Episode ABC.1.6: "Blanks"
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|Max Headroom: Episode ABC.1.6|
|UK Air Date||NA?|
|US Air Date||5 May 1987|
|Creative||Written by Steve Roberts
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
Edited by Jay Scherberth / Mark Helfrich / Philip J. Sgriccia
|Watch for...|| PLACE SHASH HERE
Astrology as practiced in Max's era.
Detailed look at the sordid guts of a telelection.
A TV remote - the first we've seen.
Sheep. Baaaaa. Baaa.
A noisemaker in the crowd clearly shouting the nonsense background-noise phrase "wakka wakka!"
Theora the tramp. (Yowza!)
Blank Reg, Riverdancer.
|Crew||Series Crew, Season 1|
|Matt Frewer|| as Edison Carter /
|Amanda Pays||Theora Jones|
|George Coe||Ben Cheviot|
|Chris Young||Bryce Lynch|
|and Jeffrey Tambor||Murray|
|William Morgan Sheppard||Blank Reg|
|Peter Crook||Blank Bruno|
|Howard Sherman||Simon Peller|
|Virginia Kiser||Miss Julia Formby|
|Hank Garrett||Gene Ashwell|
|Concetta Tomei||Blank Dominique|
|Lisa Niemi||Janie Crane|
|Elizabeth Gorcey||Arrested Blank|
|Rob Narita||Asian Controller|
|Kenneth White||Older Metrocop|
|John Durbin||City Prosecutor (Dragul)†|
|Cynthia Stevenson||TV Astrologer|
|?||Computer Court 9 (voice)|
|?||Carter's Computer (voice)|
|?||TV Election Announcer (female; voice)|
|?||TV Election Announcer (male; voice)|
|?||Gabrielle (Peller's Secretary, voice)|
|?||Bruno's Computer (voice)|
|?||Solar Trigger (voice)|
| * Tentative role match, pending confirmation.
† Name taken from episode ABC.2.7.
Unknown roles represent credited cast members with no certain matching role.
Unknown cast represent roles with unknown, possibly uncredited actors.
The sixth episode of the ABC series shows us that the grimness of Max's world extends to the judicial system and politics as well.
After a bizarre network message slide, we find ourselves 20 minutes into the future in a nicer part of the city, "Downtown," where throngs of reasonably well-dressed people bustle about. The Metrocops burst into an apartment and arrest a young woman accused of being a Blank. As we watch, she is hauled before a computer court by the sinister prosecutor Dragul. He inserts the relevant data, and she is found guilty. Crying "Blank is Beautiful!" she is hauled away to prison.
Immediately after, we see Edison Carter being roused for his busy day. First the shower quits, then the coffee maker fails, then - while watching Simon Peller be announced the winner of the overnight telelection, the TV quits. Carter calls Theora only to find that all the satellite links have gone down as well. Technology is rebelling, Max warns them.
Carter goes to interview the victorious Peller, whom he detests. After a short time, his link goes down, ending the hostile interview. Peller calls the Network 23 board to lambaste them for not being able to connect him with his voting constituency. However, all satellite links are down now, and there are zero viewers worldwide. It's panic in the boardrooms, and increasingly in the streets as people are cut off from their electronic opiate. Edwards suggests distributing emergency video players.
Meanwhile, Bryce is showing Carter his latest achievement, a software tool called "Data Rescan" that allows him to manipulate video footage. Bryce puts a tractor in a scene of sweating slaves pulling the Trojan Horse; Carter takes over and turns it into the Trojan Sheep. They are baaaa-ing at each other when Theora cuts in to tell Carter there's an important story breaking.
The situation in the streets is getting wilder as video vendors hawk their black market tapes and small video booths draw huge crowds suffering from withdrawal. Janie Crane is covering the chaos, but only on her way to the real story, that of the Blank who was arrested earlier. Edison Carter joins her and with a guiding Metrocop, they survey the wreckage of the girl's apartment.
