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It’s not all fun and games for David when he becomes an assistant football trainer, because the team’s physician is studying aggressive behavior.
By this point in Season 2 of The Incredible Hulk I was still enjoying each episode, but I found myself growing weary of the unsubtle life lessons the stories had been built around. Season 1’s pattern of often inserting Hulk into a different hit movie was obvious but a usually resulted in a fun mash-up. The more serious tone of Season 2 had weighted down the episodes and while they were still enjoyable they simply were not as fun as I had expected. As such, when I saw the preview and read the DVD description posted above for Killer Instinct I felt I was in for another episode that felt like an After School Special, this one against steroid use in sports. I was ready to call out the irony of having a series starring a bodybuilder damn steroids, but I was sure the footballer’s aggressive behavior would be the result of a chemical administered by the mentioned physician, or perhaps the coach.
I am very happy to report that is not the case. This episode of The incredible Hulk is a simple adventure story that fits in with the action series of the time such as The Bionic Man and The Dukes of Hazzard. That said, it’s an episode that still lacks quite a bit of fun, treating the story of a football player with anger management issues as a serious melodrama.
When the episode begins we see a football team practicing and, as a good Illinosian, I notice the football players all have large Cs on the side of their helmets–the trademark of the Chicago Bears. I figured David had made his way to the Windy City this week, but no! The football team we see is the fictitious pro football team the Los Angeles Cougars. Admittedly C stands for “Cougar” as well as it does for “Chicago” (and far better than it does for “Bears”), but the reason for the uniforms and helmets the Cougars wear is to match up with stock footage of the Bears that will be inserted into the episode later.
Beyond the football uniforms I could not help but laugh at the 70s style in evidence in the establishing shots. For this scrimmage game all the players as well as support staff are sporting short black shorts with white socks pulled up to their knees. This includes David (Bill Bixby) who is working for the team as an assistant trainer treating the minor injuries of the team players. Not wearing black shorts, but with one hell of a perm, is Dr. Byron Stewart (Rudy Solari), a psychologist performing a study on the team. He is watching the practice game taking photographs for his research.
During the practice star player John Tobey (Denny Miller–Duke Shannon from Wagon Train) is delivering hit after hit, even cracking the ribs of one of his team members. Tobey is proud of being able to hit so hard and playing his hardest even in practice, but the other players think something may be wrong with Tobey–something echoed by the media and Tobey’s wife June (Barbara Leigh).
David goes to speak to Dr. Stewart, who has published several books on aggression in football players–books that built on the work of a Dr. David Banner! David’s real motive for taking the job was to get close to Stewart in the hopes of using Stewart’s research to help him gain control of the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). The two chat, then David asks to sit in on some of Stewart’s hypnosis sessions with the football players. It’s an odd request coming from an assistant trainer who is not supposed to be a medical professional, so Stewart initially refuses. When David asks if it would be acceptable with a player’s permission Stewart then acquiesces
During his time with the team David became close with Tobey, spending dinners at the footballer’s house, looking at the little army men Tobey spends hours painting in his off-time. Tobey also confides in David, telling the trainer about his rise to fame, and how his father was a stern man who got Tobey into the military hobby. Due to their personal relationship Tobey agrees to let David sit in.
June also asks David to keep an eye on Tobey. She noticed her husband has become more angry and aggressive, not like the man she knew. She fears that the press is right, that Tobey is playing dirty.
Soon we find that there is a lot of aggression in Tobey as we see him in one of his sessions under hypnosis. It’s a very strangely edited scene, as Tobey, eyes shut, slams his fist and whines “Lousy stinking cheaters!” Then the film rolls from the bottom up to the same shot zoomed in tighter. Then it rolls from the bottom again and he does it in extreme close-up. I’m sure the rolling of the frame is intended to create a hypnotic mood but it just made me roll my eyes at the obvious trick editing technique.
Tobey is reliving a childhood memory of playing touch football with friends but the opposing quarterback was cheating, causing Tobey to lose. Under the hypnosis Tobey is back in his childish mindset, and having a full-on tantrum like a child so Dr. Stewart talks him down from the session as David looks on from behind one-way glass.
Stewart later explains to David that he is having Tobey reexperience the first moments of anger and aggression that stick with him through to adulthood. David is concerned about Stewart’s methods, fearing they may be dangerous, but Stewart is convinced that this is the path to curing such aggression. Stewart postulates that by perhaps using hypnosis to alter the memory it can allow the patient to continue to experience the anger, but to control it, possibly by using hypnosis to alter the original memory. The end goal is to allow the uncontrollably aggressive bring their rage under control. David is skeptical but does not intervene, perhaps due to his hoping Stewart will be successful and able to cure David of his own anger.
