The picture isn’t pretty when david awakens in a room next to a dead model. Is the Hulk a killer? Loni Anderson guest stars.
Since the pilot episode of The Incredible Hulk we’ve been told that the Hulk could be dangerous, yet we’ve seen him only act on the side of good. He’s been kind to children and beaten up bad guys, but Hulk’s potential to harm innocent people has been a constant thread throughout the series.
This is something taken into great use in the fifth episode of the series: Of Guilt, Models and Murder. We open to see David (Bruce Bixby) just finishing his transformation back into a human from the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). The sound effects, torn clothes and white eyes show us clearly he has been the Hulk, but neither David nor the audience know the circumstances of why he transformed, or why he’s in a very fancy bathroom.
After washing up, David emerges to find a room in shambles, the furniture overturned, and the body of a beautiful young woman lying on the ground. Did Hulk kill her? Of course not, but while the intelligent audience may know this David does not. And thus we get our first true mystery story in The Incredible Hulk.
David thinks back and we see him in flashback just walking the streets when he hears someone yelling for help. Being a good guy he goes to help and sees the beautiful woman in the window of a mansion yelling.
Hulk-Out #1: Trying to get to her, David is attacked by Dobermans. He gets the white eyes, and we see his point of view as he looks to the woman in the window, and see that as he changes his vision is tinted green. We never see Lou in the make-up, because David can’t remember what the Hulk does, but we see the before and after of this scene.
Then we come out of that flashback and into another, a scene from the pilot, David remembering Dr. Elaina Ross saying that as the Hulk is an outgrowth of David Banner the Hulk won’t kill because it’s not in David’s nature to kill.
As he’s on the run already, David leaves the scene and the next day sees on the news that the dead girl was Terri Ann-a model who was the face of Joslin Cosmetics. In a press conference, James Joslin (guest star Jeremy Brett) said that Terri was playing around, calling for help in the window. But the Hulk came, tossed their dogs around like rag dolls, and burst through the door. In a flashback showing Joslin’s story we see Hulk tear up the house, break furniture, growling the whole time. Cutting back to Joslin, he says the Hulk crushed Terri, breaking her back and leaving her dead. Afraid, Joslin says he ran for safety.
I think the telling of this story is very bold. While the audience knows from the beginning that the Hulk didn’t kill this girl, the director chose to have it acted out anyway. Home audience members watched as the Hulk attacked a girl, and that is serious, gripping material. Immediately this episode had me hooked.
This story also ups the ante by introducing National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) very early on. As McGee goes wherever reliable Hulk sightings are reported, he is one of several reporters camped outside Joslin’s mansion. McGee always raises the stakes of an episode as now David has to hide his real face. It’s nice to see McGee acting like a reporter, interacting with other tabloid journalists, acting like paparazzi stalking Joslin. It adds a bit of much needed realism to McGee’s role. But unfortunately McGee does little else, spending much of the episode just sitting outside the mansion, and the rest of it looking for his stolen car. But we’ll get to that.
David is distressed by these reports and we get some great scenes of him conversing with another transient, a girl, discussing the dangers of life on the streets in a scene that really added depth to David’s plight, and when David goes up to the police car I thought he might actually turn himself in. But a flashback of a blond Joslin was with on TV clicks in David’s fuzzy Hulk memories, so he instead goes undercover to take the job of valet for Joslin.
Getting the job, David quickly learns that Joslin’s previous valet was a man named Sanderson, and now Sanderson is blackmailing his former employer.
Also soon after arriving at the mansion David spots the blond girl he saw on TV–someone any 70s TV aficionado would recognize as WKRP in Cincinnati star Loni Anderson. As this episode aired six months before WKRP premiered Anderson was still mostly an unknown at this time, but I cannot separate her from her most famous role.
Here Anderson is playing Sheila Cantrell, Joslin’s newest top model. Meeting David at Joslin’s mansion she tells the new valet how Joslin is a dangerous, viscous man and I feel certain that Anderson will be this episode’s damsel in distress, the next target of Joslin’s rage. But the writers fooled me–she’s not the victim, she’s the true killer!
