Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Land of the Lost: Season Two (Part One)

As I said when I got to the end of the first season of Land of the Lost, I wasn't all that excited about digging into the second one. Not because I didn't enjoy Season One (I did: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three), but because I'd heard that Season Two largely abandoned the interconnected, world-building structure I liked so much for simpler, dumbed down stories.

I've finally gotten around to the first half of Season Two though and here's what I thought:

Episode 1: “The Tar Pit”

When Spot the coelophysis gets stuck in a tar pit, Dopey the baby apatosaurus tries to help, but gets stuck himself. Cha-Ka, who’s painting a portrait of Ta on a big rock nearby, wants to help, but Ta insists he stays to finish the painting.

Cha-Ka intentionally spills his paint either as a pretense to go get more or an excuse to quit altogether. They’re all speaking Paku, so it’s not real clear. Either way, Cha-Ka leaves Ta and Sa and heads to the tar pit, sees that he can't handle it alone, and runs for help. While he’s gone, Spot escapes and in a jerkwad move, leaves Dopey behind.

Cha-Ka gets Rick, Will (who’s got a new shirt and vest this season), and Holly and explains the situation. For continuity’s sake, I've decided to think of this season as a collection of previously unseen adventures that took place during Season One; certainly before that season’s finale when the Marshalls all escape the Land of the Lost. That’s my operating theory anyway. I don’t expect that it’ll explain Season Three, but I’m glad to have a way to make Season Two “count” in continuity at least.

The rest of the episode is just the Marshalls and Cha-Ka’s trying to rescue Dopey while hindered by various obstacles, including Dopey’s own inability to cooperate. It doesn’t add anything to the world-building, but shows us a lot of the Marshalls’ ingenuity, even going into great detail about their engineering a pulley system to pull Dopey out. I’m not saying that the lack of world-building is bad necessarily (especially since it's only the first episode of the season). It's entertaining enough on its own and I actually felt sorry for Dopey; it’s just - as I was warned - considerably less complex than most of the first season episodes.

Eventually, the Marshalls are able to get Dopey out with the help of his mom and they congratulate themselves for their teamwork, which ties up the story with a nice, kid-friendly moral.

Episodes 2-7 after the break.

Episode 2: “The Zarn”

Another simple episode, but one that at least attempts to add to the world of the show. It begins with Rick and Will’s exploring a new area of the Land of the Lost called the Mist Marsh. While there, they discover a craft of some kind that appears to be made entirely of lights. Will is frightened – something that his dad points out is uncharacteristic of him – and complains of feelings of being watched and having something searching through his mind. His feelings are justified because – unknown to him and Rick – they’re being followed by a strange creature made up of the same kind of lights that are in the craft.

Inside the craft, Rick and Will meet a woman named Sharon who claims to have been brought there from a street in Indianapolis where she lives. Rick is excited because that’s his hometown and he explains that she must have also fallen through a time doorway. He and Will bring Sharon back to the cave where they find out that she also went to Rick’s high school and knows many of his childhood friends and acquaintances.

Rick is excited by all this, but Will and Holly are suspicious. Sharon seems to be too good to be true and when Holly notices that Sharon doesn’t sweat on a particularly hot day, she knows for sure that something’s up. Will tries to talk to Rick about it, but Rick refuses to believe that anything’s wrong.

Eventually, the light-creature comes to the cave in the middle of the night and signals for Sharon to return with him to the craft. Rick wakes up and follows them, but Holly and Will are kept from going too by the same mental probing that Will felt earlier. Rick catches up with Sharon and the light-creature and confronts them just as they’re about to enter the craft. The creature explains that he’s an alien called Zarn who’s interested in studying humanity, but can’t get too close to them because he’s ultra-sensitive to their emotions. That’s why he works with Sharon, whom Zarn explains is impervious to feeling. Rick pleads and threatens in order to get Sharon to come back with him, but Zarn just inexplicably laughs like a maniac while Sharon blows up and is revealed to have been a robot.

Zarn’s weird. He claims to be a scientist, but he takes some kind of perverse glee in emotionally torturing Rick. As I watched this one, not sure if Zarn shows up again later, I hoped that he would. “He’d make an interesting recurring villain,” I thought.

But Rick is also weird in this episode. He takes Sharon’s disembodied hand back to the cave with him and mourns over the loss of an adult to talk to. Will and Holly are understanding though and for the first time in the show we get some insight into what it’s like for Rick to be trapped here. We usually see things through Will and Holly’s eyes. That new perspective, I suppose, is the real purpose of this episode.

Episode 3: “Fair Trade”

Rick accidentally falls into a Sleestak pig-trap. The Sleestaks use the pigs to feed their newly hatched young, so unless Will and Holly bring them a pig, the lizard-men are going to have to make do with Rick. True to its title, lots of trading goes on in this episode as Will and Holly have to negotiate with the pakuni Ta to get him to act as pig-bait. Pigs apparently hate the pakuni and will attack on sight.

