Lady of the Evening/The Racer 1.05

“Lady of the Evening/The Racer” episode 1.05

First telecast: February 25, 1978

KIM’S REVIEW:

We start off this trip to Fantasy Island with a bit of a blooper. After a couple of unusual views of the main house that wouldn’t be repeated in later seasons, Roarke and Tattoo make the usual comments about the beautiful weather — but check the sky; it looks cloudy, at least to me. And had it rained and left the walkway wet under Tattoo’s shoes as he joined Roarke, or was that only my imagination? Anyway…we and Roarke notice, more or less simultaneously, that Tattoo has a dark smudge underneath his nose, and Roarke mentions it. Tattoo then informs us he’s trying to grow a mustache, since all the great romantic figures had one: Clark Gable, Casanova, Burt Reynolds… (I smell a trend here; didn’t he get name-dropped just last week?) Roarke remarks in amusement that the poor ladies just won’t stand a chance now, and Tattoo says proudly, “I’m a devil, right, boss?” On Roarke’s laughing agreement, we head for the plane dock, duly warned that the mustache is going to play a prominent and ongoing role through this episode. Curiously, though, when the guests start coming off the plane, for some reason there’s no smudge on Tattoo’s upper lip. Let’s face it, even blaming Roarke won’t explain that away. Where are the continuity police when you need them?

The first guest is one Jack Kincaid, a very well-known race-car driver — evidently so famous (or maybe notorious, for reasons we are about to learn) that as Roarke says, calling him merely a race-car driver is akin to calling Michelangelo a house painter. Tattoo remarks that he was in Monte Carlo when Kincaid won the Grand Prix there. (Another writer oversight: this is the same character who had no idea what Monaco was a couple weekends back, and now it turns out he’s been to its capital city watching one of the world’s most famous races! Again, it’s not possible to explain this one away.) As Kincaid’s wife Rachel and heartthrob of a teen son, Patrick, emerge from the plane’s hatch behind Kincaid, Roarke explains that while Rachel and Patrick think this is a vacation, Kincaid is really here to recreate the infamous crash that killed his career and left him with a permanent, if not always noticeable, limp.

Our other guest is lovely blonde Renée Lansing from New York City; she’s twenty-six and single, and that’s all Tattoo needs to hear. But Renée is not to be one of his anticipated conquests; Roarke says that she is here partly for a vacation, to which Tattoo — all too easily diverted by even the most oblique references to money — asks incredulously, “Vacation? At these prices?” But there’s more to it than that; in short, she wants to spend her weekend being anonymous Renée Lansing instead of her infamous alter ego, Belinda Green…who, Tattoo is shocked to hear, is in fact a very high-priced call girl. “You mean she’s a — ” Roarke squelches him by sternly informing him, “I mean she’s our guest!” And that’s that.

We’ve become used to Roarke having appointments with his guests to get more details and sometimes do some preparatory work before sending them off into their fantasies; but Renée Lansing clearly can’t be bothered and just goes right to the pool — where she promptly collides with a fellow toting a drink that he spills all over her. He’s genuinely apologetic, and to her credit Renée at least makes light of it; but it’s as obvious to her as it is to us that Bill Fredericks is very interested in her, and she just wants to be alone, so she brushes him off to go read. Having set the tone for Renée’s fantasy, we are taken back to the main house, where we find Tattoo (smudge and all) intently guiding a slot car along a track set up in Roarke’s office. (Those of an age to remember these will probably laugh. Even in the late 70s slot cars had pretty much faded from popularity, though I remember my father’s track and two cars very well; my brother inherited it somewhere around the time this episode aired.) He’s quite pleased with his latest race time and announces to Roarke that he’s ready; Roarke, perhaps a bit wearily, wonders why Tattoo persists when Roarke has already beaten him 183 times. But Tattoo just refuses to give up, and Roarke is about to indulge him for the 184th time when he’s saved by a knock on the door. Tattoo goes to answer it and Roarke reminds him at the last moment, with a quick gesture, to remove the racing cap he’s been wearing. Notice that Tattoo just rips it off and slings it onto the floor…why doesn’t Roarke admonish him for that? Anyway, it’s Jack Kincaid, who is eager to begin his fantasy but is counseled to patience by Roarke. After all, it takes time to build a replica of the Kincaid Special. That amazes Jack, who protests that all he wanted was a car and a track — but Roarke reveals now to Kincaid what we learned at the plane dock about the car wreck. Really, Jack old boy, how could you think Roarke wouldn’t know?

