Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Unshakeables: The Bionic Woman Saves the World


A television show succeeds if it holds your attention for the time it’s on. But some episodes stay with you long after the credits roll. The emotions they generate do not dissipate for several minutes – sometimes several hours. And when you think about them months or even years later, you find the imprint they left on your mind remains as formidable as ever.


These are the “Unshakeables.”


A great twist ending is tough to pull off, but so satisfying when it works. The Twilight Zone was a master of these compelling climaxes, and over the years we’ve seen other memorable examples ranging from the last episode of St. Elsewhere to Bob Hartley waking up from his dream of being a Vermont innkeeper at the end of Newhart. 


When they work – and even when they don’t – they stick in our minds.


Not sure if I’ll be alone in this memory, but the ending of the two-part Bionic Woman episode “Doomsday is Tomorrow” made a profound impact on me when I watched it back in 1977. And it’s returned to my memory many times since, especially after the series was released on DVD. Even now, watching it again when I know what’s coming, the “reveal” has lost none of its potency. 



The story begins when eminent nuclear scientist Dr. Elijah Cooper (Lew Ayres), announces that he has created “the most diabolical instrument of destruction ever conceived by man,” a bomb that would “render the entire world lifeless.” The United Nations takes the threat seriously, though it can’t understand why a gentle, soft-spoken, elderly man would make such a terrifying revelation.


Turns out he did it because he’s fed up with all the war talk constantly emerging from different countries, so he hopes to blackmail the world into peace: his doomsday device will trigger only in the event of a nuclear detonation anywhere in the world. When one nation thinks he’s bluffing and explodes a nuke over the ocean, the countdown to the end of life on earth begins.


Jaime Sommers tries to talk Dr. Cooper out of his plan, bur he dies soon after and control of the bomb is turned over to ALEX 7000, a super-computer that controls the huge underground facility where the device is kept. Series creator Kenneth Johnson, who wrote, produced and directed this episode, clearly modeled ALEX after the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, right down to its mannerly but menacing voice. “So it’s a duel between you and me,” Jaime says. And that’s where part two begins.


The set-up is right out of a James Bond movie: Jaime must reach the lowest level of the facility, one mile below the surface, to deactivate the device, while ALEX launches floor after floor of lethal automated defenses to stop her.


Kenneth Johnson’s DVD commentary track on this episode reveals that the episode was mainly shot at the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in Los Angeles. While that setting sounds like it would be more smelly than scary, Johnson creates a sinister mood through the use of lighting, and by shooting Lindsay Wagner from a distance as one woman surrounded by huge industrial equipment that can be programmed to attack her.


It’s a memorable and entertaining episode even before we get to the final twist. While her bionic enhancements give Jaime advantages that ALEX could not have anticipated, the computer’s defenses were designed to hold off an army. But as we learned from Lord of the Rings, sometimes a single determined individual can access places where a legion might fail.


The only misstep for me was making ALEX too chatty. Since most of part two is the confrontation between Jaime and the computer I understand Johnson’s desire to have more dialogue as the story plays out, but this was a case where less would have been more. As Mission: Impossible proved, long stretches of silence can heighten dramatic tension.


How does it end? It wouldn’t be a spoiler to reveal that all life on earth was not extinguished, especially as The Bionic Woman returned with a new adventure the following week. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Jaime was successful in her mission.


And now here’s my dilemma – to divulge that memorable twist ending, or to refrain from spoiling its surprise, even if this is a show that aired 43 years ago. In my previous “Unshakeables” pieces on episodes of Lou Grant and The Bold Ones: The Lawyers, I left my readers unspoiled – and I think that is the best course of action here as well. Perhaps that way you’ll appreciate the profundity of how the story ends as much as I did – and still do.


  1. Aarrgh!! David, I feel like Jan Brady in "Father of the Year" when Marcia is about to tell her why she sneaked out their bedroom window the night before--"Yeah... yeah...!!" Anyway, enjoyable read and I swear to God I remember being a little surprised how obvious Alex was to Hal from 2001... but I cannot remember this so-called twist unless it is what I think it is (I won't write it here).

    Look what you're making me do--I bought all the Six Million Dollar Man & Bionic Woman dvds 5-6 years ago, did not finish watching them all but I suppose I'll have to watch this 2 parter again, at least. I sure did love Jaime and her super-70s apt on Steve's parents ranch. I guess her groovy digs was MY "unshakeable" :)

  2. Hey! This available to watch free at

    1. You're right, I'm watching it right now! FYI, I will go to my grave saying 'The Six Million Dollar Man' was the best show-opening EVER, but I sure loved 'The Bionic Woman' opening too :) Okay, back to Elijah and his supreme cobalt bomb...

    2. I hope it was worth another look!

  3. Well, Mr. Hofstede, didn't Jamie Sommers herself sob while saying that she was sick of hearing ALEX 7000's voice?

    By the way, you might want to catch a certain fanmade trailer for "Doomsday is Tomorrow." It can be reached by going to the following URL: