February 7, 2016

Starman, episode 8 "Peregrine"

Hey, look! A bonus double post this weekend!

Again wandering woodland roads with no money for a hotel, Starman and Scott come across a group of people gathered around an injured falcon, all of whom are too worried about getting attacked to help it. Starman conjures up his animal soothing abilities and gently guides the bird onto his hand, and follows directions to a nearby veterinary clinic run by the harried Casey Flynn, who set the place up to care for local livestock, but is struggling to break even on just a handful of pets. As soon as Starman arrives, all the other animals freak at the sight of the wild falcon on his hand, but he uses a Jedi hand swipe to silence them, impressing Casey enough that she offers him a job helping out around the place. As for Scott, he gets the joyous task of being a babysitter to her toddler son, Joey, who finds no shortage of foodstuffs to hurl at the teen.

The falcon - named Waldo after Scott's childhood pet canary - has a broken wing that'll need a few weeks to mend, and while Starman isn't keen on the bird being placed in a cage alongside other caged and healing pets, he follows Casey's advice and trusts her skills and kindness. Unfortunately, one of her other patients is the dog of local Police Chief Harold Galley, who also warns Casey that he's on the lookout for a federal fugitive on the run with a teenage son. Casey instantly connects the dots and worries over whether or not to turn Starman and Scott in, but quickly comes to trust the man and his passion for Waldo.

Starman follows along as Casey does her usual rounds, which includes swinging by the conservatory run by her boyfriend, Brian Willis. Despite their relationship, they have some major professional contentions as Casey considers Brian's captive breeding program to be cruel to the endangered falcon population, going off on horror stories about how eggs are plucked from nests and birds are forced to breed. Looking around only backs this up for Starman as he sees a falcon in a cage having a leather hood strapped over its eyes. Brian doesn't have a chance to defend himself before Starman lets slip the discovery of Waldo. Brian says he'll come by to take custody of the bird in the morning, leading to another fight with Casey.

It's not long before Agent Fox rolls into town and starts waving photos around. Scott spots him and is all set to bolt, but to his consternation, Starman wants to wait an extra night. After a nightmare of having a falcon hood strapped over his eyes, Starman slips into the clinic and uses his orb to knit Waldo's broken wing, unaware he's being observed by a mystified Casey. She follows Starman out into a field where he sets Waldo loose into the sky. She confronts Starman, then bolts when he tells her the truth, but he catches up with her and convinces her he means no harm. Regardless, them setting Waldo free doesn't fly well when Brian finds out, and he tears into Starman over just how close these falcons came to extinction and all the work it's taken to breed them back into an active community. The eggs aren't stolen, just hatched in a lab because DDT weakened the shells, with the babies returned to the nests soon after, and the hoods are just a classic technique to keep bird calm so they don't panic. As Brian drives off, Starman realizes he made a mistake.

Unfortunately, that's when Chief Galley shows up and arrests both Starman and Scott. He calls in the capture to Fox, but while they're in the cruiser, Galley is suddenly distracted as his dog runs past, having been set free by Casey. As Galley gives chase, Starman uses the orb to break he and Scott free, and they return to the field with Casey where they're soon met by Brian. Using his powers, Starman summons Waldo to him, handing the falcon over to Brian. Casey is finally willing to give the program a chance, and she gives Starman a kiss for the road as he and Scott wander off. Fox is flustered at having only scored on this trip a parking ticket and a story about his prey heading for some white water rapids for rafting. As Starman and Scott head another way, they actually start to wonder if that's a story Fox might overlook, because rafting actually sounds a bit fun.



"He likes you."

"How can you tell."

"I'm an alien. I have these powers."

Of the episodes we've covered so far, this one feels the most like a leftover script from The Fugitive or The Incredible Hulk, as I could easily see David Janssen and Bill Bixby play out many of these scenes. Looking after a wounded bird while forging a relationship with the countryside veterinarian. Finding out she's known all along he's a fugitive as she's gone through her own debate over whether or not to turn this guy in and if he's safe for her and her child to be around. Getting swept into the philosophical debate over how to care for endangered birds. Debating over whether or not it's time to leave, even after seeing the pursing agent arrive in town. Dealing with the well-meaning sheriff just doing his job. Sure, there isn't a place in there for Starman to suddenly Ferrigno out in a rage rampage... unless he heals the falcon by compressing the broken wing until it turns into diamond or something. Which would be cool. Or horrible. The point is, this is an episode that would only need some slight revising to feel at home in those other shows. Hell, I wasn't at all surprised to see writer Geoffrey Fischer had also worked on Highway to Heaven just a couple years earlier.

