It’s been four years since I wrote an article entitled Bionic Blunder – Where are those Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman DVDs? And just over a year since that question was answered by Universal Television with the release of wonderful box sets of both of those series. While I have not yet reviewed that 40-disc SMDM set ($240 is still a bit steep for that), I have reviewed Season 1 and Season 2 of The Bionic Woman, and am now here to cap it off with my thoughts on Season 3.
In 1977, after two successful seasons of The Bionic Woman, the execs at ABC decided that the show’s legs, bionic though they were, had grown a bit wobbly, and dropped the series from its schedule – this despite the fact that it was still in the top fifteen of the Nielson ratings. In an unheard of move, NBC stepped up and offered to pick up The Bionic Woman for a third season.
And thus marked the first time that a series and its spinoff were on two different networks, with supporting characters like Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) and Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks) bouncing back and forth between shows. While this was handled easily, it was rather irksome that the character of Steve Austin was only mentioned once in the first episode, and thereafter never mentioned again. To avoid further complications, the producers tried to give Jaime different love interests throughout this final season, as if Steve Austin had never existed. As a boy watching during this period (nursing a serious crush on Lindsay Wagner), I found this disturbing. Yes, I knew about the network conflicts, but saw no reason why that should dictate story. Also, the number of potential boyfriends that Jaime kisses on and cuddles up to here seems out of character. This problem was, to a great extent, “solved” with the introduction of Christopher Stone as Chris Williams, but still … to expect audiences to warm to idea of a Steveless Jaime simply because of network issues was a burden the show could not shake. SMDM suffered too – both shows were canceled in the spring of 1978.
Series creator and producer Kenneth Johnson was absent for this final season as he already had his hands full producing The Incredible Hulk. While his underlings did the best job they could, Johnson’s absence is palpable. Other season 3 changes include: Jaime is never seen teaching school anymore, and Steve’s parents, who own the ranch where Jaime lives in that awesome carriage house, are never seen or mentioned. While these don’t seem like major changes, the tone of the series was quite different.
Season 3 of The Bionic Woman starts off a bit silly with a two-part episode called The Bionic Dog. As always, the charisma of series star Lindsay Wagner makes all the difference. Maximillian, the aforementioned German Shepherd with the bionic legs and jaw, was supposed to get a series of his own but, after an episode entitled Max, in which Lindsay Wagner barely appeared at all, smarter minds prevailed. (I must admit, I laughed pretty hard during the opening minutes of The Bionic Dog Part 2, when, after recapping the events of Part 1, Richard Anderson says, “And now the conclusion of The Bionic Dog on The Bionic Woman.” Oh, what Beavis and Butthead would have had to say about THAT … uh, huh huh huh.)
While this was not a terrible way to open the third season, things did pick up a bit with another two-parter: Fembots in Las Vegas. The title says it all.
Other notable episodes from this season include –
Motorcycle Boogie, in which Jaime enlists the aid of Evel Knievel (playing himself – see the photo below) to get her out of West Germany … though she refuses to believe that he is who he claims to be.
The Pyramid – Jaime and Chris are trapped in an underground pyramid with an alien sentinel. (Given the alien/ Mayan overtones, there is a bit of a Crystal Skull vibe here … 30 years before that Indiana Jones sequel.)
Sanctuary Earth, where 14-year-old Helen Hunt plays visiting alien Princess Zorla, who is being pursued by intergalactic assassins who look uncannily like the Hagar twins from Hee Haw.
Given that this season was made in late 1977 and early 1978, the influence of Star Wars can certainly be felt – especially with those last two aforementioned episodes.
This five disc set breaks down like this (episode descriptions are jacket copy):
The Bionic Dog
When Jaime learns of another bionic prototype – a German Shepherd named Max – who”s suffering from many of the same setbacks she and Steve Austin experienced, she makes it her mission to rehabilitate the animal.
The Bionic Dog Part II
Jaime and Max take refuge with a former flame of hers, forest ranger Roger Grette, but it”s Max who puts his life on the line to save the woods from an overwhelming threat.
Fembots in Las Vegas
While Jaime and Oscar try to negotiate with a reclusive and terminally ill scientist over the fate of an energy ray weapon, the son of the Fembot”s creator, Carl Franklin, remotely activates the killer female robots.
Fembots in Las Vegas Part II
After launching the weapon into Earth”s orbit, Franklin demands that Washington turn over Jaime, Oscar and Dr. Rudy Wells to him as ransom for not destroying the planet.
Jaime”s mission to protect OSI computer expert Billy Cole from a deadly foreign power is complicated by the daredevil”s overwhelming passion to become a rodeo champion.
