Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 10: "The Outsider"

Former child star Mitch Vogel (he had a recurring role on the last seasons of Bonanza and appeared with Tim "Otter" Matheson in Yours, Mine and Ours, the 1968 film where Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball play two people with a thousand children each who marry each other and populate an entire town with their offspring) guests as Wayne Moss, the titular outsider of Isis episode 10, "The Outsider," which aired November 8, 1975.  Wayne is a nature-loving newcomer to the big city and Andrea Thomas is so beside herself with joy at having a brilliant new biology student she's hitting up the school for more science equipment.  All this fuss over one measly guy when there's still Cindy Lee!  Cindy's not to upset about being bumped from the top of the teacher's pet ladder, though.  See, jealousy and sour grapes just aren't in her nature.  She's just too nice, so nice that when Wayne comes under suspicion for stealing the raccoon mascot of a rival school's football team, Cindy follows him to his private spot, a secluded lake area teeming with wildlife.  The two students bond over a mutual love for little critters such as ducks and snowy owls.  Cindy's admiration for the seemingly gentle Wayne is apparent in the starry-eyed way she gazes at him.  At least until Wayne finds out the area's slated for development into a ritzy subdivision.  Then he goes on a destructive rampage, first attacking a sign and, when he can't get the more sober and responsible citizen Cindy to help him vandalize it, atop a bulldozer.

"Jump off!  Jump off!  Get off before you get hurt!" Cindy shouts, but it takes Isis and a giant boulder to save Wayne.  Ms. Thomas and Rick Mason soon join Wayne's environmental crusade, but the real raccoon-nappers have a problem-- the little furry fella is sick as can be.  Only one person can help them.  Former California governor Ronald Reagan.  But they'll settle for Wayne Moss.

This is a rebound to glory episode, kind of heavy handed, but it benefits both from a lack of fake gorillas and from an incredibly intense performance from Vogel.  His Moss is equal parts John Denver, Huckleberry Finn and barely suppressed rage until he spots the sign advertising the real estate development and turns into a complete maniac.    Despite being kid-vid, Isis doesn't shrink from showing this side of him and making it frightening.  At times it's almost as if he wandered in from a show aimed at a more mature audience like The White Shadow or Family, or even a 1970s horror movie about a bullied teen with supernatural powers.  When the kids tease him, his glower is so intimidating you almost expect him to Carrie White-out on them and telepathically command the animals of the forest to emerge and rip everyone to shreds.  But once he realizes he's going about things the wrong way and calms himself, most people end up respecting the lad's passion and affinity for wildlife.  Pretty soon even the construction foreman is offering to delay draining the lake-- a process that involves dynamiting a dam-- until Mason can use his powers of persuasion on Mr. Winstead, a rich land tycoon who loves golf as much as Wayne Moss loves snowy owls.

The runaway bulldozer scene is pretty wild and provides a mid-episode action spike that contrasts nicely with the gentle scenes of Wayne and Cindy Lee holding hands as they wander around the meadows and forests near the lake viewing stock footage of squirrels.  It almost seems at times the out-of-control machine is going to crush Cindy beneath its treads while Wayne protests the controls "are frozen" and "won't work."  Or maybe the problem is a bulldozer is a fairly complex piece of machinery you don't have any business trying to operate, kid!

Interestingly, there isn't any real antagonist in this episode.  It's more a story of ideas.  Even the two oafs who bully Wayne and try to frame him for raccoon-napping quickly repent when the animal gets sick and the foreman folds after just a few words from Wayne.  Meanwhile, Rick Mason must be a silver-tongued devil indeed because it doesn't take him long to convince Winstead to eat the millions of dollars he's already spent on the land and even more he stands to profit from his plans.  The biggest moment of suspense comes when Isis has just a few seconds to stop some lit dynamite from going off, but instead of flying up to it quickly, she takes the long way around by running.  Well, she knows what she's doing.  And wow, what an explosion they have for us, folks!

A recurring element in Isis is whenever a student wanders off, all Thomas and Mason have to do is ask Cindy about his or her habits.  She knows everything there is to know about each and every one of her classmates.  I say classmates because all along I've been assuming she's a student (I love the idea of a Cindy Lee who admires Thomas and Mason and loves her school so passionately she wants to spend every waking hour there, kind of like a girl Max Fischer, but with excellent grades), but I have to admit at times her position at Larkspur High is a little ambiguous.  Supporting my student theory is her response to Thomas's assertion that Wayne knows more about plants and animals than any student she's ever taught:  "The rest of us could learn from him."

Speaking of ambiguity, Mason appears to be somewhat senior to Thomas in this episode.  The DC comic states outright he's her boss, but perhaps the show's Mason is merely assigned to the budget committee or acting as Dr. Barnes's hatchet person here. 

And I wonder about "the pond on the old Wilson property."  It looks an awful lot like the lake where Andy Taylor used to take Opie fishing.  I should ask Cindy Lee.  She'll know.  By the way-- yes, she rocks the overalls again!

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