full-body covering clothing in drab and dull colours, on the beach in direct sunlight.

In short, they are what every puritan has been since time immemorial: haters of fun, pleasure and enjoyment. They cannot stand to see people being happy, they insist on destroying it, they are the Daily Mail, and I am immediately and implacably opposed to them wherever they raise their hydra-like heads.

So it really doesn’t matter what clothing their arguments are dressed up in, they are the eternal enemy so far as I am concerned. It leaves me unable to take their arguments remotely seriously, which in turn weakens the drama as I cannot see them as more than straw men. And given that Worf, due to his strongly controlling instincts, not to mention a hefty dose of Klingon chauvinism, even listens to them, let alone goes over to their side, is enough to set a permanent block against him. How can Dax possibly forgive him for this?

We know she will though, and he does repent and return to the side of the angels, but it does him no favours to have this temporary aberration be the result of what is really only a fit of adolescent pique, a tantrum thrown by a teenager who hasn’t yet worked out that you don’t get to tell her what she can and can’t do all the time.

No, Worf’s dereliction is too offensive for me to forgive, and its rationalisation too unbecoming to accept. It’s also accompanied by the cliche of forcing Worf into the corner of having to reveal a deep-rooted childhood trauma that explains everything. It’s also an unfortunately ill-chosen story for a British audience since it involves the thirteen-year-old Worf playing ‘soccer’, going up for a header, scoring the winning goal but in doing so jumping so ferociously he clashed heads with the defender, broke his neck and the kid died the next day, and all the time I’m thinking, with that on his forehead, how the heck ca he direct a header anywhere?

It really is a shame, because there were good ideas in this episode, and it did hit the funny-bone more consistently than any previous DS9 episode I’ve seen. Vanessa Williams was a Special Guest Star as Resort Director Arandis, ex-lover of Dax’s previous host, Curzon, and his killer (death by sex), but apart from tormenting Worf further by making him suspect a lesbian affair for which there were neither grounds nor any discernible sexual tension, her presence was wasted.

But no, it didn’t work, it couldn’t have worked and it couldn’t work even now, because we’ve seen too much real, actual transgressive sex onscreen for Risa to shock us with its licenciousness, because long before it got near to a 2017 version of Shock, it would have been wading thigh deep in Disgust.

And no, I didn’t remember a bit of it.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e10 – The Late Sarah White

…deep plunging neckline

A change of scene this week, as the Monkey gang move 3,000 miles west (3,251, to be precise) to the Philippines, where it’s raining, and where General MacArthur is negotiating with the Moro guerillas. Why are we here? As the title suggests, our favourite red-headed spy is on a mission in the Philippines, to determine who’s leaking information to the (never defined) other side, and a telegram to Bora Gora has announced that she is dead, of hepatitis.

You’d think that an episode abut Sarah would be full of her, but Caitlin O’Heaney doesn’t have much to do at all this week. She’s in the undergrowth, taking photos of a MacArthur meeting with the Moros, for no easily discernible reason if she’s supposed to be finding the leaker that’s trying to ruin such negotiations, when the meeting is shelled and she’s last seen about to scream, with a machete at her throat.

And that’s it until the final scene, when Jake, Corky, Jack and Johnny Kimble (remember him from episode 4?) are captured trying to warn the Moros that a fake MacArthur with a truck of fake US troops is about to arrive and slaughter them. And who pops up, dressed in a sleeveless top with the Moro red bandanna around her forehead? Our favourite spy, of course, who has never been dead at all.

In between, it’s once again Jake’s show. Like everyone else on Bora Gora, he’s devastated by the wire announcing Sarah’s death, with the crucial difference being that, of course, he doesn’t believe it. In any other circumstances, this would be a clear case of wishful thinking, but of course heroes are always right about such things, and it’s Philippines ho!

It’s not a good time for Americans in the Philippines right now. They’re responsible for the islands’ security, though by this point MacArthur had resigned from the US Army, and was responsible to the Philippines government as a civilian advisor to the Army he’d organised. Jake and Corky are fobbed off by the Assistant American Attache, Horace Simmons (the bad guy), attacked in both street and bar, set to running and pulled aside by Kimble, who explains what is going on and what Sarah was doing.

