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David takes a job in a disco, where he meets a troubled dancer and soon realizes that she is a remnant of his past.
After a string of episodes that , while mostly entertaining, danced with danger bringing in racial stereotypes and topics like child abuse and the mentally challenged it was such a relief to be going towards an episode entitled Alice in Disco Land. I was pretty sure the only stereotypes I’d be facing were those of 70s disco divas and swinging bachelors. For a show based on a comic book intended for kids, The Incredible Hulk was dealing with some pretty heavy issues. It’s not that I mind the occasional issue episode, but I felt there were too many in a row. After a series of serious reviews, I was up for the Hulk to have some fun boogieing on the disco round!
Can you imagine my disappointment when I found out it was another serious “issue” episode, this time dealing with alcoholism? It was an episode that had far more in common with the 70s book Go Ask Alice than Alice in Wonderland, but while unexpected given the title I found the episode entertaining.
We open at the Pandemonium Disco. DJ Dr. J is hooting while spinning his 12-inch records and sharing his slogan “Shake it, but don’t brake it, and if you can’t shake it then fake it”. We are in the 70’s for certain. The music is a groovy disco beat, and the camera is zooming and spinning around the dancers on the disco floor like I was watching an episode of Solid Gold.
This is where David works as a bartender, taking crap from drunk ditzes. It’s his first night and we are quickly introduced to his coworkers: Al the bouncer (played by Brion James who I instantly recognized from Blade Runner and 48 Hours), penny-pinching club owner Ernie (guest star Marc Alaimo, Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space 9), plus an unnamed slutty waitress.
Despite it being his first night David is already giving lectures to Al that it appears the bar is serving underage minors. Sure enough, he soon sees one on the dance floor, someone that he recognizes–Alice Morrow, David’s goddaughter! After Alice’s father died her mother moved to Canada; the last time David saw the girl was at her father’s funeral over a decade earlier.
We see flashbacks of David lying in the grass with little Alice reading her Alice in Wonderland, a book he gave her for her birthday. Now Alice is sixteen and has been crowned “Queen of Pandemonium” along with her “king” Louie Sharp. David tries to call Alice’s mother and learns from the maid that Alice has been constantly running away since she was 14, stealing her mother’s jewelry to fund her travels. David wants to speak to Alice’s mother Rosalyn, but she is on business in New York.
She is dancing and she is drunk, and she doesn’t recognize David when she sits at the bar to get a drink. But she obviously still remembers her time reading Alice in Wonderland with David as she cannot stop quoting Lewis Carroll. But this provides an opening for David, who also seems to remember the book line for line, and his ability to quote it opens an avenue for him to talk to Alice. In the course of the conversation David immediately realizes Alice has a drinking problem.
For once there is an area where David is not an expert! The next day he goes to see Joan Roberts at the Alcohol Abuse Program where she lectures David (and the audience) on the “epidemic” of teen alcoholism. Joan tells David no one can force Alice to get help, she has to come into the program on her own. Because Alice is underage Joan suggests reporting the girl as a runaway. When David says that won’t work because of Alice’s parents Joan then suggests David make an anonymous tip to the bureau of alcohol control.
David does make the tip anonymously, but alcohol inspector Art Philben is on Ernie’s payroll. Art tries to tell Ernie to not serve underage people for a day or two until the heat is off, but Ernie says he’s almost broke and needs the money the kids bring.
That night Ernie plays by Art’s rules and the teens leave in droves, except for Alice who is going through withdrawal. Her need for booze has her even being judged by Louie, who tries to cheer her up with news that they are finalists in the disco dance competition. When she only wants a drink, he storms out.
Then Alice hits rock bottom, flirting with David, subtly offering sexual favors to the much older man in exchange for a drink. David of course turns her down and tries to make her realize she’s addicted, but she uses the age old line “I can quit any time I want. I just don’t want to.”
