The oil rig on which David is working is set ablaze by a saboteur who soon finds himself face-to-face with the Hulk.
We open with some rootin’-tootin country-style music and I wonder if I accidentally put in my Bonanza DVD instead of the Hulk. The music continues and I see some guys working on an oil rig. No, not in the ocean–in the 70s there were actually oil wells found in the continental united states, and they had armatures that stood very high and required a lot of men to build them, drilling into the crust of the earth for that black gold. (Note: yes, I know there is still lots of oil drilling currently in the US, mostly in Texas, but the push for offshore drilling has downplayed the usefulness of such rigs).
David is one of the men working on this rig, so I do have the right disc. We are also introduced to crew boss Mike Calahan and his daughter Linda (played b Christine Belford, the mom from Silver Spoons as well as Arnie’s mom in the movie Christine), who runs the office. Mike has just come to Phoenix and started his own drill business after 30 years in the oil industry. He has named the rig Wildfire, and believes Wildfire will hit oil and put his business in the black in more ways than one.
David has been working on the job for a week and isn’t fitting in very well with the other workers as he’s new to the job and has been a bit accident prone. But Linda has taken a liking to David, seeing in the drifter a kindred spirit. Linda wants to leave small town Arizona to go to New York, and David, having done nothing but travel for over a year, is more worldly than most of the men she meets digging for oil. Linda shares her plans to move to New York, but she is stuck at the oil rig caring for her father.
We also meet Mike’s old friend Ray who is trying to buy out the lease on Mike’s rig. He makes it seem like he’s doing Mike a favor, getting him out of hock for the drill, but Mike is convinced he’s drilling in the right spot and soon will score a fortune.
Ray is a former driller himself, but now he works for Tim Wade, a corporate man. Drillers are distrustful of the businessman, so Wade uses the trust Ray has with the drillers to make them sell cheaply and quickly. But in this case Wade is making Ray screw over his old friend Mike–Wade has done geology tests and Mike is drilling atop a million dollar oil well. The clock is ticking, they need Mike to sell so they can score the oil instead of Mike.
And Mike is cutting it close. He needs to buy more pipe and has no money. He makes a deal with his workers to buy the pipe instead of paying them a salary in exchange for a share of the oil find. Even David stays on hoping to get the money, and maybe hoping to get a share of Linda as well. The two have begun dating, kissing, and the David-in-Love music that we’ve heard since the pilot is playing.
Linda’s a swinging 70s girl who invites David inside her cabin “no strings, no commitments, no demands” knowing that David doesn’t plan to stick around long. So here we have the most clear evidence of David getting his Hulk-on as the camera goes out of focus, then back in to see David, tan coat slung over his shoulder (so he somehow got it back from the Los Santos sheriff’s office), leaving Linda’s cabin. I imagine he’s feeling pretty happy and nothing could make him angry now.
Of course, I’m wrong. On the way back to his own cabin David sees someone sneaking around the drill. Investigating, he is hit on the back of the head and knocked out literally before he knew what hit him, and before he could Hulk-out. It’s Frank Adler, one of Ray’s cronies, and he’s there to sabotage the power cable for the generator that runs the drill. He locks David in an empty oil drum which he puts in the back of his pick-up truck and drives off. David wakes up and shouts for help, but he can’t breathe in the sealed drum. We don’t see David, we just see the outside of the drum, but we hear the trademark sound followed by a familiar roar.
Hulk-Out #1 Hulk bursts from the drum, exploding it from inside. It goes in all directions to show Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), green and mean and ready for a fight. Though it’s obvious Ferrigno isn’t really on a moving truck for this scene as he’s standing far too still with no shaking or vertical motion.
We get a very funny scene of Hulk peering through the back windshield of the moving truck like a peeping Tom. Then Hulk leans over the cab, way over the cab, and smashes the front windshield, causing Ray to crash the truck. Hulk peels back the roof of the truck like he’s pulling the tab off a can of soda, and lifts Adler out. He seems ready to smash Adler, but Hulk is distracted by the radio. In a very odd moment, Hulk starts pushing buttons, changing the station, then turning up the volume. Finally he’s had enough of a shoe store ad and he does what we all wish we could do when we hear too many radio ads–he tears the radio right out of the dash.
His distraction over, he looks around for Adler, but the saboteur has run off in the night, so we fade to commercial so the viewers can watch some TV ads of their own.
The next day David reports the sabotage and attack to Mike, but the older man can’t be bothered—the crew is striking oil! The black liquid explodes into the air and the men jump around ecstatic, practically seeing dollars fly into the air. Now that Mike has struck oil he doesn’t care about sabotage or attacks, he thinks all difficulties are behind them.
But David’s difficulties can only be left behind by leaving town, so after his late night Hulk-out he tells Mike he needs to be moving on. Mike tries to convince David to stay for Linda. David says now that Mike has struck oil Linda isn’t going to stick around, and Mike reveals that Linda is very insecure. Mike bought his daughter a ticket to New York a year ago and Linda is afraid to use it, afraid in The Big Apple she won’t be pretty enough or smart enough.
Linda’s insecurities aren’t enough to make David stay, but they are enough to have him confront his lover. David tells Linda of his plans to leave. When Linda says she has to stay for her dad, David outs her, saying he knows Mike wants Linda to go to New York.
