Chasing Knight Rider – Season 1, Episode 14: Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death

Quick Hitch:

Michael Knight must investigate an alternative fuel race which has been the target of accidents and criminal activities, including murder.

Review and Analysis:

This episode could be described as “Alternative Fuel Deathrace.”  We have lots of engines, lots of fast driving (straight out of a high-performance driver education course, no less), bullets, and bombs.  We also have racism, chauvinism, and the usual litany of bad Action Show plotlines.

On Substitute Fuels and Oil Embargoes:

One of the many casualties caused by the Reagan Administration was the idea of using something other than petroleum-based energy sources.  Much like American enthusiasm for scientific projects, such thinking began its power dive (long after reaching stall speed in the 1970s) as American military and financial power was directed to gaining corporate control of oil production in countries where American influence was close to non-existent.

In this episode, such fears are expressed through those who are investigating the sabotage.  Dr. Kempler, the mastermind behind the Alternative 2000 race, laments that the hopes he had for the race were dashed after the sniper attack on Ackridge and the bomb that destroyed the Princes turned his race into a Blood-and-Guts demolition derby.  Because of this, no scientific quarterly journal writer has been seen in the press field.

One wonders, however, if any were even called.  We are given the insinuation that Sellers was more interested in mayhem than progress, but how many of those Science Journals and magazines even knew about the Alternative 2000 race?  I’m guessing…none.

Now, if the line was, “None of the scientific journals will cover the race now” then the failure of the actual race would be placed squarely on the sabotage, and not the organizers.

In other words, missed point.

On Race Teams and Sponsorships:

What is odd is who is sponsoring such a small field of entrants in the Alternative 2000 race:

  • Dorothy Ackridge is the driver of a solar-powered car.  But she is apparently alone.  Bear in mind that she is supposed to be a part of a large car manufacturing company, of which her father is the CEO and owner.  She has no “race team,” nor a tech crew, considering that she is driving a car that runs on the Sun.
  • Hito Osaka is the driver of a propane-powered car.  He has one other crew member, whom Michael says hello to.  There is no indication that he is anything more than a privateer, since he does not seem to have any sponsorship or research backing.
  • Sonny and Lester Prince drive a car powered by an alcohol-based mixture.  It is definitely clear that they aren’t anything other than privateers themselves.  No race team, no tech crew, no research backing.
  • Helmut Bras drives a methane-powered Porsche.  We also see no indications of a race team or tech crew for him.  And, finally:
  • Hashi al Qatar, driving a Sandrail.  No race team, no tech crew.  No obvious research backing.  There are more troubling aspects to his character and background, which were supposed to be directly related to the plot, but they diminish the character….of Devon Miles in the process.

Basically, this race was doomed as an actual race from the start.  All of the cars, despite their grandiose intentions, seemed like they would function more as backyard projects than as even half-fledged entries from across the world.

The sponsorships and participation by companies and individuals are minor at best.  Other than the Sellers Cable Network, the Knight Foundation seems to be only major player in the field, which is how Michael and KITT get involved in the race (as Devon’s personal entrant, no less).  How they managed to get a Auto Magnate Heiress to drive in the actual field of entrants is a mystery.  For that matter, where exactly these drivers and their cars actually come from is in doubt.  But all of this is pushed aside for the vroom, va-va-voom, and the ka-boom.

To “Nerd” or Not to Nerd:

And, minutes later, a Person of Color takes their trophy away.

And, minutes later, a Person of Color takes their trophy away.

Bonnie Barstowe does something rather amazing in this episode.  She states that, for the purposes of this race, she converted KITT’s fuel system to run on Liquid Hydrogen.  Which means that KITT’s fuel system is much more mysterious and ambiguous than what Bonnie converts it to.  One must bear in mind that KITT is capable of speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour (even before Season 4’s Super Pursuit Mode) – along with the Rocket-Assisted Steering and Braking.  And that fuel has to power that engine.  And run KITT’s systems, like Turbo Boost, Laser and Micro-Jam.

And Bonnie takes that mysterious system and re-powers KITT with Hydrogen.  With no loss of power, function, nor efficiency.

Thus, the extent of what the Knight Foundation has hidden in its vaults remains a mystery.  Also, for that matter, just how vast Bonnie’s technical, mechanical, and technological repertoire really is.

The Impudence of Women – and Straw Feminism:

Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death also gives us “Women Who Don’t Know Any Better…Again.”  In this case, the magic number is…two.

This show loves taking angry women and "Putting Them in Their Place."  I wonder about that.

This show loves taking angry women and “Putting Them in Their Place.” Considering the frequency of the appearance of such characters, I wonder about the motivation to use them.

