Aquaman “Pilot” (part 6 of 11)

Cut to azure-blue waters, accompanied by pounding CNN-thinks-we’re-going-to-war drums. A title tells us this is “Mercy Reef”, which is “25 miles off Tempest Key.”

Another twentysomething stud is in the water, draped across an artfully ragged chunk of planking. A Coast Guard radio voiceover tells us this is a possible shipwreck victim, but there’s no sign of much more ship than this plank, so perhaps he was a raftwreck victim. A diver brings him aboard a chopper, where Tom Curry, AKA Lou Diamond Dad, checks him out. He’s hypothermic and his pupils aren’t responding. Then Tom notices the seahorse pendant hanging around the victim’s neck.

As Tom touches the seahorse, the young man snaps awake and says, “They’re coming! I must warn Orin!” Thanks to that desultory fight in front of the police station, we know that Tom knows the name Orin. But Lou Diamond Phillips cagily keeps Tom’s reaction to this to himself. He just tells the man to “take it easy.” Good advice in lots of situations, actually.

Caption contributed by Mark

“I hope you realize that, in Atlantean culture, touching my seahorse means we’re engaged.”

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The chopper flies off, and according to the radio voiceover, it’s heading for “Mercy Reef Hospital”. I think there’s some slight backstory confusion here. In the comics, Mercy Reef was the town Arthur grew up in. Here, it’s an actual reef off Tempest Key. But the hospital is still named after the town from the comics, and not the town it’s actually in. Not impossible—it could still be named for a local marine feature—but something tells me the hospital name is a vestige of many hasty rewrites.

Cut to another new locale, an airfield accompanied by the caption “Tempest Key Naval Air Station”. This caption should have appended to it “and Bad Acting Quarantine Zone”, since easily the show’s worst acting occurs within its grounds.

A no-nonsense young fighter pilot with her hair pulled back strides purposefully across the tarmac, trading taunts with some of the cast of Top Gun on the way to her plane. This is Lt. Torres, played by Miss Universe 2001 [!], Denise Quiñones. Denise’s only previous screen appearance is as an uncredited Cuban streetwalker in Bad Boys II, and if that isn’t the bottom rung of movie acting, I don’t know what is. (After all, we all know how much Michael Bay respects his extras.)

But as they did with Justin Hartley, Miles and Al apparently took pity on Denise once Aquaman went down the tubes, and carved out a new Smallville character for her. In this case, the Vigilante, later known as the Angel of Vengeance.

That character was in turn spun off into several webisodes of something called Smallville: The Vengeance Chronicles, essentially the same kind of thing as the earlier download-and-DVD-only Chloe Chronicles. The only fun thing about S:VC is that it co-stars, in addition to some of the Smallville cast, an actor I know and like from Doctor Who, Yee Jee Tso. (What, you think I do these recaps to find out things you’re interested in?) Anyway, these webisodes are really tiny and not widely known, but they sure pad out Denise Quiñones’ echoingly empty resume, so I guess they’re good for something.

Torres’ red-faced, bull-necked C.O., Commander Daly, meets her partway and marches with her over to her plane. He tells her she has a new mission: she’s to do a fly-over of Mercy Reef. Torres asks for “permission to speak freely.” Wouldn’t it be nice if one time, the answer was “Permission denied”? C’mon, guys, just this once. I’m begging you. That way, we could move on to the next scene. But alas, no such luck.

Torres thinks she’s being given an easy assignment because she’s a woman, but Daly interrupts: “This is not the LPGA tour! You tee off with the men!” And you pee standing up with the men, missy! In fact, as far as I’m concerned, you’re just a very pretty, very voluptuous man! With long hair and supple—hang on, what was I talking about?

In actuality, it turns out Daly was told from very high up to put his best pilot on “it”. What is “it”, exactly? Evidently, it has to do with the John Doe that Tom just rescued, who was found with “no boat, no ID, and no idea where he came from!” And no belly button! Oops… wrong show. Anyway, the mystery has “rankled some feathers up the food chain!” Whoa, slow down with the lingo, pal. At least wait until I get out my Leathernecked Military Commander-to-English Dictionary.

Caption contributed by Mark

“We want you to fly over Mercy Reef. There’s been a possible sighting of a Playboy-reading rainbow trout.”

Torres’ orders are to fly over the area and look for “anything out of the ordinary.” Well, that’s specific. No doubt she’ll “know what she’s looking for when she sees it”, too. Geez, what lazy writing. C’mon, everybody, the writer has hidden plot-nuggets out at Mercy Reef! Last one to find theirs has to play the teenage version of the Atom on Smallville!

There’s stock footage of a fighter jet taking off, followed by shots of A.C. swimming in the ocean at super-speed. Wait, wasn’t he supposed to be at work? Didn’t he already get reamed out twice today for abandoning his responsibilities? Looks like he poured one drink and said, “Screw this, I’m going swimming.” Seriously, there’s no motivation for A.C. to be in the water at this time, other than the plot requires him to interact with Lt. Torres in a minute.

Torres, now flying over Mercy Reef, reports that there’s nothing out there. Why do I think that’s about to change? A.C. looks up from under water, sees the jet roaring by overhead, and takes off with a big grin.

Torres suddenly sees on her radar that something is following her below the surface. Is this really a good idea? I know A.C. is just having fun here, but most characters with paranormal abilities tend to think twice before flaunting their powers in front of US military personnel. That whole dissection thing can be a real downer. I mean, just try imagining any other young superhero, whether it’s Clark or Spidey or the Flash or anybody, chasing a military jet. For stupidity, that’s right up there with, say, making a superhero movie in which ordinary people breathe in space. And who would do something that dumb? Oh, right.

After a while, A.C. surfaces for some reason, and just hangs there, head and shoulders above the water, still grinning inanely up at the jet. Torres, noticing her blip has dropped back, circles around. As he watches her do this, A.C.’s seahorse starts to glow. He frowns down at it, like a boy going through puberty thinking, “Huh, what’s that for?”

Caption contributed by Mark

“Uh oh. I think I broke it.”

Between A.C. and the jet, a gumbo pot develops, out of which shoots a massive bolt of white energy. Just like Atlanna, Torres stupidly flies straight into it. But whereas Atlanna’s plane flew right through a misty column and emerged undamaged, Torres’s jet is clipped by destructive energy and immediately crashes. I’m not sure why there’s a difference between the two encounters. Maybe they’ve just honed their marksmanship in the intervening ten years.

Torres ejects, but she’s too close to the water and is knocked unconscious by the fall. She and her seat quickly sink to the bottom of the ocean (which is strangely shallow here). A.C. zooms over to her and pulls off the straps, and honestly, I think this is the third strap-removal scene so far. One more and I’m calling it a fetish.

A.C. then picks her up and rockets away. Looks cool, but I wonder if perhaps he might want to make a brief stop above the surface. You know, to give her a chance to actually breathe on the way to the hospital, which we’ve been told is at least 25 miles away. Just a thought.

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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