Thursday, January 17, 2013


PHENOMENALITY: (1) *naturalistic* (2) *naturalistic,* (3) *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: (1) *good,* (2) *poor*, (3) *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological, metaphysical*

Episode 4, “An Eye for an Eye,” provides a counterpoint to the previous episode, which stressed activism.   “Eye” takes its title from a Biblical justification for revenge, but the episode’s purpose is to renounce retaliatory violence, in keeping with one of the guiding maxims of Caine’s Shaolin upbringing: that death can have no dominion in the hearts of those who are at peace.

Caine encounters Annie Buchanan and her consumptive father Amos.  Along with Annie’s brother Samuel, the three of them have moved to the West after being dispossessed of their home during the Civil War—the first time the "Kung Fu" series grounds itself in a definite time-period.  The family’s change of location does not save them from further pursuit by Yankee hostility.  Because the father flies a Confederate flag on his farm, three marauding cavalry soldiers break into the farm when Annie is alone, and one of them, Sergeant Straight, rapes her.  Annie and Amos find the cavalry outpost where the soldiers serve, but the commander won’t prosecute the men because Annie has no corroboration, except for the growing child in her womb.  Apparently it’s taken several months for the Buchanans to find the outpost, for slightly later in the story Annie gives birth to a healthy, viable child.

Samuel challenges Staight to a duel in spite of Caine’s protests as to the futility of revenge.  Straight backshoots Samuel, but Samuel manages to kill his murderer before he too perishes.  Losing her brother deprives Annie of a satisfying revenge. She’s already alienated against her unborn child, and her fruitless rage causes her to have an accident that may not *be* accidental.  Caine helps Annie birth her child and protects her against a tribe of marauding Indians.  The child perishes after Annie refuses to nurture him, and she later regrets turning against her newborn son.  Caine helps Annie to come to terms with her anger and sorrow, but Straight's buddies, feeling a need for revenge themselves, come after Annie and Amos.  Caine doesn’t manage to prevent Annie being shot, though she survives.  The episode ends with Amos demanding revenge, and Caine’s refusal to take part in the cycle of violence.

Caine performs no uncanny feats here.  He does master two Indians, despite their attacking him on horseback with their spears, but this battle remains within the domain of the naturalistic.

“The Tide” presents Caine with his second love-affair.  Using one of the letters acquired in “Dark Angel,” the Shaolin seeks out a town where drifter Danny Caine briefly worked on a ranch.  Caine is recognized as a fugitive from Chinese justice by a reward-hunter and a corrupt sheriff named Boggs.  Boggs kills his accomplice in order to keep the whole reward.  Caine, though wounded by Boggs, escapes the sheriff’s custody but finds sanctuary with Su Yen Lu, a Chinese immigrant living alone on a small nearby farm.  But Su has a secret.  She tells Caine that her father, a venerable author whose works Caine esteems, has been imprisoned in China for sedition.  She does not tell Caine that she enlists her brother Wong and his henchmen to take Caine prisoner, to trade for her father’s freedom.  Due to his feelings for her—both indebtedness and potential love—Caine surrenders to Su’s brother.  Boggs shows up, still seeking the reward.  He kills Wong and Su kills the sheriff, after which she learns from her dying sibling that their father has died in China.  Su forswears any possible link between Caine and herself, and he moves on. Again, none of Caine’s actions pass the level of the naturalistic.

“The Soul of the Warrior” is one of the first season’s strongest episodes in terms of opppsing the ethos of the Old West with that of the mysterious East.  Caine’s quest for his half-brother leads him to the ranch of Ed Rankin, where Rankin rules his fiefdom with an iron hand, barely recognizing the authority of the sheriff in the neighboring town. Caine learns that Danny incurred the wrath of Rankin’s only son Breck by running off with Breck's woman—presumably with her consent, though Breck doesn’t see things that way.  As Rankin explains to Caine, this action violates the Western code of “private property,” which sentences thieves to death for such violations.  Caine also meets Sheriff Toms in town, a man who feels himself close to death from having experienced so much of it, and who seems to intuit that death hangs over the entire town.  “I know that it ends,” he says. “We struggle and we grow, and it ends—and it is black inside that box.”  Against this, Caine assets, “Nothing dies that was ever something.”

Ironically, Toms is responsible for keeping Caine in town a little too long after Caine intends to leave.  Toms, intrigued with Caine’s strangeness, invites him to dinner in the saloon.  Breck sees Caine and tries to shoot the “slanty man” (linking the mania for personal property with xenophobia).  This forces the sheriff to protect Caine by shooting Breck dead.  Toms seeks out Rankin to reason with him, while knowing that the rancher is likely to take vengeance for the loss of his only son, an extension of the rule of “private property.” 

Caine seeks to protect Toms. From his previous encounter with Rankin, Caine recognizes that the tough, self-made rancher is no less afraid of death than Toms.  Rankin incarnates his fear of death by the practice of “snaking,” of capturing rattlesnakes and keeping them in a pit on his ranch.  Caine recognizes that this signifies Rankin’s desire to master what is strange and suggestive of death, referring to the pit as the “temple” where Rankin worships the thing he fears.  Playing “king of the mountain” in his uniquely Shaolin way, Caine makes a bet with Rankin: to keep Toms alive, Caine will walk amid the snakes in their pit. Caine does so and emerges from the pit without harm, having internalized the harmony of nature expounded by Master Po:
"That prevails which refuses to know the power of the other. Where fear is, does not danger also live? And where fear is not, does not danger also die? Where the tiger and the man are two, he may die. Yet where the tiger and the man are one there is no fear. There is no danger. For what creature, one with all nature, will attack itself?"
Having saved the sheriff's life and made his point, Caine takes his leave, having shown the Westerners the value of transcending both the attachments of property and the fears of one’s own demise.

Caine's feat of walking unharmed amid the snakes, like Caine’s gentling of a wild horse in “Dark Angel,” ranks as an uncanny act of animal-mastery, even though the priest does so more in a spirit of communion rather than actual command of lesser beasts.  The episode has the strongest mythicity of any of those survyed thus far, bringing forth the death-oriented myth of the West even as it evokes the life-oriented myth of the East.  I could probably do a longer essay exploring the way Ron Bishop's script included interesting meditations on the symbolism of snakes and of the idea of the “fool” (with which Caine is compared with those who cannot yet understand his ways).

No comments:

Post a Comment