Dorothy Ackridge was to represent the US entry into the race.  She is the daughter of Henry Ford Ackridge, who owns Ford Ackridge Motor Company, Inc.  Her car was a Ford Mustang Ackridge Stallion (they never named the car in the show, but since we are running double-parody…) which was solar-powered.  Like every Angry Straw Feminist in a Glen Larson show, she has a terse encounter with the hero (Michael Knight), complete with fire-breathing.  Michael, of course, never responds with the same anger.  Nor, for that matter, with snark.  Instead, his friendliness (which is supposed to be part of his charm) was going to be part of the comeuppance that Ms. Ackridge will experience later on when:

It must be in Hasselhoff's contract that he must hug every attractive female guest star.

It must be in Hasselhoff’s contract that he must put his hands around every attractive female guest star.

The dangerous part of the episode occurs, and she, like every other woman (that the boys in the audience are supposed to swoon over) who appears on this show, cannot deal with it – physically or emotionally.  In this case, Dorothy breaks down and cries over the situation and apologizes to Michael for being a Fire-Breathing Straw Feminist.

Side-Note – The Ford Mustang Ackridge Stallion:

The most efficient car in the race.  Bar none.

The most efficient car in the race. Bar none.

For this race, the cars are supposed to be familiar, but are never named.  All identifying emblems and badges are removed.  I termed Ms. Ackridge’s car the Ackridge Stallion in honor of the car being a parody of the Ford Mustang, which this car pretty much is supposed to be.  This car, throughout the history of Ford and Chevy, was the chief rival to the Camaro – and its Pontiac twin, Firebird.

Knight Rider, by virtue of having the KITT cars all furnished by Pontiac – as well as the FLAG semi being a GMC model, takes a moment to potshot Ford – by having the sniper fire at KITT and having the bullet deflected.  This directly followed by the Ford being hit by the bullet and skidding out of control, only to be saved by the GM car.  And as the series progresses, there are a number of times where Ford vehicles are used specifically in the service of…evillllll…..

This would not be the only “parody” of another car company, nor of a rival series, in this episode.

The Impudence of Women – and Straw Feminism, Part 2:

The second case of Impudence is our other guest female star:

Liberty Cox.  The fact that it sounds like a name a Porn Star would use is troublesome.  The fact that it's one of the first things thought about the name is problematic.

Liberty Cox. The fact that it sounds like a name a Porn Star would use is troublesome. The fact that it’s one of the first things thought about the name is problematic.

Where Dorothy Ford Ackridge represented the Woman who gets angry at men (For no “good” reason), but will rush into the arms of a hunk when the going gets tough, Liberty Cox represents the other (“darker?”) side of Straw Feminism: The Woman Who Uses Feminine Wiles to Get What She Wants.  Liberty, as a reporter for New Wheels Magazine, was assigned to cover the race.  When she gets closer to Michael, she tries to find out more about the car he drives for the race.  When that fails, she decides to become part of the race itself:  She seduces Michael in an attempt to ride in his car.  When that doesn’t work, she joins the Princes in their car (in a huff, no less).

And, like Dorothy, she finds herself in danger when the Prince boys attempt to sexually assault her.  After her escape, the Princes’ car is destroyed by sabotage.  And so, she does what any photojournalist might do in said situation:

That's right:  Her job.

That’s right: Her job.

What is interesting is that Michael takes offense to this.  To the point of:

Again, contract.

Again, contract.

Michael snatches the camera out her hands.  Liberty then breaks down and cries.  Much like Dorothy before her, but Liberty actually sheds tears – and this is supposed to be a heart-warming moment, where Michael’s forcefulness helps Liberty to remind herself to be a woman, and show emotion.

The Princes of Danger:

Just some good ole boys, huh?

Just some good ole boys, huh?

One of the entries into the “Alternative Fuel 2000” Race was this duo here.  Sonny and Lester Prince represented the American Dixies; their car was a vintage Dodge Challenger…orange.

Needs Moar Dixie Battle Flag.

Needs Moar Dixie Battle Flag.

The Prince Brothers entered a car running on an Alcoholic mixture.  Liberty tells Michael that the Prince’s car ran on Moonshine, and Michael opines that they’ve been drinking the fuel.  At every opportunity, we are reminded that the Princes are stereotypical southern rednecks – They drink, they dance funny, they aggressively hit on women, and they have a general disregard for others.  Their caricatures were supposed to be over-the-top, and full-on parody of Bo and Luke Duke.

During the 1980s, NBC & Universal often took potshots at Knight Rider’s direct rival, “The Dukes of Hazzard.”  Before this episode, those jabs were found mostly in the print ads promoting Knight Rider in the TV weekly listing magazines, including “TV Guide” and “TV Week.”  With this episode, Larson and Company increase to flank speed and fires a full broadside at CBS.

The end result:

A casualty in the War of Northern [California ] Aggression.

