See, science can save you if John Saxon takes you prisoner.

Things were going so well last week. I was up early, feeling productive, it was George Peppard’s birthday, the project was back on track… and then this:

Stephen J. Cannell, the writer-producer of dozens of TV series, including hits such as The Rockford Files, The A-Team and The Commish, has died at age 69.

Cannell passed away at his home in Pasadena, Calif., on Thursday night from complications associated with melanoma, his family said in a statement on Friday.

During three decades as an independent producer, he distinguished himself as a rangy, outgoing man with a trim beard who was generally identified with action dramas full of squealing tires and tough guys trading punches.

And that wasn’t even the worst of it. We next got a call from our relatives in Illinois, and we found out my wife’s wonderful uncle Curt had passed away, completely out of the blue. The news organizations didn’t cover this, but I can do it: during three decades as an uncle, he distinguished himself as a rangy, outgoing man with an amazing mustache who was generally identified with hilarious and offbeat storytelling, blues music, tomato gardening and wearing overalls. And he didn’t have anything to do with The Commish, which is probably another point in his favor.

So I’ve been thinking about how to honor these two best in my next recap, trying to sum up what Cannell shows like The A-Team and Rockford and the others have meant to me, trying to think of something poignant about Uncle Curt that I can relate to you so you can know what a good guy he was. But you know something? I’m no eulogist, I’m an A-Team recapper! So I’m gonna watch some A-Team. I’ll even have a glass of milk in their honor while I’m at it. Right, B.A.?

This one’s for you, guys.

Moving Targets

Wild Guess Preview: Skeet shooting is the name of the game this week, and a wealthy clay pigeon manufacturer is keeping down a small Amish community in Ohio. Why he’s doing this, no one knows, but it gives Hannibal the chance to dress up in modest apparel and use hand tools to defeat his foe. Murdock spends most of the episode in rumspringa, getting into all sorts of trouble until B.A. puts him in a clay pigeon thrower.

The Recap: Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for Northwest Africa (all of it?). And no time for set up this week, either: Hannibal and Murdock are already infiltrating a castle to save a woman being held by a bearded military guy. (Given the setting and Hannibal’s white hair, I can’t help but think of the opening scene in “The Naked Gun” here.) After throwing several guards into the swimming pool, Hannibal busts through the window and holds the military guys at gunpoint. Then he turns to the woman and says “Hi, I’m Hannibal Smith. I guess you’re my prisoner.” The rest of the team bursts in, drops off a few more (unconscious) guards, and then does a wonderful little comedy routine by way of introduction:

Face: Knock knock!

Murdock: Who’s there?

B.A. Us.

Murdock: Us who?

B.A. Us who gonna knock you out, fool!”

The head military dude, Jabar, says his boss, the sheik, will make the team pay for what they’ve done, but Hannibal says that’s unlikely; the sheik hired them. And the sheik walks in and now everyone is confused. Apparently the sheik’s daughter Selina is getting married tomorrow, and the sheik wants the team to run security for her plane trip to the wedding. Jabar is not happy about this but he offers to cooperate.

Pasadena Murdock and B.A.
Pasadena Murdock and the Raiders of the Lost Fool

Step one in security: Face takes Selina’s measurements! He also questions whether they couldn’t just hold the wedding off for a while, but Selina says her fiance is from a country with whom they’ve had bad relations in the past; the wedding might help smooth things over. Hannibal and Jabar are working out the final details of the wedding trip. Hannibal decides to sneak Selina aboard an airplane dressed as a soldier and put Murdock in charge of the plane. B.A. keeps interrupting with “And I stay on the ground, right?” Hannibal says B.A. can hide in a power generator near the plane (power generators? Where are they, Dantooine?), which Murdock says stays on the ground “more or less.”

Time to check in on the villains, who are dressed in stolen military uniforms, and OH MY GOD THAT’S JOHN SAXON! He’s supposed to look like a Middle Eastern Che Guevara, I think, but he looks more like Brando in “Apocalypse Now.” Also: he doesn’t fear the American A-Team because “I am the best.” Well, he is John Saxon, so he has a point.

Back at the castle, Face is complaining to Murdock, in something less than a politically correct way, about having to play chauffeur to Selina. Murdock, who’s wearing an Indiana Jones hat and asking to be called “Pasadena Murdock,” tries to cheer him up with a reminder of how exciting and unpredictable and exciting a mission can be; he tries to sync up the team’s watches, even though they’re all going to ride together.

And ride they do, to the airport, where John Saxon and his rebels attack while wearing beige jumpsuits. So John Saxon and two other guys are enough to overwhelm this country’s entire military? They try to seize Selina in back of the Jeep, but that’s not Selina, it’s a mannequin, and B.A. blows it up, to the probable eternal sadness of Andrew McCarthy. This buys time for the sheik’s soldiers to take positions and cover the team as they board the plane. B.A. still won’t go, so Hannibal says “suit yourself” and brains him with the back of his rifle.

Selina is on board safely and the plane is airborne; that’s the good news. But the fuel gauge is empty, and Murdock realizes he’s going to have to bring the plane down quickly… just as B.A. wakes up, yelling “HANNIBAL, I’M ON A PLANE!” Murdock landing isn’t pretty, but they do all make it out safely. At least until they untie B.A.: “I’M ON A PLANE AND WE CRASHED! YOU CRASHED ME, YOU FOOL!”

B.A. is mighty happy
B.A. enjoys saying YOU CRASHED ME, YOU FOOL

Hannibal suspects a security leak, so he radios the military and says everyone’s alive, but he doesn’t give their position. He also unties B.A., whispering something in his ear, and somehow B.A., who moments before was promising to “hit you so hard I’m gonna knock you into next week,” is giggling. This makes Face really nervous; Hannibal says he should be, since he promised B.A. he could “get even with us” once the mission is complete. Uh oh.