Immediately prior to this, there’s an odd and utterly irrelevant cameo from Marta DuBois as Princess Koji, who may be a cast member but who usually only appears in the credits. Koji happens to own the bar where Sarah had been singing whilst under cover, which enables her to haul Jake and Corky out of the kind of brawl that, at home, sends Jake’s debt to Bonne Chane Louie soaring. But she provides no useful information, and does little more than unsuccessfully throw herself at Jake, with her deep plunge neck-line and her wraparound skirt unwrapping itself all the way to her thighs: the woman in seriously gagging for it. But you really do have to question why Miss DuBois is on board as cast when it’s obvious no-one has any idea what to do with her?

It’s finally proven that Jake’s gut feelings are right when Kimble helps disinter the coffin which has got a body in it alright, but it’s not Sarah’s, but that of a bloke who’s been shot (and who, despite having been in the ground for nearly a week, in the tropics, is astonishingly undecomposed).

So it’s down to the race against time that is naturally successful, and here’s Dougie!, i.e., the ‘real’ MacArthur, to continue negotiations with guerillas grateful for having been saved by friendly Americanos. Oh yes.

I’ve barely mentioned Jack so far. There’s a running gag all episode, with a distinctly risque twist, that he’s suffering from an allergy, and Leo the Dog is called upon to perform his new party-piece of sneezing at will over and over, to various choruses of ‘Bless you!’ and ‘Salut!’. Turns out it’s not an allergy but rather a sign that Jack needs a bit of doggie-style nookie. And despite Koji’s state of undress, and Sarah’s fetching close-fitting top, that’s the nearest you’re getting to sex this week.


Deep Space Nine: s05 e06 – Trials and Tribble-ations

See what I mean?, or, The Camera can Lie

It’s been a long time, since October 13 2015 in fact, since I sat down and watched the two-part opening to Deep Space Nine, ‘The Emissary’, with the intention of watching, and blogging, the series in its entirety. I came at it from the perspective of someone who had, in the late Nineties, watching something like two-and-a-half to three seasons of the show, in the middle of its run, but who had seen neither the beginning nor the end.

Watching DS9 then was partly ritual, as was all television when you were more or less tied to transmission times. On Wednesdays (I think it was, or maybe Thursdays) I would get in from work, doff my jacket and tear off my tie and sprawl on the couch to watch. I think the programme was broadcast from 6.00pm to 6.45 pm, on BBC2: once it finished, I would busy myself about an evening meal.

For a long time though, it’s been evident that my memory has tricked me, has expanded the experience as I drew further from it. It wasn’t two-to-three seasons. It wasn’t even one. Because, after twenty-one months of weekly viewing, and as Ive known for some time, I have finally caught up with that first episode of Deep Space Nine. And I know why I watched it, where I’d had no interest in the past. It’s because it’s this specific story, ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’, because of what it did, because it was an audacious and astonishingly successful merging of DS9 and it’s ultimate parent, Star Trek, the one with no sub-title, the one they now call The Original Series.

I’m old enough to remember watching Star Trek the first time round, just arriving in my teens. It excited me then. It surprises me to think back and realise that my parents must have enjoyed it too, else how would I have seen it at all? I don’t remember them as being into SF in any way. That would be me, alerted by The Lord of the Rings in the back end of 1973 to the infinite possibilities, and devouring books left, right and centre all along the spectrum between Hard SF and Mystical Fantasy thereafter.

Ironically, that interest in SF soured me on the original Star Trek. It was the Seventies, I was at university, I was growing to understand that my political and social instincts were wholly liberal. Between the two, I found it impossible to suspend my disbelief to accept a future that would be governed by the mores of mid-Fifties, middle-America.

I suppose I must have seen ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ at least once, though I don’t remember anything of it. I remember Tribbles: little, hairy balls that shivered and squeaked but showed no signs of actual characteristics. I never could accept them as real because they looked like children’s playthings, to be waved about in the excited hand of a toddler but abandoned not too long after because they simply didn’t do anything.

‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ was conceived as DS9‘s contribution to the Star Trek 30th anniversary, although broadcasting it in the week of the anniversary would have meant it opening season 5. Though the episode is every bit as light-hearted and insignificant as the original episode, it’s one of the most involved episodes ever of DS9 because of the sheer amount of detail that went into it and, of course, the astonishing technical work that made this episode not merely possible but stunningly good – even when set against the standards of today.

The story is simple. It’s framed around an enquiry by Starfleet’s Temporal Investigations Bureau into an incident in which the Defiant, and the entire senior staff of DS0 travel back in time just over one hundred years. Captain Sisko narrates the adventure to agents Dulmur and Lucsly (it is an example of the level of intricate in-joking that these two names are near-perfect anagrams of Mulder and Scully). The Defiant has been on a secret mission into Cardassian space to collect a Bajoran orb, as it turns out the Orb of Time. They also pick up a stranded seeming-human, a trader named Barry Waddle, played by Charlie Brill, a name any old Trekkie would recognise. Brill is not what he seems and uses the Orb to send the Defiant back in time and across two hundred lightyears. When the viewscreens clear, the first thing is comes up is a spaceship. The U.S.S. Enterprise. The ‘Enterprise.

Because the whole point of this story is to dress Messrs Sisko, Dax, Bashir, O’Brien, Odo and Worf up in the Starfleet uniforms of the day, transport them onto the Enterprise and Space Station K7, onto absolutely 99.9% perfect replicas of the stage sets, and have them experience a shadow story created in and around and based upon ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’.

And, what’s more, have them appear with, and interact with Messrs McCoy, Scott, Chekhov, Uhuru and most especially Mr Spock and James T. Kirk as they appear in the parent episode.

How they do it is ingenious, and in one instance resolves a minor quibble from the original show (whose writer, David Gerrold, not only approved the notion but got to play an Enterprise crewman in two brief scenes). The MacGuffin is brilliantly conceived: Waddle is actually the original Klingon spy, Arne Darvin, the villain of ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’, whose plan to destroy Federation colonisation by poisoning their grain supplies was defeated by Kirk, who used a Tribble to expose the surgically-altered Darvin as Klingon. Disgraced by his defeat, Darvin, once again played by original actor Charlie Brill, intends to go back in time and change history by killing Kirk, via a bomb in a Tribble.

But we all know that the story, however cleverly put together, how carefully interwoven into the established events, is ultimately just a vehicle for the sheer fun of going back and playing Original Star Trek one more time, and to recreating those days, down to sets, uniforms, hair-styles (Terry Farrell suits the old ultra-sexist micro-skirt and boots: I just wish Nana Visitor hadn’t still been pregnant as I would have loved to see her beamed aboard).

The episode stands or falls on its effects. Film qualities have been matched throughout to almost exact duplication: there are only a few scenes where the lower quality definition of the original stock is evident and even then you have to be looking for it. But what impresses even now is the quality of the digital matching.

Mostly it’s done by inserting the DS9 gang into the background of existing scenes, which is marvellous in itself, especially when Sisko and Dax turn up on the Bridge, but the standout scene has to be the one where Kirk confronts the crewmen who have gotten involved in the canteen brawl with the un-cornish-pastied Klingons. Kirk is on stage right, facing a line of men stage left, ranging towards the perspective point.

From camera front to back these are Scottie, Chekhov, O’Brien, Bashir and a half dozen original extras. O’Brien and Bashir, inserted into the middle – the middle – of a scene, with original footage foregrounded and backgrounded.

There are so many details to what goes on. I’m not going to detail these: you can read them via these links: here and here. The amount of effort, and money, that went into creating a gigantic cosmic in-joke is astonishing, but the outcome is well worthwhile.

This was my first Deep Space Nine, and this is the first time I have seen it since that time I watched it out of curiosity, and it’s delightful how much of it I remembered. It was intended as a one-off, as indeed the episode was, in every respect. But somehow, without knowing anything about these characters, I switched on BBC2 the same time the next week, and for all the rest of the season. Then life changed, and the easy days of coming home from work and doing whatever I wanted went with them, in exchange for better, I’m glad to say.

So, for the next twenty episodes I’ll be in that narrow zone of nostalgia, as I go through real recollections. The Great Deep Space Nine Rewatch. By the time I get back to ‘new’ episodes, it will be the New Year.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e09 – The Lady and the Tiger

Just because she was in it this week.

