Episode ABC.2.2: "Deities"

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Episode ABC.2.2
Title "Deities"
Production No. 2.2
UK Air Date NA?
US Air Date 25 Sep 1987
Length 48 minutes
Creative Written by Michael Cassutt

Directed by Tom Wright

Edited by Andrew L. Cohen

Watch for: The pronunciation of "Xmas."

"It's wonderful... isn't it."

Multiple "Life with Polly" references.

A plasma sphere (cool).

Remember Teddy Ruxpin?

Bryce blowing himself up (a little).

One of the steamier sequences of the series.

Bryce's changing notions of impossibility. And his continuing ability to pronounce "data."

A cameo by Bryce's parrot (the live one).

Carter's snarky comment about how to sneak out of the Network 23 building... the way he once tried to do, unsuccessfully.

A duplicated securicam number. Oops.

A chilling intersection of GM and Vietnam references.

Crew Series Crew, Season 2
Actor Role
Main Cast
Matt Frewer as Edison Carter /

Max Headroom

Amanda Pays Theora Jones
George Coe Ben Cheviot
Chris Young Bryce Lynch
W. Morgan Sheppard Blank Reg
and Jeffrey Tambor Murray
Guest Starring
Dayle Haddon Dr. Vanna Smith
Hank Garrett Gene Ashwell
Lee Wilkof Edwards
Sharon Barr Lauren
Gregory Itzin Gregory (Vu-Age Rep)
Rosalind Chao Angela Barry
Michael Margotta Network 23 Researcher
Peg Stewart Jennifer Marx
Co-Starring
Brenda Hayes Shannon*
Gary Ballard Humphrey Marx
Featuring
Clarence Brown Vu-Age Member (male)*
Dale Raoul Vu-Age Member (female)
Ron Ray Ron (Network 23 tech)*
Larry Spinak  ?
Unknown Cast
 ? Other Network 23 Board (female)
 ? Other Network 23 Board (male)
 ? Other Network 23 Board (male)
 ? Other Vu-Age Members
* Tentative role match, pending confirmation.

Unknown roles represent credited cast members with no certain matching role.

Unknown cast represent roles with unknown, possibly uncredited actors.

The second episode of the ABC series' second season set a high bar by taking on that old-time "electronic religion"... in Max's time and our own.

The complete episode, from original broadcast masters, is available on the Shout! Factory DVD set.

Synopsis

20 minutes into the future, it's time for the weekly broadcast of the Vu-Age Church's program "Save Yourself" - "modern religion for the video age" on Network 23. Church leader Vanna Smith is making a hard pitch for five million credits in donations to keep their research into resurrection technology going. It's an effective pitch: first we see a woman making a donation while visiting her "stored" husband, then none other than Network 23 board member Gene Ashwell.

Murray, on the other hand, smells a scam - or at least a story. Vu-Age has gotten too big, too fast, and on promises that have to be bogus. Theora fervently agrees, but Carter is curiously reticent - he doesn't want to waste his time on such a canned story. Murray twists his arm, and he reluctantly agrees.

Carter's odd reaction gets Murray curious, and he quizzes Theora and then Max about Carter's religious beliefs. According to Max, Carter doesn't have any strong feelings on the subject, making his reaction even more inexplicable.

Carter enters the Vu-Age Church's temple to a room labeled by a bronze plaque as "Knocking on Heaven's Door," and begins interviewing a woman who is talking to a video simulacrum of her deceased husband... which only she seems to find convincing, as it repeats the same phrase over and over. Carter is accosted by a Vu-Age rep who escorts him to an office and answers some questions, then lets himself be arm-twisted into calling Vanna Smith, who, Carter assures the rep. will want to see him.

Smith appears from a side door and greets Carter... with a slashing right hook. It turns out that Carter's problem is that he and Vanna had a three-year-long affair some time back, one which was characterized by fighting and ended on a fight. Smith is quickly apologetic for her punch, and soon Carter ("off duty") is grilling her about how the girl he knew turned into such a con artist. But Vanna sticks to her guns and defends her position, claiming that both she and Carter ended up in the same place - the "reassurance racket."

Carter talks with Bryce about the process as Bryce's current experiment is literally backfiring. Bryce assures him that "being cortically scanned and stored" requires a computer the size of Network 23's, and that the Vu-Age Church could be storing only the most rudimentary form of a client's personality.

Back in control, Murray confronts Carter and wants to know why Vanna White reacted so strongly. Carter brushes him off and says he'll get his story... "Trust me." Murray calls after him, "Can I...?" and proceeds to confide the problems in Theora, who turns to Max. Max confirms a three-year bout of dorm-room thrashing, but Theora wants to know about Carter's feelings for Vanna White - was he in love? Max confirms that - amid continuing fights - Carter's feelings were very strong.