We then cut to some quite obvious footage of the Chicago Bears playing the Pittsburgh Steelers (I can tell by the helmets), but all the voices are overdubbed by the actors and the audience is chanting “Tobey! Tobey!” Intercut with the stock footage are shots of Tobey and David, and damn if the editors didn’t do a fantastic job of matching the crappy look of the stock film! I really thought at first the shot of Tobey was from the original game, with the grainy, washed-out film. It’s impressive that they can match the film so well, even if it means making the new footage look terrible. Still, the shots of the football game remind me of an ad for Sports Illustrated, hit after hit, tackle after tackle, not feeling cohesive, feeling more like a montage than a scene.
Tobey’s next hypnosis session shows Tobey’s anger with his own father over his father making him shake hands with the cheater of the touch football game. I want to give credit to Miller for committing to his role as Tobey. It’s not every actor who will drop all vanity and act like a temperamental 6-year-old screaming “I don’t like cheaters!” repeatedly. An experienced actor, if not a star, Miller both looks and acts the part of the aggressive sportsman, and it goes a long way towards helping me not laugh during these hypnosis scenes.
We then see the next football game (one in which the stock footage and new scenes don’t match nearly as well as the first game). Tobey gets hit hard by opposing player Kermit Connelly After the play Tobey retaliates, tacking the unsuspecting Connelly. It causes a all out riot on the field and Tobey is ejected from the game.
David goes to see Tobey in the locker room but finds Tobey out of control. The footballer is punching the lockers screaming “Cheaters! I’m not shaking anybody’s hand!” Worried, David goes to Stewart and asks the psychologist to go to Coach Haggerty and suggest that Tobey be benched as a danger to himself and to others on the field. Stewart refuses, stating David is not a professional, and kicks him out.
But in Stewart’s waiting room two of Tobey’s teammates overhear David’s suggestion, and are not happy with David trying to bench the team’s star player during playoffs. They follow David into the locker room where the assistant trainer is gathering some towels. They threaten David, snapping towels at him, the makeshift whips stinging David’s skin. David retreats and the two players push him in the steam room, turning the steam up to high. Unable to see David they start saying “You stay in there and think about this”, but the players don’t hear what we hear–the telltale high pitched sound that signals David’s Hulk-out!
Hulk-Out #1: As the steam temperature raises the players cannot see anything, but they hear a low growl. Then right on the other side of the glass appears a green, wet face–Hulk! I have to say they did a good job of keeping Ferrigno’s make-up in tact while he’s wet, and the close-up of his face through the glass is a great shot. That said, David was wearing those black shorts when pushed into the steam room, creating a very skimpy wardrobe for Ferrigno. David usually wears long pants and makes Hulk look ready for a flood, but I feel Hulk is strangely vulnerable, exposed as he is in black shorty-shorts.
Hulk punches through the steam room door with both hands, one hand grabbing each player. He pulls them against the door, and they make comical “smushed” facial expressions. Hulk then pushes the door back, and both players fall under it.
Standing, one of the men attacks Hulk using a football helmet as a melee weapon, but Hulk deflects it, shattering the headpiece. Giving up, the players flee when Hulk is distracted by seeing his own reflection in a mirror. Hulk flexes and growls for a while then throws a bench into a mirror, shattering it.
After the commercial the two players try to convince their coach about the Hulk, but Coach Haggerty (Pepper Martin, Rocky the garbage-eating thug from Superman II) thinks the two players were juicing and caused the damage to the locker room themselves. There’s a funny line where Haggerty asks if the Hulk is a Packers fan with the green skin, and if Hulk is so strong they should try to sigh him to the Cougars.
During all of this Tobey goes to see Kermit. Kermit’s leg was horribly injured and he may never play again but Tobey still tries to cheer up the sidelined player. Kermit finally explodes, calling Tobey a grandstander, accusing Tobey of intentionally maiming him.
Tobey is shaken by this accusation and goes to David for help saying he did want to kill Kermit. David says he has “transference reaction”, that Tobey has lost the ability to discern between what has happened in the past and the present, between what is real and what is not. David reassures Tobey that it can be treated with treatment and rest. Tobey blows up at David at the “rest,” realizing it would mean not playing in the upcoming championship, and storms off.
Back home Tobey starts to box up his little Civil War men and then leaves, never knowing June is watching the whole time. He takes the army men to the stadium and uses them as mock football players in a game, then crushes one of the most intricately painted ones. It’s a scene that doesn’t entirely work, though we’re supposed to see that Tobey is so angry that he will destroy that which he spent hours creating.
Worried about Tobey disappearing, June calls David and says “I can’t get through to him, not like his father could” and that gives David an idea. Checking one of the pictures in the team display case David realizes that the cheater in Tobey’s game of touch football was Tobey’s father. The hypnosis sessions Stewart conducted have brought all these childhood feelings into Tobey’s present and since the elder Tobey is now dead John cannot confront him and put the feelings back where they belong. Stewart tries to kick David out, but David is adamant that Tobey must confront the photo of him and his father and that if Tobey is not stopped he may kill another player out of aggression.