Jaime”s mission in Africa to stop a potentially rigged election takes an unusual twist when she hires Harry Walker and his WWII tank to help her traverse through treacherous jungle terrain.
While on the trail of a stolen computer tape in West Germany, Jaime relies on the assistance of Evel Knievel to get her across the border … even though she steadfastly refuses to believe he is whom he claims.
Someone”s playing dirty at OSI when Jaime overhears industry secrets spilled, but Oscar refuses to believe it has anything to do with his trusted secretary, Peggy.
Escape to Love
Romance complicates rescue when Jaime is assigned to help Dr. Arlo Kelso and his son, Sandor get across the Iron Curtain, and Sandor begins to develop feelings for his gorgeous rescuer.
Everything quickly goes to the dogs when a bionic check-up incapacitates Jaime and Max is kidnapped by opportunistic foreign agents.
Over the Hill Spy
Jaime and retired OSI agent Terrence Quinn reluctantly team up to catch Oscar”s long-time Soviet nemesis, Vilmos Vanovic, in a heart-racing international game of cat- and-mouse.
All for One
It”s back to school for Jaime when she enrolls as a college student to find out who has been stealing thousands of dollars by connecting the campus computer into the OSI system.
Jaime finds herself trapped in an underground pyramid with an alien sentinel who claims that a ship from his world is headed to Earth … and that the consequences will not be good for mankind.
Man”s best friend becomes especially important to Jaime when she and a Russian diplomat are poisoned and Max must find the doctor who can provide the antidote and save her life.
The Martians Are Coming, The Martians Are Coming
When Oscar sees what appears to be a U.F.O. abduct a scientist who is working on a top-secret project, Jaime sets out to find the man and has her own encounter with the spacecraft.
Jaime is first on the scene when a satellite crashes into a lake, and she meets a girl who claims to be a princess from the planet Zorla and says that she is being pursued by trackers from another planet.
A doctor isolates a sound frequency that makes sharks attack anything he wants, and Jaime becomes the first human test subject when she joins a diving team that is deploying a submarine detection system.
Which One is Jaime?
Oscar learns that Jaime is under some kind of investigation and takes her to OSI headquarters for protection, but then the culprits mistake Callahan, who is dog- sitting Max, for Jaime and kidnap her.
Out of Body
During a break-in at the OSI labs, a Native American is electrocuted and falls into a coma, but his spirit remains intact and desperately tries to save Jaime from being destroyed by the most deadly bomb ever created.
Long Live the King
Posing as the social secretary for a Middle Eastern king who is visiting New York, Jaime works to stop an assassination plot … but soon finds herself in the cross hairs.
On a mission to find stolen currency plates, Jaime assumes the identity of a crook known as Blondie Malone and heads to Central America with a convicted criminal who is working with OSI in the hopes of getting paroled.
On the Run
Terrified of becoming more machine than human, Jaime retires from OSI, but Oscar”s superiors move to put her in a special compound because they believe her bionics are government property and that she knows too much confidential information.
(One item of interest: All for One, The Pyramid, and Rancho Outcast all feature actor and stuntman Henry Kingi, whom Lindsay Wagner would be married to from 1981 to 1984.)
The Bonus Features here are okay, but nothing to cheer about. Other than some audio commentaries on select episodes by various writers and directors (one of whom is Steven E. de Souza, who would go onto cowrite the scripts for 48 Hrs. and Die Hard 1& 2), there is a photo gallery, a podcast, and a Q&A with Lindsay Wagner, which, while interesting, plays like leftovers from the previous two featurettes on the Season 1 and Season 2 box sets. Oh, well … considering how long we have waited for these shows (35 years!), this is still a wonderful package.
While I would love to review the three bionic reunion movies that were made in the late 80s and early 90s, those are not available in this Season 3 set. They ARE available in that 40-disc SMDM box, which I promise I will get to as soon as the price drops. Season One of SMDM was released individually last year at around $30 but, as I believe there are hours of bonus content available in that big set that may not be released on the stand alones, I think I will hold off.
For all its story problems, network troubles, and 1970s cheese, this third season of The Bionic Woman (Amazon $19.99) shines for the exact same reason that the first two did: it stars Lindsay Wagner. While she is still quite lovely, this series captured her in her late 20s, in all of her tall, leggy, beautifully tomboyish glory. For some reason, that long, straight, dark blonde hair, parted in the middle and worn loose, just killed me when I was a boy. Rewatching these episodes decades later … the effect hasn’t changed. No amount of CGI or digital trickery can match what lovely Lindsay did during the three years she got to play Jaime Sommers and the world fell in love with her.
But if you are a fan of this show, you already knew that.
SEASON 3 GRADE: B
BONUS CONTENT: B-