The Fantastic Journey
6. An Act of Love
Varian is front-and-centre in this episode. While it’s nice to see Martin given something to do, it further calls into question the way the writers are treating the character. This is a guy who showed extrasensory awareness of others’ intentions, now reduced to the state of a dupe. And the pronounced pacifist resolves matters by flipping out and destroying the temple that took his new wife. On the positive side, Sil-El is in maximum hero cat mode: the little darling.
Varian: I feel like our auras are one.
No sooner have the travellers arrived in cave, under a volcanic landscape than Varian is shot with a dart. He doesn’t feel too well and lapses into sleep, during which he dreams of Gwenith (Christina Hart). The next day he happens across her strumming a futuristic lyre and is instantly smitten. Writer Virgil W Vogel appears to have adapted Cupid’s Arrow with a chemically-induced twist.
The how and whys of this science are left unexplored. Unsurprisingly, as it’s a series perquisite for new realms not stand up to too much interrogation. In general, much about this episode doesn’t make sense. Gwenith’s love for Varian seems genuine, so was she dosed with the love potion too? Will Varian stop caring about her eventually when the effects wear off, or is his condition permanent (he’s still feeling it in Funhouse)?
The society worships the volcano god Vetticus, and the inevitable moral of this tale is the danger of blind faith. But it takes some swallowing that, having set straight the volcano-worshipping indigenous primitives, the sophisticated colonists (another extra-planetary people) succumbed to the same beliefs when the volcano started spewing (in anger). Being technologically advance wouldn’t they like, you know, investigate the reasons behind the eruption rather than choosing the most unlikely explanation?
Maera: It is the duty of every priestess to sacrifice her beloved.
To placate the irascible deity, the husband of every priestess must be sacrificed the day after his wedding night (so at least he gets one good shag out of the arrangement). It seems to have been working so far, so why jinx it? It’s all kept very secret, however (prospective hubbies wouldn’t be queuing up if they knew what was in store). Even Gwenith doesn’t know until Maera tells her. But then, she doesn’t know Maera’s her mum until she lets on either. How does that work? Maera reassures her that it’s all fine; her dad met the same fate.
To be fair to Gwenith, she’s reluctant to lose Varian to the volcano but goes along with it all for as long as she can. This episode seems to have blown its budget on the temple set (with a fiery floor in the middle). As a result, they can only afford to adorn Varian with a splendid bed sheet, tied around his neck, during the marriage ceremony.
From here the episode gets about as racy as this series is able. Gwenith’s a virgin and Varian will enact the “rites of unification” during their night of carnal pleasure. Frankie Howerd would have had a field day.
One might read into Varian’s plight the subtext that each man’s life is over once he enters into wedlock; no more freedom, just the slow lingering death of marital imprisonment. Not that Varian has any doubts; when Gwenith jumps into the flames in Varian’s place he goes apeshit, razing the temple with his tuning fork (the symbol of his phallic potency, signalling his masculine superiority over this group?) I half expected his fork to give out, since he’s using it for destructive purposes. It’s all very un-Varian, so that love dart must have been strong stuff.
A rock fall traps the rest of the travellers in a cave early on. Fortunately, Sil-El, who was keeping tabs on Varian when he went to find Gwenith, meows them in the direction of an escape route. Later on, the felicitous feline leads Scotty to the temple where Varian is about to be sacrificed. What a courageous kitty!
Scott isn’t best pleased at the outset when he Varian informs him that he will be remaining with Gwenith, but he mans up and accepts it. He still can’t help being a bit of a wet blanket, though; the group have already left Varian to a brief life of bliss when Scott decides to go back and give him a marriage gift. Secretly, he must have been delighted when Varian’s missus leapt to her death; his surrogate dad’s back!
Willaway: Volcanoes do not make deals!
As usual, Willaway gets to impart the moral of the tale. This episode is generally regarded as pro-atheism, but it would probably be better categorised as anti-religious. It’s the organised power structure of the cult that leads to Gwenith’s death. As with The Wicker Man a few years earlier, this cult roots its beliefs in the untameable natural world. They believe Veddicus can be placated through human sacrifice (but unlike The Wicker Man they do not require the sacrifice of a virgin).
Varian screams “There’s no god”, an opposing viewpoint to Edward Woodward’s in the film; the latter finds final solace in his Christian beliefs. Although they travel perpetually through a New-Agey realm, the travellers (aside from the more mystical Liana) are characterised by their scientific outlook.
Willaway: Take your people away from here. Found a new colony elsewhere and leave superstition behind.
There’s nothing very subtle or insightful about this familiar iteration of the primitive tribe story. The image of Veddicus is that of a horned demon, but his most disturbing quality is that he appears to have Pedigree Chum stuffed in his mouth and eyeholes. It might have been more interesting to show a cynically manipulating leader (like Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man) but this lot all seem to be boringly devout. Zaros (Jonathan Goldsmith) has a prevailing horn for Gwenith (“Tonight he will possess what I most want”), but he seems no less of a believer than the others. Joe Dante regular Belinda Balaski also features in this episode, as Aria.
Scott: I’m sorry, Varian.
Varian: It’s all right. I have you. I’ve got a memory. Most people don’t even have that much.
It’s really Martin’s performance that carries this one through its frequent bumpy patches. He brings complete conviction to Varian’s plight, even though he must be aware that the character has diverged significantly from his original model. But for all the destruction on display, here’s another episode where the powers-that-be are encouraged to follow a new path rather than being overthrown (I suppose you could argue that their god is deposed). With pursuit of a better path resting on the emotive issue of the loss of a daughter, who’s to say they will follow Willaway’s advice?