There are some elements from Season One mythology in this episode, so that’s worth pointing out. Holly’s able to keep tabs on her dad through the necklace that her future self gave her in the “Elsewhen” episode.

Enik also makes an appearance, which complicates, but doesn’t disprove my hypothesis that this season can be seen as “lost” episodes from the first season. “Elsewhen” was close to the end of the first season (the fifteenth out of seventeen episodes), so that places “Fair Trade” (and the rest of Season Two that follows) shortly before the Marshalls return home.

That also places this episode in between “The Search” (where Will shames Enik into rescuing Rick and causes Enik to lose his opportunity to go home) and “The Circle” (where Enik and the Marshalls all leave the Land of the Lost). Because I doubt that the writers actually intended for Season Two to be lost episodes (that would require more thinking about continuity than I imagine they gave), it’s surprising that Enik’s attitude towards the Marshalls in “Fair Trade” actually helps bridge “The Search” with “The Circle.” In “Fair Trade,” he’s downright pissy with them, as I’d expect he would be after they ruined his chance of getting home in "The Search." But he’s given a lecture from Will about compassion and relaxes enough to act as a negotiator in getting Rick released by the Sleestaks. That leads nicely into his much friendlier attitude in “The Circle.”

Now this could all get blown out of the water by later Season Two episodes (and I’ve got no idea how to wrestle Season Three into the timeline), but for now it fits.

Episode 4: “One of Our Pylons is Missing”

Cha-Ka discovers a large hole in the ground that mysteriously appears and vanishes at random. When he tells the Marshalls about it (after accidentally losing their picnic basket down the hole), he falls in too and the Marshalls attempt a rescue. Holly tries first and is swallowed by the hole, then Rick.

As Will plans his own effort, Rick and Holly learn that the hole is home to a large, pulsing rock. When they see the rock absorb a coelophysis who disappeared earlier in the episode, Rick deduces that the rock absorbs energy, then distributes it to the Land of the Lost via the pylons. Though the Land of the Lost has a sun, its true energy source is apparently buried deep below it.

Though I don’t understand the science of it, I kind of like this revelation. By implying that the sun is pretty much just for show, it explains how the Land of the Lost’s closed system might be possible. It doesn’t however explain why no one’s run across one of these traps before or how the rock produces enough energy to run the entire Land of the Lost from just the occasional small dinosaur.

Something else that was odd about this one is Will and Holly’s bickering. They hadn’t been doing as much of that this season, but are suddenly back at it as if someone sent writer Bill Keenan a note: “More bickering!” Will’s especially obnoxious about it since his teasing is entirely centered around Holly’s supposed inability to cook, even though she’s been shown cooking in several episodes without any complaints from her brother. It’s lazy writing that disrespects the audience’s intelligence in favor of an easy laugh. There’s another example of that too when Cha-Ka also makes a dig at Holly’s cooking and Holly temporarily forgets how to understand his language so that Rick and Will can have a good laugh before explaining to Holly (and us) what Cha-Ka’s just said.

One interesting thing introduced this episode though is Rick and Will’s task of mapping the Land of the Lost. They’re trying to record the locations of all the pylons and realize that – since they follow a pattern – one of them should be located where the hole is. That’s not so important, but the mapping project is continued in at least one later episode.

Also re-appearing this episode are the small mirrors that the Marshalls hang around their necks for signaling each other. They used them in the first season and Rick uses one here to escape the rock-entity.

Episode 5: “The Test”

Cha-Ka has to pass the pakuni rite of manhood by stealing an allosaurus egg. Holly thinks it’s too dangerous, but Will seems to understand. At least at first. Though he criticizes Holly for not getting how important rites of passage are, he completely disregards the part about Cha-Ka’s needing to complete his alone. Will follows Cha-Ka, hoping to help the little guy out if he needs it. Holly also follows, trusting neither Will nor Cha-Ka. Rick – off doing something else – doesn’t appear in the episode.

Cha-Ka does of course run into trouble. His plan consists of walking straight up to the Lost City where Big Alice the allosaurus lives and rolling one of her eggs away while she’s out. This leads to a really cool, scary scene where Alice stalks Cha-Ka for a bit before attacking him. Fortunately, Will’s there to save the day and he uses his mirror-necklace to reflect sunlight into Alice’s eyes. Cha-Ka still can’t manage to make the egg go where he wants it to, but refuses to give up. He’s absolutely horrible at this whole test thing and should have failed it by all rights. He’s brave; he’s just not that clever. But then, none of the pakuni are, so maybe that’s not a requirement for the test.

