The Garbled Gaslighting of Irwin Allen.
What the Robinsons thought was a missile heading toward them in the previous episode cliffhanger, turns out to be a spacecraft. It lands, and a regular human man exits. He’s sporting a cowboy hat and a Southern accent. And all the promise that LOST IN SPACE showed in this first Season, as a serious scientific adventure… just evaporates away.
You see, showrunner Irwin Allen created this series touting the Space Family Robinson as the first people off Earth, pioneers on a mission to a habitable planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. And now Commander Hapgood (Warren Oates) lands on this uncharted planet, saying he “left Earth in 1982” on a mission to Saturn (remember the fictional series year is 1997), but ended up exploring “every part of the galaxy…” Instead of asking the million questions one would ask of Hapgood, like “How come we, as astronauts, have never heard of you, if you left 15 years before us?!,” both John Robinson and Don West chat nonchalantly with him as if he’s a neighbor visiting for brunch. LOST IN SPACE completely loses its focus. Is Irwin Allen gaslighting us? Is this the first ever retcon?
And how did Hapgood explore “the galaxy” (I’m presuming he means the Milky Way, which is 100,000 light years across) in a refrigerator-sized spaceship without faster-than-light capabilities? And what about time dilation? And food, water, propellant, oxygen?… Our own plothole bullshit meter defeats LOST IN SPACE in this episode’s first 5 minutes, thus it loses our trust and investment.
Hapgood spins tales of visiting planets where he’s not welcome: “Keep out!” – What is he talking about?! The Robinsons are not curious enough to ask ANY questions about that. Is the whole galaxy populated with aliens and humans? If so, why are the Robinsons even aiming at Alpha Centauri anymore, when there are perfectly habitable planets (even this one!) along the way?
Suddenly the episode gets poignant and powerful, as John confides in Maureen about sending Will and Penny back to Earth with Hapgood in his ship. It’s a damning decision, he tells Maureen, facing the possibility that the family might never get off the planet, yet to give Will and Penny a chance at a normal life. Smith overhears the conversation and plots to make himself Hapgood’s passenger instead.
Yet our thoughts turn from Maureen’s emotions to our own plummeting emotional involvement: Have the filmmakers given up on putting the family back in space, and will the remainder of the series play out on this cheap studio set like any old sitcom? (ALSO: Just two episodes ago the Robinsons left the safety of the Jupiter to travel south because of this planet’s extreme heat and cold – any reason why the weather on this same planet is now constantly moderate?)
John and Don are overly-eager to offer Hapgood star charts and their own spaceship’s guidance system, to butter him up before requesting to take the kids. (But, uh, won’t you need the frickin guidance system when you get back into space?!) Have the Robinsons resigned themselves to dying on this planet? Well, Don, I think it’s time to run don’t walk in the direction of Judy Robinson’s space panties…
When John and Maureen petition Hapgood with their malarky plan (malarky because it will coop up their underage kids with a travel-weary adult male stranger in a spaceship literally the size of a closet), he shouts them down for a stupid idea. Which leads to Don and Hapgood brawling with a wild west theme under them, which shows off Don’s girlish punching style. The fight is ended when Judy whacks Hapgood over the head with a frying pan… you heard me: here on an unidentified planet in outer space, the only implement the writers could come up with that a female could wield with any efficiency – a frying pan. Because female = kitchen.
Smith, still vacillating between kooky and evil, reveals, “I have degrees in both medicine and science. I could engineer that launch pad for you off the top of my head.” He’s telling the truth – this was Smith’s original forte. (It always intrigues me how LOST IN SPACE could have been so much more had they pursued Smith’s character in this manner.)
Hapgood eventually relents to John’s request (probably thinking about how time dilation will age Penny over 21 by the time they slingshot around the Sagittarius A* black hole at the Milky Way’s center), but due to Smith’s machinations, Hapgood winds up blasting off alone.
CLIFFHANGER: Notwithstanding we’ve lost interest in watching this series if it’s going to abuse our trust with plot conveniences and gaslighting, LOST IN SPACE continues the convention of the cliffhanger – Don and John setup a mining explosion and Penny walks into the area (like the moron that we’ve established she is). As John leaps for her, the explosion goes off…