Otherworld unexpectedly but delightfully becomes a fairy tale fantasy in this out-of-the-norm next-to-last installment of the series, “Mansion of the Beast.” In very specific terms, “Mansion of the Beast” revisits the famous story of Beauty and the Beast (1740), with June Sterling (Gretchen Corbett) in the Beauty role, and a strange inter-dimensional traveler, Virago (Alan Feinstein) as the inhuman Beast.
The story begins with the Sterlings traversing a lovely fairy tale forest. A beast – half man and half-savage — materializes before them and proclaims himself the King of the Trees and the Lord of the Animals. This is Virago, and he refuses to let the family continue its journey unless June remains with him in his lonely country mansion. Hal refuses to sacrifice his wife to such a monster, and is immediately put into a deep sleep by Virago.
While Mom remains with Virago, the children head into the woods to find help for Hal. They meet Akin (John Astin), Virago’s brother. Akin reveals that Virago was once a great scientist and charismatic leader, but his attempt to cross dimensions to reach the mythical land of Earth only returned him here as a beast.
Worse, Virago seems to be losing his humanity by the day…
But Virago is taken with June. He first observed her attempting to heal the wing of a wounded owl, and has fallen in love with her. Now he offers her life in a beautiful mansion, but she misses her family, and can never love the Beast as he desires. “I have never, ever, been loved,” Virago tells June, and she sows sympathy and compassion for the lonely creature.
Meanwhile, Hal undertakes a quest to capture and refine “cold star fire,” the only substance in the universe that can kill the Beast. When June expresses to Virago her loneliness and the desire to see her family again, he allows her to leave….with a caveat. He makes her promise she will return in one day’s time. While she is gone, however, Hal arrives and kills the beast. But June’s love is redemptive, and transforms the Beast into a human again…
From the Beauty and the Beast stories, “Mansion of the Beast” adapts several important themes and notions. The first is of a Beast who trusts his beauty…and makes her promise to return to him. And the second is the idea that the tears of Beauty can bring Beast back to life, and restore his soul. These ideas are a little out of place in the hard sci-fi universe of Otherworld, but it’s an interesting notion to dramatize this story and imply, at least a little, that we get our fairy tales of Beauty and the Beast from Virago and his inter-dimensional journey.
Other fairy tale characteristics abound in this tale. John Astin plays a character who will remind you of the Woodsman or Lumberjack from Little Red Riding Hood, and Hal is put into a deep sleep from which he cannot awake, a lot like poor Snow White. In terms of fairy tale format, this Otherworld mimics the Campbell Heroic Quest, with Hal going bare-chested on a mission to retrieve cold star fire. After he recovers the mineral, we see a blacksmith (Akin) tempering the cold star fire…making a heroic weapon from it, in the spirit of Excalibur. With all these touches, “Mansion of the Beast” is clever and knowing in terms of its narrative, a post-modern exploration of fairy tale tropes.
In terms of Otherworld lore, “Mansion of the Beast” is an extremely important episode for the canon. It establishes a great deal of information about the Sterlings’ quest to return home. We learn that Emar (or Imar, perhaps) is home to a group of “signpost astrologers” who speak regularly of Earth, and the other world there. Also, Virago leaves June and the Sterlings with a riddle about their way home:
“Look for the valley of vision, where the slain are not slain with swords, and the darkest shadows of light. There, you will find a door.”
Unfortunately, Otherworlddid not survive long enough to explore this riddle, or what precisely it meant. “Mansion of the Beast” is followed by just one more episode, “Princess Metra.” Still, I truly admire this short-lived series’ willingness to take chances and move the narrative in imaginative, unexpected directions. We saw a funny post-modern take on rock history in “Rock and Roll Suicide” and now “Mansion of the Beast” apes fairy tale form and shape.
Next week: The end of Otherworld comes with “Princess Metra.”