Janie Crane makes a horrifying discovery: the girl's television has a highly illegal off switch! At that moment, a message begins to roll across every screen and monitor in the world: the disruptions were deliberate, and unless Peller's egregious arrests of the Blanks are stopped and the imprisoned ones freed, every computer in the city will be destroyed. They have until sunset - just hours. The satellite feeds are now taken down in seriousness.
As Blank Reg shares his lunch with the dog Fang, Dominique asks about the impending problem. It appears that Reg knows a great deal about what's coming - as much as an insider. Dom is entranced by the idea that if all the computers are destroyed, Big Time may be the only network left on the air.
Cheviot orders Carter onto the story in an attempt to ferret out the perpetrators - for negotiation, if not arrest. Murray and Bryce suggest shifting operations to Carter's apartment in an attempt to stay "off the grid" and invisible to the hacker terrorists.
Carter, Theora and Bryce begin their attempt to find the hackers, while Janie Crane broadcasts the story that Peller's roundup of Blanks continues. Peller is holed up with Cheviot in the board room. When Carter says he'd love to be a fly on that wall, Bryce obliges with his graduation project, a mechanical fly "bug"... but it only lasts seconds before Cheviot swats it.
Blank Reg has relocated the Big Time bus to a high ridge over a city that looks suspiciously like Los Angeles, assuring Dom that the windy and unpleasant location is necessary both to broadcast to the whole city and to help out "Blank Bruno" and "the lads."
Meanwhile, Theora has found the portal to the hacker's computer, but it's tightly guarded. They decide to use a Trojan Horse, something no hacker could resist... Max himself. He's to get in, keep the data line open, and send back as much information as he can before they pull him out.
He's encapsulated and sent, and Bruno is very intrigued... but very suspicious. It only takes Bruno a moment to "flatline" the data lines, trapping Max in his computer, where he exists only in volatile RAM... one keystroke from oblivion.
Blank Reg now sets up a "Solar Trigger," a device to automatically track the declination of the sun and thus notify Blank Bruno and his team when it's sundown and time to trigger the wipeout program. He then begins broadcasting Big Time's trademark cheesy old '80s videos.
There's jubilation in the streets as the one rotten channel returns, horror in the boardrooms, and anger on the part of Traker and then Bruno, as Reg's broadcasting undercuts their pressure tactics. Traker threatens to put Reg "back in the files," and Bruno gets Reg to pull the plug... "because you owe me," he insinuates. ButNetwork 23 is tracing Reg and Bruno's call, and nearly pin down the locations before Bruno's computer detects the monitoring and cuts the link.
Afterward, Max and Bruno are having a most interesting discussion about the Blank's antipathy towards computers, the "false faith" with which the networks are mesmerizing the masses. When Max goes too far and Bruno threatens to delete him, Max's simpering goes nowhere... for while Max is unique, he is repeatable. Bruno was once Bryce Lynch's teacher.
Bryce, Theora and Edison have been anxiously staring at the blank screens, waiting for Max to return. As they wait, angry voices begin rising in the street as people being to fight over the few video recordings avaiable. It occurs to Carter that they have an option: Bryce's "Data Rescan." If history won't go their way... they'll make history lie.
Carter flies to see Blank Reg, the one person he knows who might know what's going on. Theora heads out to make herself up in full glamour mode, the better to bamboozle Simon Peller, and Bryce stands by with the Data Rescan program waiting.
Carter persuades Reg to talk - about himself and how he became a Blank, about the rogue computer geniuses who "blanked" his files, and about the plan they're now running to free their friends and destroy the networks' control over people. Reg is finally persuaded to put
Bruno spares Max, and with the deadline ticking down, releases him, saying he might as well meet oblivion in the comfort of his own computer. Bryce, Theora and Edison have been waiting, staring at the blank screens, for Max to return.
Notes & Commentary
The title of this episode is recorded some places as "The Blanks," but according to production information that is incorrect. (Muddling the issue, the Shout! Factory DVD release uses "The Blanks" in the menus and package listings.) In keeping with the one-word titles of most episodes, I prefer the short form and encourage its use.
