March 8, 2012

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 11 – Earthquakes Happen

Incredible Hulk Season 1 Episode 11 – Earthquakes Happen

Hoping to access gamma-ray equipment, David poses as a scientist inspecting a nuclear research facility and becomes trapped in the complex when a devastating earthquake strikes.

In Disguise David flees McGee while Earthquakes Happen
Earthquakes Happen
Season: 1
Episode: 11
Air Date: May 19, 1978
Director: Harvey S. Laidman
Writer: Jim Tisdale, Migdia Chinea-Varela
David’s Alias: Ted Hammond
Dr. Robert Patterson
Hulk-Outs: 2
•  Crushed by a computer bank
during an earthquake
• Burning his hands on a pipe
while the reactor melts down

After last week’s inventive and original episode Life and Death, now we’re back to “Hulk Goes to the Movies!”  First we had Rocky, then Airport ’75, then Duel, and now it’s Earthquake!  Universal Studios owned the movie Earthquake, thus its scenes and general plot were both used liberally in this episode of Hulk.

We have establishing shots of Los Angeles, David (Bill Bixby) has made his way back home to California.  Here we get a rare instance of David performing a grift–he makes a phone call where he pretends to be Ted Hammond, head of the San Thomas Nuclear Research Facility.  He’s calling to delay a visit to the facility by Dr. Robert Patterson (and that’s Dr. Robert Patterson, not to be confused with Robert Pattinson Twi-hards…though I wonder how many hits this blog will get now that I’ve invoked the name of the unkempt one).

Visit delayed, David then impersonates Dr. Patterson.  He goes to great lengths in this, stopping by a local shop claiming to have been robbed and needing new photo identification.  With his fake credentials ready he heads to the San Thomas Nuclear Research Facility pretending to be Dr. Robert Patterson, who is an expert in structural stress analysis and atomic safety systems.

The facility is run by Ted Hammond, but was designed by Dr. Diane Joseph, and the two are at odds over the facility’s safety.  Ted ordered a safety review after he  discovered the lab was built on a fault line.  He thinks Diane is overconfident about the center’s ability to withstand an earthquake.

Of course, David isn’t interested in the nuclear reactor.  He has performed this entire con to gain access to the facility’s Gamma Lab, and we see a flashback to the pilot episode with Dr. Elaina Marks reminding the audience that radiation reversal may rid David of the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) forever.  David hopes his access will give him a moment alone with their gamma machine.

David arrives at the lab we see National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) is there already.  For once Jack isn’t hunting the Hulk, but instead pursuing a story that there is an impending earthquake and the lab is unsafe.   McGee is accusing the lab of running on a skeleton crew to minimize casualties if the reactor goes nuclear.  When David, posing as the safety inspector, arrives McGee tries to chase the supposed safety inspector down for an interview.  It’s another moment of a close call between David and Jack, but David hustles into the lab, his back always to the reporter.

Once at the lab we finally see a hole in David’s scientific knowledge–he’s not up on his structural safety techniques.  He is being guided by Diane, who quickly becomes suspicious when she realizes he’s not doing the study correctly and not answering questions properly.

And David certainly is acting desperate.  His interest in getting to Level 4, which houses the gamma lab, is a bit too obvious.  The moment he’s left alone he tries to use an axe to open a locked door.  When he sees others coming through the other way, he slides a broom (in an awesome broom-cam shot) to prevent the door from closing and makes his way to the lab.

But due to her suspicions, Diane has Patterson’s dossier pulled and finds what she needs–due to an artificial knee Dr. Patterson walks with a cane.  David had no cane, and so they know he’s an impostor.  She alerts lab owner Ted Hammond, and they go to have him arrested, but it’s too late–David has already powered on the gamma lab.

In doing so, David fired up the lab’s nuclear reactor.  He places a chair underneath some ominous looking piece of equipment, preparing to irradiate himself with gamma rays yet again.  It’s a wonderfully ominous scene, aided by the music from his experiments in the pilot.  I was engaged, even though I recognized the silliness of David so quickly gaining access to a gamma gun and immediately ready to shoot himself with it.

Diane finds David and stops the gamma gun from firing with just three seconds to go, and before they can argue any more an earthquake hits.  Footage of massive destruction to Los Angeles landmarks, as seen originally in Earthquake, is shown while the set upon which David and Diane stand shakes.  David tries to get Diane to safety, and a refrigerator-sized computer bank falls upon David.

In the chaos, the gun switches modes from gamma to laser, and a blue laser starts shooting randomly at the ground.  Because, of course, all radiation machines also can weaponize to shoot lasers.  Despite how unlikely the situation, the lasers shoot repeatedly, starting fire and threatening the life of the unconscious Diane.  David cannot get to her to help her, so we have

Hulk-Out #1:  The green glow is back, and we see David’s clothes rip underneath the computer bank.  Then Hulk is there, quickly ripping the gamma/laser machine from the ceiling, and carrying Diane to safety.