Carter begins recording his story, calling Vu-Age and Vanna Smith on the carpet for fraud. Theora is concerned that Carter has lost his objectivity, and convinces him to let Vanna Smith see the story before it airs, to give her a second chance. Over another candle-lit dinner in Edison's apartment, he tells her he's breaking his rules, but wants to show her the tape. She says he's changed, from a lover to a muckraker... and decides to pass on seeing the tape. Which suits Carter... and they end up in bed again, instead.

"arter wakes up alone, only to get an urgent call from Theora: Max is missing. Conferring in control, he, Murray, Theora and Bryce figure out that someone came in the night and took Max out of the system... which can only happen with his compliance. No one can get Max out of Network 23's system... but Max can put himself into a travel computer, apparently leaving "most of his programming - like your body without the brain" behind. Bryce establishes how unique Max's creation and being are - he is "one of the most complex pieces of computer software anyone is likely to create." He even has a "daytime serial" module to keep writing himself.

Theora figures it out: the Vu-Age Church has him. Max is important to Edison... important enough leverage him against the pending story. Carter startes to leave, to confront his "old ex-friend" Vanna Smith... but Theora stops him, saying his personal feelings are getting in the way. Carter makes it clear that personal feelings always drive him... and goes.

The Network 23 board is concerned with eroding demographics for the top-rated Polly show - they're losing the 5-11 year olds. Maybe younger writers are the key? (No, says Cheviot... use simpler writers.) In other business, the Vu-Age Church show is trending upwards... and Ashwell suggests it's a mistake to let Carter run his exposé that evening. Cheviot laughs at the notion he can control Carter's stories. After all, as Lauren points out... if there's a knock-down fight between these two ratings leaders, the winner is still... Network 23. And then they're back to the Polly show... and its cost overruns.

Bryce is explaining the timeline of Max's disappearance to Carter and Theora... at five p.m., Max was there; when he checked at three a.m. ("instead of a night on the town, right?" Carter cracks) he was gone. Using the usual securicam recordings, Bryce tracks a shadowy figure taking "Max's CPU" and entering an elevator. He tracks them down to loading Max in a car, but nothing is identifiable - no license plate. Bryce backtracks to before the theft, and catches the thief entering the data center. Someone else is lurking in the shadows, and Bryce zooms in to show... board member Gene Ashwell.

Carter corners Ashwell in the network boardroom and shoves him back against the table. "Where's Max Headroom?" he demands. "At the temple," Ashwell answers. He was helping Vanna Smith... after all, he owes loyalty to his church. "Which obviously takes precedence over your loyalty to Twenty-Three," Carter growls. Ashwell admits to a momentary crisis, but insists that Max is network property - and what's good for Vu-Age is good for Network 23. Carter spends network credits attacking sponsors, and thinks it's important; well, says Ashwell, Max Headroom is important... to Carter. It's the story... or Max.

Max is holding court in rare fashion from a Vu-Age viewing terminal as two shocked church members wonder about his primitive template... "He must have been one of the early ones," they whisper. They leave, and Vanna Smith slips up to talk to Max, finding him amazing, even by her standards... and finding how much he's really like Edison. "It's almost as if he sent you," she says... and Max just giggles.

In control, Theora confronts Carter, who is intent on running the story and "chasing these money-changers from the temple"... even at the risk of losing Max. She again points out that his relationship with Vanna Smith is clouding his judgment. "But she used me!" he explodes, proving her point. "And you never used her?" Theora counters.

At the Vu-Age temple, it's a three-way standoff between Carter, Max (on a timer to destruction at eight o'clock, with just minutes to go)... and Vanna Smith, on her broadcast. They argue about fraud vs. faith, and how Carter doesn't have a lock on the truth. The counter ticks down. And then it's Max who chimes in to preach at them, from an inside perspective... and Vanna Smith gives in. She has the timer stopped, just seconds before it runs out... and Carter's story runs, on time. The avatar of Humphrey Marx has the last word, repeating yet again... "Yes... it's wonderful, isn't it!"

With Max back in Network 23's computer, he admits to both telling Theora Carter was still in love with Vanna Smith, and to letting himself be kidnapped to save Carter from himself... and from Vanna Smith. "She vas bad for you," he intones, Freud-like. "I guess you saved my soul," Carter admits. "And without asking for any donation," Max counters... and excuses himself to preach to his flock.

