Episode ABC.1.3: "Body Banks"

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Max Headroom: Episode ABC.1.3
Title "Body Banks"
Production No. 1.2
UK Air Date NA?
US Air Date 14 Apr 1987
Length 48 minutes
Creative Written by Steve Roberts

Directed by Francis DeLia

Edited by Philip J. Sgriccia

Watch for... Carter kissing Theora.

The evolving backstory between Cheviot and Formby.

Rik's foot-powered rickshaw.

A girl named Pancho.

Carter yelling a surprising expletive.

Ashwell's spanking.

Crew Series Crew, Season 1
Actor Role
Main Cast
Matt Frewer Edison Carter

Max Headroom

Amanda Pays Theora Jones
George Coe Ben Cheviot
Chris Young Bryce Lynch
Jeffrey Tambor Murray
Also Starring
William Morgan Sheppard Blank Reg
Special Guest Stars
Jere Burns Breugal
Rick Ducommon Mahler
Guest Starring
Virginia Kiser Miss Julia Formby
Hank Garrett Gene Ashwell
Lee Wilkof Edwards
Concetta Tomei Blank Dominque
J.W. Smith Rik
Scott Kraft Mel
Claude Earl Jones Dr. Mason
Robert Dowdell Transplant Doctor
James "Gypsy" Haake Club Dancer
John Winston Plantagenet
Jenny Gago Pancho
Co-Starring
Arsensio "Sonny" Trinidad Ped Xing
Peri Kaczmarek Rayna
Fred Holliday Game Show Host
Michael Paul Chan Dr. Moon
Grace Simmons Nurse Edie
B.L. Collins Blond Controller*
Jay Arlen Jones Black Controller
Featuring
Rick Deats Television News Reader
Juliette Cummins Paula (Book Girl)
Unknown Cast
 ? Edison's First Kiss Girl
 ? Mother Plantagenet
 ? Mr. Kiyoko (Ped Xing's Assistant)
* Tentative role match, pending confirmation.

Unknown cast represent roles with unknown, possibly uncredited actors.

The third episode of the ABC series is a clear continuation of both the pilot and unused elements from the original telefilm.

Synopsis

The brutal body-snatchers Breugal and Mahler are back, and now openly hunting live specimens who are good tissue matches for wealthy clients. As we watch, they run down Rayna, test her for a match by (painfully) extracting a patch of skin from her back with a test instrument, then haul her away, leaving her friend Mel beaten senseless.

Something ugly is going on for board member Miss Formby; the wealthy figure Plantagenet is pressuring her to deliver the Max Headroom process to help preserve his dying mother's memories, as she can no longer be kept alive with transplants. He threatens to ruin Cheviot if he does not get the process, and insists that Formby "in particular" knows he can do it.

In the background, Edison Carter is breaking a huge new story, that of the massive amounts of old industrial waste underlying the city - or at least the "Fringes," where the down-and-out live. As the opening elements of the main story unfold, we hear Carter excoriating the politicians and "parents" of the prior generation for hiding this deadly waste and then forgetting it was there.

Mel is one of those watching the story and Carter's insistence that he will find and expose the guilty. Mel then hurries away in the darkness of the Fringe.

As the Network 23 board watches the end of Carter's report, Cheviot receives a call from Ped Xing. The chairman of Zik-Zak Corporation is still angry at the discontinuation of blipverts, and wants Network 23's new highly-rated presenter to pitch their products. They want Max Headroom.

Carter returns to rousing cheers at control, and a license from Cheviot to continue pressing the story. We also find out that Max has been pressing Carter about some "lost" memories - apparently hangover-related.

Miss Formby (not Mrs.!) is working with Bryce to see if Max can be made tractable, but when she reports back to Cheviot that Max is being difficult, he chides her strangely. It is clear that Formby is playing double agent - to Plantagenet and Network 23 on behalf of Zik-Zak - and that there is something about her and Cheviot we don't yet know.

Mel tries to call Carter but is blocked by Theora and network policy. Having seen her, Mel then kidnaps Theora and forces her to take him to Carter. After Theora and Carter overpower him, they get his story: Rayna is just the latest to have been stolen from the Fringes. The kidnappings are always girls, and always by the same two freaks in a van.