A casualty in the War of Northern [California ] Aggression.

And “The Arab” Shows Up?

What happens to Hashi al Qatar happens to Arabs, Sihks, and Muslims in the United States...alot.

What happens to Hashi al Qatar in this episode happens to Arabs, Sihks, and Muslims in the United States…alot.

Hashi al Qatar shows up in the race running a Sandrail.  We learn nothing about the engine that is supposed to power it.  We do learn that he is from an OPEC Country (Hollywood Fictitious Name never given – Devon says he is from a Major Oil Producing Country) based in the Middle East.  In order for the plot to thicken, Devon Miles has a moment of bigotry when the rifle is found in Hashi’s room – and Bonnie confirms the ballistics of the rifle match the bullet that disabled Dorothy’s car.

Of course, it never occurs to Devon that the rifle being found in Hashi’s room may be a ruse.  But, for Devon, Hashi enters the race to sabotage the entries – and destroy (Private/Small Business) American dreams for using “Alternative Energy” to power automobiles.

As in, Devon considered the matter closed.

Except that the Arab was fingered falsely.

Because of this, Devon’s treatment of Hashi al Qatar is troublesome.  In this case, however, it was about advancing the plot – and Hashi’s involvement was the Action Show’s Red Herring piece; since it was in the middle of the episode, there needed to be a moment where some of the “Good Guys” would jump out make an arrest of suspect to whom the evidence was pointing to.  This is where the Hero voices his misgivings to his Superior (in this case, Devon), because the Hero rightly assumes that the case wraps itself up too conveniently – and, in this case, plays upon the hatred of Arabs and Muslims due to recent political and economic events (like the OPEC Embargo and the Iranian Revolution in 1979).

And then, at the very end, when Mr. Sellers and his henchman have been arrested, Devon Miles never issues a formal apology to Hashi al Qatar.

Ever.

And Playing No Part in the Actual Plot:

At least Larson and company hires a Japanese actor to play a Japanese driver.

At least Larson and company hires a Japanese actor to play a Japanese driver.

Hito Osaka.  He represents Team Japan.  Of all of the racers, he gets the least lines, and the least screentime.  This scene and a glancing scene earlier are all the interaction that Hito has with Michael Knight.  He is also the most courteous of the drivers; he allows Liberty to ride along with him for the first leg of the race.  His car, of course, is a Japanese car, powered by propane.

At no time, however, do Devon, Michael, KITT, Bonnie, nor Liberty ever voice any suspicions about Mr. Osaka or the Japanese team.  Nor does Osaka seem to do anything to arouse said suspicion.

And it was the Victim All Along:

Mr. Sellers, who provided the main sponsorship of the Alternative Fuel 2000 Race, was found to be the main culprit.  He was the owner of a fledgling cable channel network.  Why he decided to latch on to a small race in California is odd.  Why he would leverage himself and the network by providing $245,000 of the $250,000 prize is also never really explained.  And why he would then hire a saboteur to spice up the race by creating accidents, explosions, and other general mayhem is glossed over for the sake of finishing a plot that doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.

In other words, Mr. Sellers mortgages the Sellers Cable Network on the hope that enough people would buy footage of an obscure race filled with Action Movie Excitement.  He would have better luck if leveraged his network’s $245k to buy Professional Wrestling Entertainment products like the WWF or the NWA.  Or even GLOW.  Failing that, he could have done what most networks do to grow profitable: Produce African-American comedies and 2nd-Rate Science Fiction Shows until they could finance a Rich (or Well-Off), White Teen Angst Show.

But he goes for a Car Race, and proceeds to produce it in even worse fashion than UPN did with Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Go figure.

Final Thoughts:

A very consistent theme within Knight Rider has been its execution of Gender Role Reinforcement.  If guest women appear, they will not be allowed to do their job with any competence; they will make mistakes that are ascribed only to the fact that they are women.  It doesn’t matter if they are of the Fire-Breathing, Man-loathing Straw Feminist, or the Sexywoman Hated by Straw Feminism; both are shackled by what is expected by the Male Gaze; never act rationally, always show emotion, and never do the job you volunteered for with any distinction or achievement.

The Arab guest gets sent to the Slammer, because Devon Miles allows Plot Device Bigotry to take hold of him.  The East Asians say little, do little, and are shown even less, but perhaps it is for the best; no pseudo-Asian music themes, nor yellow-facing (or side yellowfacing, for that matter) provide a slight trade-off, however insignificant.  The German is played by a German, but he has very few lines – and is not the villain, so there’s that.

Basically, Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death is Action Show Typical for the Era.

This entry was posted in Knight Rider and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Chasing Knight Rider – Season 1, Episode 14: Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death

  1. Eric says:

    Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death is actually Season 1 Episode 15 production code 57323.

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