Which isn't to say there isn't a Starman flair to it. He still doesn't know what basic things are, like veterinarians or white water rafting. There's a hilarious moment where the sheriff tells him to spread his hands on the truck which Hays delivers beautifully as he tries to literally spread his fingers as wide as he can. There's also a mini repeat of the Starman story as Casey Flynn, the Veterinarian, has to deal with this strange new man in her life, a man she knows to be a fugitive. She witnesses his powers, his ability to talk to animals. And ultimately learns the truth when Starman has no choice but to tell her. And it's a truth she initially runs away from, only for him to once again be a little forceful about it. Starman does have a bit of a bad habit of capturing women in order to show he means them no harm. He might want to ease up on that a bit.

Unfortunately, both of these aspects largely leave this a ho-hum, expected outing of an episode, where nothing particularly gripping happens. His bond with the falcon is a bit campy. Him learning about the "horrors" of the breeding center are a bit preachy. While Margaret Klenck has a rustic quality and a wide grin which remind me a lot of Karen Allen, Casey is also a bit flat as a character. Worst of all is David Hayward as Brian Willis. With his intense glare and lanky moustache, he instantly comes off as an unlikable prick and obviously sets himself up as a major antagonist as all Starman can think about is the plight of the falcons. Never mind all the other animals in cages at the vets office, no, it's just this one falcon who must fly free. I'll admit, he dream sequence of Starman being in a cage from a falcon's POV was kinda cool and kooky, but they missed an opportunity by not having a leering Fox be the one to slip the hood over his head. Anyways, we know what to expect in this episode. Even when the sheriff catches up with our heroes, we saw it coming, and when his beloved dog is used to distract him, we saw it coming. I adore the late, great character actor Jason Bernard as the sheriff, so don't take this as a knock against him, but even when this episode entertains, it still falls a bit flat and fails to grip or compel.

That said, what really impressed me is the sudden twist it takes on the debate over the falcons. I'm not going to get into who I think is right or wrong, as it's an issue I have little personal knowledge in so I won't take a stance, but from a narrative perspective, I love how this episode presents things. For half an hour, we get Casey's perspective on it, demonizing the practice of using captive breeding on endangered animals instead of letting them be free in the wild. Starman is understandably swayed by this, and goes along as he keeps casting a challenging eye at Brian. But when he finally takes action and frees Waldo, Brian suddenly gets a great moment where he answers every question and has a valid reason and revelation behind every charge, revealing its a much more complex and nuanced issue than Starman believed and Casey is willing to accept. I like this twist, that it's not taking a black/white look at Brian's practice and calling it evil. Sure, there's improvements that could probably be made, but having Casey work with him to get those implemented would be much more beneficial to the birds than just a hardline stance of opposition.

But again, it's just not all that interesting as the climax amounts to the sheriff goofily running after a dog, a car door popping off, then everyone standing around waiting for a falcon to land on an outstretched glowing orb. You'll notice I haven't had much to say about Fox or Scott in this review. Fox, that's no surprise. He's still a poor foe, barely competent at his under-resourced job, flailing about half-dressed then seething at a car ticket. That's it, that's his entire role this week. Scott, I'm surprised at how superfluous he is this week as he's stuck with babysitting duties. To be fair, the baby is hilarious and adorable, and I burst out laughing at the face he made after squirting ketchup in Scott's textbook. But it's still not a plot. It's just something to keep him busy. Again, this hearkens back to Fugitive/Hulk as this is largely Starman's story, the wanderer coming in, getting caught up in things, then swooping back out. You could write Scott out of the episode entirely and nothing would be lost. There's none of those great reversals on father-son moments. No deep scenes of Starman making use of having someone to springboard observations off of. Scott's just... there.