On that, we head for a very interesting little restaurant (one that is destined to vanish from the island in the near future) — one with a whimsical little candy-cane-striped lighthouse standing beside it — and inside is Bill Fredericks, ordering a drink for Renée Lansing who’s sitting nearby. He usurps the waitress’ job to take it to Renée herself; Renée isn’t especially happy to see him, but she agrees to let him sit at her table for a few minutes while she’s waiting for some friends who we suspect don’t actually exist. Fredericks, nothing daunted, makes some small talk, joking at his own expense about his earlier clumsiness at the pool and apologizing for drenching her copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetry. Turns out he likes Emerson too, though he has trouble getting it across to his high-school students, who as he says “think Fonzie’s a poet laureate.” Ah, the good ol’ 1970s. She remarks that a friend of hers has the same problem and starts out with comic books, which gets him going about his collection of rarities. She’s actually getting a little excited about it, till he lays his hand atop hers and jolts her back to the real reason she’s on the island. She manages to gracefully get him to leave, but at least this time she tells him her name, as if trying not to be openly rude. Harking back to the comics conversation, he kids her that if she ever needs Spider-Man, he’s available. That makes her laugh, but when he’s gone, she looks pensive. It’s just possible Fredericks is starting to get to her a bit. Either that, or she just thinks he’s a pest. We cut to the race track here; it’s in a very odd-looking location for a tropical island, set in the bowl of some distinctly arid-looking mountains and looking quite deserted. Kincaid is impressed because it’s a dead ringer for the track where he crashed, even down to the white picket fence along the north embankment that was the spot where he went off the road. We’re treated now to the first of many flashbacks Kincaid has to the fiery 160-mph wreck that destroyed the original Kincaid Special and left its driver in the hospital for weeks. There’s an overexcited announcer telling us everything as it happens; the crash is in fact fairly spectacular, although you get the feeling there should have been more to it (maybe that’s just TV spoiling us with its reliance on splashy special effects that are bigger than they would be in real life). Once Kincaid comes out of the flashback, Roarke and Tattoo drive him over to the building where the new Kincaid Special is housed. Kincaid recognizes the mechanic bent over the car, and whaddaya know, it’s the Skipper, minus his little buddy! Oh, well, sorry…okay, it’s Corky, and I guess he and Kincaid haven’t seen each other in ages because they have quite a reunion. Roarke and Tattoo obligingly leave Kincaid to look over the new car, and eventually Corky asks Kincaid if Rachel is aware of the real reason he’s on the island. Kincaid says no, she’d only worry; that leads him into another flashback, and Corky has to repeat himself when he comes out of it, saying maybe Rachel’s right. Corky isn’t very sanguine about this venture himself, but nothing’s going to stop Kincaid from doing what he came here for.

When we get back from the sales pitches, we find Bill Fredericks tooling along in a golf cart, of all things — the first and possibly the last time we’ll see these things on Fantasy Island. One reason for this might be the fact that as Fredericks parks his and hops out, you can see smoke drifting away from its engine, as if it were running too hot or something. Not that Fredericks notices; he’s spied Renée Lansing sitting on a rock with another golf cart parked nearby. Since she’s staring into the surrounding mountains (nice, lush green ones this time), she doesn’t realize he’s there till he pauses in front of her and startles her. For a while he manages to get her to talk a bit; she unexpectedly mentions going for long walks at her parents’ Vermont country home, daydreaming. He asks if any of those dreams ever came true and she admits that few did. He remarks that she’s beautiful but hard to talk to; she says cryptically that it wasn’t part of the package, which baffles him. But she doesn’t intend to stick around long enough to explain and climbs into the cart, setting the gear and turning around to back up. But she doesn’t see the gearshift slide back to its original position, and the next thing she knows, she’s rolling down the hillside, out of control and on her way to a sudden steep and very long drop to a ravine. (Maybe that’s why those carts weren’t regular island transportation!) The cart overturns right on the edge, spilling her out, and there she is, hanging off a strut in a classic “rescue the damsel in distress” pose. Fredericks leaps to her aid and is able to pull her back onto terra firma. She’s scared to death; he tries to gently joke her out of it, telling her it’s all in a day’s work for Spider-Man, but that of course now he expects a reward. When she asks what, he kids that they should discuss it at “Spider-Man’s web”. Instantly she’s suspicious, certain she knows what it really means, and says so. She doesn’t believe him when he protests that he was just kidding, and finally he loses his temper, telling her that just a simple thanks would have been fine, but evidently even that’s beyond her. And with that, he’s gone, leaving her with her useless golf cart and us wondering how the heck she got back to her bungalow.