The title suggested that this episode was going to be about Princess Koji, but although Marta DuBois appeared for the first time in half a dozen episodes, this weeks Tales of the Gold Monkey was about a lady of a completely different stripe, oh, and an actual tiger.

You may already be about to point out that tigers are not indigenous to the South Pacific, but if you haven’t already realised that such nit-picking is irrelevant, Jake Cutter does raise the question for you and gets as good an answer as any: the Japanese imported it. Sorted.

‘The Lady and the Tiger’ prefigured Harrison Ford’s film, Witness, by three years in marooning Jake in an Amish colony. This time it’s accidental: both engines blow out on the Goose when Jake buys contaminated petrol and he crash-lands on an island just inside the Japanese mandate, where the military are trying to lever out an Amish colony who have been licenced in perpetuity by the Emperor.

The slightly banged-about Jake is taken in, and provided with Amish clothes by, Martha (Anne Lockhart), mother of ten year old Paul (Jerry Supiran), an attractive young woman aged around thirty. Paul is an angelic little boy with a blond pudding bowl haircut and a penchant for sneaking off into the woods with his father’s shotgun to kill the tiger. After all, it killed his father.

So we know what to expect there, all of which duly follows: Paul adopts Jake as a father-figure, Martha starts falling for him, and actually gets close enough that he admits to her that he never knew his father and that his parents weren’t married, and there is in due course a snog.

But there’s never any intimation that Jake is going to stay even if we didn’t know we were watching a series. Since Paul has managed to shoot the Goose’s radio, Jake has to allow himself to be goaded into first a game of checkers and then a duel with the local Japanese Army blowhard, who’s so fixated on American B-picture westerns he’s even named after Buck Jones, just to get a radio message out for help and a pair of magnetos.

The rest of the cast are back on Bora Gora, doing their thing. Corky’s torturing himself over the fact that he can just about remember every leg of Jake’s flight plan except the crucial last one on which the Goose has been lost. Sarah’s alternating between contempt for the wacky enthusiasm the Monkey Bar patrons have for fights, concern for Jake and a jealous hissy fit at Princess Koji, because she has to get Corky into the Japanese Mandate to rescue Jake, and a hard bargain she drives of it. Still, the cost of her concession will just be added to Jake’s bill by Louie: it’s only a million francs…

So we drive towards the big climax. Jake faces ‘Buck Jones’ as Jake Cutter, Flying Tiger, rather than Martha’s brother Ezekiel, Paul, sent to the Goose to await assistance, faces the Tiger. Both shoot, simultaneously. The episode teases us with the possibility, which we don’t believe for a second, that one or both might have missed, but of course they’ve killed their respective opponents. Corky’s arrived, offstage, with the magnetos, the Goose is fixed and despite both of them aching for Jake to stay, Martha and Paul recognise that Jake’s going home to his real life (though not without a most un-Amish snog first).

Paul does bravely promises his mother that Jake will be back, but a quick glance at imdb confirms that that must have been in the never-commissioned season 2.

And what could they have done with a follow-up? ‘The Lady and the Tiger’ pretty much mined all the cliches about the Amish and the clash of cultures and left no new territory on which to build a return visit. Witness was better and had more depth, but it was also twice as long and didn’t have to turn up next Tuesday night at 8.30pm with another episode.

To be honest, this one felt like a bit of a stretch for once. By sending Jake off on a solo adventure, the show lost the energy of the usual interactions and the imposition of a caricature Japenese cowboy who didn’t even achieve the cliche of a life, it’s main protagonist never began to be plausible. A miss, then.

