Cult TV Issue #12: The Master Episode 7
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest issue of Cult TV. I’m Bryan Kristopowitz.
I really don’t have much of an intro for this edition of Cult TV, other than to say that I hope you all had a good holiday season and watched a ninja movie or two for New Year’s (I celebrate Ninja New Year every January 1st, where I try to watch at least one ninja movie of some sort, and I write at least one ninja movie review for my other column here at 411, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column. In fact, be on the lookout for my review of New York Ninja, which should be coming soon). I also think it would be cool if some streaming outfit or cable channel did a New Year’s ninja movie marathon, either on New Year’s Eve or on New Year’s Day. Just think about it:
“Celebrate Ninja New Year this year on B-Movie TV! Starting at 6pm EST, ring in the new year with such ninja action classics as Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, American Ninja, and Pray for Death! Plus, two episodes of the cult classic ninja TV show The Master starring Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, and Sho Kosugi!”
I mean, would that be awesome or what? Of course it would. Unfortunately, no one did it this past New Year’s, and I’d suspect that no channel or streaming service will do it for the next one (we’re more likely to get a Godzilla movie marathon for New Year’s, which is great and all, but I would love to get a ninja marathon at least once). The world just isn’t cool enough to make it happen.
Oh, well. We can always imagine it, right?
Here are the links to reviews for the first six episodes of The Master, just in case you missed them for some reason (or want to read them again):
And now, onto the seventh episode of The Master.
Episode 7: “Juggernaut”
Director: Gordon Hessler
Writers: Michael Sloan and Wollen, based on a story by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole
I’ve been sort of dreading writing about this episode of The Master since I first watched it. First, it’s another one of those episodes that has no “new” Sho Kosugi in it as he only appears in the show’s intro and then during the recap of the show’s premise and what’s sort of happened up until this point. I know I’ve said this multiple times now, but it just boggles my mind that a ninja show, made during the 1980’s pop culture ninja craze, that has the ninja as a part of it, doesn’t have him in every goddamn episode. I mean, come on, why isn’t The Master about Sho Kosugi? And second, despite having a top notch cast and a fine director (Gordon Hessler, who would go on to direct two classic ninja movies with Sho Kosugi, Pray for Death and Rage of Honor), the episode is just okay. It isn’t anything special. I’m not a fan of the title of the episode, either, as the word used promises something awesome that it just doesn’t deliver on.
So “Juggernaut” has McCallister (Lee Van Cleef) and Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten) riding into some small town somewhere (it could be in the Midwest, the Mountain West, maybe the south, the episode doesn’t specify) for no apparent reason. I mean, McCallister is still technically looking for his long lost daughter and Keller is around to help him and learn how to be a ninja, but this particular town doesn’t appear to be the next town they need to check out to see if McCallister’s daughter is there. And, as tends to happen, as soon as Keller starts interacting with the locals both Keller and McCallister become embroiled in some local issue. In the case of “Juggernaut,” Keller tries to break up an assault in a bar (Alan Kane, as played by the great William Smith, messes around with local babe Cat Sinclair, played by Tara Buckman), gets thrown through a window by Kane, and all of this is witnessed by a sheriff’s deputy (Deputy Landers, as played by the great Burton Gilliam). McCallister gets involved in breaking up the skirmish and rescues Keller and Cat and gets them out of the bar before more madness happens.
So then some stuff happens, Cat takes McCallister and Keller back to her home (Cat lives with her mother Maggie, played by Diana Muldaur), and we find out what the heck is going on in this town. Basically, there’s a big shot asshole businessman named Hellman (played by the great Stuart Whitman) who wants to control the town’s various farm businesses by forcing those farm businesses to use his trucking operation to transport their crops. Most of the town’s farmers don’t want to work with Hellman, but they’re scared of Hellman’s henchmen and just don’t want to deal with the violence. One of the holdouts of Hellman’s plan is Maggie Sinclair. Maggie is also keen on organizing the town’s farmers to transport their own crops, but isn’t sure on how to do so.
So then some more stuff happens, McCallister and Maggie have a small standoff of their own before they decide to work together, Keller and Cat start to form some kind of romantic bond, and Maggie organizes a big hooha town meeting where she discusses what to do about Hellman and what he wants. It’s here that McCallister chimes in and suggests that the town forms a juggernaut (a convoy) to show solidarity against Hellman’s trucking outfit. Maggie likes the idea, and most of the town seems to like it, too, as they all basically agree to do it. And it’s at this point in the episode that I groan and start complaining. If the big idea behind the episode is for the town to form its own convoy, why not just title the episode “Convoy” instead of “Juggernaut?” “Juggernaut,” at least to me, implies something way cooler than a simple convoy. Why isn’t the episode about a super armored truck that a group of bad guys want to use to rob a bank or something? Or kidnap the governor? Those ideas fit the “Juggernaut” title more than the actual plot of the episode.