In lieu of the normal "20 Minutes into the Future" fade in, this episode begins with a stark network-content slide, reading simply "PLACE SHASH HERE." It looks like a network - ABC network or affiliate - error, someone failing to place an ad insert or cue the program correctly, until you notice the "Network 23" logo, and then it's just mysterious. We saw a similar opening slide on Episode ABC.1.1: "Blipverts", but with a more conventional message. According to a show writer, it was a deliberate joke aimed at ABC. "Shash" is a term that came from WWII radar operators, referring to noise and artifacts on their primitive screens; they took the term with them into the early generations of BBC broadcasting. Shash, loosely translated, means "sh*t and trash."
This is perhaps the most nakedly and wholly "cyberpunk" episode of the show.
This is our first look at a "normal" neighborhood, which is called "downtown" by someone. A nice, plain apartment, a nice plain urban neighborhood - apparently there is something in between the Fringes and penthouse/boardroom luxury.
The arrested Blank's cry of "Blank is Beautiful" - now that's funny. (Some younger readers might not recall the prevalence of the slogan "Black is Beautiful" in the early 1970s.)
When Simon Peller directs his assistant to "fix" his victory speech, it seems clear that Peller will have nothing to do with the fix. How is Ronald supposed to add a word to the recording? Is it synthesized? Does Peller have access to something like Bryce's "Data Rescan"?
Bryce casually mentions that he will send Carter the "Data Rescan" software via his optical link. FTH, or [Optical] Fiber to the Home, has only become a reality in the last few years. Fiberoptic backbone technology such as OC-3 is not a great deal older. (In story terms, this is to casually set up the transfer of Network 23's mainframe operations to Carter's apartment.)
Blank Bruno's ultimatum reads, in full: "This is a message to the authorities. It is also an ultimatum. You have until sunset to release the detained Blanks. This morning's failures were tests. We can desolate your systems. The reason is the actions of Simon Peller. Release the Blanks or every computer in the city will be simultaneously wrecked. You have until sunset.
It is not clear who voices the processed reading of the ultimatum - it may be Bruno.
"Love you like a sister" - just what is the relationship between Reg and Domininque?
Bruno's pet toad is named God.
Traker built the Solar Trigger. With extra features.
When Bruno tells all the Blanks on his screens to cut out when the trace is detected, Blank Reg's image appears briefly on each screen before it blanks out. Humor or technical oddity?
The voice of Computer Court 9 sounds astonishingly like Dick Tufeld, the voice of Robot B9 in "Lost in Space." However, Mr. Tufeld was kind enough to rummage his "leaky" memory and his work logs, and is certain he didn't do it.
Are we surprised to find Zik-Zak selling "black market" videos in the street?
Although Martinez is referenced and Carter rides the helicopter to and from Big Time TV, we never see or hear the pilot.
The notion that one could become a "blank file" is predicated on the idea that one's records reside in one central location, without backups. In reality, anyone who has held jobs, gotten loans, attended schools, and perhaps had brushes with the law would have records scattered throughout the country. It would take prodigious effort to eradicate them. It is possible that a future government, arrogant and stupid about computers, could consolidate records in a central repository.
This was the last-aired episode of the abbreviated first season... making the mild romantics between Carter and Theora at the end an interesting note. As does Max's crack about picking up the series option.
Max's final commercial lead-in is a pathetic shadow of the two prior ones. Oh, it sounds much the same if you listen casually, but listen... it is laughing about commercials, not at them. Max, defanged.
This episode uses the final version of the first-season opening credits, with both score and dialogue.
This episode has the "Fred Raimondi" and "Bill Stewart" subliminal credits for six or seven frames each in the Zik-Zak montage.
It also has the embedded credits "John Smith Television" as Carter watches the telelection results, and "B. Stewart" on Bryce's graduation project screen.
Quotes & Caps
- Computer Court 9: "Guilty. Take her down."
- Convicted Blank: "I know my rights. I won't be judged by a machine!"
- Dragul: "You don't have any rights. You're a Blank."
- Convicted Blank: "Blank is beautiful! Blank is beautiful! Blank is beautiful!"
- Carter's Computer: "Good morning, Mr. Carter. This is your daybreak call. Your breakfast is preparing, and your shower is ready."