Still, it came out of it with a neat zinger. In the cockpit in the air, going back out among the English, Corky gets Jake to tell him what was the last leg. It’s a great relief, and Corky immediately starts punishing himself again over why he couldn’t remember. That’s because I didn’t tell you, says Jake…

Deep Space Nine: s05 e05 – The Assignment

The Birthday Party from Hell

I was dubious about the open to this episode, which was entirely trivial and personal for most of its length. Rom’s doing good work on Maintenance as part of the night shift but Quark is still determined to talk him down and out, Bashir has managed to kill Keiko’s precious plants by over-watering them whilst she’s on Bajor, doing a biological study in the Fire Caves. But Keiko don’t care, they’re only plants after all (warning signal). Because Keiko isn’t really Keiko. I mean, she is, physically, in every atom, but she’s been possessed, by a Pah (Pagh?)-Wraith, that can kill her in an instant. Unless, of course, Chief O’Brien follows her every instruction…

From those unprepossessing beginnings there followed quite a decent episode, as O’Brien reluctantly follows a course of quite comprehensive small-scale sabotage, with no idea what the purpose is, and no time to try to fight back. Every idea he has to try to overcome Wraith-Keiko takes too long to prevent her killing Keiko in retaliation (or threatening Molly), and Wraith-Keiko seems to have a supernatural ability to sense when O’Brien is about to crack and spill the beans.

Though it’s nice to see this attributed to Keiko’s consuming knowledge of her husband and how he’ll react.

The open also featured Rom, remember, and thankfully this is not the set-up for a B story. A technician’s illness sees the Ferengi temporarily upgraded to the swing-shift, which in turns allows Rom’s quite impressive mechanical skills, not to mention his speed, to O’Brien’s attention.

I’m afraid the Chief doesn’t exactly treat Rom well. First, he cons him into assisting the sabotage, under the guise of it being a secret assignment, then, when the work is spotted, he dobs Rom in to Odo, relying on the little Ferengi’s decency and loyalty to keep him silent.

And so it turns out to be Rom who provides the key to what is going on, which O’Brien has failed to see: their work is turning DS9 into a massive chroniton emitter, to be used against the Wormhole where it will kill all the Prophets: the Pah-Wraiths are False Prophets, driven from the Celestial Temple, and thirsty for revenge.

Which turns out to be all O’Brien needs to get a handle on things. He takes charge of things,steals a run about to fly Wraith-Keiko out towards the Wormhole but, just as the Wraith is about to celebrate success, directs the chroniton at her, killing the Wraith and freeing Keiko.

As for Rom, much offscreen explanations later, he gets his reward: permanent promotion to the day-shift. Quark is thrilled…

Ultimately, this was a simple and straightforward story. It served to introduce the Pah-Wraiths, who would become more prominent in future seasons. It was also quite a noticable ‘bottle’ story, its scenes confined to the station itself, or the familiar control room of a runabout, its guest stars being popular recurring characters. This was clearly to permit additional budget resources to be poured into the episode that would appear next (though it had actually been filmed before ‘The Assignment’ but scheduled after in light of the extensive post-production work required.

But beyond mentioning the well-ordered nice touches along the way, or the standard of acting from the two main guest stars (Rosalind Chao in particular was given the opportunity to shine),there’s not a lot to say about this week’s episode other than: well done.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e08 – Honor thy Brother

I remember Tales of the Gold Monkey more for its set-up and atmosphere rather than its specific stories, but ‘Honor thy Brother’ is one of only a couple of exceptions (the one in which Bonne Chance Louie is put on trial for something I don’t recall is the other).

I recognised it immediately from the open, and its foreshadowing scenes, and confirmed my recollection from the opening scene, another flashback to Jake’s (bogus) time in the Flying Tigers. This was a dogfight scene: Jake, cigar firmly clenched in teeth, was stooging around on patrol when he was ambushed by two ‘Zekes’, Japanese Zeros (another deliberate error: these were never used against the AVG). The planes are piloted by two brothers, the younger on his first mission. Jake shoots both planes down though, unknowingly, the elder brother survives, and, by rite of hontu nagiri (sp?) determines to kill Jake in revenge.

Back at the base, everyone’s playing it cool around Jake, until Gandy Dancer (a welcome if brief return for  William Lucking) starts a celebration that mainly consists of pouring beer over Jake’s head. His two Zekes take him to five ‘kills’ and he joins Gandy as an ‘Ace’.

Cut to a year later, in the Maravellas, and Jake’s seeing a Japanese bomber that the Tigers nick-name a ‘Betty’ for the third time, only he’s the only one who sees it and no-one believes him, not even Jack. This leads us into an oddly disjointed story that doesn’t feel as if it hangs together, and yet was still perfectly enjoyable.

