After taking a job in a Texas dock tavern, David becomes immersed in a ruthless world of union politics.
We have now reached the last episode of Season 1 of The Incredible Hulk. While in many series a season-ending cliffhanger is the norm, ensuring viewers are left in suspense over the summer hiatus, Hulk sticks to its episodic structure and ends its first with this standalone story of David (Bill Bixby) in Galveston, Texas.
Hulk-Out #1: We start at the Galveston Harbor Imports docks–Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) is bursting through an aluminum wall and throwing crates at dock workers. Why is he there? What did the workers do to him? We don’t know, but we soon find out.
The next day David, in his trusty tan coat, comes back to the docks where National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) is interviewing a security guard. The guard says that a shipment was being robbed and he was being held down when someone stopped to help. The mysterious good samaritan got beaten for his efforts, but then the Hulk showed up and saved the guard’s life by scaring off the thieves.
McGee is more interested in the Hulk than the robbery, and David shows up at the tavern where he tends bar to give his resignation. Whenever McGee shows up David has to move on.
But tavern worker Sarah guilts David into staying. In the few weeks he’s been in Galveston David has formed a relationship with widow tavern owner Josie (played by Sheila Larken who played Agent Scully’s mother on The X-Files). David’s affections have pulled Josie out of her shell, and when he tries to tell Josie he has to leave the widow begs David to stay.
But fighting for Josie’s attention, if not romantically, is Cliff McConnell (played by Doogie Howser dad James Sikking). Cliff is running for dock union president, a position Josie’s husband Frank last held. Cliff is urging Josie to support him in the upcoming election. Also hounding Josie for the endorsement is Cliff’s union rival Tony Kelly (Jack Kelly, star of Maverick), who Josie believes engineered Frank’s “accident”. Both men believe Josie’s endorsement can determine the election’s victor–Cliff is trying to use sympathy to get Josie’s endorsement, Tony is using intimidation. When Josie is noncommittal she then finds Cliff being beaten by three men, men Cliff claims Tony sent.
Honestly I saw where the wind was blowing–despite the episode telling me through the musical score and Josie’s actions that Cliff was good and Tony was bad, I felt like there was more to this than met the eye. When Josie said Frank was investigating robberies at the dock when he died I realized the mastermind is going to be more suave and less gruff. More, Tony is talking about setting up a fund for dockworkers’ widows, something Josie takes as a bribe but which I think is meant to show Tony really has a heart. Perhaps it’s the actors; Sikking is just exuding slime while Kelly is coming across pretty earnest after his first scene. Plus with Kelly being Bart Maverick I’m just inclined to trust him. So the casting is working against the script, and I saw a mile away that Cliff staged his own beating to get Josie’s endorsement.
While the dock worker union is our “A” plot, the heart of the story is its “B” plot of David and Josie in love. We see them sipping coffee, fishing for the morning breakfast (Josie says fish is wonderful for breakfast if it’s fresh caught–I’ll take her word for it). But in their romantic moment, David again tries to tell Josie he must leave. Her attachment to him is obviously far stronger than his to her, and she cries in his arms when he tires to go. It’s a solid storyline. David stuck around for Josie, despite McGee snooping around. Might he have found love worth staying for?
Unfortunately while that’s the plot that interests me more, the script pushes us back to the dock story. Whoever the mastermind, the face of the criminal operation is Marty Hammond (Ted Markland, Hap from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Hammond makes phone calls with his mysterious boss while arranging for the theft of goods from the dock. His boss says something which obviously means “that interloper David is standing in our way” as in the next scene Hammond is in Josie’s tavern slipping a dead fish into one patron’s picture of beer and blaming David for the joke. A bar fight ensues, complete with the crazy, wacky, rootin, tootin wild west harmonica and banjo music one expects. David is beaten repeatedly.
Hulk-Out #2: David’s eyes are already white when he is thrown out of the bar (literally, he’s thrown through the double-hinged doors). He is quickly forgotten as it seems every patron of Josie’s bar was itching for a fight. People are punching and choking each other, and one eager woman has jumped on a man’s back and started pummeling him with both fists. One rascal is staying out of it, drinking all the beers of the distracted fighters. Then Hulk roars, bringing all the patrons to attention.
He punches down the stockroom doors, and tears through the bar. Before the fight the people of the bar were laughing about McGee’s article on the Hulk, but now he’s there in the flesh!
At first this is played serious, with the ominous score from Joseph Harnell. But soon it devolves back into wacky western territory, the harmonicas are blaring, and Hulk is causing wanton destruction while everyone runs. The last few fighters team up with pool cues and balls to attack the giant, but the comedic music shows Hulk is in no danger. They may attack with pool balls and cues, but Hulk attacks back by throwing the entire pool table at them!
