Thursday, April 28, 2016

Setting It Right

Yesterday, I ran across a new old-TV channel on the air locally, and saw that one of the shows coming up for the evening was The Lieutenant. This show was EARLY Gene Roddenberry, before he launched Star Trek. It stars Gary Lockwood, who was in the second TV pilot of Trek (ST's FIRST "reboot" - with Captain Kirk instead of Pike), as the bad guy with the silver eyeballs. He also appeared in a little-known sci fi outing called 2001. Look it up, it's tripendicular.

I met Lockwood and Kier Dullea the first year Mr. X and I were dating. They asked us if we were “in The Business” because we were so good looking. Then we met David Carradine, which was a whole 'nother story. Oh the good old days.

Anyway, one of the eps of The Lieutenant on last night was “To Set It Right” – about racial conflict on a Marine base. It includes Dennis Hopper and Nichelle Nichols. This episode was not aired at the time it was made. Too controversial.

Supposedly, this episode’s shutdown was part of the reason Roddenberry conceived of taking the issues and themes he wanted to explore into outer space. So he could get away with it.

Watching the ep now, it almost feels like something that’d have a hard time even today, and not just because of the 50-year-old linguistics. It really is pretty incendiary; I’m fully impressed with how brave a production it was.

Ms. Nichols is terribly young, wonderfully warm, and absolutely, brilliantly intelligent – and, as she remains even today, just a breathtaking beauty. She has some meat in this part, really difficult dialogue and a couple showcase scenes in which her education is on full display. “He’s been a negro a lot longer than you’ve been thinking about his problem.” She gives the would-be liberal white boy some SERIOUS what-for without a shrill note. Without her scenes, what the script has to say would be queasily uncomfortable - dated in the awfullest way - but she provides relevance that lasts and is meaningful *right now*.

I could not find the whole episode, but if you have Get-TV, look up the schedule for "The Lieutenant".

And, if not: here are a few scenes:

This episode does use the N-word, "negro" and "boy" - but not in the casual "well that was how they *talked* back then" way, but in a pointed way, questioning the way they talked, in what was "now" at the time. It also gorgeously deconstructs the White Guy Saves The Day plan, and avoids becoming a Very Special Episode - or making things easy. It looks at the perspectives of multiple minority characters, each of whom has their own voice, and is an actual *character*.  So by the time it does end with a pair of special moments, it feels more earned than a completely pat TV script.

This gets the "save until I delete" treatment on the DVR. And I'll watch more, to be sure.


Donnaeve said...

When I have watched old episodes or movies that carry a racial component, I am usually stunned to the point of actually (yes physically) jerking when the N word is used, or when, for instance, a woman is treated as not having enough brain power to carry out a full/comprehensive sentence.

I grew up in a household where certain words were never, ever used, but *also* Mom wore the pants in our family. :) Dad typically deferred to her decision making, knowing and trusting her judgement. If she felt she ought to discuss something with him, and he put his foot down? She acquiesced. In other words, he treated her like an equal - if anything, she was less so with him.

I would sometimes think, poor Dad.

DLM said...

Yes, my mom was never a subordinate in our house either! Or anywhere. Ever in her life. :)

Nichelle Nichols (later Lt. Uhura in Star Trek) has a role in The Lieutenant that is just brilliant and worth seeing.