- TV Astrologer: "Sattilac 5 is in conjunction with NetSat 7. SkyTel 489 is in the ascendant. Aquarians, avoid eating; Sagittarians, avoid meeting people."
- Max: "And veg-veg-vegetarians, avoid eating meat. Or people. Heh. Heh. Heh-heh. Morning, Ed!"
- Carter: "Morning, Max."
- Max: "I spent the night dig-dig-digging-digging 'round in your old dreams. They should be arrested!"
- Max: "Hey! Why do you have a blanket over the screen? I can't see anything..."
- Carter: "...that's why! Hey, the shower stopped!"
- Max: "See? Smother tech-tech-tech... technology, and it rebels!"
- Carter: "Ehh, great, just what I need: a delicious cup of boiling water!"
- Max: "Shouldn't fool with technology-gy...gy-gy."
- Carter: "If it wasn't for fooling with technology, my buddy in a box, you wouldn't exist!"
- Max: "Yes I would. I would."
- Female Announcer: "The overnight telelection data is now loaded. If you haven't voted, do it now. Only three more seconds to cast your vote."
- Male Announcer: "This is a result. Simon Peller is elected. Mr. Peller's prerecorded victory speech can be seen in seven seconds on..." (static)
- Simon Peller (recording): "And it is with pleasure..."
- Simon Peller: "Right there - make that, ahhh, 'heartfelt pleasure' - it has a ring of deep sincerity. Fix it, would you?"
- Ronald: "Who cares, Simon? They hit their buttons, you're in! They're not listening any more!"
- Simon Peller: "There are times, Ronald, when your cynicism is a positive joy."
- Carter: "I'm afraid our link's gone down."
- Ronald: "Just as well."
- Simon Peller: "Oh, not so, Ronald. Mr. Carter is merely doing his very well-paid job, while the appearance of dispute is essential to the networks's... ah, electoral democracy, eh, Mr. Carter? May I call you Edison?"
- Carter: "No. And I don't like the word 'appearance'... Mr. Peller."
- Simon Peller: "Now then... progress?"
- Ronald: "We have several Blanks already, but we have no idea how many more there are."
- Simon Peller: "I greatly enjoy neatness, Ronald - I find it very soothing. But, ah, with these Blanks running loose, ah, things are very untidy!"
- Miss Formby: "We're going to go critical if we don't act soon."
- Edwards: "We're going to have riots out there. We should distribute emergency video players immediately!"
- Simon Peller: "How are my ratings?"
- Cheviot: "Our ratings."
- Simon Peller: "But my constituents, my votes - 296 million of them."
- Cheviot: "Simon, we all know the votes are computer-enhanced."
- Bryce: "I call it Data Rescan."
- Carter: "It's fantastic."
- Bryce: "Want the software? I'll route it to your home terminal on your optical link."
- Carter: "Yeah, thanks."
- Carter: "Let's change the course of history: the Trojan Sheep."
- Bryce: (laughs)
- Carter: "Aaaaaa."
- Bryce: "Baaaaa."
- Carter: "Baaaaa."
- Street Seller: "Wakka wakka!"
- Janie Crane: "Without regular picture transmissions, thousands are swarming the streets, desperately buying black-market tapes from video vendors."
- (TV Noise)
- Janie Crane: "Edison... an off switch!"
- Metrocop: "She'll get years for that. Off switches are illegal!"
- (TV Noise)
- Simon Peller: "These people are known as 'Blanks' - people who have somehow erased or 'blanked' their names from our central computer. They're computer experts gone bad."
- Miss Julia Formby: "My god, they could lobotomize the network. Without television, this city would be ungovernable!"
- Blank Reg: "Dom... I do believe I love you."
- Blank Dominique: "Like a sister, I trust?"
- Blank Reg: "Well, I always fancied nuns..."
- Blank Dominique: "Now if all those threats are for real, well, there'd be no networks, would there?"
- Blank Reg: "No, Dom. Not if the lads do their business..."
- Blank Dominique: "We don't have a computer, do we?"
- Blank Reg: "No, we don't. Computers know too much."
- Blank Dominique: "Reg... what do you know about all this?"