Sarah is the only one remaining in the bar, and says Hulk reminds her of her second husband, “the strong, silent type” and tries to help Hulk escape before the police arrive. She hides Hulk in a back room saying Hulk’s “handy to have around” and, alone in the quiet, Hulk transforms back into David. It’s not shown much but the green glow is still there. Once back to himself, David escapes out the window lest Sarah know Hulk went in and David came out.
After the commercial break we see Josie giving Cliff her endorsement, blaming Tony for the fight that tore up her bar. Despite level heads thinking the bar is a total loss, Josie is resilient and ready to use her savings to open the bar again that week.
David returns and Shelly says what we’ve always thought–she calls Hulk the “Jolly Green Giant”. Ho ho ho! Bixby again plays it tense, asking if anyone is hurt, and literally breathing a sigh of relief when Shelly informs him that no one was. I think about a year into it that we should know Hulk isn’t a killer, but David is still not so sure.
And now David feels he must leave. It is the pattern, one Hulk-out and David starts to leave, two Hulk-outs and he hits the road. He has come to say goodbye to Josie, saying he found a job in New Orleans with an old friend. He has his tan jacket and his bag, and the end-of-show music is playing. But I know the union worker plot is unresolved and the hour isn’t up so there is no way David is going to make it to the town border. But Josie is at least happy David stayed until she was ready to stand on her own two feet, and this time she allows David to go.
On his way out of town, David walks past the docks and sees what I already knew, Cliff is in cahoots with Hammond. More, Hammond caused the accident that killed Frank. David cannot leave with Josie endorsing the man who instigated her husband’s murder, so he rushes back to tell her.
But Josie doesn’t need David. Listening to one of her husband’s favorite operas, she finds he has recorded evidence of Hammond’s role in the dock thefts. Cliff comes to see Josie and hears Frank’s tape. He takes it from her and claims they will take it to the police, but the music tells me he’s planning something far more evil.
David calls Josie’s house (and Josie has a 6-line business phone in her house? Was the prop master out of home phones?) and when Cliff answers David takes Sarah’s car and races to help Josie. A car chase ensues, with David chasing after Cliff and Josie. Of course, Cliff isn’t taking Josie to the police but to Hammond.
Cliff reveals he is over his head in gambling debts and the stock market. Frank wanted his resignation, so he and Hammond killed the union president. Now, to avoid being discovered, they must also kill Frank’s wife. The two criminals tie up Josie and tell one of their cohort ship captains to drop Josie in the middle of the water on their next boyage.
David rescues Josie and I’m happy to see David do some heroics, not Hulk. It’s too rare that Dr. Banner is shown as a competent adult. But before they can escape the ship captain, Cliff, and Hammond come back and give chase. Hammond tries to shoot the two, but Cliff is worried about witnesses. Running, Josie trips over some crates and is knocked out (how does one pass out from a fall? I didn’t see her hit her head), and the two are taken hostage and locked in a crate. Despite the captain’s objections, they begin to load the crate onto the boat.
Hulk-Out #3: David’s yells for help are unheeded so he Hulks-out. With the crate hoisted high in the air to be loaded, Hulk breaks it apart and, holding the unconscious Josie, leaps to safety. On the ground Hulk seems more concerned with Josie’s safety until the boat captain attacks with a stick. Hulk throws him in the water, so we know he’s out for the episode.
More dock workers attack with pipes, and they too are thrown in the water.
Seeing how easily Hulk took out three dock workers, Cliff and Hammond try to escape in Hammond’s pick-up truck. But one handed Hulk holds the truck and prevents it from moving. Then he tears off the door and the truck spins out of control, crashing into two other vehicles.
The police sirens start to get closer, so Hulk runs off and we hear some canned looped lines like “That sucker’s big!” and “What is that thing?”
In the last segment of the show we see that Josie is supporting Tony in the race, Cliff and Hammond have been arrested, and once more Josie and David must say goodbye. She now knows he’s in some sort of trouble and needs to leave, and donning his heavy black coat he walks down the Texas street as The Lonely Man theme plays on.
This was an episode full of promise unfulfilled. I was excited when the episode opened on a Hulk-out and, minutes into the episode, McGee was there investigating. It was a perfect set-up for dramatic tension, with McGee searching for the Hulk, David knowing he has to leave but his love for Josie keeping him in Texas. Had that been the episode I think I would have been happier. I would have preferred the dock worker union plot kept in the background as the impetus for action and David’s eventual departure, with the focus on David’s relationships and motivation to stay or go. Instead the entire focus of the story is on the dock workers, and I’m left yearning for what this episode only hints at. More, the episode is uneven. It goes for deep dramatic moments, then cuts to a wacky wild west bar fight. One more rewrite and a director with a stronger vision could have made this a standout episode of the entire series. As it is, this is still one of the better Hulk episodes of the ten-episode regular part of the first season. Recommend