Monday, November 19, 2012

The Secrets of Isis Episode 14: "Scuba Duba"

Rick Mason is thoroughly disgusted with student Steve and his blatant disregard for scuba diving safety.  Steve lacks the patience and self-control necessary for scuba diving's many pre-dive checks and holds the buddy system in disdain.  This leads to a potentially tragic situation and only Larkspur High's resident goddess-- Cindy Lee-- can save the day.

No, just kidding again.  Of course it's Isis who help Steve learn a valuable lesson.

This is an episode heavy on the Rick Mason, which isn't a bad thing.  He's not like mayonaise, delicious in the proper proportions on a sandwich but ultimately overwhelming and muting even the sharp tang of mustard.  You can dollop Rick Mason on freely and he only brings out the best in your crisp, leafy greens such as lettuce and your thinly sliced deli meats.  I'm thinking turkey, but some of you may prefer ham or even roast beef.  Whatever you like, Rick Mason has you covered.  Brian Cutler gets to stretch a little and show greater range, within the still limited parameters of Isis.  It's not as if we're going to see an episode where Cutler gets to cut loose when Mason loses his fiance to heroin addiction or suffers a crisis of religious faith after witnessing a plane crash.  And that's okay.  We're not here for that.  We've seen flashes of the generally genial Mason's temper but "Scuba Duba" (airing December 6, 1975) shows him consistently frustrated with Steve, a nice enough but somewhat hard-headed guy who just seems determined to alienate the science teacher/scuba club sponsor.

When we first see Steve, he's excited about the possibility of photographing a rare eagle's nest.  His enthusiasm seems genuine and even endearing, and soon he's clambering down the side of a hill to get that snap.  Despite his apparent mountaineering experience and a stern warning from his more sensible friend Nancy (although practically everyone is more sensible than Steve; he makes show off Steve Elwood look like model citizen Cindy Lee), the danger-prone dude relies on a ratty old rope as his "safety" line.  It doesn't take long for him to come to grief, but luckily Andrea Thomas is on the scene with her own camera.  A quick change to Isis and Steve is free to bedevil poor Mr. Mason once more.  Twice more, in fact.

Born in 1953, Eileen "Nancy" Chesis had already been a series regular on The Tom Ewell Show (your guess is as good as mine) and clocked time on Bonanza (twice), but she seems to have made her debut on none other than Lassie.  After a guest appearance on Matt Helm, she apparently left the business, at least in front of the cameras.  Brian "Steve" Byers was a newcomer, having recently made his own debut on The Bob Newhart Show and he stuck it out long enough to play "Male Reporter #1" and "Medic" on two different episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 (although just thinking of a plot where he could have played "Male Reporter-Medic #1" on a single episode might provide fun for those of you stuck on the toilet for long periods... just waiting for something to happen).  Other credits include M*A*S*H, Three's Company, Joanie Loves Chachi and Full House.  Both give the solid, professional performances we've come to expect from Isis guest stars.  They aren't there to blow us away with flash and prove themselves the next Meryl Streep or Al Pacino.  They just have to be believable and sympathetic, and that's just what they do.

The show's underwater climax is quite exciting and the setting is a pleasant change of pace from the mountains and hills used in most episodes.  It has a novelty and a level of difficulty that appeals.  The scuba club appears to be diving in a very large lake or perhaps a cove or inlet, and once under, they encounter all kinds of underwater life, tall fronds of aquatic plants and whatnot that look more native to the ocean.  But what do I know about scuba diving?  My only experience with the sport is having some acquaintances who are PADI-certified.  I've always wanted to get certified myself, but despite my lifelong love for and interest in sharks (I've spent personal time studying them on my own, and fishing for them-- strictly catch-and-release-- off the Florida coast), I also have a strong phobia of them.  Specifically, being devoured by one while scuba diving.  I know fatal shark attacks while diving are at least as rare as fatal lightning strikes, but they're rarer still on land.

Notes--  Mason ultimately proves too nice for his own good.  Or maybe that's for the best for Steve.  It's not as if Steve's endangering anyone but himself, and this is one scare that directly impacts that aspect of the guy's personality; in this case, I truly believe he's learned a life lesson that will stick.  Although one thing that bugged me throughout the episode was the danger to the school's funding.  Kind of cold-blooded, you think?  Well, hear me out.

Mason and Ms. Thomas obviously have made Larkspur High one of the top academically performing schools in the state, which is why they get to have things like a scuba club in the first place.  That equipment is relatively expensive.  So Steve clowns around, gets himself seriously injured, or worse, killed-- then what happens to Rick Mason and Larkspur High?  Lawsuits, recriminations, possible firing, that's what.  Even though Mason has done everything humanly possible to prevent the tragedy, he's the one who will bear the brunt of the blame, and I seriously doubt the school board is willing to go down with him.  End result:  loss of a fine teacher, the collapse of the state's top academic program, the breaking of Dr. Barnes's mighty heart and declining resources left for Ms. Thomas.  Mason's career is on the line here, but so are the futures of many students like Cindy Lee and Nancy.

Sure, we worry (as does Mason) about Steve's young life, but it's also important to think of all the other consequences beyond just the grief counseling needed for his friends and classmates-- not to mention the devastation wrought on the guy's family-- if he'd managed to drown himself under Mason's supervision.  those are other reasons Mason is so angry at Steve, and why you should take some rules very seriously.  There's an Isis episode for you.

I think this way now that I'm an old person, but I probably would've been a complete Steve when I was 16 or 17.  Worse, even.

We also learn at the start of of this episode Andrea Thomas is a much better tennis player than Rick Mason.  I have to say Joanna Cameron looks like someone who knows how to handle a racket and I wish they'd thrown in a scene where she and Brian Cutler actually play a game.  Larkspur High's best science teachers are pretty well-rounded people when you think about it (and you should, rather than try to do something productive with your time).  Not only are they highly intelligent and motivated professional educators, but they're athletic and have their own outside interests--  Mason with his boating, scuba diving and pizza-eating and Thomas with her tennis prowess, trekking, bird-watching and nature photography.

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