After that melodramatic little scare, it seems we need some levity, for now we join Tattoo at the pool, his head topped by a beret that neatly matches his white suit. He immediately spies a pretty brunette just stepping into the pool area; somehow he manages to catch her attention, and she approaches him with a smile on her face. Obviously Tattoo’s certain he’s hit a home run this time — until she kneels before him and reaches out with a corner of her towel to dab at his face. When he ducks aside in consternation, it dawns on her what it really is, and she blurts out, “Oh, you’re growing it!” Tattoo rolls his eyes at her, and she straightens up and leaves, apologizing and giggling in embarrassment. Roarke strolls by, having of course witnessed the entire thing, and counsels patience: “Casanova told me it took him quite some time to raise a proper mustache.” Which takes Tattoo aback: “Casanova told you…?” Roarke nods as if this were the most ordinary statement on earth. It should be noted that this sort of cryptic little near-clue about Roarke’s true origins and/or identity will be dropped in tempting crumbs all the way through the series; some folks out there are still guessing!

Kincaid has finally seen fit to join his family on their latest recreational jaunt, catching up with them on horseback to join their picnic. Patrick remarks on a 200-foot waterfall they’ve seen (no doubt the one later to be represented by Kauai’s Wailua Falls once season 2 starts) and Jack says they’ll have to get another look at it later. But Rachel has spied something she doesn’t like, and when he asks what’s wrong, she notes that his hands look as though he’s been working on a car. Jack feeds her a story about working on one of Roarke’s jeeps, and she buys it, telling him she was afraid he was thinking about racing. Patrick then says they’ll have to think about it sometime: he’s convinced his father will race again one day and that his retirement announcement was temporary. To Rachel’s horror, Jack can’t, or won’t, refute it.

Meanwhile Renée, having somehow disposed of her damaged golf cart and found her way back to her bungalow, comes to visit Bill Fredericks at his. She’s done some thinking and wants to apologize; he’s quite chilly to her at first, but when she offers her mea culpa, he gradually thaws out. She wants to know how she can make amends, and he tells her she can treat him to dinner — and make sure she has a lot of money with her, because he’s very hungry! With that, we head back to the pool, where Roarke and Tattoo have apparently decided to spend their afternoon. A tall, lean, gray-haired guy in tennis garb named Brennan gallops up to them and breathlessly boasts about having beaten Jimmy Connors in three straight sets. Roarke’s delighted at this news; Tattoo is happy for him too, till in the middle of his bragging, Brennan points out to him in an aside that he has something on his lip (Villechaize’s icy “thank you” is well played). After Brennan takes off to fill in his wife on Roarke’s suggestion, Tattoo turns to his boss and asks if it was really Jimmy Connors whom Brennan defeated. Roarke takes offense and demands, “Would I ever deceive a guest?” Retorts Tattoo, “Does a duck make quack-quack in the water?” For once, Roarke is left speechless…

Cut to that evening; it’s obvious that Bill and Renée’s date has been a resounding success, for not only do they set up a time to meet the next day, she even lets him kiss her. On a cloud, she enters her bungalow to find the phone ringing — and pop goes her bubble, for it turns out to be one Roy Burke, who tells her he recognized her in the restaurant…as Belinda Green. She manages, more or less, to convince him that he’s mistaken her for someone else; but her joy in the night is ruined.

