David becomes friends with a pregnant woman, and together they uncover a chilling plot to steal infants for use in DNA experimentation.
This episode begins with David (Bill Bixby), wearing his tan jacket, at the end of a hitched ride. He is in Oregon, headed to Marysville where Dr. Stan Rhodes (Andrew Robinson) is conducting DNA experiments.
But getting out of the truck sitting there, as if waiting for him, is a very pregnant woman, Carrie Taylor, also looking to hitch a ride to town. David is concerned as she looks ready to go into labor at any time, but she says she has no choice. David flags them both a ride and they drive into Marysville.
Then something very odd happened. Up on the screen flashed the text ALL CHARACTERS, ORGANIZATIONS, AND EVENTS IN THIS STORY ARE FICTIONAL. While this disclaimer is often found at the end credits of a movie or show, to have them so bold at the start is odd. It usually means a fictional story is being told inspired by, or loosely based on, real events in the news. I see this warning at the start of several episodes of Law & Order but never before on Hulk, so I am immediately on guard to see what in this episode could have been considered slanderous to the point of needing this title.
I think, however, that this was there because television viewers in the 70’s weren’t as sophisticated as today’s audiences. I recall reading reports that people in the early 80s would go to Pontiac dealerships in the hopes of buying a Knight Industries Two-Thousand. Likely producers feared that this episode, with it’s all-too-real topic of illegal baby sales, could cause outrage among television viewers if they weren’t told outright “Hey, this is fake.” (Of course, those same viewers must somehow live with the belief The Incredible Hulk is a documentary. Just think about that.)
The title is then followed by another: MARYSVILLE, OREGON. While I appreciate the show giving me a geographical location, it’s usually either cagey about the locale (a’la Death in the Family) or it states it through events and dialogue. Nothing in this episode seems to require such specifics, so it struck me as odd.
We find that Carrie is a single mother, and is going to a company called Matrix who will pay her a good sum of money for her baby, then sell the child to people who can afford to give it a better home.
As David accompanies Carrie to Matrix he gives a rare bit of personal information, talking about how he grew up with a younger sister–an interesting detail that will come into play later in the series.
David then goes to meet Dr. Rhodes, and I immediately recognize the actor as Andrew Robinson. I know him best as Larry, Kirsty’s father in Hellraiser, though he may be more famous for being Garek in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In the late 70’s and 80’s he had a run of television guest appearances, and I always like seeing a familiar face guest-starring in a TV show. That said, at this point he’d best be known for a villainous role in Dirty Harry so I also immediately distrusted Dr. Rhodes and his very large perm.
Rhodes is excited to see David as he has been anxious for human volunteers for his DNA experiments. Using an X-Ray machine Rhodes plans to “eliminate an extra adenine thymine link” in David’s DNA (which has a theoretical connection with excessive aggression). This involves injecting a mutant cell into David’s brain–a very dangerous, untested procedure that Rhodes can’t even do legally. He can’t get funding for his experiments and tells David he’s up to his ears in hock self-funding the research, but the benefit of possibly curing birth defects in the womb is worth it.
There’s a lot of technobabble here involving X-Rays, DNA, the thyroid, and more. Good to see Robinson getting early practice at that Trek hallmark practice.
But then Rhodes is called into an emergency–a woman was brought in shortly after giving birth. She is delirious and bleeding but keeps saying “Matrix took my baby.” This puts David on alert, so he goes back to where he dropped off Carrie and the voice on the speaker claims to have no knowledge of Carrie Taylor.
Undeterred, David climbs the cement wall surrounding the complex, and finds Carrie walking in the back yard in the early stages of labor. David tries to talk the impoverished woman out of selling her baby, asking her if it’s what “she really wants” and Carrie starts to have second thoughts. David continues to preach about state-funded programs that can help Carriecare for the child, and I really wonder what business it is of David’s. When Carrie is still unsure, David threatens to go to the police to turn in the illegal baby-selling ring.
But then the other shoe drops–Dr. Rhodes shows up at Matrix. He is their on-staff obstetrician, delivering the babies in exchange for Matrix funding his DNA experiments. He confronts Matrix owner Ellen about the girl who was found on the streets, but then Rhodes and Ellen see David in the yard with Carrie.
