Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Land of the Lost: Part Three



Part One: Episodes 1-6

Part Two: Episodes 7-12

Finishing up the first season with this post.

Episode 13: Follow That Dinosaur



The Marshalls are woken up by the sound of Grumpy the T-Rex attacking the entrance to their cave. He's torn down their curtain of cloth and vegetation and Holly figures out why. The leaves are from a plant that Holly's named Dinosaur Nip. All the dinosaurs love it and are attracted to by it, even carnivores. That's dumb, but there you go.

Apparently, there's Dino Nip all over the place near the cave, which deserves some small credit for trying to explain why Grumpy's always hanging around there. But I always figured that was because he knew the Marshalls were there and wanted to eat them. And it doesn't explain why there aren't always a ton of other dinosaurs there for Grumpy to eat instead. Or why the Marshalls have never noticed the effects of Dino Nip before. This obviously hasn't been fully thought out by the writers.

The family decides to clear all the Dino Nip out of their area by picking it and dumping it in the nearby crevice (the one you have to cross to get to the Lost City). While disposing of it, Will and Holly find a dummy stuffed with the Nip. The dummy's dressed in eighteenth century clothing and has a notebook in the pocket, but before Will and Holly have a chance to read it, Grumpy and Alice both show up at the crevice, attracted by the Nip at the bottom. Grumpy and Alice distract each other from opposite sides of the crevice while Will and Holly escape.

Back at the cave, they show the notebook to Rick. It’s a journal, written in English and referring to various creatures that the Marshalls have already met. The writer claims to have taught the paku the “Christian language” as well as named the Sleestak after a nasty fellow named Major Joshua Sleestak back home. The family figures out that the journal-writer must have been the same person who wrote the "Beware of Sleestak" message they discovered back in the second episode.

The writer also mentions a friend named Harry Potts who's gone missing in the Lost City. The writer used the Nip-stuffed dummy as a decoy to distract the dinosaurs so he could escape to the Lost City and find Potts. Unfortunately for the Marshalls, half the journal is missing.

The family decides to go to the Lost City to see if the journal's writer and Potts escaped. They think it should be safe because it’s the Sleestak’s dormant season. On the way there, they notice that Grumpy's following them, even going so far as to cross the crevice. They mention that that's unusual behavior, but no explanation is given as to why he's doing it. The Dino Nip concept is discarded from here out.

While following the clues in the journal, the Marshalls discuss the three entrances to the Lost City. There's the main entrance in the center that leads to Enik’s place and the pit where the Sleestaks' god lives. The second entrance, where the family is now, is the one that the journal refers to as having “fallen pillars.” The third entrance is on the far side of the city. I got a little confused by this conversation because Rick seems to think that the journal wants them to go to the third entrance, even though it clearly mentions the fallen pillars. And when Grumpy shows up and Alice attacks him, the family escapes into the entrance where they are and soon figure out that they're on the right track. I can't figure out why Rick wanted to go to the far entrance.

Inside the City, the Marshalls find another one of the “Beware of Sleestak” messages. They follow the tunnel to a chamber where they find another part of the journal. This part refers to a “hole” through which the writer believes Potts has returned to New England. There’s also a map leading to the hole.

The Marshalls follow the map past dormant Sleestaks (creepily covered in cobwebs). I like the idea of the reptilian Sleestaks going dormant in colder seasons. That makes sense. Eventually, the Marshalls reach a small chamber with a lava pit, but in the chamber are two skeletons and the rest of the diary. The lava’s beginning to rise, making the chamber warmer and - Rick realizes - threatening to waken the Sleestaks. The family escapes, narrowly avoiding the Sleestaks as they sluggishly wake up.

Grumpy and Alice are still fighting outside, but the family escapes by using some explosive crystals to distract the dinosaurs. Back at the cave, they read the last of the journal. It reveals that it was written by Peter Koenig (a tribute to earlier Land of the Lost writer Walter Koenig?), a private in Washington’s revolutionary army.

I have mixed feelings about this episode. It answers some important questions, but too much of it (including the title) doesn't make any sense.

Episode 14: Stone Soup



Not a lot of world-building in this episode, but it does refer back to some of the things the Marshalls learned in previous ones.

Will and Holly argue over whose turn it is to make dinner. Rick, frustrated at their constant bickering, pretends to start making dinner himself, but really he's playing the old “stone soup” trick to get them to help out. The kids humor him and go out foraging for vegetables and things to add to the meal, thinking that their arguing has stressed out their dad and that he's possibly snapped.