David finally realizes that Stewart won’t stop Tobey from playing for fear of losing his two hundred twenty-five thousand dollar research grant. More, Tobey is not Stewart’s patient, he’s a research subject so Stewart feels no moral obligation to step in. David asks Stewart what it will mean for the psychologist’s career if Tobey kills someone on the field in the game, and walks out.
As the Cougars prepare for the game we see Tobey is more sullen and despondent than ever. Coach Haggerty is less worried about Tobey’s anger than Daivd’s absence–he failed to get the playoff footballs signed by the players so Tobey has David fired and his pass revoked.
When David arrives at the game late he is stopped by security. Needing to get to Tobey he tries to buy a ticket but doesn’t have the $200 the scalper demands. Finally, desperate, he climbs the fence, using his boot to avoid the barbed wire, but he is spotted and apprehended by stadium security. The guard grabs David by the forearm and puts him in a holding pen with other people. I’m not sure what they did to get locked in the pen, I assume they tried to get into the game without a ticket, but in the credits someone is listed as “Drunk Man” so perhaps they were disorderly during the game. These men sit around a radio listening to the game they have been prevented from seeing.
On the field Tobey is seeing his father in place of the other players. He is trying time and time again to hit the opposing quarterback but has been stopped.
In the pen David is shouting and rating that if Tobey gets to the quarterback the quarterback will be killed. David is becoming irate with panic and worry for Tobey. He’s yelling at the others in the pen to not cheer for Tobey but to try and help him, and annoyed by David’s shouting one of the men throws a metal bowl at David, striking him in the back. David can take it no more–his eyes go white.
Hulk-Out #2: The other men in the cell are so fixated by the transistor radio playing the game and their chants of “Tobey! Tobey! Tobey!” that none notice when David’s clothes start to tear. Only when Hulk roars disturbing their enjoyment of the game do they realize they are caged in with a green beast. But Hulk isn’t here for them, so with a roar he leaps from the second-story window out into the stadium. Running through the stadiums Hulk tries to get to the field, while the Cougars try to set up for another play. Tobey calls the play saying “I’m gonna kill that quarterback this time” and it’s not an exaggeration.
The ball is snapped, but Hulk enters the field and the announcers are fixated by Hulk but the players, their heads in the game, don’t notice the green giant bearing down on them. Tobey sacks the quarterback, then starts to punch the man while he’s down. Before he can do serious damage to the quarterback, Tobey is lifted off his opponent by the Hulk, who slings Tobey over his shoulder.
An amusing scene follows of Hulk running down the field carrying Tobey. It’s set up like a football play, with the announcers saying “He’s past the 15 yard mark, the 10…” and the Cougars trying to block Hulk but Hulk just pushes them aside one by one. Hulk scores a Tobey Touchdown entering the end zone and dropping the pro baller. When the other Cougar players try to attack Hulk, Hulk pushes the goal posts over stopping them.
But Hulk must now face Tobey, who gets up and tries to go after the opposing quarterback again. Hulk pushes him down once, twice, then Tobey tries to attack Hulk himself. Hulk grabs Tobey by the helmet and pushes him to the ground. This time Tobey stays down, and Hulk realizes the crowd for the first time. He flees, smashing through several barricades in the stadium before pushing down the gate and running off into the city.
In the coda we see David at the Tobey’s house, he, June, and John surveying John’s army men. We find that the Cougars lost the playoff game to Memphis, but John is now getting the help he needs to deal with his anger and will be playing again next seasion. David says he has to leave as he does not want to become part of the publicity Tobey’s actions and Dr. Stewart’s research will bring.
Donning his tan jacket and bell bottoms once more David walks away from the Los Angeles Olympic Building, looking back wistfully for the first time in the series, as The Lonely Man theme plays on.
Thus closes a well-acted, well staged episode of The Incredible Hulk. Technically I can find no flaws other than the hallmarks of low-budget television production 30 years ago. However, the episode is at best a field goal, not a touchdown.
First, the story feels stretched too thin. We see not one scene of Tobey being rough on the field but three, not one hypnosis session but two, David asking Stwart three separate times to help Tobey. Had there been more story to fill the hour it would have tightened up the script and removed a lot of redundancy.
More, this is really another episode of Hulk without a villain. Tobey is as much a victim as a villain. While he hurts people, it is out of his control–he’s sick, not evil. When there are no villains it’s hard for Hulk to have someone to smash and the green guy often ends up feeling superfluous, or, worse, obligatory.
I do recommend Killer Instinct due to the performances but I know Hulk can do better.