Ellen is suspicious. David and Carrie contacted Matrix and Rhodes about the same time, and seem to know each other. She fears they may be cops or, worse, planning to blackmail Matrix. Ellen then tries to convince Rhodes to kill David during the experiment later that day.
This scene between Ellen and Rhodes is shot with a hand-held camera, and some really extreme camera motions and angles. The camera doesn’t zoom in during the conversation, the cameraman walks closer and closer–camera wobbling all the way. It ends with an up-the-nose shot of the two villains. I admire any attempt by the show to be artistic but this was so poorly done that I can’t entirely support it. But later in the episode this would be forgiven.
More, while the topic of the conversation is murder, it’s the most uninteresting murder plot ever. The entire conversation is about getting David to sign a release form so that Rhodes can legally kill him during the experiment. I really hope that’s not how medical releases work, otherwise I’m never getting a tooth pulled again! It was already said Rhodes was making David sign a form for a completely different procedure–I’m pretty sure Rhodes would lose his medical license for causing a death while performing illegal experiments, no matter what forms were signed.
Nonetheless, the next scene has David reading aloud the agreement he is to sign that releases Rhodes and the hospital from liability during the experiment. As David signs a fake name, David Bernard, the questions about how much protection the form provides Rhodes multiply.
But Rhodes is committed to kill David now. He straps David to a medical desk, and injects David with a poison. David starts to panic, knowing the needle is too short, the injection is too low, and the injection is in the wrong place. I figure he’ll Hulk-out before he can be injected, but I am wrong! Rhodes injects David, saying he’s sorry but it’s what he has to do to stop David from blackmailing Matrix. Rhodes leaves David on the table to die, and only then do we get
Hulk-Out #1: As David is strapped to a medical table this transformation must be different–and it’s different for the better. We do still get that animated green glow on David’s face, but then we have a quick-cut scene of clothes tearing, Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) breaking his restraints as well as his clothes, and he is free! The score turns to a style inspired by monster movies as we see Hulk rise from the table in silhouette, shot backlit through the frosted glass window to the lab. It’s actually an artful scene, and I’m realizing director Jeffrey Hayden has a strong visual style, sometimes to better effect than others.
Hulk breaks through the glass and we get to see Ferrigno act. He is stumbling and lethargic. Shots from the Hulk’s point-of-view show his vision fuzzy–the poison is rendering even the Hulk powerless! He stumbles, and while Ferrigno’s facial expression is blank, his squinting and body language do sell the scene effectively.
The scene is played mostly right, showing people afraid of Hulk and Hulk stumbling around, but it goes one step too far when Hulk stumbles onto an elevator with an old man on a walker. The old man’s reactions can only be described as intentionally comedic, and it begins to rob the scene of its tension.
Hulk tears through the side of the elevator and jumps out. Sadly the shot of Hulk jumping is a bit silly, with Ferrigno obviously suspended on a cable doing some kind of hand jive motion–it looks like he’s dancing, not falling. But the shot is brief, and I can forgive it in the scope of things. Despite the old man and the dance-fall, the score and the drama are so good that I am with it.
Hulk breaks through a brick wall to escape the hospital, and then wanders into a grove of trees where the poison’s effects finally overtake the green giant. He closes his eyes and starts to pass out, and the green glow covers his face as he changes back to David in the most artful reverse transformation we’ve seen yet. While there’s a bit of the green glow on Hulk’s face, mostly we see Hulk’s point-of-view go bright, then restore back to David’s point-of-view. A close-up of partially-transformed David’s face is actually grotesque, not comedic like the large eyebrows on Bixby have been in the past.
Human again, David is still drugged and barely able to stand. We get more point-of-view shots seeing that David’s vision is blurred and, I hate to say it, but I really think Ferrigno did a better job acting drugged than Bixby. Bixby’s face has a wide-mouthed expression, and it comes across as a bit silly.
