By Cory Barker and Myc Wiatrowski
Season 1, Episode 7, “Never Again, Never Again” and Episode 18, “Beauty Knows No Pain”
Original air dates: Jan. 22, 1981 and Apr. 16, 1981
Myc: We’re back again this week with more Magnum P.I., and we’ll be discussing a midseason episode “Never Again, Never Again” and the first season finale “Beauty Knows No Pain.” I thought these episodes were pretty strong, featuring Nazis and mobsters and triathlons, oh my! I was pretty entertained by these episodes; they did a good job developing the relationships between the characters and building out the world. What did you think?
Cory: Let’s start with “Never Again, Never Again.” NAZIS. And even better: secret Nazis pretending to be Jewish. I specifically picked this episode because the logline mentioned Nazis, but I never expected it to have so many twists and turns. Was it silly? Unbelievably so. Were the moments that were kind of iffy and maybe offensive? Probably. Did I enjoy it anyway? You know it. More than 30 years later, it’s a little difficult to take these kinds of stories seriously, but I appreciate the weight that the episode gives to this deep-seeded tension between two cultures who are still traumatized by what happened. There are moments in the episode that mostly deflate this tension—the pit stop with Higgins in the hospital clearly intended to inject some humor into the proceedings and it only sort of worked for me; but that next-to-last scene with Magnum and the now-revealed Nazis was pretty wonderful.
How’d you feel about the way episode portrayed this situation (the Nazis, the Jewish hit squad, the war, etc.)? Too much? Not enough?
Myc: Everything in this episode was a little over the top and silly, but still completely serviceable. I never expected the twist that the people we thought were Jewish were actually Nazis pretending to be Jewish. That’s brilliant. And the execution was spot on. Having an old lady as your evil Nazi antagonist who murders a Jewish doctor who blew their cover because he happens to be a concentration camp survivor? Bravo. There were moments that weren’t spectacular, but overall the episode works.
At the opening of the episode, I found myself wondering why there were Nazis running around 1980 Hawaii, but then I realized that when this episode was produced it had only been 35 years since the end of WWII. Contextually, it makes sense. We’re watching these Nazis on our TV 33 years after this episode of Magnum was first broadcast. Though it is mind blowing to think that almost as much time has passed between Magnum‘s premiere and today as between World War II in 1981.
As you mentioned, the penultimate scene on the boat with Magnum and the Nazi couple was fantastic. I really didn’t expect that scene to have the emotion that it did given the rest of the episode, and it might come off as a little melodramatic—but it worked for me.
That being said, this is the most absurd episode of Magnum we’ve seen so far, and borders on A-Team territory. They were able to work wonders with what is arguably a bad script. I was pretty impressed that they were able to pull it off
Cory: Oh, it’s totally absurd. I really don’t intend to make light of WWII or anything that happened between Nazis, Jewish people, or anyone else. Hanna Hertelendy did a wonderful job as Lena, the client and eventual villain. It’s easy to buy her as a terrified old woman, but it’s also relatively easy to buy her as a conflicted murderer. The episode doesn’t let her off the hook for the terrible things she and her husband did during the war–or the miserable things they’ve done since, such as putting on fake concentration camp tattoos so they could blend in as members of the Jewish committee, but it also gives her the opportunity to express her somewhat troubled feelings. In that final sequence, she screams “It was war! It was war!” and Magnum is at least a little bit confused as to what to do. Not only has he been hookwinked by a frail old woman, but he has to decide if he actually wants to take her out. Ultimately, he doesn’t have to make that decision because Lena makes it for him by taking her own life. The history, the regret, and the murder—it’s just all too much for Lena. So yeah, it’s silly in theory, but I actually thought the episode (and particularly the actors) did its best to make it work.
How’d you feel about the status of the lead cast in this episode? This is almost the mid-point of the season, where do you find Magnum, Higgins, Rick, and TC?
Myc: I’m torn a bit on the cast. Magnum remains well developed. The relationship between him and Higgins is better-developed here. Prior to now they’ve had a friendly, but competitive, and at times adversarial, relationship. But once Higgins is injured, Magnum focuses on getting him to a hospital as quickly as possible, calling TC and demanding that he set everything aside and rush the chopper to Robin’s Nest. Then we have the comedic interlude at the hospital where the adversarial relationship is resumed once the danger has passed. I was pretty pleased with those scenes, even if the comedy the hospital fell a bit flat.
Rick plays a pretty insignificant role in terms of actually accomplishing anything. I mean he’s there, and he kind of gets the ball rolling for this week’s investigation, but he’s more or less comedic relief. TC is also utilized primarily as comedic relief, or whenever a chopper would be convenient. I get that the show isn’t centered on an ensemble, but they’re still very much in their roles from the pilot. I really had higher hopes for how these characters would be used.
Cory: Yeah, TC and Rick are clearly slotted into secondary roles. TC is more interesting, if only because he seems Roger E. Mosely appears more comfortable playing the goofy friend than Larry Manetti does. Plus, I get the sense–and the pilot suggested this with those solid flashbacks–that Magnum is much closer to TC than he is Rick anyway. Last week, you compared Rick to The A-Team‘s Face, but he’s an even blander version of that kind of character. He doesn’t really dampen any scenes that he’s a part of, but he certainly doesn’t make them any better either.
