In which we learn it takes more than just hot hair to plan a prison escape.
Episode three of the first season opens on two prisoners, handcuffed together fighting in front of a baying audience. The two (shirtless and shiny) men punch each other until one can no longer get up and the other stands over him. The prison warden steps out as the crowd fall silent. Asking for their decision, they yell for death.
The winner, Jase, refuses though and, in a unusually dark scene, we see the warden stand over and aim his gun at the loser before the screen cuts to black. A little later, Jase is set free outside the prison as reward and told he has an hour to run before they come after him. Surprisingly the warden isn’t the best timekeeper and with Jase still insight he calls a local posse to begin the hunt.
Over in the city, BA is teaching children how to make ash trays (which passes for arts and crafts in 1980’s LA) and talking to a kid called Joey. For some reason, BA decides to follow Joey through the streets as it turns out he’s Jase’s little brother (by about thirty years judging by the two actors).
Jase made it to the city, but the cops are on his tail. We find out he was convicted of a small crime but then kept incarcerated by the warden to join his fight programme. With the police outside, Jase surrenders to them while BA keeps Joey quiet.
Catching up with Hannibal, we find him in character as his own agent and trying to make amends for his behaviour on the Aquamaniac set from the pilot episode. Interrupting his meeting, BA assembles the everyone and forces them to vote for taking on the case. The team plan to break into the prison to free Jase.
As is tradition by now, each has a role to play. Face assumes the identity of a Dr Pepper (queue eye roll from Hannibal), an academic who published a book on prison reform, Amy stretches herself by playing a reporter, and Hannibal, BA and Murdock will get arrested.
In slight snag, the trio find it harder than they imagined trying to get put behind bars as the local police seem reluctant to jail any out-of-towners. Not to be frustrated for long, Hannibal upgrades from dangerous driving to attempted murder by parking their car through the front of the police station.
While BA plays deaf and mute, Hannibal, now in character as an effeminate, but thankfully not offensively stereotyped (remember Mr Lee?), hairdresser, explains to the authorities he is also a sign language interpreter in order to stay with BA. Murdock plays up to his reputation and gets put in the medical section with a psychosis that can only be cured by collecting trash bags (remember this for later).
With the plan in motion, BA (who instantly has no sleeves on his prison shirt because he’s BA and his arms clearly wouldn’t fit in them) picks a scrap in the yard and gets selected for the fight programme, with Hannibal taken with him. Meanwhile, Amy and Face convince the warden to set up a hairdressing salon in the jail to improve prison self-esteem.
I have to mention Clifton James as the warden at this point who follows John Saxon in being an excellent villain for the episode. James, who you might know from playing another lawman, Sheriff (but not Doctor) Pepper in both Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, is superb as the corrupt warden. He’s cold enough to shoot a man but in so deep that you understand when he agrees to Face’s odd suggestions just to avoid getting inspected any further.
After what seems like endless detours into hairdressing equipment, salon chairs and trash bags, the plan finally comes together. While BA is taken away alone to fight, Amy and Face leave the prison, and Hannibal and Murdock use a snappy montage to create… hot air balloons by inflating trash bags attached to chairs with hairdryers. Floating over the wall to freedom, they track down the fight location and burst inside with the van. This time they not only manage to avoid running over anyone, but Hannibal also fires a machine gun into the arena and skilfully hits just around the spectators.
To cap off both brilliant a story and wonderful performance, BA knocks the warden out with a single punch while the spectators are all filmed on their own video camera for posterity (and the press). Why they were filming these incredibly illegal fights in the first place is unclear, but so it goes. Jase returns home and Joey even agrees to get back to arts and crafts. That’s the spirit Joey, what would your reunited family do without poorly sculpted, low-quality ash trays?
Let’s wrap up with a few key questions.
Does Hannibal wear a disguise?
Yes, he plays his own agent trying to secure more monster work. His actor name by the way is his real name – John Smith. It’s amazing the US government doesn’t just put out a casting call for Aquamaniac 2 to catch him.
Does BA get on a place?
No, he drives the van across country and announces a new record.
Should someone be dead?
Yes, Hannibal drives through the wall of a police station and later shoots a machine gun from the back of the van into a crowded barn.
Pros and Cons is another classic episode of The A-Team and keeps up a perfect run in season one. Once again, it’s helped by an epic guest star as the villain giving it everything in a mesmerising performance that you want to see more of. Although the middle is a little convoluted, the sight of Hannibal and Murdock piloting their way over the prison walls is worth the wait.
I especially like BA in this one and the way he handles the team in getting them to take the mission. He’s threatening, manging to force his superior officers into taking on a case with no financial benefit, and cuts through Murdock’s pleas of insanity quicker than usual when there’s something personal to him at stake.
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