Aquaman “Pilot” (part 11 of 11)

Back at the hospital. Eva is in bed, hooked up to monitors and stuff, so it seems she actually survived Nadia’s attack. Don’t worry, she’ll probably get killed again next week. And in yet another rip-off from that other show, Clark—I mean, A.C.—is staring soulfully through the window at her. “I’m sorry, Eva,” he says to himself.

And now, just to make sure your intelligence is completely insulted, here comes the utterly unnecessary twist ending.

Bite Me Guy is back in the Indiana Jones Memorial Bermuda Triangle Archive Warehouse, examining a file he’s pulled out of one of the boxes. It contains a black and white glossy of Denise Quiñones in full Latin Club Singer drag, complete with flowers in her hair and everything, standing at a microphone at a place called Club Havana.

Apparently, this is not a recent photo, because just like all photographs from the distant past, this one happens to include a sign that furnishes the year in which it was taken—In this case, a banner that says “Army Farewell 1936” [?]. But if you want real entertainment, check out Army Farewell 1938—that’s the one where Red Skelton drops his drawers.

In case we’re having trouble recognizing her, Bite Me Guy muses aloud to himself, “Just how much do you remember, Lt. Torres?” I don’t know about her, but I remember everything, all too well.

Caption contributed by Mark

Don’t know why / Navy power gets knocked out by / Stormy weather…

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I have no idea where they were going with this whole back-from-the-dead angle, especially since they spun it two completely different ways. On the one hand we have Raftwreck Boy: he was lost at sea in 1945, and was evidently absorbed into Atlantean culture, which somehow prevented him from aging. 1905 Yacht Guy (no relation to the 1910 Fruitgum Company) fits the same profile.

On the other hand, we have Torres. Cabaret Torres was also lost at sea somehow (I have to assume, since her picture was in an Ark of the Covenant(tm) brand archive box), and she too must have been kept from aging by the Atlanteans. But instead of turning into a denizen of the water who reacts to land-dwellers as strangers, here Torres is living as a land-dweller.

Not only that, but she’s a top flyer for the Navy. Since I refuse to believe that the Navy just recruits volunteer officers off the street, this means she’s been above water at least as long as it takes to go to the Academy and rise to the rank of lieutenant. So we’re talking five years, at the bare minimum. And yet, Cabaret Torres in the 1936 picture doesn’t look a day younger than Pilot Torres in the episode.

I’m willing to buy, more or less, that Torres is a spy, or an exile, or an Atlantean amnesiac who started a new life on land, or whatever they’re hinting at here. But it makes no sense for there to be two different classes of un-aged abductees. And it makes even less sense that Atlantis, which seems pretty hostile towards land-dwellers, is abducting them at all. And going to the trouble of incorporating them into their society, to the extent that one of them embarks on a desperate quest to find and warn the prince. It’s like the Atlantean regime declared, “We hate the humans… so that means they’ll make ideal citizens!”

Now that I think about it, is there any chance that Lou Diamond Dad is also an abductee? That would explain why he didn’t age at all in the ten years since the opening scenes. Okay, I’m thinking way too hard about this.

After some absolutely content-free footage of Torres in her cockpit just… looking around, we find A.C. standing on the rocky beach near Ving’s lighthouse. Ving ambles up and tells him the siren was just the beginning. “There are creatures in the deep you couldn’t imagine in your worst nightmare,” he says. I’m guessing there are at least 22 more such creatures. 78 if they want to make it to syndication.

A.C. thanks him for this reassuring tidbit. “I’m not here to make you feel good,” Ving intones. “I’m here to prepare you for the worst.” So how will he break the news that the pilot didn’t sell? A.C. says he’s ready to begin his training, so Ving hands him a birthday present, which, surprisingly, A.C. can tell right away is a book. “I’m not really much of a reader,” he says. Shock of the century.

The book turns out to be Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 [!]. A.C. protests that he thought training would be fighting with tridents and stuff. Ha ha, he sure snowed you, dude! And I’ll bet A.C. also thought the whole training would go by in a montage, with something uptempo by Peter Cetera on the soundtrack, so it wouldn’t feel like it was taking any time at all.

A.C. asks if Ving can’t just tell him how it ends. “The lesson isn’t in the ending, Orin,” Ving responds. “It’s in the journey.” Especially since the ending of Henry IV involves Prince Hal turning on his friends and becoming an uptight prick. So enjoy the journey while you can!

Caption contributed by Mark

“Aw man, it’s got pages and everything.”

The camera peels back from A.C. with the book in his hands, and he stands looking out at the water while some anonymous androgynous alternapop WB ballad wails. At last, the producers’ credit! Praise be to dolphins and hammerheads everywhere, it’s over. I don’t think I need to tell you that the closing credits are done in exactly the same format as Smallville, do I? That’s the beauty of Aquaman, you see. Fresh ideas? They’re all out!

So what went wrong? Though I’ve made fun of Justin Hartley a lot in this recap, he’s not without charm. And the special effects are well done, naturally. The cinematography is good, and in some places, evocative. The direction is generally fine. So why did this pilot end up so terrible?

Ultimately, it’s clear this show had no soul of its own. There was no inspiration here, other than a broad interest in expanding the success of Smallville by mounting a spin-off. So they perused their options, decided on Aquaman, and then blundered into making the thing without taking the time to understand the character.

At no point in this show does A.C. seem to be at one with the sea. By all rights, Aquaman should seem at home in the water and vaguely out of place on land, as much an alien among us as Superman, if not more so. But A.C. consistently comes across as a party-boy beach slacker type with a passing interest in watery stuff, sort of like a hobby.

See, the point of Aquaman is not that he can pour a pitcher of water over his head and become super-strong (yeesh). The point of Aquaman is that he comes from the sea, and the sea is a mysterious, captivating world, utterly different from our own. Had they allowed just a tiny bit of this spirit to seep into the pilot, maybe the series would have sold.

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he's nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: Aquaman "Pilot"

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