Even a slip in Sheila’s story didn’t tip me off. She mentions the Hulk had white eyes, a detail not released in the press. But this only gets Sheila to claim Joslin is the murderer, which made David very relieved and me even more certain Loni would need to be rescued by the Hulk before credits rolled.
As Sheila tells her account of that night, we again see the events in flashback. Now an attempted rescuer, the Hulk gets to flex right into the camera, something Ferrigno does best, and I notice they finally got rid of the huge eyebrow appliance. Now Hulk just has bushy eyebrows and a large green wig, the iconic Hulk make-up.
And in this scene Ferrigno has to emote, acting distraught at the death of Terri. It’s a different emotion being played than when Dr. Marks died in the pilot. I’m not entirely sure Ferrigno pulled it off, but it was mercifully short.
Anderson continues to sucker me in with her damsel in distress routine, and David urges her to flee Joslin’s influence. Meanwhile David steals Mr. McGee’s car and goes to find Sanderson at the auto salvage yard he owns. Using McGee’s tape recorder, David hopes Sanderson will tell David something that would clear the Hulk of Terri’s murder. But David’s confab with Sanderson is interrupted by Joslin, Sheila, and Joslin’s goon Elkin. Sheila then makes the villain’s mistake of confessing everything–she killed Terri, not Joslin. Sheila wanted to be Joslin’s cover girl, but Terri wouldn’t back down. So Sheila used her karate skills to kill her…and seeing Loni Anderson try to fake karate movies is the epitome of unintentional humor.
They shove David and Sanderson into a run down car in the salvage lot which they then forlkift into the car crusher, leading us to
Hulk-Out #2: The car is put in the crusher, and Elkin starts the crusher (which has a hysterically placed “Please, no smoking” sign by the controls). The three glamor villains stand to watch David die. But David gets the trademark white eyes and the green animated glow on his face is subdued this time. As Sanderson is in the front seat, and David in the back, Sanderson never sees David transform, but the Hulk tears the roof off the car (and we see all the make-up rubbed of Ferrigno’s hands in the process). Then Hulk uses one single hand to hold off the car crusher, while using his other to throw Sanderson to freedom. Ferrigno does a great job of showing the strain against over three thousand pounds of pressure, really selling us on Hulk’s strength, before he finally has to jump free and attack the baddies.
He crushes Elkin’s gun and tosses him into a pile of cars, but before he can take care of Sheila and Joslin he has to run away–the police found Mr. McGee’s car outside the salvage yard, and came in to investigate. Joslin claims Hulk was about to kill them all, and as Sanderson had fled earlier there was no one to discount the story.
Except for David. Despite his pants being stretched to their limit in his Hulk transformation, Mr. McGee’s tape recorder stayed safe in his pocket, capturing Sheila’s entire confession.
We then cut to several days later, where Mr. McGee is being interviewed about his discovery of Sheila’s taped confession, and saying while the creature may have been cleared for this murder he is still a wanted fugitive. And David, his conscience cleared if not his name, turns from the TV set and walks away into the studio back-lot as The Lonely Man theme plays on.
This is the first really inventive episode The Incredible Hulk has given us. It had two unique elements that elevate it above the standard episode. The first is the mystery of who killed Terri. While a sophisticated audience is pretty sure Hulk wasn’t to blame, David wasn’t so sure. This is an effective reminder why David wants to be rid of his alter ego–he can not be assured of the safety of those around him when the Hulk arrives.
Then the way the story was told, using multiple instances of flashbacks to show the audience what happened that night–first showing it as Joslin told the night to be, then as Sheila said it was, then finally showing it as it really happened–helped to change up the show’s pattern. Usually we get Hulk-Outs about 25 and 55 minutes into the episode, but here the episode started after a Hulk-Out that was then shown throughout the entire episode. It greatly increased the Hulk’s presence in the episode, and gave us an episode about the Hulk, rather than the episode about some other plot that the Hulk just happened upon.
Unfortunately the villains in this episode are stock, and even though Loni Anderson brings name recognition to the role now, but at air time she was literally just another (very) pretty face. The writers did sucker me in thinking she was the next victim when she was the killer, but the fact that she killed Terri through her mastery of karate was farcical.
But no matter how poor the villians’ acting or plot was, this episode easily gets a recommend. I hope to see more creativity in future episodes like what was exhibited here.