But as David stumbles, in the hospital we see something shockingly realistic–another doctor is checking up on the mystery patient in the hospital and realizes the medicine Rhodes prescribed is improper. In an ER it’s common for doctors to change shifts and double-check each other’s work. The patient spills the beans on Matrix and Rhodes’ connection with the organization, so the covering physician calls the police. I am stunned–this is the most realistic downfall for a villain in any Hulk episode to date.
Rhodes has returned to Matrix to give birth to Carrie’s baby, and Ellen and Rhodes plan to give Carrie the same poison they did David after she gives birth. On the hospital table, Carrie reveals she doesn’t want to give up the baby, that she can keep him with state programs and child support, that they’ll make it so long as she loves her baby, but Ellen and Rhodes continue with their procedure. Of course, their procedure is just giving birth, which Carrie cannot stop, so her objections seem ill-timed. It would be simple for Ellen or Rhodes to lie and say “okay, you can keep your baby” and calm the panicking mother-to-be, but they are evasive. They’ll poison the woman but not lie to her? Odd ethics.
As they prepare for the birth, David makes his way to Matrix. Even drugged, his concern for Carrie has given him the drive to stumble to the address, somehow pull himself over the wall, and break into the complex. He tries to go up a flight of stairs, but stumbles and falls down, leading to
Hulk-Out #2: Drugged Hulk claws his way up the stairs, and then is finally back to full strength. He triumphantly breaks through the door where Rhodes and Ellen have just finished delivering Carrie’s baby. Hulk grabs the doctor and his assistant and throws Rhodes down the same stairs that David recently fell on. The assist gets dropped off a second story landing.
But in the delivery room, Ellen is still trying to steal the child. She puts the baby in a cart and tries to roll it out of the room, but the Hulk is waiting. I expect a push-and-pull, but the Hulk is so frightening Ellen just runs off and leaves the baby. She runs outside, where the police are waiting, and I guess a Hulk is more frightening than prison as Ellen lets the cops in so they can stop the Hulk.
Hulk picks up the baby and gives it a smile that is actually incredibly cute, then hands the baby back to her mother. The police barge in, guns pointed at Hulk, but as Hulk is by the mother they cannot shoot.
Then we get a fairly amusing scene as the police order Hulk to go to a wall, turn and face it, and finally put his hands against the wall. Of course, as soon as I see Hulk near a wall I know that wall will soon be in need of repair. But to have the cops say “Put your hands against the wall” and Hulk does just that, knocking the wall down in the process, is subtle humor that I can appreciate. More, it’s another great shot. The Hulk is lit from one direction in such a way to create a dark shadow behind him, right on the wall that will be his escape.
The cops are so stunned by the wall being broken that they just stand there while Hulk leaps from the second-story balcony to the yard and runs off to freedom.
After the last commercial break we see David, perfectly healed, in the hospital with Carrie and her happy, healthy baby. She says if the baby was a boy she’d name it David for all the help David offered. A nurse radios that a reporter named McGee wants to talk to Carrie about the Hulk, and that’s David’s cue to leave.
As he leaves, Carrie asks David if his reason for coming to the hospital was a success. David gives a wan smile and says “No, but this time it’s for the better” and we realize this man truly is willing to sacrifice his own happiness in the protection of others.
In one last scene we see David and McGee in the same hallway, and David has to duck to use a water fountain, narrowly hiding his face from the reporter’s eyes. Another near miss, David again hits the highway, thumb out for a ride, as The Lonely Man theme plays on.
This episode has strong writing and strong visuals. From never before seen ways to attack the Hulk, not knowing if a poison can kill the beast, to a realistic downfall for Matrix, I am impressed with the script for Life and Death. David’s role in the events don’t matter on a large scale; had David never come Ellen and Rhodes still would have been arrested due to the escaped woman. But David and Hulk’s actions prevent Matrix from taking Carrie’s baby, a clear win. Episode screenwriter James D. Parriott is also listed in the credits as the Supervising Producer of the series and it’s clear from this script he has a great handle on Hulk and what makes the series work, even only ten episodes into the series. I am not entirely sure it’s David’s place to convince impoverished single women to not give their babies up for adoption, I think it’s a very personal decision David should have stayed out of, but it’s a minor quibble.
I give this episode a solid recommend.