As Will and Holly search for food, they talk about how fluky the weather's been lately. There's lots of thunder and lightning, but no rain, so the dinosaurs are all nervous and the drought is making it hard for them and the pakuni to survive. One of the skittish dinosaurs, an apatosaurus, chases Will and Holly into an empty pylon. The kids notice that it’s dark inside, with no crystals to power it. When the dinosaur loses interest, the kids escape back to the cave.

That night, after dinner and while the kids are asleep, Rick sees some pakuni running through the jungle with glowing crystals. The next morning, the kids take Rick to the “dead” pylon. Rick doesn't mention it yet, but he thinks that the pakuni’s stealing the crystals has affected the weather patterns and caused the draught.

On the way home, they meet the pakunis Ta and Sa (Cha-Ka's friends/relatives) who bully the Marshalls into giving up some food they found. Rick decides to trick Ta and Sa into trading their crystals for some stone soup. Bringing some vegetables of their own, the Marshalls have the pakuni help them make the soup, but the pakuni don’t want to trade crystals for the finished product. They will trade for the magic “soup stone” though.

The Marshalls return the crystals to the pylon and it starts to rain. Rick closes the pylon to keep the pakuni from coming back. Later, because the writers had some more time to fill, Cha-Ka shows up at the cave, chased by Dopey the baby apatosaurus. They invite Cha-Ka for dinner, but he thinks it’s gross until he adds a stone to the soup pot.

Episode 15: Elsewhen



This is a fun episode by Star Trek writer DC Fontana. It feels like a Star Trek episode too in its message, but Fontana has to play pretty loose with story logic to get there.

It opens with the family’s going to Enik’s cave in the Lost City. They're surprised to find no Sleestaks. Even the Pit God is quiet. Once the family gets to Enik’s cave, Rick reveals - to us; I imagine the kids already know - the reason for the trip. He says that he thinks he’s figured out how to work the time portal if only he can discover the right combination for manipulating the colored crystals. That seems like a huge "if" to me and sort of a "no duh." Obviously the crystals need manipulating; that's how everything works in the Land of the Lost. Obviously you have to know the right order. And obviously Rick doesn't yet or else they'd already be home. A better explanation is that Rick's figured out part of the sequence to open their time portal, but still has some testing to do. That's not what he says though.

Through trial and error he’s able to produce some time doors, but they don’t seem to lead anywhere. While he and Will are experimenting, Holly wanders off and finds another cave with a descending staircase and stones embedded in the wall. The same kinds of pyramidal stones that open the pylons. She runs back to get Rick and Will and while they're all off looking, a young woman emerges from the last time portal Rick opened.

The Marshalls go all the way down the steps and find another pylon key in a cave. There’s a hole in one of the walls and it leads to another chamber with a bottomless pit. Rick and Will prepare to explore the pit, but won’t let Holly help, Rick explaining that it’s dangerous and that he and Will want to protect her. Holly's not buying it though. She sulks and wanders off again as a Sleestak watches Rick and Will from the shadows.

Holly goes back to Enik’s cave and complains to herself about the lack of trust Rick and Will are showing. The young woman is still there and introduces herself as "Ronnie." She consoles Holly, telling her to be patient. Trust will come. She seems to know a lot about the Marshalls and Holly grows suspicious, but Ronnie's sweet demeanor helps to lower Holly's guard.

Holly notices a scar on Ronnie’s arm that Ronnie says she got a long time ago getting her brother out of a “difficult situation.” She chastises Holly for running off and leaving Rick and Will. If Holly really wants to be trusted with responsibility, she needs to earn it. But before sending Holly back to her family, Ronnie gives Holly some necklaces that she says will help the Marshalls communicate with each other over long distances.

She also tells Holly that she needs to get over her fear of heights. This is the first we're hearing about that, which is odd considering that Holly lives in a cave on the side of a cliff and has spent all that time crossing the crevice between home and the Lost City. But whatever. Ronnie tells Holly that she can overcome her fear by looking at the earth, which Holly thinks is weird. Rick’s always told Holly not to look down when she's afraid of heights. Before Holly can ask any more questions though, Ronnie disappears back into the portal.

Holly returns to Rick and Will who haven’t been able to get through the small hole. Holly volunteers to go down and Rick - thinking that there could be a time portal at the bottom of the pit and they have to find out - reluctantly agrees. Holly gives the men Ronnie's necklaces before she goes down.