Notes & Commentary

Although the script for this episode tries to deal equitably with religion, it becomes one of the hardest-hitting shows, taking on the flim-flam nature of most television evangelists. (This was on the heels of the Jim Bakker/PTL scandal, so the audience was perhaps ripe for such a take.)

It seems evident that Vanna Smith is named after "Wheel of Fortune" gameshow hostess Vanna White, who began her long tenure as letter-turner in 1982. One of the opening shots, of a stained-glass window, strongly resembles the "Wheel" as well.

Although the Vu-Age Church makes no direct connection to any real religion, the Christian connections are strong, starting right from the opening lines, about the "rapturous day" when... Vu-Age Labs will be able to restore believers to real bodies.

This may be our first good look at a credit-tube terminal and its circular keypad (used by Mrs. Marx), and at the small hand-held terminals (as used by Gene Ashwell).

The name Marx (Jennifer and Humphrey) can't be a coincidence in this context. (It is definitely "Marx," not "Marks" - we see it on Theora's screen.)

The faces we see on the various "storage" monitors in the Church temple are not credited and may be show crew or other inside jokes.

Why is it that Vanna Smith is one of the "chosen few" to Max? Has Carter not had very many lovers in his life? Or is it that she was somehow special otherwise?

In Bryce's lab, Carter is playing with a small stuffed fish, which Bryce snatches away. Is this a riff on the Christian fish symbol? And what about the plasma sphere - just set coolness (when such things were new)... or another religious reference?

From Bryce's tracking screen, it appears that the data center where Max's CPU is located is on the 51st floor... Area 51?

"....Your mortal remains go into recycling..." Are burial and cremation things of the past?

More than on most episodes, we see many uses of the telephone/videophone... all with wired handsets.

Actress Dayle Haddon (Vanna Smith) is ten years older than Matt Frewer. Her steamy bed scene is perhaps no surprise, as the Canadian beauty has done other nude roles, and has two appearances in Playboy (April and December 1973) as well. A member of the production team has said that, while a wonderful person to have on set, she was a difficult actress, requiring many takes and then much dialog "looping" to get the scenes in the can. Some of this ADR is noticeable if you watch her scenes closely.

Ashwell's treason goes unpunished, as far as we know. He must be very wealthy or have powerful supporters...

The Vu-Age temple was portrayed by the ever-popular Griffith Observatory for the exterior shot, and the rotunda of the LA Museum of Natural History for the interior viewing gallery.

This episode has two different unnamed male Network 23 board members.

Opening Credits

This episode uses the standard second-season opening credits.

Subliminal Credits

This episode has no subliminal credits in the Zik-Zak montage.