Here’s something else to uh oh about: Murdock checked the plane after they crashed, and John Saxon’s men did not shoot them down; it was sabotage. He and Hannibal both think Jabar, the head security guy, is responsible; whoever it is, Hannibal says, he’s not too far away. As they set up camp for the night, Selina complains endlessly – endlessly – about being stuck out in the middle of California, I mean, “northwest Africa,” but Hannibal says “out here, everyone carries their own pack,” and he smacks her on the bottom (hey, hands to yourself, Colonel) to underscore the point. After much additional whining, though, she bonds with Face – and I’m not making this up – because they both spent lots of time “in the discos of New York.” B.A. and Murdock are bonding too: “two buddies, out adventuring,” the big guy says, and Murdock runs to Hannibal for safety: “Hannibal, I think he was threatening me.”

Selina and John Saxon
“I said I don’t care if he doesn’t look Middle Eastern, he’s John Saxon! No, you handle it!”

Night, or a camera filter making afternoon look slightly less bright, falls, and Face is on watch. He finds Selina far away from camp. Why? “I wanted us to be away from the others,” she says, laying a big kiss on the Faceman. And then WHAM, John Saxon’s thugs knock Face out. Why would Selina be the traitor? Apparently she loves John Saxon, and so they head off together while a lone prepares to kill Face. Luckily the guy only has enough time to wrap his gun in a blanket (?) before B.A. finds him and knocks him out.

Hannibal wants answers, so the team strings this guard up, and he sings about how Selina is the security leak and how John Saxon is gathering his soldiers together at a dock for whatever reason. So they go to the docks, where Face approaches a guard as “The Illustrious Lundquist.” He’s lugging a giant crate and doing some kind of Jerry Lewis voice, going on about how he’s supposed to do a show on an island but his booking agent screwed everything up. The guard finally has enough of this and starts searching Face’s possessions, but Murdock’s in the crate, and he holds the guard at gunpoint – “even better than a rabbit coming out of a hat,” he says. Face takes the guy’s outfit, jumps on their boat, kicks another guard in the, um, area, and then radios Hannibal that “our foot’s in the door.” Or in something, anyway.

John Saxon is mackin’ on Selina, and she’s digging it: after tomorrow, she says, “everything will be better.” But that’s tomorrow; today features the team busting into his cabin with lots o’guns and demanding Selina. She protests and says she’s in love with John Saxon, and while everyone agrees this is logical, still the mission is to bring her home safely and so that’s what they’re gonna do. They take Saxon and Selina with them as they head up to the deck, but as they do, Saxon grabs a knife and threatens to do in Selina unless the team drops their weapons. How can the bad guy do a heel turn? They drop their weapons.

Saxon takes them to the boat’s jail cell, where he taunts them about being hired “by the losing side.” Hannibal says Saxon’s overconfidence is his weakness, and sadly Saxon does not reply “your faith in your friends is yours.” He does tell Selina she’s spoiled and “beneath contempt” and that he was only pretending to like her to destabilize her country. Also, she will “soon be at the bottom of the ocean with four hired soldiers.” Ah, so they’re in a submarine now?

B.A. bends some jail bars

Science, again!

But Murdock notices something: “The colonel’s smiling.” And after Hannibal quotes Archimedes on the value of levers, we launch into a montage? How can there be a montage when there’s no stuff in the jail cell? Ok, there are two metal cots on the walls, and there are the chains that hold the cots… and they use those chains and cots to build levers to bend the metal jail bars. See, science can save you if John Saxon takes you prisoner.

Time to get off the boat? No, Hannibal says “I like it down here.” Face: “Oh great, he’s on the jazz.” And now it’s time for the real preparation montage; the jail cell thing was like the opening act for the montage. Whatever it was they built, Hannibal likes it so much he calls Saxon on the intercom and says “I’m throwing a party for you down here in the engine room, so come on down and we’ll wax your butt for you.”

Seriously, he offered to wax John Saxon’s hinder.

B.A. unleashes the hose
B.A. unleashes his hose. Ewwwww

Saxon takes the bait, and when he and his men reach the engine room they get hit with some Three Stooges-like attacks: Face swings some metal canisters at them, and Murdock punches a guy while hiding in an oil drum. Saxon whispers a retreat, but it’s a trap; when the dudes come back up, B.A. hits them with the hose, though it’s anticlimactic because he doesn’t yell “Meet Big Squirt, fool!” Face and Murdock find some grenades and toss ’em at dudes, and Hannibal delivers the coup de grace: a picture perfect flying tackle to finish off John Saxon.

B.A. chokes Pasadena Murdock

We named the dog Pasadena!

The mission is complete. And that’s really bad for Hannibal, Murdock and Face, because now B.A. can get some payback for that airplane ride. The big guy’s thought this through: he considered just beating the crap out of them, but instead he’s opting for some poetic justice: no plane ride home. Instead, they’ll take a boat, and B.A.’s arranged for them to work for their passage instead of buying a ticket. “I’m in charge of the work force,” he says. “You guys are in charge of the workload, which includes swabbing the deck, working in the boiler room, and painting the entire ship.” Ha!

This one never really gelled for me. Pasadena Murdock never really came together as a character, and I wasn’t sure who was trying to accomplish what until the very end. And good lord was that Selina a whiner. I did like Giggling B.A., though, and “you crashed me, you fool!” remains one of America’s greatest catchphrases. If nothing else, it was a break from yet another episode in L.A.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 18 – Road Games | Next episode: Season 3, Episode 20 – Knights of the Road