Using a Network 23 console and something called the "Diogenes program" (identified on screen as "VidIdent"), Theora builds simulated photographs of the two thugs, their van and the missing Rayna. Unbeknownst to them, Bryce monitors their work and watches the faces being assembled. With the face photos in hand, Carter and Mel take to the Fringes, asking the denizens if anyone has seen these faces.

Cheviot is concerned that Bryce is unable to control Max and get him to focus on the work for Zik-Zak. When Bryce says Max has all of Carter's personality but none of his self-control, Cheviot suggests that Max might talk sense to Carter.

In the meantime, the body bank is preparing to "crash freeze" Rayna, taking the risk of damage since all they want is her pituitary gland. In the Fringes, Carter has run into his streetwise friend Rik, who offers them "wheels" - his rickshaw. They set out to ask more people about the faces in the photos.

Rik takes Carter to see Pancho, a blind Fringer who apparently knows Reg, but Reg has gone home. While they are talking, someone steals Carter's vidicam from the rickshaw - a "hanging offense" for Network 23 employees. A Fringer girl, Paula, delivers Carter's vidicam to Blank Reg, who trades her some items for it just before Carter shows up.

Plantagenet is getting irritated at the delays in getting Mother the transplant she needs, and threatens the doctor with exposure if she dies before the Max Headroom process can save her mind. The doctor decides to move fast and "transfer direct." Plantagenet is also pressuring Formby to deliver the Max Headroom process, just as Cheviot is working to get Max to cooperate with Zik-Zak.

And Max has decided to cooperate... in his own fashion. He's on the air and running wild with his own viciously funny versions of Zik-Zak product promotions. After Bryce explains that pulling the plug would kill the whole network, he finds a way to isolate Max until Carter can be located to talk some sense into him.

Carter and Mel find Blank Reg at the mobile office of Big Time Television. Reg identifies the thug photos as Breugal and Mahler, and returns Carter's vidicam... for a price. Reg, Mel and Carter hunt the pair down at a sleazy Fringe bar, Caligula's, and after a brawl convince them to deliver Carter to the same body bank disguised as a corpse. When Carter jumps out, Dr. Moon kills first Dr. Mason and then himself.

Meanwhile, Miss Formby, unable to get possession of the Max Headroom software, has dragged Bryce away to the Sybaris (Santui?) condo where Plantagenet waits. Max turns himself off, hiding in the check processing software area.

Carter is selling Murray on the body snatching story when Cheviot calls, furious that Carter has not reported in, that Bryce cannot be located and that even Formby has now disappeared. He threatens Carter with termination unless he drops his self-assigned story and talks Max into submission. Carter declines but is eventually convinced to work to everyone's benefit.

While looking for Max, Theora accidentally frees him from his own trap in Accounting. Carter answers Max's questions about fuzzy shared memories, mollifying him for the time being. Meanwhile, Formby is pressuring Bryce to access the Max Headroom process to save Mother Plantagenet's mind, but Bryce is disturbed that they will kill Rayna to accomplish the transfer. He manages to use elements within Max's files to send a message to Carter, who is instantly on his way to the condo.

As Max links into the condo terminal through Bryce's file and Theora sees the scene through the two-way sampler, Carter crashes into the condo. Mel attacks the doctor, saving Rayna, but we hear Mother's life support go flatline in the background. Carter confronts Formby, goes live with the story, and brings down the corrupt body bank. And Max does a straight Zik-Zak lead-in for the whole thing.

In the end, Cheviot's affair with Formby remains a secret and with the past firmly put into the past, they prepare to continue the unending ratings battle.

Notes & Commentary

There is a very pointed exchange in which Formby insists she is Miss Formby, not Mrs. This appears to be some kind of in-joke, as the character was clearly "Mrs. Formby" in the telefilm. We also learn her first name is Julia, and that Cheviot is comfortable enough with that name to call her that in a stressful situation.

Edison Carter states that Max "was born at the age of 27." Matt Frewer would have been 27 in 1985, when the telefilm was made; he was 29 at the time of the US pilot episode.

It evolves that Formby and Cheviot had an affair at some time in the past, and the need to keep it secret is so important to Cheviot's position that Formby will do almost anything to keep it hidden.