Quotes & Caps

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  • Announcer: "We now return to 'Save Yourself,' Network 23's weekly broadcast of the Vu-Age Church... modern religion for the video age."
  • Vanna Smith: "Your church has been at the forefront of resurrection research. But resurrection is a very costly process and requires your donations. Without your generosity, we may have a long, long wait... until that glorious day... that rapturous day... when the Vu-Age laboratories perfect cloning, and reverse transfer."
  • Edwards: "This resurrection process Vu-Age is offering is a financial bonanza... brilliant targeting. Is there any way our other programs could utilize these techniques?"
Cheviot: "We've quite enough to deal with in news and entertainment, Edwards. Let's leave religion to the televangelists. After all, they're the professionals."
  • Murray: "Okay, you don't have to be telepaths to know what I'm thinking."
Carter: "Oh, go ahead and surprise us, Murr."
  • Murray: "Well, you all know about this Vu-Age Church - came out of nowhere a few years ago, claiming to be the first modern religion for the age of video. But- now they're rich, and they got everyone worried. ...Shannon?"
Shannon: "In terms of air time and ad rates, Vu-Age is bigger than Islam, Judaism, IBM, Scientology, and all but two Christian denominations. Projections indicate that they will pass the Catholics and 700 Club by this time next year."
  • Carter: "Murray... every X-mas we do the story about the fire that wrecks the TV and puts the family out in the cold. Every spring we cover the Special Olympics. Is this the month when we nail a new TV evangelist?"
  • Murray: "Now c'mon, you don't think there's a story in that?"
Carter: "I just don't want to waste my time on a story that Angie Barry can handle in her sleep. ...Sorry."
Angela Barry: "No problem."
Murray: "Yeah, well, I have a problem. Excuse me... is your contract up? Or are you just losing your edge?"
  • Murray: "Have you any idea what that was all about? I've never seen him chill out on a story."
Theora: "No... he tends to be over-eager."
Murray: "Yeah... that means something's wrong. I hate that."
Theora: "There are things wrong all over the world, Murray... otherwise we wouldn't have jobs."
  • Murray: "Max..."
Max: "You rrrannnng?"
Theora: "Oh, god, he's been in the Dobie Gillis file again."
Murray: "Max... um... you share memories with Edison, is that right?"
Max: "M-M-M-I like to think that he shares memories with me... actually."
Murray: "All right, do you - or, or does Edison - have a religious background?"
Theora: "Murray, I really think this is prying."
Murray: "Mmm. Depends on what I find out."
  • Max: "Well... that part of our memory is a little confused. But, I find no kneeling on wooden pews, no prohibitions against smoking, dancing or carrying on, no-no-no-n-no crying in the chapel... or is this the Elvis Presley file?"
  • Max: "And while we're on the subject of TV religions, may I - may I - may I say unto you, verily, that they do a good job collecting all those donations. God-God-God may have taken only seven days to create the universe... but the running repairs! Expensive business!"
Theora: "Now look what you've started."
  • Jennifer Marx: "And then there was Sarah, you know - Adottie's granddaughter? Well, she had her art show at the institute last week and it was the most wonderful thing! Oh, Humphrey, I wish you could have seen it."
Humphrey Marx: "Yes... it's wonderful, isn't it?"
  • Jennifer Marx: "Aren't you one of the Talbot boys?"
Carter: "Um... I don't think so."
Jennifer Marx: "Ah... they tend to keep their hair."
Theora: (laughs)
Murray: "What is so funny about that?"
Theora: "Oh... sorry."
  • Gregory: "Vanna Smith and her associates are addressing those issues. You can rest assured..."
Carter: "...and I should pardon that expression..."
Gregory: "...that those issues will be resolved before the resurrection process goes on line."
  • Gregory: "But you should be familiar with this sort of process, Mr. Carter. Isn't that how Max Headroom got his start?"
Carter: "I wasn't aware that was common knowledge."
Gregory: "It isn't."
  • Carter: "Are you a clergyman... or just a PR man?"
Gregory: "When you come right down to it, Mr. Carter, is there any difference?"
  • Murray: "I don't believe it - the lady just threw a right hook."
Theora: "Should we call for backup?"
Murray: "No, no, no, no - Edison gets hit two, three times a year - I think it's part of his deal. But we did get that on tape, is that right?"
Theora: "Yeah, right."
  • Max: "Ah - Ah... Vanna Smith, one of the chosen few... ah-yeah-yeah."
Murray: "You know Vanna Smith?"
Max: "Me? In... the biblical sense? No..."
Theora: "No, Max, I think Murray means 'does Edison know Vanna Smith'?"
Max: "Edison? I'm sorry - one of my commandments is 'Thou Shalt Not Squeal.'"
Theora: "I'm not sure I want to know."
Murray: "I'm not sure we ought to know."
  • Vanna Smith: "I don't know what made me do that."
Carter: "Just don't ask me to turn the other cheek."
Vanna Smith: "I guess... it's been such a long time since we've seen each other, and... we had a pretty big fight, as I recall."
Carter: "I think you hit me then, too."
  • Carter: "You're never going to convince me it's right to promise people something as important as life after death when you can't deliver!"
Vanna Smith: "Edison! Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong? I mean, I know that's close to blasphemy..."
  • Bryce: (explosion) "There are no experimental failures. There's only more data."
  • Carter: "'Cortically scanned and stored.' Which means there's a version of your personality, as of the day you were scanned, on tape at the temple. And the day you die, when your mortal remains go into recycling, that cortically-scanned file is opened and displayed... am I right?"
