Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Chalice

This is a compelling episode about coveting, and how the acquisition of an object can come to symbolize the attainment of a dream. There’s also another plot thread about restitution that I think robs “The Chalice” of some of its cohesiveness.

Follow the plot here, which has three main thrusts. Caine meets a priest named Father Cardonez (Victor Millan), who has stolen a chalice from the altar of his mission, San Blas. Fr. Cardonez is robbed of it by four desperadoes, and with his dying breath asks Caine to rescue the chalice and return it to the mission, his way of “making restitution.”

Also on the trail of the four thugs is Captain Luther Staggis (William Smith, veteran of TV, biker movies, and such 70s classics as Any Which Way You Can), a hard man and a mercenary, but not without heart or ideals. Seems the four have stolen a Gatling gun belonging to Staggis and he wants it back to fight alongside a political figure in Mexico.

Caine, meanwhile, has an object of his own that he’s carrying and having trouble letting go, a small stone he has taken from the grave of his beloved Master Po. To Caine, the pebble symbolizes Po as he was when he is alive. Carrying it reminds Caine of his sin, his involvement in Po’s death, and somehow comforts Caine, as if Po is in the pebble.

Chalice, machine gun, pebble. God, strength, absolution. Each man, the priest, the mercenary and the Shaolin are trying to acquire something so that it will meet an inner need. Each man is trying, through the acquisition of this thing, to make restitution for something wrong he has done. Only one of them ultimately learns that attaining the object doesn’t fulfill the emotional and spiritual needs being sought; you can guess which one.

Cool plot, right? In the middle are the four killers, with whom Caine must deal while also collaborating with the murderous Staggis, whose heart is polluted by his passion. “You ever kill a man?” he asks Caine. “Once you do, you’re hooked for life.”

Here’s where it gets derailed. A vague, lame plot twist pits Caine against Staggis in hand to hand combat. Maybe Staggis loses site of his mission and what it is he’s supposed to acquire? Maybe he cannot coexist with Caine, a man who has taken life but not been spiritually corrupted by the act? This twist is the only thing keeping this from being a four yin-yang episode, it’s quite distracting. Honestly, I gotta give it three out of four.

Which is too bad, there’s a lot of other cool things happening in this episode, including some flashbacks to how Caine escaped from China (through the help of a Christian missionary priest!) and, I gotta tell you, a sa-weet! stunt in which Caine leaps from a second story ledge onto a ladder and rides it to the earth, where he rolls into an attack. Wow. IMDB is here. Be sure to check out the "trivia" surrounding the colorful career of William Smith and, hey, just for grins, here's the classic fight between Smith and Clint Eastwood.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're right, the stuff about the Irish missionary helping Caine escape China was pretty good. The thing about Kung Fu is that you're always piecing the story together. You get little glimpses of it here and there. When I was a kid I saw several episodes way before I saw the pilot, so I didn't really know why he was wanted, I thought it was a bum rap. But then I saw what had to have been the season three opener and I saw a flash back to Master Po getting killed. I couldn't wait to get to school the next day to tell my friends, "I found out why Caine left China and is wanted!!!!" It was almost as good as when I discovered he wasn't celibate. -Dot

8:35 PM  
Blogger Charlie Kondek said...

Heh! In "Sun and Cloud Shadow" and a few other episodes, eh?

8:58 AM  
Blogger Capcom said...

Very nice analysis! I don't remember much of this ep, but I do vaguely recall the pebble carried around.

I've liked Smith since his Loredo days, and wow, he must be one of the hardest working guys in Hollywood! Thanks for the links.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Charlie Kondek said...

Man, I can't believe I never got hip to Smith before. The more I read of him the more in awe I am!

6:49 PM  
Blogger Capcom said...

Seriously, I agree, he's such an accomplished person in so many intellectual and physical genres!

8:55 PM  

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