Staring into the looking glass (a mirror to the rest of us) behind the bar Alice starts talking nonsense saying “Daddy will tell me what to do” and runs out. When David is able to follow he finds Alice has climbed atop a tall billboard, telling her friends she “followed the white rabbit down the hole.” Alice is swaying on her feet and looks ready to fall to her death at any moment. She is hallucinating that she is in a tree, her father standing below to catch her when she jumps. That vision changes to her father’s casket, all interspersed with drawings from “Alice in Wonderland.” Alice cries, shouting “Who’s gonna miss me tonight?” and “Daddy, where’s Wonderland?”
David tries rushing up to get her but the only way is through an abandoned building with a rickety staircase. David keeps falling and sliding down the stairs. Out of breath from running up so many flights he reaches the door to the roof that can take him to Alice, but the door is locked.
David’s eyes go white.
Hulk-Out #1 David’s Pandemonium shirt tears and then the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) is there. He knocks down the locked door, running out onto the roof. He then bursts through the billboard from behind, grabbing Alice before she can fall. Alice yells “please let me fall!” but Hulk takes her to the middle of the roof where she will be safe. Alice’s friends then come to the roof and Hulk runs off into the distance.
After the commercial break David finds Alice, looking pretty peaked with big bags under her eyes, sitting in a park. She had been taken to the hospital the night before, but she left not wanting to be found out as a runaway. David talks to her about the dangers of alcohol withdrawal such as tremors and hallucinations and Alice says “I don’t know what’s worse, drinking or not drinking?” Seeing that Alice is ready to stop drinking the potion, David takes her to see Joan at a meeting reminiscent of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Alice is rude and surly at the meeting. In a really terrible exchange Joan asks Alice how old she is. I guessed Joan to be in her 50s; Alice guessed 35. Joan revealed she is 26 but looks 35 because she was a hard drinker for ten years starting at age 13. Hearing Joan’s story lowers Alice’s defenses and she begins to participate honestly with the group.
But they are seen leaving the group by Art, who calls Eddie. Joan is one of the District Attorney’s prime witnesses against Pandemonium for selling alcohol to minors, and Art jumps to the conclusion that Alice and David are other witnesses against Eddie..
At Pandemonium Louie is practicing for the disco competition when in walks National Register reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). Louis is excited thinking McGee is there to interview him for the Register‘s “Disco Dude” competition that Louie entered, but McGee isn’t down with disco, he’s hunting for Hulk. Louie isn’t interested in the Hulk until the reporter mentions the newspaper’s $10,000 reward for information on the big green guy. Spurred on by the thought of quick cash Louie takes McGee to Alice, but Alice refuses to talk to McGee. More, she tells Louie that she won’t dance with him in the competition, that she’s never coming back to Pandemonium.
Louie races to Eddie to tell him about Alice, and Eddie is upset as Eddie and Alice’s dancing brings in crowds. Louie is very money hungry–he wants McGee’s $10,000 and he wants the $500 prize money for the disco competition, so when Eddie offers Louie $100 to ensure Alice dances that night Louie heads to Alice’s apartment trying to bribe her with a bottle of alcohol.
He arrives to find Alice being interrogated by McGee, and as she kicks them both out McGee says “I wasn’t able to stop having nightmares about the Hulk until I talked to somebody about it.” Assuming McGee isn’t lying to gain Alice’s trust I find it interesting that they portray McGee as having been traumatized by the events in the pilot. In the pilot and every episode since McGee seemed only interested in the story but never the least bit afraid of the Hulk or the death supposed deaths the Hulk caused. If some of his first season attitudes were a response to fear, and his hunt the attempt to face that fear, that would add a lot to the character. I’m reading quite a bit into a single line said in passing, but I do hope it’s a sign of things to come for McGee.
David visits Alice after the two men have gone. Alice complains that Louie is trying to force her to go to the disco but she doesn’t want to go because she’ll drink. Unlikely as it seems, David sides with Louie. David has seen Alice dance and knows she has a special talent. He tells her she has a disease and she cannot run from it, the problem isn’t the disco–the problem is wherever she goes. What I’ve read about addiction says that you should never put an addict in the path of temptation, so I find David’s advice to be medically false as well as being too much too soon for a sixteen year old addict. But David’s words get through to the girl, she returns to Pandemonium that night to dance with Louie.