A bunch of German sailors are getting drunk in the bar and planning to put to shame Mapuhe’s exceedingly pretty daughter (not that she seems to be objecting). Mapuhe, a Polynesian patriarch and an obvious wheeler-dealer, explains to Corky that he needs 100 francs to mend his net: no net, no fish, no food. A horribly embarrassed Corky lends him the money to spare the poor child the ordeal (yeah, right), incurring the ire of the boorish, square-headed Kraut. There’s just one complication: the sailor has got Jack’s eye.

Jake’s entirely reasonable attempts to peacably negotiate for the purchase of the eye lead to the inevitable: a massive brawl that demolishes the bar, and for which Louie blames him, even though Jake didn’t start it. Sarah’s prepared to believe he was responsible, even as she applies the iodine, and to get very stroppy until she hears about the ‘Betty’ – until Jake explains he’s talking about bombers, whereupon the spy in Sarah rises to the fore.

Meanwhile, Jake has stolen back his eye which Jake refuses to fit until it’s been sterilised, putting the dog into an even bigger huff than usual.

Meanwhile, someone’s setting traps to kill Jake – a cobra in his bedroom, a crossbow in the woods – except that they’re gimmicked to fail whilst demonstrating how easily they could have succeeded.

Meanwhile, again (you can see what I mean about disjointed), Corky has discovered that his 100 francs loan to Mapuhe has been accepted in payment for Mapuhe’s daughter’s hand (and all the rest of her) in marriage. Only it’s not the pretty one, it’s the eldest daughter, and wouldn’t you know it? She’s the fat one, who’s constantly eating, constantly giggling and constantly wailing every second that Corky expresses less than perfect enthusiasm for giving her lots and lots of babies (mind you, she’s got child-bearing hips).

Last week, I discussed the show’s flaws, and this is another one. It’s a demeaning cultural stereotype, both of the Polynesian primitives and the the fat girl no-one in their right mind would want to marry, let alone, you know, well, yeuch. There’s no justifying it, even if it is characteristic of the Saturday Morning Cinema experience.

So Jake, whilst being pursued to his death, has to get Corky out of a hole again (you know, you have a filthy mind at times). By a curious coincidence, Mapuhe’s island of Keneroo happens to be practically next door to the Japanese island of Torihado, where there’s a secret airbase of fighter planes, everybody knows that. Sarah’s along for the ride, having reported everything to Washington (except Jake’s name…).

And then everything comes awkwardly together as Mapuhe happily accepts Tafara back, except there’s a guy in a Japanese pilot’s uniform waiting, with a white headband decorated with the Rising Sun on his forehead, and guys with machetes up around Corky and Sarah’s necks, because Kenji, who has been pursuing honju nagiri, has arranged all this, including Corky’s ‘marriage’ to draw Jake to the island (see how it all fits together now?). They must duel to the death.

Jake has choice of weapons. Thinking he’s clever, he selects fighter planes. Kenji however is clever. He knew what Jake would choose and has already familiarised himself with how to slip past the Torihado security and steal two Zekes…

Despite the overall silliness, and the unconvincing way this has been built up, it’s all been good fun so far, but I remember the dogfight being perfunctory and Jake winning far too quickly and far too easily, and so it was. Kenji crash dives into the ocean, Jake bales out with parachute but no lifejacket. Of course, a rescue could be made, if only Mapuhe had something of value to make it worth the risk. And who’s eye is an emerald…?

So we’re back to square one (no notion of exactly how Jake and co managed to get away from there without any consequences for stealing and destroying two Imperial Japanese Airforce fighter planes with nobody suffering any loss of face). Jack has got his patch back on, Mapuhe’s rowed off, Washington is very pleased with their Agent Sarah Stickney White and still ignorant of the name of Jake Cutter. And they’d still like pictures…

It’s an interesting example of how a show made up of pieces that don’t fit alongside each other, and in one case are extremely insulting, can nevertheless be enjoyable, though the brevity of the ending after all that build up is disappointing. Nostalgia to some extent, and the show’s unselfconscious commitment to delivering a fun experience disarms a lot of the valid criticism, but I would like something a bit stronger next week.