So even more stuff happens, Keller gets arrested and thrown in jail, McCallister puts on a disguise and manages to break him out (it’s a funny scene on its own but it’s also just so goddamn ridiculous), and we find out that there’s more going on between Hellman and Maggie than just a “business disagreement.” It turns out that Hellman and Maggie used to be an item back in the day and Cat is Hellman’s daughter. Hellman also isn’t a fan of McCallister because he can see that he has eyes for Maggie and that Maggie has eyes for McCallister. Hellman just isn’t cool with any of that. He can’t do much about it, though, because McCallister is a goddamn ninja.
The last quarter of the episode is devoted to the formation of the juggernaut and Hellman’s henchmen trying to thwart it (oh, I forgot to say that one of the local farmers, played by Britt Leach, decides to side with Hellman and tells him all about the juggernaut plan). McCallister engages in some absurd ninja action (he reverse flips onto the top of a trailer. I can’t explain it any other way) and there are some nice explosions on the juggernaut route. After the juggernaut plan works, McCallister and Keller confront Hellman and some of his henchmen at the bar from the beginning of the episode. A brawl ensues and, well, someone else goes through the window. It ain’t Keller.
So what does the episode get right? The episode’s various action scenes, even the ridiculous ones (again, McCallister does a reverse flip onto the top of a trailer), are pretty good. The martial arts fight scenes are generally well staged (Lee Van Cleef’s bald cap wearing stunt double shows off his badass martial arts skills here multiple times), and the copious amounts of slow motion actually work most of the time. There’s a great scene where McCallister, in full ninja gear, crashes through a big window and it’s all done in slow motion and it looks spectacular. The opening bar fight is also pretty brutal, at least when William Smith is in full on sleaze bag asshole mode. Smith’s Alan Kane sure does know how to throw a guy through a window.
The other interesting part of the episode is the relationship between McCallister and Maggie. They have actual romantic chemistry. She wants him and wants him bad, and he’s very much into the idea of being with her. You suspect that the show would have explored this relationship further in a second season had the show been renewed. You can totally see either McCallister going back to the town in the future to see what Maggie is up to or Maggie flying to wherever McCallister is located in the future so they can continue their relationship. I didn’t expect McCallister to develop feelings for anyone.
I also want to commend the episode for having McCallister fly a plane. You don’t expect to see that because why would it happen, and yet when it does happen it makes sense even if it’s ridiculous. There’s also a whole thing where McCallister uses a ninja chain weapon multiple times. Why? Is this for variety? You don’t see many ninja stars this time.
The casting for this episode is off the charts insane. I just wish the assembled actors had a better story to work with. William Smith is just sleaze personified as Hellman’s main henchman and it’s always great to see that kind of thing from the now late but always great William Smith.
Stuart Whitman is also a terrific main villain as he, like Smith, knows how to pour on the sleaze. Whitman’s scenes with Diana Muldaur are electric (the episode definitely could have used more of that kind of thing). Burton Gilliam doesn’t get to do much as the corrupt sheriff’s deputy Landen but it’s still nice to see him anyway. And it’s always a hoot to see Robert Tessier do the bad guy henchman thing (the man was a master at it).
And be sure to realize that two Silent Night, Deadly Night actors appear in this episode one year before that movie came out. Those actors? Tara Buckman and Britt Leach. As you may remember, Buckman played the mom who gets raped by the murderous Santa in that horror flick, and Britt Leach plays the toy store owner that Billy goes to work for. I haven’t researched this or anything, but is it possible that this episode of The Master is a favorite of Silent Night, Deadly Night nerds? Do SNDL nerds, like, search this episode out so they can see Buckman and Leach in something else? I mean, it’s possible, right?
Oh, and what was the “ninja lesson” that Keller learns? I think the lesson is supposed to be you always don’t have to fight. It’s okay to not get involved in the latest local fight or problem. Is that weird, considering that is the general premise of the whole show? I mean, so far, that’s what McCallister is all about. He may not go looking for trouble, but when he finds it he’s always more than happy to get involved and right the wrongs. So why is it okay in episode 7 to say “Yeah, it’s okay not to do the thing we’ve been doing over and over again since we met?” I don’t get that at all.
I just didn’t like “Juggernaut.” I liked parts of it, it has a great cast, but it should be so much better than it is. It has all of the potential to be a classic episode of cult television. It isn’t, though. It’s just a run of the mill episode of TV. That episode title annoys me.
I’m really hoping that the next episode is better. I mean, “Juggernaut” is watchable, but, man, it should have been better. Much, much better.
Next issue: The Master Episode 8: “The Good, the Bad, and the Priceless”
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