Six Million Dollar Man: Season 4
Arguably one of the most icon American super heroes is Col. Steve Austin (Lee Majors), best known by his nom de voyage, The Bionic Man. place in critical condition by an experiment jet. Rebuilt by advanced technology Col Austin found himself with legs that can propel him over sixty miles per hour, an arm capable of lifting a ton and an eye that can discern miniscule details a hundred yards away. He was a bionic man, a human being reconstructed with superior mechanical replacement parts. The booping sound queue and slow-motion movement remains one of our culture’s most recognizable special effects. ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ ,grossly under budget by today’s standards, ran for five season, generated a spin-off, ‘The Bionic Woman’, with a reboot years later and several reunion movies. Throughout these years the bionic man has went beyond enjoyable entertainment to inspire a generation of brilliant scientists in real life to bring bionic research into reality.
Season 4 was originally broadcast in 1976, the year of our nation’s bi-centennial. National pride had reached an all-time high with jingoistic elements being inserted into every possible movie and television show. ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ went beyond this trend to fully embrace it, combing it with another obsession of the seventies, spy movies. Between James Bond, James West and Derrick Flint all of the famous gadgets paled in comparison to Steve Austin. His very body was the gadget. The scientist behind bionic technology, Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks) put ‘Q’ to task while Steve’s boss, Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) could give ‘M’ w real run for his money. In this fourth season Steve is sporting a new accruement, a moustache, apparently non bionic although some fans conjectured otherwise.
This season was an odd mixture of retuning characters, timely espionage stories and the introduction of one of the most popular spin-off series in television history. In the opening episode of this season Steve faces the return of the alien race that he successfully fought in the previous season. In order to obtain the precious gems the extraterrestrials required for a weapon of mass destruction. To this end they deployed their own bionic creation, Big Foot. Beneath the heavy make-up and hair suit was Ted Cassidy, a 6 foot 9 inch actor well known for his role as Lurch, the butler on ‘The Addams Family’ and an episode of the original Star Trek. The second half of this story was broadcast in the first episode of season two of ‘The Bionic Woman’. To the credit of Universal this cross over episode as well as the others in this season are included as part of the set. They are on the same disc as the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ episodes so even if you have ‘The Bionic Woman DVD sets you don’t have to get up and change discs, you can enjoy the entire story in one sitting.
The next episode up, ‘Nightmare in the Sky’ brings Steve’s particular expertise back down to earth as he has to clean the good name of a fellow test pilot. She was accused of selling military secrets pertaining to a new type of aircraft to a hostile country. This would set the tone for much of the remainder of the season. Political intrigue was paramount in the themes driving the action with a strong undercurrent of mystery. At this time the U.S.S.R. and their infamous network of ruthless spies were the go to arch nemesis of our country well utilized by films and television of the time. This hold over from the Cold War was in the process of winding down but still provided a strongly familiar basis for fans of spy flicks. This permitted the producers to reach out to a large demographic broadening the appeal of this series beyond the science fiction devotees. This trend resulted in a greater complexity to the construction of the stories. The response to this was to expand the story telling to multiple episodes. A two part example of this involved Steve trying to beat the Soviet agents to a Russian space probe crash landed in Wyoming. The experimental probe concludes it is on Venus and is about to neutralize a small town. Now Steve has to race against the clock and the enemy agents to recover the probe made of a new alloy and stronger than Steve.
The stories were generally driven by dangerous technology that was either invented by or under investigation by the top secret government organization Steve works for, the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence). His friend and handler Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) would dispatch him on dangerous missions that would benefit from his skill set. When Oscar gives the okay to make Steve’s girlfriend, Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), Steve had a partner to get him out of a number of potentially fatal situations. He has Steve going undercover in many assignments reinforcing the spy motif that held such great popularity. In one tongue in cheek episode Steve has to reenact the Dickens’ Christmas classic by using his abilities to play out the ghostly visitations.
This season would turn out to be the show’s penultimate one but the entertainment value remained consistent with the standards set for the franchise. The technical aspects of the show were pure fiction at the time but since then real life science has been steadily moving towards bringing the abilities here to fruition. Just recently an artificial humanoid hailed as the world’s first bionic man. While a long way from performing up to Col. Austin’s level it was a remarkable achievement and undoubtedly greatly inspired by this series. One fascinating piece of trivia; one of the scientists critical to the project has a true bionic arm and hand. Although it lacks super strength it does possess a computer driven sensory feedback system that can adjust the grip instantly to whatever the person is holding. Rudy Wells would be proud. The show remains a mainstay of the Sci-Fi community and this season brought in a bionic James Bond motif that is still a lot of fun to revisit.
Vulture Of The Andes Audio Commentary By Director Cliff Bole