Monday, November 06, 2006

Episode 4: An Eye for An Eye

By now we viewers of Kung Fu should be getting the point that we will encounter characters and plots from traditional Old West stories, and that these characters and their situations will be affected by the presence of Caine. "Eye for an Eye" is another excellent demonstration of this. In this episode, Caine takes up company with the Buchanans: an aged Confederate soldier (post Civil War, I think the story takes place in the 1870s) and his daughter, who is pregnant by a Union soldier she claims raped her. Father and daughter are set on revenge, of course, with equal vigor. (Caine is shocked at the venom in the pregnant woman, and her apparent disinterest in her own child.) They are traveling to link up with the old soldier's son, Sam, also a Confederate soldier and fine Southern gentleman.

Sam Buchanan is played marvelously by an actor named Tim McIntire. Huge, strong, stately, controlled, fierce and serious, he goes through the appropriate duello rituals with the man who raped his sister, even confessing that he'll have to borrow a saber if they are to settle the matter with swords. They settle it with guns, though, and there are disastrous results. Both are killed due to the Union soldier's treachery.

The rest of the episode is spent trying to navigate the after-effects of revenge-seeking, something that always takes place in any decent revenge story, which, from Hamlet to the most basic Western or kung fu story, plumbs the culture of revenge in which the setting of each story takes place. The Union soldier has friends and fellow-evildoers who participated peripherally in the rape and want revenge for their comrade; the Buchanans want revenge for Sam. Encompassing this is not only their personal tragedies but also the legacy of the national tragedy that has been a big reason for their hatred of one another; they were on opposite sides in the Civil War; the Confederates see the Unionists as invaders and the Unionists see the Confederates as traitors and guerillas.

But, remarkably, this isn't the focus for Caine. It's almost a non-issue for him (almost, he still has to defend himself). Of more interest to Caine, and thus for us the viewers whose story is reprioritized by our protagonist, is the saga of the enmity between Annie and her unborn child. Because she, too, is a Southern gal full of spitfire and anguish, she cannot fulfill her role as mother to the seed that has been planted in her (against her will). This repulses Caine, whose Shaolin masters taught him to love and respect all life regardless of the situation (some great flashbacks in this episode to that effect). Caine makes it his mission to heal Annie's spirit and reconcile her with the innocent baby.

In the end, the forces set on revenge try to draw Caine into it, but he resists, protecting the Buchanans physically and spiritually. The line that sums up this episode may well be a line that sums up the entire series and the point I made in the first sentence about having Old West themes turned inside out by our new age hero, Caine. The last scene has the old Confederate patriarch, Buchanan, begging Caine to help him get revenge on the Union soldiers still at large. He even offers Caine his last valuable possession – his old officer's saber. Caine takes the saber in hand and breaks it, symbolically demanding an end to the cycle of revenge-and-revenge-for-revenge. Incensed, Buchanan screams: "If I don't have a right to vengeance, who does?" Caine answers in that dreamy, perfectly intoned way Carradine gives the character: "No one." This is Kung Fu's indictment of the Old West, the west – possibly of everything that was going on in the 1970s at the time, a perfect new-age post Krishnamurtri statement in the era of Vietnam. No one has a right to venegance. Seek instead to heal and reconcile.

Four out of four yin-yangs. IMDB entry for this episode is here. Interesting factoid if you click on some IMDB links: Tim McIntire was considered for the role of Meathead in All in the Family! According to Wikipedia he also composed the music for Jeremiah Johnson and was the voice of the dog in A Boy and His Dog! Shame I can't find a decent pic of him to put up in this entry. entry here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite episodes ... Caine's ending line is very powerful ... I might consider this episode as one of the top five. The breaking of the sword though is even more powerful then the words .. a very zen like action.

1:39 PM  

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