In “The Slaves,” the Ark II team catches wind of a nearby village using slavery, a “miserable and immoral practice,” and Jonah sets out to observe. Unfortunately, he is captured by the forces of Baron Vargas (Michael Kermoyan), a tyrant who deploys magic tricks to keep the slaves from attempting escape, banding together, or asserting their rights.
In particular, Baron Vargas has convinced many of his exhausted slaves that he possesses the power to turn people into mindless animals. The people, having no education or experience with such things, cower in fear. One man, Gideon, has even become an informant for Vargas, because he believes his sister has been transformed into an animal.
When Jonah stands up to Vargas, the devious Baron stages a fire and light show in which he appears to transform Jonah into a rooster. In truth, Jonah is simply put in prison, abducted in a cloud of smoke, out of the eyes of the crowd.
Seeing the deception for what it is, Ruth and Samuel at the Ark II decide to out-magic the evil magician. They rescue Jonah, and assert their own technological magic to free the slaves.
In “The Slaves,” written by David Dworski, the audience gets to see a bit more of the grand Ark II’s interesting capabilities. In this case, the vehicle projects a force field beam; one that is able to make it look like Jonah is actually walking on air. The force field beam looks dangerous, like a laser, but like all of the Ark II’s devices is entirely defensive in nature.
Other than that touch, this episode, directed by Hollingsworth Morse, hammers home the worthy point that fear stems from ignorance, and that knowledge can overcome ignorance, and thus fear. The villager slaves are all superstitious and terrified, but Jonah and his team pull back the curtain, to use a Wizard of Oz metaphor, to reveal the truth about the manipulative Vargas. It’s a worthwhile point, especially because so many tyrants in today’s world use ignorant beliefs (usually of a religious nature) to hold back their populations.
Watching this episode of Ark II, I understood, perhaps for the first time, what’s missing from the series format: a sense of how Ruth, Jonah and Samuel are educated and trained, and what kind of organization, specifically they hail from. What are their skill-sets? How did they become trained? How were they chosen for these assignments?
It would have been great if the makers of Ark II had provided a bit more detail about these adventurers, and why they became involved with the Ark II mission, and what skills, precisely, they bring to the table. It would have been neat to get an episode where they check back in at home base, as well. I’d love to see the society they hail from, and what it is like.
I also got to wondering, perhaps because this episode is a little dull: is Ark II the only vehicle in the fleet? Is there also an Ark III or Ark IV out there, patrolling a different area of the post-apocalyptic terrain?
Of course, I realize that this Filmation series was designed for children. But the episodes create an interesting enough world that as a viewer, you want to know more about the characters, their backgrounds, and the world they inhabit. This is truly a series that would benefit from an intelligent remake: You could take the core series concept, the characters, the production design and the world-view and then spin out new details about all of them, significantly deepening the Ark II-iverse.
Next week: “The Balloon.”