Outside the radiation chamber the other center workers react to the danger, some shaken and frozen with fear, others doing their job to try and mitigate the damage to the reactor.  Some workers call to the gamma lab, and Hulk rips the phone and speaker from the wall, right before peeling back the lead door to the lab so he can escape.  But moans from the injured Diane call Hulk back and, taking her hand, he is calmed and the reverse transformation happens.

Again we see the green glow cover Hulk’s body, and a close-up of Bixby in fake eyebrows.  They’re starting to get better at the reverse transformation, and I’m starting to be used to the silly green glow, but I am also comforted in the knowledge that it improves and I won’t have to see it 80 more times.

David quickly dons a lab coat to cover himself and puts his shoes back on.  I’m confused how turning into the Hulk would have his shoes pop off unharmed and not split, but I guess we don’t need a Die Hard situation with barefoot David searching a demolished, glass strewn lab for shoes.

Things go from bad to worse when Ted discovers the nuclear reactor is running, started by David when he fired up the gamma machine.  The turn-offs and emergency shutdown are not working and the cooling units are overheating.  The secondary cooling unit is running, but if it stops there will be a nuclear meltdown!

David and Diane are trapped with Ted, lab worker Turner, and security guard Paul.  Paul’s leg broke during the earthquake, and the five are trapped in the gamma lab due to steam from the reactor blocking their exit.  Carrying Paul, they climb through a corridor full of high voltage wires to make an escape.

As the group make their way to safety, the secondary cooler goes out.  The reactor is going to meltdown, and all personnel are to evacuate.

Much like in Earthquake, the group of survivors trapped in the corridor begin in-fighting, with petrified Turner wanting to attack David for being the one who caused this whole mess.  But David’s medical knowledge plus his being an able-bodied person have Diane and Ted  feeling they need him to escape and the authorities can deal with him after.

In the control room the remaining workers are trying to turn on the emergency valve to cool the reactor.  Without the valve opening, the facility has less than five minutes until meltdown, but the motor for the valve has jammed.  Those above ground can escape, but David’s group is trapped.

There’s a scene of the lab workers above ground arguing about escape, with one saying “there may be people alive down there” and the pragmatist replying “but only for three more minutes!”  The scene is unintentionally humorous due to the cliched nature of the conversation, but it serves to drive home the danger David is facing.

But David isn’t willing to give up.  The group tries to open the valve manually.  It opens some, but the heat from the reactor causes the corridor to flood with steam.  Turner and Ted flee back to the group, while David stays to try and turn the valve.

The pipe burns his hands, so he takes off his shirt to touch the pipe, and I know this means one less torn shirt as we hear the transformation sound.

Hulk-Out #2:  We see no transformation here, but Hulk is there and opens the valve, averting the nuclear meltdown and saving the city.  Then, needing an escape, Hulk punches through a thick cement wall to get away from the steam.  He runs out the corridor to the outside and off into the city.

In the end, McGee questions the scientists about the fake Dr. Patterson, and Ted says he saved them all but may have been killed in the steam of the tunnel.

But David was not killed, he dons a long black coat and tries to hitch a ride to the next nuclear lab as The Lonely Man theme plays on.

This episode is rather rote.  While capitalizing on the disaster movie craze of the 70s it strains credibility to set up the chain of events that can lead to a nuclear meltdown.  I will say the footage from Earthquake! is used to good effect.  Unlike Never Give a Trucker an Even Break, Earthquakes Happen uses the footage to up their production values and create tension, while not aping them for climactic plot points.  While the entire premise of a group of bickering individuals trying to escape a building after an earthquake is the general premise of Earthquake!, this doesn’t feel as plagiarized as the previous episode.

By the same token, Hulk doesn’t really fit in this episode.  While David and his quest for a cure creates the entire series of events, the Hulk-outs are sparse.  Plus, knowing the Hulk can solve any problem through strength, there’s no real sense of danger.  When David can’t turn the valve, it’s an eye-rolling “okay, Hulk, open the valve”.  This, of course, is the case with all Hulk episodes, but if the set-up and action is entertaining I go with it.  As depicted in this episode, I simply don’t think an earthquake is an exciting enough situation for the Hulk to be in.  I honestly found the scenes of David performing his con and trying to break into the lab far more exciting than what happens after the earthquake.

It’s a perfectly average episode, and I like this series so average is pretty good.  This episode gets a weak recommend.

Read my other Incredible Hulk Series Reviews



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