- Blank Reg: "Enough. Enough to get some mates of mine out the slammer and give you and me a tasty little earner."
- Carter: "My systems may be unreliable, though - my shower cut out this morning. ...I had shampoo in my hair!"
- Theora: "Aww..."
- Carter: "You don't know what that's like, Murray."
- Bryce: (laughs)
- Cheviot: "I'm sure that was very distressing."
- Coffee Machine: "Coffee... Coffee..."
- Carter: "Shut up! ...Coffee's ready... want some?"
- Bryce: "At the Academy they used to say, 'caffeine kills concentration.'"
- Theora: "Which academy, Bryce?"
- Bryce: "ACS. Academy of Computer Sciences. I went in when I was ten."
- Theora: "Ten? What about your family and your friends?"
- Bryce: "Oh... they were very proud, I think."
- Theora: "No, I mean about you leaving home so young."
- Bryce: "I have no idea. I haven't seen them."
- Theora: "Okay, it's tracing back to...here. ...Downtown!"
- Bryce: "If they can access the Domestics mainframe, they can control everything! That computer runs the city!"
- Janie Crane: "...Simon Peller continues his relentless campaign to put the Blanks behind bars..."
- Carter: "That bloody clown Peller is still arresting people!"
- Janie Crane: "...perhaps ripping a tear in the very fabric of our society."
- Murray: "Edison! That bloody clown Peller is still arresting people!"
- Carter: "Yeah, I heard."
- Carter: "What I wouldn't give to be a fly on that boardroom wall."
- Bryce: "Well, you can if you like."
- Carter: "What?"
- Cheviot: "...got to stop this now!..."
- Carter: "Bryce, what is this?"
- Bryce: "Oh, it's a bug. Well, a fly, actually. It was my graduation project when I was eleven."
- Carter: "A mechanical fly?"
- Carter: "So, we'll give them a Trojan Horse... something so... unique for a computer hacker they'll have to take it in. We'll give them Max."
- Max: "I want to get this clear: you want me to pretend-pretend-pretend to be a horse? I saddle up for no man!"
- Max: "Well what I want to know is: what happened to the Trojan Horse-se-se?"
- Bryce: "Well, it became a great mythical figure."
- Max: "Yeah, but did they pick up-pick up-pick up did they pick up the option on its series?"
- Bruno: "Is this a prerecording?"
- Bruno's Computer: "No. It has full responsive capacity, and artificial intelligence capabilities."
- Max: "Less of the artific-fic-ficial artificial, voice box. Box. Box. Anyway... where am I?"
- Bruno: "I am Bruno. I'm a Blank."
- Max: "I am... Max! Max Head-Head-Head-Head-Headroom! Max Headroom!"
- Carter: "Can't we do something? Max is trapped in there."
- Bryce: "We had to run his construct complete. They would have sensed a duplicate."
- Theora: "I'm afraid he's stuck in there."
- Edwards: "Chaos out there! People are in a panic, fighting for old video recordings!"
- Ashwell: "Personally, I'd rather watch a smoke alarm."
- Background: "Big Time... Television! Big Time... Television! Twenty-four hours a day, day after day, making tomorrow seem like yesterday!"
- Blank Reg (over): "This is Blank Reg, welcoming you to Big Time Television, from sunrise to sunset, filling your empty lives with mindless drek!"
- Bruno: "Our 'bomb' is simply a program. It links all the programs of the city through the main one simultaneously. Massive overload. Goodbye everything from... Security Systems to Network 23."
- Max: "Well, I'll let you know if there's life after the off-switch-tch-tch."
- Bruno: "I already know."
- Max: "Of all the computers in all the systems in all the world, I had to walk into yours."
- Max: "What I want to know is, why you want to wreck our network? Network!"
- Bruno: "Your network, and the authorities, are mesmerizing millions into worshiping this new priesthood of the computer! Like... cave men worshipping fire! It's a false faith, Max."
- Bruno: "You are one fingertip away from oblivion."
- Max: "I don't - I don't think you'll do that. I'm too... irr-resis-tible... too... fas-fas-fascinating."