And dance they do…to a disco version of The Lonely Man theme. It’s groovy to the max.
David then goes to talk to Eddie, and Eddie and Al take David to the basement. They call David a fink and accuse David of being a grand jury witness against Pandemonium. They handcuff the bartender and, despite David’s honest denials, Eddie and Al don’t believe him. They leave David locked in the basement and go to take Alice “for a little ride” to see if she’ll tell them about the grand jury investigation.
Eddie and Al go to wait as Alice finish her dance, and David tries to escape in the basement. He flings his rolling chair into a wall, breaking the chair’s arm and releasing him. His hands still cuffed together he cannot open the gate to the stairs, and trying to climb atop boxes of booze they collapse and David falls.
His eyes go white as Alice finishes her dance.
Hulk-Out #2: Eddie and Al go up to take Alice, but before they can make it to the door Hulk comes out of the basement. He throws Al into the bottles of alcohol behind the bar. He then shatters the looking glass with the cash register. He trashes the bar, preventing anyone else from being served, then chases after Eddie. Eddie throws a chair at Hulk, but Hulk deflects it right into the disco ball. He then throws Eddie against the turntables in the DJ booth.
The fight over, Hulk notices all the discoers staring, and at the front of the pack is Alice. Hulk walks onto the disco round, and everyone but Alice backs away. They stand and look at each other, and the way it’s filmed I really wonder if they are about to dance. Maybe they would have, but right then the disco ball falls from its impact, crashing in front of the hulk. Hulk is startled and roars at the kids before running outside. On the outdoor backlot Hulk rounds the corner to see McGee just arriving at Pandamonium. Hulk growls at McGee for good measure and runs off into the night.
After the final commercial David and Alice are both leaving town. Alice is going to become a disco dance instructor, and David is going to parts unknown. She gives David her copy of Alice in Wonderland saying she won’t need it any more, and David dons his heavy black coat and sticks out his thumb for a ride as credits roll.
And thus another “important” episode of The Incredible Hulk ends. I must say that seeing these Season 2 episodes in sequence has completely changed my view of The Incredible Hulk. I had seen many of these episodes, including Alice in Wonderland, in syndication over the years, but in the random order of syndication I never before realized Hulk was a show that really changed over time. In the first season the show was finding its legs and often using blockbuster film plots for inspiration while adding in Hulk. Now in Season 2 we are dealing with a string of episodes where almost every one has a moral.
Truthfully it makes sense. Given that Hulk is based on a comic aimed at kids inserting a moral lesson each week makes sense. My disconnect is I never saw Hulk as a children’s show as it was beloved by people of all ages. In these early episodes I believe the producers were not so confident that adults would turn in at 8pm to watch a big green man beat up bad guys so they aimed these episodes very squarely at children.
I wouldn’t mind a few life lessons sprinkled throughout the series, and not every episode has attempted to teach while it entertains. The Antowuk Horror and Another Path certainly had no deeper meaning. The ratio just seems reversed from what I would expect.
That said, as I wrote above, many of these episodes are entertaining–including Alice in Disco Land. While the way David handled Alice’s addiction may not match my 21st century knowledge of addiction treatment, seeing David reconnecting with someone from his past and stepping into a paternal role worked well for me. His relationship with Alice was entertaining on screen; the two actors had chemistry. Plus it was groovy to see the Disco club. I do recommend this episode.
But I do feel the title was misused. While clever because it stars a girl named Alice and she is in a disco, I expected this episode to be a modern retelling of Carroll’s classic story. I expected to see characters who were taking the place of the white rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and possibly even the Queen of Hearts. I think that a pastiche of Alice in Wonderland, Hulk, and disco would have been far more entertaining than what we got. Hell, they don’t even have Alice facing a bottle of booze that says “Drink me.” A good episode but many missed opportunities.