Knight Rider “Deadly Maneuvers” (part 1 of 3)
Let’s return to 1982, when Reagan was president, there was war in the Falkland Islands, and Belushi died. The Clash had a big year with a hit album, and a somewhat, er, less masculine group had an even bigger hit with ”Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”
(Why, yes. Yes, we did think about hurting you, George, thanks to the cloying pop songs you got stuck in our heads. But, as it turned out, the humiliation of that whole community service thing sort of took the edge off.)
Another big event from 1982 involved a tall, swaggering, former soap opera star roaming the country and fighting crime in an indestructible, talking Trans-Am. It’s Knight Rider, of course!
In the first episode after the pilot, “Deadly Maneuvers”, the Hoff winds up in a mess involving a pretty girl, an incompetent United States Army, and the worst weapons security policy that ever existed. “Deadly Maneuvers” has a lot more talk than action when compared to the pilot, but still has its share of “what the…?” moments, making it a quick, relatively enjoyable piece of fluff. Let’s get started!
The opening credits are very similar to those of the pilot, and in fact, they feature footage recycled from the pilot episode itself. Our two starring characters, Michael Knight (the Hoff, of course) and the dour Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare) return, and the talking car KITT is still voiced by William Daniels. The notable difference is the addition of another regular character, Dr. Bonnie Barstow, played by actress Patricia McPherson. Bonnie’s role is to fix KITT whenever it’s damaged by one of Michael Knight’s bone-headed stunts, and also to scowl at Knight a lot. So really, she’s a younger, attractive, female version of Devon, with mechanical talent thrown into the mix.
The episode opens on a military base somewhere, judging from the armed GIs, and the “Ammunition Bunker” sign on one of the buildings. As the GIs do their patrol-y thing, a colonel hides nearby in the shadows. When the coast is clear, Colonel McSneaky slips right into the bunker. The bright, shiny Masterlock padlock “securing” the bunker isn’t even locked, so the colonel makes it inside pretty quickly. I would have expected a bit more, well, secure security for an ammunition bunker. Tying the doors shut with some twine, for instance.
Inside, iron jail bars separate one room of the bunker from the next, but these aren’t locked, either. Colonel McDereliction slides the bars open and proceeds further into the bunker. The still-running episode credits here let us know that “Deadly Maneuvers” was directed by Paul Stanley, but alas, it’s the Charlie’s Angels Paul Stanley, not the other one. Bummer.
Inside the bunker, a multitude of artillery shells are standing around on the floor, and more are stacked in wooden crates. Colonel DeSafetyViolation finds a can of baby blue paint on one of the boxes, and this is apparently something very, very bad. He mutters, “Oh my God! No!” And then he beats feet for the bunker’s exit.
As Colonel O’Clumsy runs into the darkness, he drops his flashlight. The resulting noise is enough to alert the still-patrolling guards, who sound the alarm and head off in pursuit. The colonel makes it to a jeep, but the guards have one of their own, and a chase is on.
On a dark road, the guards squeeze off a bunch of M-16 shells at the fleeing officer, which if you think about it, is probably going to hurt their chances of getting promoted. I’m pretty sure killing a colonel is enough to actually make you lose a stripe or two. In any case, they keep shooting, and manage to flatten one of the colonel’s tires.
Once you watch this whole episode, it becomes pretty apparent that it was made on something of a shoestring budget, especially when compared to the pilot. There’s a lot more talk than action here, with really only one good “indestructible car” action scene in the whole thing. Right now though, the lack of budget is made clear by the way Colonel VanDerCrispy’s horrible, fiery jeep crash is presented. Or rather, how it’s not presented.
After the tire goes flat, the camera focuses on the pursuing GIs. Meanwhile, a tire-squealing sound effect plays, followed by a “kaboom!” No, we don’t actually see any of the crash. Did this turn into a radio play all of a sudden? They couldn’t find any stock footage of a jeep blowing up? Light a Revell model on fire and then push it over a ledge? Anything?
Following the implied immolation, the scene shifts to Knight riding along in KITT, playing a video game while KITT takes care of the driving. Even though it appears to be a one-person game, KITT claims to be winning. Luckily, before we can get too much banter between man and car, they happen upon a pretty girl stranded by her broken-down car.