  • Carter: "Your relatives can come and have conversations with you... eeyuh."
Bryce: "Now that's where we start to run into some problems, Edison. You need billions of bits of memory, the kind we have here at Network 23, in order to duplicate just one personality."
Carter: "So... talking to your dead relative is like talking to... Teddy Ruxpin."
Bryce: "Yes."
  • Carter: "The Vu-Age Church will transfer that cortical scan onto a new and perfect body, thus making you... rise from the dead. What about that?"
Bryce: "Well, I never use the word 'impossible,' Edison."
Carter: "Yeah, I've noticed that."
  • Bryce: "It might be possible to transfer a very complex cortical scan... something on the order of Max Headroom?..."
Max: (background)"Max!"
Bryce: "...to a body..."
Carter: "Don't... even... think it."
Bryce: "...but, uh, given the little crummy, little scans that the Vu-Age Church makes, you'd end up with an idiot version of yourself that doesn't even possess all your memories."
Carter: "People are paying their life savings for it."
Bryce: "Well, some people'll give their life savings to anyone on TV who asks for it... won't they?"
Carter: (laughs)
  • Max: "...and Goood created the fish that swims in the sea, the bir- bir- blechh the birds of the air and yea the creatures that walk upon the earth, and then he created... Vanna Smith."
Theora: "Okay, Max, you can stop that any time."
Max: "I don't know if I can... yaaaaa, yaaaa, yaa... yaa... hup." "All right, Max... I know you're dying to tell me: did they or didn't they have a relationship?"
Max: "Well- well, if you call three years of thrashing around in his dorm room a relationship... yes."
Theora: "Well, I don't, actually."
  • Max:: "Well... ah, love. The walks... over soft grass. The smiles... over candle-lit dinners. ...The arguments over just about everything else."
  • Carter: "Betrayal comes to us in many forms. The husband whose credit account shows visits to unlicensed sex therapists. The child who won't watch his TV. The TV hero who turns out to be quite unheroic. This is a story about an even greater betrayal: when those who claim to speak for God... turn out to be liars."
  • Carter: "I'm breaking my own rules here... I brought you a rough cut of the story I did on the Vu-Age Church, to show you. Before I put it on the air."
Vanna Smith: "Why?"
Carter: "I don't know... maybe, test your reaction, give you a chance to respond..."
Vanna Smith: "To... see if I would change?"
Carter: "...to give you a chance to change..."
Vanna White: "Well, your technique has really changed. It used to be dinner... and then passionate lovemaking. Now it's... passionate muckraking."
  • Murray: "How do we know Max is gone? I mean, he's always moving around in the system, like a... like a termite."
Theora: "Yeah, but he usually comes when he's called."
Murray: "Okay, like a dog."
Carter: "Murray..."
Murray: "You know, for a moment there you sounded just like Max."
  • Murray: "What's the big deal? I mean, I like Max, just as much as the next guy. Almost."
  • Theora: "I think you're letting your personal feelings get in the way again."
Carter: "To hell with my personal feelings. I'm not some machine! I've got personal feelings about every story I do - they're what makes me care! ...what makes me work! What makes me good at what I do!"
  • Edwards: "[unintelligible] levels for "Life with Polly" are stable, but the demographics are eroding."
Cheviot: "How are they eroding... exactly?"
Edwards: "We're losing the five to eleven year olds."
Lauren: "Might I suggest that the story lines are becoming a bit too complex?"
Ashwell: "Do we need younger writers? Because I've got this nephew..."
Cheviot: "Simpler. Simpler writers. Will you speak with the producers on it?"
  • Edwards: "The ratings surge began when the church promised to bring people back from the dead."
Ashwell: "Ben... in light of that, do you think it's wise for Edison Carter to do an exposé on the church tonight?"
Cheviot: "In case you haven't noticed, Ashwell, I don't try to tell Edison Carter anything."
  • Carter: "Looks as though they probably just went down in the elevator to the loading dock. That's what I'd do if I was trying to sneak out."
  • Ashwell: "...then I realized: What's good for the Vu-Age Church is good for Network 23. Max Headroom is our property!"
Carter: "'We had to destroy the village in order to save it...' It's thinking like that, Ashwell... that's made you what you are today!"
  • Carter: "Hi, Max."
Max: "Ah! Ahhhh, a sinner! Please enter your universal cred-cred-credit number. Your forgiveness will be mailed to your home ...to your home. Thank you for calling the Vu-Age Church."
Carter: "You all right?"
Max: "Oh, su-su-sure. Don't worry about me, I'm in a wonderful position. If you don't drop your story on this Vu-Age Church, they're going to flat-flat-flatline me! And they keep using the word 'deadline,' which is what I'll be if they flatline me."
Ashwell: "There you have it. Dump your show, or lose Max. Welcome to the board room, Mr. Carter."
  • Max: "We're not going to let them push us around, are we?"
Carter: "No."
Max: "I was afraid you'd say that."
  • Max: "...and let's not beat about the burnin' bush... b-bush. We're not like any other ch-church... temple... mosque or prayer mat, where you die... and it's just 'goodbye.'"
  • Max: "Which reminds me, I have to preach to my flock... (excuse me...) Brothers and Sisters, this is indeed the Rev-uh-rend Max-Max-Max Headroom, lahv and direct from heaven's own Net-Net-Network 23. And today, mah friends, I'm gonna talk to you about... sal-vation! Ah!"
Murray: "Will someone please say 'Amen'?"
All: "Amen!"