Fortunately for Cha-Ka, the egg hatches and he’s able to take part of the shell back to Ta and Sa as his trophy. There’s more politicking and hijinks to get Ta to accept a partial egg, but that’s the gist of it.

Will’s map reappears in this episode. He’s working on it and showing it to Holly when Cha-Ka arrives to tell them about his test.

Episode 6: “Gravity Storm”

Lots of references to other episodes in this one. Gravity goes haywire in the Land of the Lost, causing the Marhalls, the Pakuni, and a triceratops to fall to the ground momentarily, but repeatedly. Remembering the events in the first season episode “Skylons” (when Will and Holly accidentally created a ferocious storm by screwing around inside one of the pylons), Rick wonders if this peculiarity of nature isn’t also connected to the pylons.

As the Marshalls investigate, they notice that the Skylons (the pylons’ floating guardians) are circling over the Mist Marsh. Since the Skylons only seem to appear when the Land of the Lost itself is in danger, Rick deduces that they’re fighting something that’s going on in the Marsh. Naturally thoughts go to Zarn.

Rick and Will head to the Marsh to confront Zarn and learn that they’re right. He’s trying to escape the Land of the Lost by overloading his anti-gravity drive and the Skylons are turning up the Land of the Lost’s gravity to prevent him. Rick’s theory is that you can only leave the Land of the Lost through a time portal and that the Land will destroy itself before allowing someone to leave another way. That’s a pretty sinister theory, but it makes sense and the events that follow seem to support it.

There’s an awesome part where Zarn tires of Rick and says, “Talking to you makes me feel bad. You can talk to Fred.” Then he unleashes a giant, robot dinosaur. It's the best, most delightfully hilarious moment in the history of television.

After dealing with Fred, the Marshalls find Zarn again and remember that strong emotions have a physical affect on him. They channel anger at him, which pains and distracts him enough that he loses control of his gravity drive and accidentally destroys his ship. That puts an end to the Skylons’ retaliation and saves the Land of the Lost and everyone who lives there.

Zarn, defeated, asks the Marshalls to leave him alone. Hopefully that doesn’t last too long though. I still like him a lot.

Episode 7: “The Longest Day”

One of the pylons malfunctions and unfortunately it’s the one that controls the sun’s movement. As the sun holds its position in the sky, the dinosaurs and other native life forms in the Land of the Lost start to go nuts.

Not realizing what’s caused this, Rick sets off to the Lost City to find Enik and consult with him about how to get the sun moving again. Holly asks that he takes one of the “Elsewhen” pendants with him though, and he does.

Rick never finds Enik, but is instead captured by Sleestaks who are dismayed that they can’t begin their ritual, nocturnal hunt for the sacred Altrusian moth. Suspecting that Rick has something to do with the sun, the Sleestaks take him to their Library of Skulls where a strange smoke allows him to communicate telepathically with them. The Library is a trippy place filled with Sleestak skulls that each hold different knowledge. There’s the Index Skull (who tells you which of the other skulls you need to address) and the Skull of History, among others.

The skulls give the Sleestaks a vision of Rick’s going into a pylon and messing around with it. They interpret this as verification that Rick did cause the crisis, but Rick denies having done it. He offers the alternative interpretation that he’s supposed to go into the pylon to fix the problem, but the Sleestaks are skeptical.

Then Rick goes insane. The smoke apparently has an hallucinogenic effect, because he starts to see Will and Holly floating in the air, playing high school football, as cavepeople, English ladies, and some kind of – I don’t know – park ranger? The writers spend way too much time on this, but Rick eventually becomes lucid when he finds himself outside of the Lost City with his kids who have just arrived to attempt a rescue. Rick has no knowledge of how he escaped the Library or how his bonds were cut. Even his knife has gone missing.

Rick remembers the vision though and leads his kids to the pylon where he fixes the sun. As night falls, the Marshalls return home and meet a band of Sleestak hunters. The reptile-people leave them alone though, and also leave behind Rick’s knife. In the spirit of the weirdness that characterizes the rest of the episode, it’s never explained outright, but you get the feeling that the Sleestaks may have finally believed Rick’s interpretation and set him free to fix the pylon.

Halfway through Season Two, I'm pleasantly surprised and still impressed with the show. There are some silly episodes, but there were in Season One as well. The writers are still adding to and explaining the world they've built and - so far - the continuity still works. And as I've already said, I love the inclusion of the Zarn. He's a welcome addition to the dinosaurs and Sleestaks as a villain.


Sleestak said...

The Zarn would appear again in the 1980s in the Peter Gabriel video 'Sledgehammer'.

Michael May said...

Ha! So he does!

Wings1295 said...

Season Two was on par with Season One, for me. Both were good and stuck to the detail and dedication the writers/producers were attempting.

It is Season Three that makes me sad.

Michael May said...

Yeah. It's been years since I've seen any of those episodes, but I'm not optimistic.


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