Meanwhile Adler goes to Ray. Even though Mike has struck oil, Adler thinks there’s still a chance to get the well for Wade. When Ray refuses to push on with the takeover, Adler goes straight to Wade with a nefarious plan–blow up Mike’s rig before Mike can make his profit. The old man will never have the money to pay off his debts, let alone rebuild, and he’ll have no choice but to sell.
Adler shows up at the drill carrying a giant red alarm clock that I think is supposed to be a bomb. Maybe in the 70s bombs were made of oversized Flavor Flav alarm clocks. I feel sure that someone will see the bomb and it will tick down before Hulk finally throws it far away from the well, but I was dead wrong. Almost immediately the bomb explodes.
Fire spirals up the well, and I am impressed. This isn’t stock footage, this is the same set where Bixby and the rest have been working, and it’s not a small fire it’s an inferno. It’s really high production values for Hulk. They blew the bank on this one.
The rig is burning and all around people are injured, including Linda who was hit by debris. David becomes the crew medic, treating the wounds of Linda and the other drill workers, including the ones who were mean to him earlier in the show.
Mike takes charge to put the fire out. The crane can’t reach the well to cap it so there’s only one way to save the site–blow up the rig to cut off the oxygen and put out the fire. But Mike cannot get past the fire to get to the drill to blow it.
Ray comes, guilty over what Adler did, and confesses everything to Mike. Then Ray and Mike decide to team up and try to make it through the flames, donning flame retardant suits (which may be 100% accurate but look to me like they are made of Jiffy Pop containers). The two old oil workers head into the flame carrying the dynamite, leaving David with the detonator.
But Adler is sneaking around like Snidely Whiplash, peering out from behind a shed. Nothing can stop his burning the rig, so when David is left alone Adler attacks–and David fights back! Blocking a punch from Adler, David punches the saboteur in the gut. They keep fighting too, with David holding his own. But a missed punch gives Adler the upper hand, kidney punching David from behind. In over a year of the show, I’ve seen David be brave, putting himself in danger to save others, but I’ve never seen him be tough. Here he’s being very tough. I really was sure Adler was just coming to pummel the scientist, causing him to Hulk-out as we’ve seen a dozen times before. But no, the fight goes on, both land blows, but David’s eyes are still brown.
It’s not the beating that makes David Hulk-out, it’s when Adler goes to the detonator, setting off the explosives that would kill Ray and Mike. Then David yells “No” and has white eyes.
Hulk-Out #2: Hulk throws Adler aside and runs into the fire, throwing flaming beams with ease. He finds Mike, who was injured in the explosion, and takes him to Linda who is waiting by the fireside. Hulk then rips the front off a crane, carrying it through the fire to the rig, and single-handedly caps the well. It’s rather smart of Hulk to know the exact way to put out a fire, showing a level of intelligence we haven’t seen him exhibit before. Unlike when he landed an airplane, here no one is giving Hulk step-by-step instructions; he’s figuring it out on his own.
The well, and the day, saved Hulk runs off into the wilderness while Mike comes to, alive and only worried if the well was capped.
In the coda we see Linda, Ray and Mike in Mike’s office filling the audience in on how everything ended. Ray joined Mike’s crew as an experienced businessman to help Mike now that he’s made it rich. Adler is in prison. As for David, he has taken his things and left without even taking his share of the money from the oil find. But as they talk it’s shown he sent back a bottle of red wine for Linda with a note saying it should be drank in New York, and that maybe David will meet her there to drink the wine and get his pay.
Linda leaves the office to read the rest of the letter alone. The romantic score plays while we watch Linda waffle between crying and laughing. Will she finally leave for New York to follow her dreams? We never know as we cut to David, in his tan jacket, hitching a ride.
As David leaves I’m sad to be leaving with him. His adventure in Arizona has been one of his best. Wildfire was a really strong episode with great action and amazing pyrotechnics, a high point for the series thus far. We also had an extended fist-fight between David and Adler. This series really is lacking in fights; usually someone starts a fight, David takes a beating, then Hulk finishes things quickly. To see punches land and a fight have ebbs and flows, while not very original, was a nice change of pace for this series.
In addition to being exciting and eye-pleasing, the episode was really well written. While Adler’s tenacity is a bit much, the rest of the script is tight. So often we’ve seen David Hulk-out for random reasons, just to give us some action at the mid-point of an episode. Here, both of David’s Hulk-outs are plot-driven. Hulk does important things and both times against a real villain.
Finally, this episode had two-dimensional characters. While not as good as three-dimensional ones, it’s twice as good as the one-dimensional characters featured in most of the episodes so I count this as a positive. These characters feel more real than most in the series, and that reality is deepened by the fact that the episode does not wrap up every plotline. Sure, Mike has struck oil and will be okay, but Linda’s more personal plot is left ambiguous. Will Linda go to New York and drink her red wine, or will she remain captive to her fears? That’s up to the viewer to decide–and how refreshing that is!
I give this episode a strong recommend. It’s the first episode of 1979 and if the rest of the episodes in this year are half as well made it will be a very good year indeed!