Act III begins in the Kincaids’ bungalow, quite late that night. Everyone’s asleep, but Jack is in the throes of a nightmare, reliving the crash all over again. He wakes up screaming, and Rachel bolts upright to comfort him. Patrick comes in full of questions, and Rachel explains what happened; it’s clearly significant because Jack hasn’t had a nightmare in months now. Jack dismisses the whole thing for his son’s sake, but Patrick’s too savvy for that, and goes back to bed only reluctantly. Rachel knows better and calls Jack on it, leading to an argument between them over whether he’s going to race again and what it might do, and has already done, to Patrick, whose identity is tied tightly to his father’s notoriety. She’s certain that if Jack starts racing again, eventually Patrick will join him, first working on the car, then driving himself, leaving her to sit in the stands wondering whether she’ll lose her husband or her son on a given day. He tells her it’s not fair to lay Patrick’s whole future at his feet that way; she shoots back that it wasn’t fair she had to sit for weeks in the hospital wondering if he’d survive. But he’s in too deep to back out: it’s not just a question of whether he’ll drive again, but of what’s left inside him as a man.

Several hours later at the tennis courts, Bill and Renée are just finishing up a set when none other than Roy Burke wanders over from the next court, once again pinpointing her as Belinda Green. He’s less willing to give up when she insists again that he’s got the wrong person, and in an attempt to defuse an increasingly bewildered Bill, she invents a story on the spot about having met Burke while she was at a hotel with a fashion-show group, just to get Burke off her back. In the end Burke goes along with it and departs, but Renée is so spooked that she begs off the final match and rushes off the court, leaving Bill to stare after her. From there we go to the main house, where Roarke is paging through a book at one of the built-in bookcases in his study-slash-office. Into the shot walks Tattoo, back to the camera, inquiring of Roarke what he thinks. Roarke glances absently up, then looks again quite sharply, upon which we find out the cause of his disbelief: there’s a big, full mustache, suspiciously shiny, accenting Tattoo’s upper lip. Before Roarke can do any more than squint quizzically at him, Tattoo says the mustache is really him. (Which could say a great deal about the character, very little of it good.) “It’s really something,” says Roarke as diplomatically as possible, noting that it was only stubble that morning; what happened in the interim? Tattoo explains that he used some shoe polish to fill it out…just till it grows in for real. Roarke is aghast, but Tattoo says it was either that or stay home from the disco that night. There’s a knock on the door and Tattoo goes to answer it; it’s a very angry Renée, who’s so disturbed she doesn’t seem to take notice of Tattoo’s painted-on facial décor. He neatly ducks out while she strides in and demands that Roarke give her a refund, certain that he’ll deny having had anything to do with Roy Burke’s being on the island; to her shock and even greater rage, he owns up to it. He overrides her protests by asking her if she hadn’t really come to the island in the hope of changing her lifestyle and perhaps attracting a good and decent man. She won’t have it: she’s tired of being an “experiment” and wants out on the very next plane, which happens not to be till the following afternoon. This, of course, will force her to finish out her fantasy and deal with Roy Burke one way or another; all she can do is storm out of the house.

After a quick visit with Jack at the racetrack having still more flashbacks to his wreck, we cut to Renée’s bungalow; she makes the mistake of answering the door to Burke, who muscles his way in and hangs around despite her insisting he leave. He’s one up on her now; he figures she owes him one for playing along with her fiction in front of Bill at the tennis court. She tries to throw him out, but he’s determined to have her and starts to make a pass at her. At her struggles, he tells her he’ll pay, but she informs him she’s found a special man. Burke, vastly amused, says it’s not her way to settle down; she’s accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and it’s guys like him who pay her enough to live that way. He finally undermines her self-confidence enough that she tells him in defeat that she has a dinner date with Bill that night, but afterward she’ll give him what he wants. Smugly he departs, leaving her upset and angry with herself.

