This morning I watched "The Dark Hours" (7.16) and it was the biggest MANNIX episode I've ever seen. "Biggest" because I watched it on our new 60" TV. Our previous set was a 55", so this was noticeably bigger.
Right away our hero is removed from action by being conked on the head, shot and dumped for dead. Then, after his miraculous recovery (I keep thinking of THE PRINCESS BRIDE and the line, "He was only *mostly* dead!"), we're treated to the backstory in Joe's memories while Malcolm tries to figure out what's going on.
Joe gets another house guest who disappears. (His accommodations must not be all that special!)
A decent episode, except for the fact that they had Joe trying to speak through the oxygen mask in the hospital scenes. I suppose it was more authentic, but it was annoying to the viewer.
60"? Geez, awhile ago I broke down and finally bought a 40" TV and a newer BD player. The combination of those two resulted in my seeing all sorts of things on those DVDs that I never saw before, to the point that I now need to watch the entire series just to see things I missed before. Virtually every episode I have re-watched so far has resulted in my seeing more detail in the acting that made me fall in love with the series all over again. I just love the way MC and GF embodied those characters, to the point of minute facial expressions, including when scenes were abruptly cut away and when they were in the background, to body movements such as hand gestures that conveyed meaning. Mannix is a very visual series because it is about a way of being more than results -- it is about life as lived according to a certain heroic motif more than it is about outcomes. For that reason, seeing the way those characters respond to situations means so much more than plot. It makes me wonder what it was like to watch it on, what was it, perhaps a 9" TV most of the time during its first run (albeit in color). I loved the series anyway -- it seems to scale to small and large sizes, and continue to hold surprises -- amazing.
As for "The Dark Hours" -- well, my impression is a bit different.
After years of seeing Joe in all kinds of personal peril, near death, struggling, shot, drugged, and abandoned, viewers who allowed those characters to crawl inside their heads, and who enjoyed the active imagination, had to wonder what it might look like if Joe Mannix actually wound up dead. In the 7th year of the series, loyal viewers got to see what that might look like, at least from Art Malcolm's perspective. It stops just short -- but just short -- of seeing Peggy's. But, we sort of saw that in "Climb a Deadly Mountain" and also a bit in "The Gang's All Here." And, true to form in year after year, the producers had a common theme they seemed to explore, so that we saw that same theme from different vantage points in different episodes. In season 7, Joe Mannix gets closer to death, and, in "The Dark Hours" just touches upon it.
But, notice how they waited until the 7th year of the series to do that. If they had done it earlier, it would not have meant nearly as much to loyal fans.
True to Mannix form, something that seems super-heroic, is done in tasteful, artful form -- and this is one episode that I believe could not be pulled off in any other series. Face it, this theme of "rising from the dead" -- it is a pretty big one. But, it is not strictly religious, by any means. Myth is filled with this theme, in all sorts of forms, such as the phoenix, rising from the ashes. There is a good reason for this theme being so fundamental. Throughout our lives, we experience all sorts of mini-deaths. The best people among us have the courage to change in some pretty fundamental ways, to see things we never saw before, and become different people, dying to the one we were before. The courage to face this is behind every powerful hero motif, it is the most fundamental expression of true courage.
So, this powerful scene, Joe Mannix's near death, takes up only a few minutes of the opening of the episode. It is over so quickly. Then, we have the powerful scene with Art and Peggy by the hospital bed (note on that big screen how Peggy takes Joe's hand -- sweet!) and we see the wonderful, tortured look on Peggy's face.
Nothing takes very long here -- it is not dragged out. That makes it all the more powerful.
What in the world could be bigger than this in this episode??? What is left to come???
For the rest of the episode, we have MC acting in the way few actors can, virtually without words, with only his eyes to establish his level of anguish and confusion.
And, then he takes the heroic motif, leaving himself vulnerable to death, to be found only by accident, followed by the struggle to survive, to the next level. Even while he is struggling to survive, he places himself, his own life, second to trying to figure out what put him there, and then second again to trying to help someone else, doing so even while he is barely alive.
He places his life second to helping someone else, even when he has very little to hang onto. And, he does so in more than just a moment of self-sacrifice, but over at least a full day, maybe more.
This episode, for me, is so powerful that I do not watch it very often -- I save it for when I really need it. I do the same thing with a collection of other episodes as well, but this one is way, way up there.
The powerful themes in this kind of episode -- they simply cannot be done in a host of other so-called heroic motifs -- and the list is so long, I won't make it. Just insert your favorite hero (include the motif as well as the actor) in this blank line _____________.
Now, in order to be fair, I will say that I am not real fond of the ending of this episode. Season 7 had this peculiar dual theme of having Joe Mannix take on the most classic heroic themes out there, rising from the dead in not only this episode, but also, for all intents and purposes, "Climb a Deadly Mountain" -- but, the season also had Joe and Peggy growing apart, certainly far more apart than we ever would have expected if we followed them through seasons 3-5, for example (mostly season 3 and the first part of season 4, but then again in "Death is the Fifth Gear" in season 5). That line about Joe's closet -- to this day, I wondered why they did that. And, to this day, at the end of this brilliant episode, I cringe, every time!
And, I wonder why too, because, throughout most of the series, they did not paint Joe to be a ladies man. The person he was closest to, all along, was Peggy. Perhaps they did it for balance, since the episode might otherwise seem too over the top?
But, the series had a tendency to evolve, to consider themes, year by year. And, my guess is that there was something out there that prohibited them from making Joe and Peggy closer -- they made specific references to them dating other people, which seemed to almost get in the way, at times. Too bad too. But, given where other series went with that sort of thing, where too much attention paid to it tended to ruin the characters, I will take it!
In fact, whatever flaws are in this series, I am more than happy to accept them.
Because, even as one might imagine Joe's death, and how that would be handled by the actors involved, or the near-death scenes of "The Dark Hours" the series never failed to surpass my imagination in hitting the sweet spot -- no over-dramatization, but real depth and feeling from people who, in their own right, were strong and decent people. They did not go to pieces. But you felt how they felt the potential loss of Joe as the loss of someone that represented more than just a friend -- he represented the loss of someone who figured out how to lead a heroic life.
So very sweet.
By the way, season 8 went in a different direction -- one more about adventure than the classic themes of season 7. Joe travels around more in season 8. For that reason, I like it less -- but, true to form, mixed in there are some tremendous scenes that capture the essence of the character in just a few moments, like a kind of mastery, a punctuation point, and sweet reward for those who followed the character all those years. I not only would not miss those scenes for anything, in some ways, they result in some of the best scenes of the series.