But you’re right, this is a two-man show. Selleck continues to do good work as Magnum and I thought John Hillerman handled Higgins’ injuries pretty well. Their relationship is still very antagonistic, but there’s also a level of respect present in this episode that wasn’t there in the pilot. Higgins appreciates that Magnum brings him to the hospital, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. We talked last week about the silliness of the Masters’ Estate, but I’d posit that a dumb conceit like well-serves these two characters because they’re more or less stuck with one another. It’s fun to watch that relationship develop, albeit incrementally.
And on that note, let’s move on to the season finale, “Beauty Knows No Pain.” Whereas “Never Again, Never Again” managed to work despite some overcooked storytelling, this one is mostly knowingly goofy from the start. I’m not sure if the production team had some deal with the Iron Man race or CBS just really wanted more of Selleck in a very small bathing suit, but the case here mostly serves to fill in the time between all of the other characters trying to convince Magnum to compete in the race, the training sequences when he “agrees” to it, and ultimately, the race itself. We’re so used to modern-day season finales being full of cliffhangers and shocking reveals that it’s fascinating to return to a time when a season finale didn’t really mean anything. Of the four hours of the show we’ve watched, this is definitely the one with the least amount of stakes; the client’s husband is barely in danger, and as I said, even so, the episode is more interested in making fun of Magnum’s lack of endurance in various events. What’d you think of this one?
Myc: While I enjoyed much of this episode, “Beauty Knows No Pain” left me feeling a little confused about the show from a broader point of view. It was funny in a very goofball sort of way; not that being goofy is a bad thing. In fact “Beauty Knows No Pain” is very aware of what it’s doing. However, the pilot sets us up for a more serious version of the series, and even “Never Again, Never Again,” while absurd, is still more serious than this episode. I’ve been thinking since we discussed “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii” how similar Magnum is to the more recent Donald Bellisario procedurals JAG and NCIS, and those shows, while occasionally goofy, tend to be Very Serious. It leave me wondering where we put Magnum. Is it a procedural? A sitcom with an unusual “situation?” A dramedy? Last week I applauded the show for being comfortable in its own skin and not needing to take an excessive amount of time to figure itself out. However, after this episode, I’m left wondering if that’s really the case.
Also, as you noted, the lack of any real significance to the season finale feels both odd and refreshing when compared to the television we see today. It’s nice not to have that sort of heavy dramatic tension in this episode, but at the same time it also feels like a bit of a cop out.
I enjoyed the mobsters, the almost unbearable Jersey Girl (who totally pool-sharks Magnum), the cast harassing Magnum into competing, the mini-plot twists – it was fun, if a little confusing. Your thoughts?
Cory: That’s a mostly fair assessment. I’d say that the early season one episodes we watched had elements of comedy in them, and I think that’s on-point with four men who have known one another for various amounts of extended time. So, I didn’t find the goofy nature of the episode particularly off-putting. This is a show that plays with tone and mostly manages to pull it off. Some episodes are going to be more dramatic than others (like our expedition into old WWII grudges), and some episodes are more going to be more comedic. It doesn’t seem THAT far off from NCIS, at least to me.
Turning to masculinity, I thought the Iron Man training and competition did fun things for the show’s portrayal of Magnum’s character and his overall masculinity.
Myc: The masculinity that we’ve been discussing wasn’t apparent in “Never Again,” though we do get some of it, particularly with his ability to chase down a boat and clear the distance from the dock to the yacht as it pulled away. I suppose we could make the argument that this falls into the man-of-action brand of masculine performance. And this is the same type of masculine performance we see in “Beauty.” Not to be too pedantic, but one of my favorite scholars R.W. Connell wrote that, “true masculinity is almost always thought to proceed from men’s bodies—to be inherent in a male body or to express something about the male body.” This is what we get to see with Magnum; most often we get to watch him perform his masculinity as it extends from his body. So watching him run around chasing a boat when no one else can, or racing while shirtless in a tiny European bathing suit only serves to reinforce his masculine identity.
One of the interesting things I thought “Beauty” brought to the table was the way the rest of the cast attempted to tried undercut, even emasculate Magnum by suggesting that he couldn’t win the Iron Man; however, at the same time they all clearly thought he was able to do it. Or at least their actions say they believe that Magnum is man enough to compete in the Iron Man without having prepared the way that the other contestants have: TC actively asked him to do it, sponsored him, supported him, and bet all that he had the Magnum would win the thing; Higgins and Rick both supported him in various ways throughout his preparation, training, and during the race itself (though perhaps Higgins did it just to see him fail); Barbara trained him and was his biggest supporter, even if she said that it was impossible for him to do it without her “training.” It’s a really interesting thing to be doing, and a little more subtle than we saw in the premiere, but it still works.
This post is part of our multi-week exploration of 1980s uber-masculine American action shows. Here’s the upcoming schedule:
3/4: Simon and Simon, “Details at Eleven” and “Least Dangerous Game”
3/11: Simon and Simon, “Earth to Stacey” and “Tanks for the Memories”
3/18: Airwolf, “Shadow of the Hawke” Parts One and Two
3/25: Airwolf, “And They Are Us” and “To Snare a Wolf”
4/1: Hunter, “Hunter (Pilot)” and MacGyver, “Pilot”