Who is Plantagenet, that he knows Formby and Cheviot's secret and is wealthy enough to keep buying illicit body parts for his mother?

Edwards smokes.

Edwards has no lines in this episode, although he has a notable screen presence.

Ashwell's reputation as a despised buffoon is further cemented by Cheviot's patronizing comments and Formby's harsh treatment of him.

Rayna and Mel are "from the river," and come into the city, where they don't know anyone, to sell blood. Mel says he can't afford to buy law, implying that the Metrocops charge - openly or illicitly - for police work.

Theora uses the "Diogenes program" (also identified as the Diogenes mainframe, and on the screen, as VidIdent v2.01 rev A) to build an image of the thugs from Mel's description. This is clearly an evolution of the card sets that could be used to assemble a suspect's image. After years of such evolving "criminal picture" programs, one much like this has recently been developed. It permits an image to be built with overall natural descriptives instead of one piece at a time.

On their VidIdent cards, Breugal is listed as an M (male?) type 1362, and Mahler as an M type 8491.

Blank Reg's dog is named Fang.

Edison Carter uses a very sharp, very clearly enunciated expletive - see quotes list above for the quote and sound bite. How in the world did this escape ABC's Standards & Practices watchdogs, and why hasn't anyone ever noticed this? ADDENDUM: A fan has found a recording of the original ABC airing of this episode. The line is cut - the show jumps over the medium shot with the beginning of the line and includes only the last part of it. Now, to figure out how it was cut for ABC broadcast but survived for later reruns...

This episode follows naturally from the series pilot, and weaves in many of the elements of the telefilm that were omitted in that first episode.

Rik had a motorcycle-powered rickshaw in "Rakers" but now has a traditional foot-powered one. Since this episode is an earlier production, many arguments could be made about the whys of this. Does Rik have more than one rickshaw? Did he acquire the motorcycle later? Or is it just a meaningless continuity flaw?

Who is Pancho? Is she a prostitute? It's implied that she is something to Reg and that he needs to hide her from Dominique. It is never made clear that Dom and Reg are anything but boss/employee and friends; why would Dominique object? Pancho and other possible interests of Reg's are never mentioned again, and the relationship of him and Dom only gets murkier in later episodes.

During the conversation between Dr. Mason and the transplant doctor, "F. Nightengale" appears at the bottom of the viewphone screen. This (besides being misspelled), the second doctor's comment about "our own body bank" and Plantagenet's comment to him about "your body bank" all implies that he is Dr. Nightingale, although he is never clearly named. It was previously established that the nurse at Nightingale's Body Bank is named Florence. Perhaps this is her husband... Frank?

As in the telefilm, Reg is showing Divine videos when we first see him at work. The one in the telefilm is not easily identifiable, but here she is singing the signature "Walk Like a Man."

Max identifies Formby and Bryce's destination as "Sybaris condo"; Murray later directs the security team to "Santui condo." Since we return to the "Sybaris Residential Complex" in "Security Systems," the latter must be regarded as a continuity glitch. The ancient Greek city Sybaris is, of course, the root origin of "sybaritic" or extremely luxurious.

Bryce sends his door entry code (IJ2FI) as part of his attempt to attract attention. If he knows that Theora knows his code, why hasn't he changed it?

Although involvement among corporation board members is frowned upon, it's never made entirely clear why the old affair between Cheviot and Formby would be so damaging to them both, especially Cheviot.

Cash is still in use - it would have to be, to support a Fringer/Blank economy where no one would have credit tubes.

Maybe it's just me or a fluke of the way she delivered the line, but Pancho's "He went home" is the heartbreaking lament of every "other woman" in history.

This episode uses the first cut of the opening credits with dialogue, which are used with only minor tweaks for the remainder of the first season. Bizarrely, the lines spoken by Grossberg as head of Network 23 in episode 1.1 are here dubbed by Cheviot. It can be assumed that this has something do do with Charles Rocket not being a continuing member of the cast after the pilot, but it still throws a strange light on Cheviot.

Subliminal Credits

This episode has only "Fred Raimondi" in the Zik-Zak montage. (?)

Quotes