Act IV opens at the restaurant, where Bill and Renée are sitting together over drinks; she’s despondent, and when he asks her what’s wrong, she tries to convince him she’s just sad because it has to end. He then tells her he’s been thinking about spending time in New York City with her before his next teaching term starts; she asks why, and sarcastically he says he thought he’d do some sightseeing before telling her he wants to get to know her because he’s falling for her, for Pete’s sake! More upset than ever, she tries to leave, but before she makes it to the door, Burke and his buddy show up, trapping her inside the restaurant. Bill catches up and recognizes Burke from the tennis court that morning; he tells her he wants to talk to her about their future, but she is finally forced to tell him what she really is. On that note she again tries to flee, only to have Burke stop her at the entrance and mock her for “trying for that picket fence again”. This gives Bill a chance to catch up with them and tell him that she’s going to get it this time; Burke thinks he’s about to shock Bill by telling him who Renée really is, but Bill says it’s not news to him, and suggests Burke leave before he gets his face flattened. With that, he takes Renée out and admits to her that he knew who she was all this time. It turns out he was in New York City four years before and they met when he was a customer of hers; he was lonely and she approached him, talking to him. That night he fell in love with her and has been there ever since. So why didn’t he say anything? He was afraid she’d run off before he could explain himself to her; it was his fantasy to find her, and Roarke very kindly obliged him. At which she finally understands what Roarke was really trying to do, and begins to cry, this time with happiness. It’s pretty clear (even if only because you can tell how much of the episode has elapsed on your DVD player’s timer) that they’re going to find “happily ever after”…

It’s deathly early the following morning, and we come in on Kincaid stealthily dressing to leave the bungalow before Rachel and Patrick wake up. He drives alone to the track, climbs into his racing suit and helmet, seats himself in the new Kincaid Special and starts driving — all the while, backed up by that same prattling announcer at an echoing distance. Of course, you know what will happen; he tears along the track, speed increasing till he finally hits that crucial 160-mph mark — and this time succeeds in rounding the fateful curve. When he comes to a stop, four guys are there to wheel the race car back under shelter, and Roarke and Tattoo are there to quietly congratulate him on conquering his demons. (Yes, Tattoo still has that ridiculous shoe-polish mustache on; apparently everybody is just too overcome with emotion, because not one soul says anything about it throughout the scene.) Corky arrives in a jeep with Rachel and Patrick; she’s still not thrilled about his choice, but she tells him she doesn’t want to lose him, at least not because she forbade him to ever race again. On this touching moment, an excited Patrrick wants to know when his dad’s going back out on the circuit, and gets a shock when Jack says his retirement was no ruse. Patrick reacts at first in disbelief, then in anger, and stalks out accusing his father of having lost his nerve. Roarke stays them when they want to give chase, telling them to let him go: he’ll be back, and he’ll have grown up.

At the plane dock, apparently Bill and Renée are impatient to start their lives together because their leavetaking and their thanks to Roarke and Tattoo are quite rapid. (You will notice, with no effort whatsoever, that Tattoo is clean-shaven and shoe-polish-less to boot.) Patrick Kincaid is still sulking a bit when he and his parents arrive, but Roarke advises him with a hoary saw: “Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant never taste death but once.” That seems to give the kid food for thought, and on the Kincaids’ thanks and departure, Roarke finally gets around to noticing the absence of the mustache. Tattoo says it wasn’t for him after all, surprising Roarke into asking if the thing wasn’t working for him. To which Tattoo tells him it was…right up till he started whispering “sweet nothings” into Suzanne’s ear…and Roarke gets a good laugh out of the image of shoe polish all over poor Suzanne’s face. Villechaize may well have been annoyed by the entire running joke, but you’d never know it for the beautifully sheepish expression he contrives for Tattoo.

There are several familiar faces in this episode: the aforementioned erstwhile Skipper, Alan Hale, plays Corky the mechanic, and Jerry Van Dyke (Dick’s little brother) puts in a cameo as the tennis player who beat Jimmy Connors. Carol Lynley puts in the second of her many guest shots on the series, and a young man named Clark Brandon (then aged 19) plays Patrick Kincaid. And for those FI fans who might be into the esoterica surrounding the show, it may interest you to know that this episode was one of two that was turned into an engaging novel by an author named Jane Seskin, who provides detailed backstory on the fantasizers and their histories leading up to what compels them to make their trips to the island. Copies are often available on eBay for reasonable prices.

 

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