Tales from the Cultural Wilderness - Journal

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2011-01-16 Entry: "J.A.G. - "Pilot""

Okay, so we have an NBC show from 1995 (although it didn't exactly stay on NBC as they cancelled it after the first season and CBS picked it up)...

Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Audio: Dobly Stereo Surround.

Harmon Rabb - David James Elliott
Caitlin Pike - Andrea Parker
CAG - Terry O'Quinn
Bud Roberts - Patrick Labyorteaux

We're somewhere over the Adriatic with a really dodgy shot of two guys in a fishing boat. Then we get introduced to two American fighter aircraft. The lead pilot, "CAG", shoots down two enemy aircraft on his own, without using his expensive Phoenix missiles... and "CAG" was using it as a test of whether his co-pilot Angela has the courage to be a fighter pilot. She considers resignation over the the issue, and there's clearly plenty of sexism on the aircraft carrier. So who's the guy Angela's meeting in secret with in an aircraft on deck? And after she nearly falls overboard, who's the person who pushes her after she's saved herself?

So, back at J.A.G. Headquarters, they assign Lieutenant Harmon Rabb to investigate, and insist on sending a female lawyer with him, Lt J.G. Caitlin Pike. On the carrier, they meet Ensign Bud Roberts, who's going to be their liaison, and we discover Rabb used to be a pilot but had a night vision problem that grounded him. Roberts also has the press to deal with, and the journalist and Rabb have a history - Rabb's father was M.I.A. in Vietnam and Harmon sneaked into North Vietnam to look for him! Harm gets him to hold off on writing a report for 24 hours as long as he gets a ride over Bosnia.

The "CAG" doesn't want to give the flights, but there's more worrying news from the lawyers that someone sent an encrypted message off the ship saying "she was murdered." The roommate, Cassie, is suitably hostile to the two lawyers going through Angela's things, and the other pilot, Lt Mace, is equally hostile to Harm. Mace's co-pilot, Painter, is convinced Angela was murdered.

Angela's hat is found in the safety net off the flight deck, which reinforces "CAG"'s feelings that she committed suicide... and leads to something of a hostile confrontation between him and Pike. But we do discover that the CAG was Harm's father's wingman on the day he went missing.

The LSO, Ripper (who's clearly a sexist) keeps waving Cassie off rather than let her land, and she disobeys his orders and puts the aircraft down anyway; fortunately, even though the CAG agrees with his attitude about female pilots, he dresses him down for not performing his duty on deck. Pike, with the help of a former academy-mate, manages to restore Angela's recording of the initial flight, and it reinforces Harm's opinion that she couldn't handle combat.

The dodgy looking fishermen from the start find Angela's body. Ah, and there's Painter confessing that he was Angela's husband, and that it was him in the plane for sex. It also turns out Painter was the one who talked her out of resigning, and she was going back to delete her resignation letter... but she never made it back to her quarters, so who deleted the letter? Ah, Cassie did. And she needs to be at the board-of-enquiry, but it'll have to wait until the "Alpha Strike" over Bosnia is done. And can I say, if an "Alpha Strike" is "everything that flies", how do they defend the aircraft carrier?

CAG's flying a recon mission ahead of the Alpha Strike, and when the journalist turns down his second ride, Harm takes his place. But when he's up in the plane, he spots that Cassie's callsign is "Lobo", but that was the jacket Angela was wearing the night she was killed. Unfortunately, the CAG gets the plane shot up on the way back and Harm has to fly the plane... including landing it on the deck, which was what led to him giving up being a pilot (when he hit the deck and his co-pilot died during the ejection). Luckily, Pike arrests Ripper before he can stop Harm from landing, after Harm works out that Angela was mistaken for Cassie on the night of the muder.

So, for a muder mystery, it threw enough potential suspects into the mix to keep the audience guessing, although there was definitely more investigating than lawyering from the two lawyers in this! Clearly, Harmon Rabb is the star, because we find out almost zero about Caitlin Pike during the hour and a half (which might explain why they recast the other lawyer when the show went to series). Perhaps we need to coin a new term - "Action Lawyer" for lawyers who don't actually do much lawyering, but instead run around shooting guns and fighting with bad-guys? The bits I most recall of Perry Mason were the running around solving crime bits rather than the actual lawyering, so maybe we can throw him in the same category?

Meanwhile, all the Navy bits of this show are extremely dense. They're constantly throwing term and acronyms at you in an attempt to show what life on an aircraft carrier is like, but I still didn't have a clue what half their jobs are. And is "CAG" a title? Or just his callsign? It's a slightly odd call-sign, if that's the case, as it doesn't appear to mean anything! Also, the whole "Washington politics" bits with the Chief Judge Advocate General going to the White House was a bit throwaway and distracting. Fortunately, they manage to get a better balance between naval stuff and "action lawyer" as the series goes on. And considering the show managed to run for 10 seasons (well, 9 once it jumped network after cancellation), it must have been doing something right... or maybe that was just the Harmon Rabb - Sarah MacKenzie romance that didn't show up until season 2... maybe that was why it was cancelled?

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