The young lady in question is Lt. Robin Ladd, U.S. Army. Much like other men captaining highly advanced vehicles, Knight is simply incapable of resisting the charms of a pretty young woman. And as it turns out, the opposite is also true. Even Army chicks dig the Hoff!
Knight determines that Ladd’s crappy Ford Escort is a goner, and offers to give her a tow to “Engelhart” Army Base over the protests of KITT. First, as KITT points out, they’re on their way to an actual, you know, mission, which does not involve trying to score with lieutenants; and secondly, towing the Escort is likely to damage the Knight Industries 2000 model.
Yep, towing an early 1980s POS compact car for a couple of miles is likely to damage the car that can ram through tractor-trailers and the walls of buildings. Sure, why not?
After dropping her car off, Knight takes Ladd onto the base, where she’s hoping to surprise her father, who’s a colonel. Hey, what are the odds that it’s Colonel MacDeadDaddy she’s looking for?
Pretty good, actually. Ladd first encounters Major Sanderson (Allen Williams) in her dad’s office, who acts all weird when she asks about him. Sanderson takes her to the office of her dad’s friend, General Duncton, who breaks it to her that her daddy done drove off a cliff and went boom.
Duncton looks a lot like Captain Stubing, but he’s played by Alan Oppenheimer, not Gavin MacLeod. But Oppenheimer looks kind of familiar for another reason: He played Rudy, the doctor responsible for rebuilding Steve Austin, in a few episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man.
Knight is following Ladd all around the base, by the way, and no one seems to question the big, lanky, civilian dude following her into the general’s office. Jeepers—Knight only gave her a tow and a lift! He’s not a long-lost friend or anything. Why would Ladd even want him following her around like a clingy puppy?
Because he’s the Hoff. Duh.
Lt. Ladd’s timing really is impeccable, however. She’s shown up on the day they were planning on burying her papa! And the service looks like it’s being held in a conference room in the headquarters building. I bet they just plopped the casket down on the big, oblong table and moved all the chairs to the side! Surely this is another example of budget woes: Why dress up a chapel location when you could just move some furniture around, and close the mini-blinds in the set you’ve already got? Nobody will notice! Present company excepted.
This is also another example of not showing the passage of time very effectively, something that happened a lot in the pilot. In one scene, the general is breaking the bad news to Lt. Ladd, and then—jump cut!—it’s the conference room funeral. “Sorry your dad is dead, lieutenant. But, hey! He’s on the table in the room next door. Put on some coffee and we’ll do the funeral now!”
Knight and Ladd are in the front row at the funeral, such as it is. General Duncton drones on for a bit about the exploits he had with Colonel Ladd back in the day, and that pretty much wraps it up. I think they’re trying to imply that there’s a clergyman of some sort here, since there’s another civilian in a suit in the front row with a Bible in his lap. Mind you, I had to watch the episode four times before I noticed him, so maybe I’m giving the folks responsible too much credit. After the “service”, everyone files out of the room and heads outside.
Having not yet slept with the lieutenant, Knight makes small talk with her as they walk away from the building. They happen to overhear a group of officers, including Major Sanderson, implying that the elder, deader Ladd was either 1) drunk, and/or 2) too old to be driving a jeep on a coastal road at night. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Lt. Ladd, so she does the only reasonable thing: She asks Michael Knight to help her find out what really happened.
Knight promises to meet Ladd in a while, but—bum bum bum! When he gets back to his car, KITT tells him that towing Ladd’s Escort has damaged his “Alpha circuit!” Cripes! How will they cope? Stay tuned for the conclusion of the exciting alpha circuit plot thread!
Another time warp happens, and suddenly Ladd and Knight are out on the road where daddy crashed. Knight has already driven the route, concluding that Colonel Ladd would have stayed on the road if he’d lost control, rather than plunging off the side. Knight also somehow manages to find a single M-16 shell casing on the road. Which is really odd to find on an Army base, right?
Unconstrained by the concerns of logic and common sense, Knight decides that the shell casing is what caused Colonel Ladd to crash. Well, I guess he actually means the bullet that was once with the casing is what caused him to crash. Probably.
Three GIs are watching this unfold from a ridge high above the road. That never usually turns out to be a good sign, does it? The GI with the binoculars says, “I think it may be time for another funeral.” Kick the marketing group’s tiger team out of the conference room, ASAP! We’re gonna need that table again!