While Rick and Will are lowering Holly into the hole, the Sleestaks attack. Rick and Will let go of the rope and Holly falls, but fortunately the rope’s been tied off. Holly stops when it plays all the way out, but now she's stuck dangling in the pit. She remembers Ronnie’s encouragement about heights though and begins climbing the rope. On her way up, the lights come on in the pit and reveal that Holly’s in an upside-down world. Remembering to “look at the earth,” Holly focuses on going up and getting out of the pit.

Since Rick and Will have been taken as sacrifices to the Sleestak god, Holly returns to Enik’s cave to ask Ronnie for help. Ronnie refuses for cryptic reasons and sends Holly off to fight the Sleestaks alone, saying that Rick and Will need her help to survive. Holly grabs some rope and Ronnie disappears again.

Holly uses explosive crystals to knock out the Sleestaks, but the explosion also blows Rick and Will into the god’s pit. At the bottom, Will is knocked unconscious, but Rick gets free of his bonds just as Holly drops her rope from up top and climbs down. Holly’s plan is to rig a sling for Will and for Rick to get out of the pit and pull Will up. Rick does, but Holly has to fight off the pit god by herself while waiting for the rope to come back down. She injures herself in the process by cutting her wrist. She beats the god though and gets back to the top. The family escapes just as the Sleestaks begin to revive.

Holly tells the others that she left something in Enik’s cave, so she leaves them to go talk to Ronnie. She tells Ronnie that she knows who she is now. Apparently “Ronnie” is Holly’s “secret name,” something else we've never learned before, and Holly now realizes that Ronnie is her future self. Ronnie says that she can’t show Holly the way home, but encourages her that it can be found. She also tells Holly to cherish her father and brother because they won’t always be there. She's just full of mysterious half-information. Does something happen to Rick and Will in the future? Ronnie's not telling.

Episode 16: Hurricane



This episode was written by Larry Niven and references his previous episode, "Downstream." Particularly the idea that the Land of the Lost is a closed system in a very finite space. It's also the only episode that I vividly remember watching as a kid. I recall bits and pieces from others, but this one stuck with me.

After being chased by a couple of dinosaurs, Will and Holly decide to get away for a bit and explore a “gleam” on a cliff that Will spotted a while ago. They climb to the top (Holly commenting that she’s conquering her fear of heights) and find a pylon.

Will opens it and goes inside. He finds a “matrix” like the one in Enik’s cave that controls the time doorways. Fiddling with it, Will creates thunder, but a yellow light also appears in the sky and shoots out a red light that makes a circle around the peak and returns to the yellow light. Will comments, “It’s just like the river. It came all the way around.”

A parachute drops out of the yellow light and the kids realize that they’ve created a portal in the sky. They run off to find the parachutist who’s stuck in a tree and being menaced by a coelophysis. Will chases the dinosaur off and the kids meet Beauregard Jackson from Fort Worth, Texas (played by Ron Masak who guest-starred in pretty much every TV show that aired in the '70s and '80s). The kids take him to the cave to meet Rick.

Jackson reveals that he's an astronaut from the future who flies a “hypersonic glider” between Phoenix Port (if I heard that right) and Space Station Five. As the Marshalls explains the Land of the Lost to Jackson, Rick mentions Enik and reveals to us in the audience that the Marshalls don’t know if he ever got home or not. That night, the wind begins to pick up.

The next day, the group sees that the portal Will created is still open. If they can figure out how to get up to it, they can get “home,” though Jackson says it’ll be 20 years in the future, making him (and Space Station Five) from the mid-'90s. Rick says he doesn’t mind as long as they can escape the Land of the Lost. The problem is that the portal leads to open air on the other side too. If they go through it, they'll fall to their deaths. However, if they can get the portal to come near a high cliff so Jackson can jump through it with his parachute, he promises to come back and get them in his glider.

Back on the cliff with the pylon, they use Jackson’s binoculars to look at the other clifftops and see if the portal goes near any of them. They're stunned though to see the backs of themselves. Again, “It’s like the river." Space loops back on itself and Rick realizes just how small the Land of the Lost is. He gets worried that the wind pouring through the portal (or maybe it's the wind being generated by the rotating of the portal in the Land of the Lost's small atmosphere. I got confused) is going to keep circulating until it creates a hurricane that Jackson won’t be able to get back through.

