THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS CLASSIFIED:
CLEARANCE AUTHORISATION LEVEL 6
NAME: JAIME SOMMERS
PAST PROFESSION: TENNIS PRO
PRESENT PROFESSION: SCHOOL TEACHER
GRADE LEVEL: 7, 8 & 9
PRESENT RESIDENCE: OJAI, CALIFORNIA
CRITICAL INJURY PARACHUTE ACCIDENT ANATOMICAL DAMAGE
BOTH LEGS, RIGHT ARM, ROGHT EAR
OPERATIONAL PROCEDURE BIONIC REPLACEMENT
ESTIMATED COST: CLASSIFIED
For three years in the late seventies, this is what greeted audiences at the beginning of every episode of the Bionic Woman. After the success of the Six Million Dollar Man, based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidan and starring Lee Majors as the bionic man, Colonel Steve Austin, creator Kenneth Johnson decided that a female version was needed as a love interest.
Originally conceived as a one-off story, Jaime Sommers, Steve’s lover, had a sky diving accident and, thanks to Steve, is saved using the same bionic procedure that saved his life but she died at the end of the episode. However when the decision was made to give her a spin-off series, we discovered that both Doctor Rudy Wells (the godfather of bionics), played by Martin E Brooks, and Oscar Goldman, head of the OSI (office of scientific investigation) had lied to Steve and Jaime had been brought back from the dead, although she had no memory that she was once Steve’s one true love. So began a journey for actress Lindsay Wagner which would see her not only quickly eclipse the Six Million Dollar Man in popularity but make her the highest paid actress on television at the time as well as winning an Emmy for her performance, a rare event in those days for any sci fi show.
With both shows running simultaneously, audiences delighted when Steve and Jaime teamed up for adventures and in those days these crossovers WERE an event that went for scale and epic storytelling.
What made Jaime stand out was that she was very much a human person with fears, worries and strong moral convictions as seen in The Road to Nashville, The Deadly Ringer (a classic episode which saw Jaime drugged and thrown into a padded cell waiting for plastic surgery in a prison. Her breakdown in this episode was powerful viewing) and Doomsday is Tomorrow respectively. And this is never more evident than in the final ever episode where Jaime decides that she has had enough of being the lapdog for the OSI. When she tries to give in her resignation she finds she is now classified as government property and will live out her days in a compound in order to keep her bionics secret.
She goes on the run resenting even her new love interest Chris, introduced earlier in the season and played by the Howling’s Christopher Stone. It really examined what it meant to be bionic and how it affects not only your life but how others treat you. In the end, she returns but on her own conditions but it shows exactly why Lindsay won her Emmy.
Everyone knows about the Fembots. Indeed they became so integral to audiences that they reappeared in the Austin Powers movies. In the three part Kill Oscar, Jaime and Steve face their greatest foes when their friends – including Oscar – are replaced by the Fembots to steal a weather machine and again in Fembots in Las Vegas, but they cemented both them and Bigfoot in the imagination to this day but the writing on the show was so clever and Lindsay was so versatile that no matter how bizarre the story, Jaime had the audience firmly on her side.
She was the every woman that could enter regions of the emotional that Steve Austin could not, such as helping alien princesses and young kids but Jaime was always happiest when she was teaching her class, often using assignments as excuses to gain new stuff to educate them, such as in the Vega Influence when she had to travel to a remote station for Oscar so she took pictures of cloud formations and their relationship to the land for her kids.
Kids were something she would never have because the amnesia concerning her feelings for Steve would stop her from committing to every possible new beau. Although she and Steve would marry in Bionic Ever After, one of three tv movies made in the eighties, she became stepmother to Steve’s son Michael who also ended up with super enhanced bionics. If this was put to Freud, he would say it was the more passionate emotional female side that held Jaime back, whereas Steve just couldn’t control his second brain but c’est la vie.
And it was this connection that drew audiences to her whether she were posing as a nun to save a winery being used as a heroin factory, a police officer to root out a Russian spy or leaping 30 foot into the air to land on a helicopter to avoid the deadly Fembots. We were there right by her side. She even took time out to adopt Max, the bionic dog, an idea that seemed ridiculous on paper but worked beautifully.
Max was an Alsatian puppy that Rudy had successfully tested bionics on and Jaime found him caged in a lab about to be put down. She realized Max was dying because he wasn’t able to live the life he wanted or get outdoors and just be a dog, something nicely echoed in her final episode. So she goes on the run with Max to save him, however their fugitive life takes them straight into a forest fire where only Max can save Jaime. Problem is, he was caught in a lab fire as a pup and is terrified of it. Again it seems a silly idea but works so well due to the writing and performances. I bet every household in the country had an Alsatian pup after this episode. And, while the human side of her was well catered for, her bionic side didn’t get much chance to rest either.
As well as Bigfoot and his alien masters, Jaime battled an entire gallery of monsters and villains; the alien crystalline microbes that turned people into the walking dead in the Vega Influence, a Native American Night Demon that was brilliantly conceived, the super computer Alex 700; so calm, yet deadly ala Hal from 2010, and predates Hal by several years, battled UFOs in the Martians are Coming, ancient aliens using Egyptian technology and even crooked country and western singers in Nashville, the scoundrels!
And it all played out in complete sincerity. Lindsay and the production team created magic in a bottle for three solid years where there was barely a dud episode. The mix was perfect from comedy to horror to sci-fi to espionage.
So you can keep your Buffy, Xena, Rose Tyler and Ripley, Jaime is the one that paved the way for all the rest. And the sight of her jumping a fence, her long blond hair trailing in the sunlight, still makes me swoon; Oh, I wish I were a fence (bit creepy – ed)