- Bruno: "Fascinating... even unique. But repeatable. You see, Bryce Lynch was once my pupil."
- Background: (angry crowd noises)
- Carter: "It's starting to happen. Their world's gone away. Without their TVs, what is there for them?"
- Carter: "Bryce... what did General Cornwallis say, before Yorktown, when he was asked what history would say, if he lost the battle?"
- Bryce: "Well, he... he said that history will lie. As usual."
- Carter: "Exactly."
- Theora: "What do I talk to him about?"
- Carter: "Talk to him about the Blanks."
- Theora: "Yeah, but what if he won't talk to me?"
- Carter: "Just be beautiful - he'll melt. ...I do."
- Bruno: "You can at least terminate in the comfort of your own computer."
- Max: "Nooo...." (howls)
- Max: "Well, I'm back. They threw-threw-threw me out of that place! You gotta help me - help me, Bryce, I'm frightened. If they run that program, they'll erase-s-s-s erase me... they'll turn me into wan-wandering electrons, deserts of vast eternity, the gray-gray-gray-graveyard of old ship's shows."
- Carter: "How'd you become a Blank, Reg?"
- Blank Reg: "I was working for these very bright young computer hackers. I was in a bit of bother - tax creds, the law, slight violence, all that - I had to disappear officially. They did me a favor. Suddenly I didn't exist - I was a blank file. Still am."
- Carter: "Now it's a kind of a philosophy, eh?"
- Blank Reg: "Yeah, sort of. Well, everything's bleedin' rules, idn'it? They want a license for the dog - imagine!"
- Simon Peller: "I don't care how many regulations you break, I want them locked up!"
- Blank Reg: "Hello, Bruno... um, there's a bloke here wants to talk to you... uh, sorry, squire."
- Carter: "Don't cut me off. There's no trace - you have my word."
- Bruno's Computer: "There is no trace on this micro-link."
- Blank Bruno: "Mr. Edison Carter! A privilege."
- Blank Reg: "Oh, my god."
- Carter: "What?"
- Blank Reg: "There's a timer. There's a demolition charge on it."
- Carter: "Well, get away from it!"
- Blank Reg: "No... not if it's, uh, gonna buy you some time, mate. No, now, don't hang about! This flashlight's not very reliable. ...Go on..."
- Edwards: "You mean you have no idea what Carter is up to?"
- Cheviot: "None... and he has my absolute trust."
- Blank Bruno: "There must be a fault in the Solar Trigger."
- Traker: "It doesn't matter. I rigged a demolition charge. If the Trigger fails, it'll blow it to bits. Same result."
- Blank Bruno: "You did what? Blank Reg might be near that thing!"
- Traker: "But if the program doesn't run, we all lose."
- Blank Bruno: "It's not worth Reg's life, Traker. Damn your arrogance! I'm flatlining the program. I cannot risk Reg's life."
- Traker: "No."
- Blank Bruno: "Yes."
- Simon Peller (on tape): "My dear Miss Jones... of course I will not release these people. (rewind) ...of course I will n...re- (rewind) ...of course I will... (rewind)"
- Carter: "Only one man can prevent our city being paralyzed... Simon Peller. Mr. Peller, are you prepared to negotiate to prevent this catastrophe?"
- Bryce: "Micro-link... running... control."
- Simon Peller (on tape): "My dear Miss Jones... of course I will release these people. I have no intention of risking this city or its television network."
- Simon Peller: "I never said that!"
- Simon Peller: "Those Blanks will be brought to justice. They haven't heard the end of this, Carter."
- Carter: "Oh, I think they have... Simon. Unlike the Fringes, justice here is a lot more than cash flow... or politics."
- Max: "What are you laugh-laugh-laughing about? Bryce just tried to kiss me! Kiss me!"
- Carter: "Well, you are irresistible."
- Theora: "Well, thank you."
- Blank Dominique: "Reg! What are you doing, fooling about up there?"
- Blank Reg: "Bein' 'eroic, Dom. It was my turn."
- Blank Dominique: (laughs)
- Blank Reg: "(dances) ...Hey!"
- Max: (Max on the hilarity of being interrupted by commercials; defies transcription)