The Skylons then show up to communicate a sequence of colors to the group, but inputting their signals into the crystal console only makes the wind worse. Rick realizes that it’s because the Skylons only know how to control the weather pylons. This pylon isn't associated with the weather, it controls the portal, so messing with it makes the portal opens up more. Wide enough that it sucks the Skylons into it.

By experimenting with the crystals on his own, Rick’s able to move the portal and eventually brings it to the cliff where it not only sucks in Jackson, but also destroys the pylon (after the Marshalls get clear, of course). Will suggests they look for another pylon to experiment with, but Rick chews him out. He calms down quickly, but it's one of the few times we see Rick lose his temper with his kids. There's a lot of emotion in this episode, which is probably the reason it made such an impression on me as a kid.

Episode 17: Circle



Another Larry Niven episode and a real game-changer for the show. Or it should have been.

While swimming one day, Will discovers that the water hole connects through an underwater cave to a system of caverns. He leads Rick and Holly there and the three decide to explore. They discover some dormant Sleestaks, which raises the question of just how far after "Follow That Dinosaur" this episode is. Has a year passed that it's already the dormant season again? Or do they have several dormant seasons through the course of a year? Or do concepts like "years" or even "time" not have any meaning in the Land of the Lost?

Another question comes up as Rick hypothesizes about the sleeping creatures. The way he talks, it sounds like the Marshalls have never encountered Sleestak dormancy before now. I suppose it could just be a way of introducing the concept to viewers who didn't see the other episode, but it's sloppy if that's what's going on. The other episode didn't try to hold our hands when it introduced the idea. No real reason for this one to do it either.

The Sleestaks wake up right away this time and the Marshalls are separated as they’re chased through the tunnels. Holly makes it back to the underground pool and dives in, escaping to the watering hole. She's followed there by a Sleestak, but she drives him off with those handy exploding crystals. She tries to dive back in and check on her dad and brother, but dinosaurs show up at the hole to drink and she has to wait for them to leave first.

Meanwhile, Rick loses his pursuers and begins to search for the kids. He leaves marks on the walls to keep track of his path, but still finds himself going in circles. You might think that's where the episode gets its name, but you'd be wrong.

Elsewhere, Will makes it to Enik’s cave and is surprised to find Enik there. Enik is able to keep the Sleestaks out of his cave with some kind of energy barrier. He then explains that he’s been unable to return to his own time. Quoting “The Law of Conservation of Temporal Momentum,” he explains that he’s been able to open the door he needs, but something’s keeping him from leaving unless something else of equal mass and “temporal energy” enters the Land of the Lost first.

Will deduces that he and his family can’t leave either until three more people arrive and Enik agrees. But Enik also hypothesizes that the Marshalls shouldn’t even be there at all. Using the time portal, he shows Will the moment that the Marshalls fell over the waterfall and into the Land of the Lost. Will immediately gets it. There’s no misty time door opening for them in the past, so the Marshalls should have died on the rocks below. Enik believes that their living and being present in the Land of the Lost is what’s gone wrong with the portals and is preventing him from getting home.

Rick and Holly find each other again and make it to Enik’s chamber where Will and Enik explain the situation. Rick figures out that if they can make the past versions of themselves enter a portal – thus saving their lives – that will bring in enough mass to allow the present versions of themselves to leave. Which should also resolve the time paradox and allow Enik to leave as well. Apparently Enik won't need someone else coming in if they can fix the paradox. That doesn't make complete sense, but it's all made up science anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Rick opens a portal for the past Marshalls to fall through and that opens the door for the present Marshalls to go home. After saying their goodbyes to Enik, they leave. Enik watches through the portal as the past Marshalls arrive and are chased by Grumpy to their cave. As they get settled in, Enik declares that he’s going home too.

This was the first season finale, but it should have been the series finale. Not every mystery has been solved, but enough of them have to be satisfying. We know where the Lost City comes from, the Sleestak warning, even the Land of the Lost itself can be explained as some kind of experiment by Enik's people that went wrong. And the Marshalls go home. They're free. The past versions of themselves will relive the season until they become the present versions and get to go home, bringing in the past versions again and on and on. It's perfect.

Unfortunately, there's another season (two, actually). I'm nervous about watching more, but it's like a scab that needs picking. I don't want to replace this perfectly good ending with a less satisfactory one, but I kind of need to know what happened and where the show went. Even if it's nowhere good. I'm taking a little break before I dive into Season Two, but I'll let you know what I find when I do.
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