Ultimately, this is largely a skippable episode for me. It's not bad, not at all. I didn't mind watching it and really enjoyed some bits. But it's just very bland and buy-the-numbers, and just not all that involving. It doesn't really add anything to their journey. Like, there's a bit where Scott challenges his father on wanting to learn more about how to make the Orbs work, but Starman just brushes it off with, "One of these day, you'll maybe know." No, after all you've been through in just a handful of episodes, teaching Scott how to use the orb should be a daily thing we see going on with each episode. That Starman would keep his son so ignorant on a major tool that's sitting right there in his pocket is about as incomprehensible as them continuing to introduce themselves by their actual, federally-flagged names.


The last two episodes were so Scott/Starman-centric that I was reasonably sure we were in for a return to the Highway to Andromeda formula (i.e. Scott and Starman stumble into some local drama and assist with the help of their tiny silver alien balls. Wait, that didn't sound...) and I was right. Sorta. Yeah, the boys stumble into some local drama that's all just a tad too neat (they find an injured, endangered bird and take it to a Veterinarian that just so happens to A.) be beautiful, B.) need an assistant and babysitter, C.) have a room that she's willing to let two complete strangers sleep in and, D.) have a boyfriend[?] who runs a captive breeding program for endangered birds), but the difference here is that all of that is used to teach Starman a lesson, and as a result, give his character some depth.

I freely admit that I spent the bulk of this episode scratching my head at what seemed to be a misplaced attack on captive breeding programs. I certainly don't know much about the subject, but in general, I'd always thought of them as good people doing important and noble work on behalf of endangered species, not something to be scorned. So when the message here seemed to be "Boooooorn freeeeee!" I was a bit miffed. It seemed irresponsibly simplistic. Brian's slightly dickish behavior aside, there was nothing to suggest that these were people to root against. I kept waiting for some signs of animal abuse or to find out Brian was in cahoots with some evil corporation or something, but it just never came, and by the midway point, I was rooting against Starman and Casey. So imagine my surprise when the former discovers that he's wrong. It's a wonderful "Ah-ha!" moment that had me grinning from ear to ear. Starman is intentionally a rather Gary Stu character, and that's fine. But to have him err humanizes him (so to speak). The lesson here is a simple one: admit when you're wrong and try to make amends.

Scott was clearly the focus of the previous episode, but here he steps aside and lets Starman take center stage. It's a nice dynamic and I like that both characters are getting their share of time in the spotlight. Sadly, this isn't one of George Fox's finest hours. I was excited when he showed up early in the episode, and I was hoping for the intrepid Fox we'd seen in "Secrets". Instead, we get Fox in pure Barney Fife mode. This is the George Fox that looks like he has trouble finding his keys in the morning, let alone two alien fugitives. And what's with the colloquial attitude all of a sudden? Fox chats up the local waitresses like he's just an aw-shucks kinda guy. I sincerely wish they'd get a better handle on this character. Cavanaugh is fine, but the writers completely misuse Fox in just about every way imaginable and the show suffers because of it. Guest stars Margaret Klenck, David Heyward, and Jason Bernard fare better. Klenck has an earthy wholesomeness that serves her well here, and Heyward has that Marlboro Man thing going on. Unfortunately, the relationship between Casey and Brian is awkward and poorly defined, and seems to be there purely to connect the plot dots and to keep Starman out of any potentially sticky romantic situations. The standout is Bernard, who really shines in his few scenes as the Chief of Police, adding a nice small town quirk to the character. He's one of those rock solid character actors, like Robert Donner in last week's "One for the Road", who just makes a lot out of a little.

"Peregrine" isn't a great episode, but it's beautifully shot, taking full advantage of the surrounding vistas, and it has a nice twist that I didn't see coming. It's also got some genuinely funny moments that allow Hays to display his deft comedic touch. If it doesn't exactly soar, it's not a wounded duck (or Peregrine) either.

1 comment:

Tony Williams said...

There's a hilarious moment where the sheriff tells him to spread his hands on the truck which Hays delivers beautifully as he tries to literally spread his fingers as wide as he can.

Single best laugh I had all week. It was totally in character, and yet it played to Hays' comedic talents perfectly.

Worst of all is David Hayward as Brian Willis. With his intense glare and lanky moustache, he instantly comes off as an unlikable prick and obviously sets himself up as a major antagonist as all Starman can think about is the plight of the falcons.

What I liked is that he really helped sell the twist. The instant you see him you think "prick", so you start booing and hissing every time he's on screen. That he ends up not being Snidely Whiplash is a nice fake-a-roo.