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Cult TV: The Master Episode 4 – ‘Hostages’

August 19, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Cult TV - The Master Image Credit: Kino Lorber

Cult TV Issue #9: The Master Episode 4

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest issue of Cult TV. I’m Bryan Kristopowitz.


With the box office failure of the Snake Eyes/G.I. Joe movie, I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing a return of the 1980’s “ninja craze” any time soon. I had high hopes for a return and thought that we might get one if Snake Eyes was a hit, but then the movie basically failed and it sure as hell looks like no one, in a broad pop culture sense, cares all that much about ninjas. Now, I haven’t had a chance to see Snake Eyes so I have no idea if the movie is as bad as some reviewers claim (the consensus seemed to be that, among other major issues, the movie’s action scenes were hard to follow, which is never a good thing), but it’s a shame that we’re probably not going to get any major/big deal ninja movies for the foreseeable future. Maybe the movie will find an audience on home video and cable/streaming and there will be a change of heart regarding potential sequels and, in general, ninja movies.


So, how many of you out there managed to see the Snake Eyes movie? Was it as bad as the seeming consensus claims, or is it misunderstood? Does Snake Eyes deserve to be a box office failure?

Okay, so, onto more positive things, like the ninja TV show The Master. Here are the links to reviews for the first three episodes, just in case you missed them for some reason (or want to read them again):

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

And now, onto the fourth episode of The Master.


Episode 4: “Hostages”


Director: Ray Austin
Writers: Michael Sloan and Susan Woollen

As you can see from the image above, this is an episode of The Master that actually has Sho Kosugi in the episode, so on that fact alone it’s a must see and a classic episode of cult television. “Hostages” also has David McCallum and George Lazenby in it, making the cast of the episode one of the greatest casts in the history of television. So that’s pretty cool. Ducky from NCIS and James Bond from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in an episode of a television show about a ninja.


So “Hostages” starts out with Timothy Van Patten’s Max flying some sort of ultralight aircraft with Lee Van Cleef’s master ninja John Peter McAllister watching from the ground. I’m not entirely sure if this is meant to be more ninja training (I guess it’s a good idea that a ninja knows how to operate ultralight aircraft because it could come up one day) or if it’s yet another hobby that Max likes to indulge in from time to time (we saw him ride a dirt bike in the last episode). While flying this ultralight aircraft Max spots and rescues a young woman named Alicia (Jennifer Runyon) from crashing her car. Alicia and Max immediately hit it off, and Alicia invites Max and McCallister back to her house, as her rich father is having a big party. Apparently, Alicia’s father is a U.S. Senator and he’s hosting a big hooha European summit or something and there are tons of big deal people at her house. How will Max and McCallister fit in at a party like that?


Well, thankfully for Max and McCallister they both packed their tuxedos and don’t look too out of place at the party, mingling with the rich and the powerful and the apparently important. While at the party McCallister is recognized by Mallory (George Lazenby), a CIA agent who is well aware of the worldwide ninja menace (or something like that). Mallory doesn’t trust McCallister and believes he’s a criminal, but McCallister is obviously not a criminal at all. So there’s some tension there. While all of that is going on, McCallister’s former student turned dogged pursuer Okasa (Sho Kosugi) is in the area, watching McCallister and waiting for his next chance to strike. Okasa shows up at the party and manages to blend in. And while all of that is going on, there’s a group of, I assume, leftist revolutionaries (they don’t really say, I’m just guessing on the group’s affiliations) that want to attack the party, kidnap a bunch of important people, and get their message out (they also wouldn’t mind killing some of the rich people because, you know, why not?). Leading this group is Castile (David McCallum), a mercenary who is only a revolutionary commando for the money. He doesn’t seem to be too invested in whatever the revolutionaries actually want. Castile has no problem killing people, though. Neither does Serena (Randi Brooks), who is heavily invested in the revolution, whatever it happens to be.


So the party is going great, Max and Alicia are hitting it off, Senator Clayton (Robert Dowdell) is happy with the whole vibe of what’s going on, and that’s when Castile and his group attack the party and grab a bunch of hostages. Okasa gets caught in the middle of the attack and, while “cooperating” with the attackers, tries to kill McCallister with a ninja weapon before escaping (a killer ninja like Okasa isn’t going to get caught up in some revolutionary group’s bullshit when he has his own job to do). And Max almost gets killed while trying to prevent Alicia from being taken away (Max gets a hand injury).

As you would expect with this kind of situation, the CIA is pissed and looks for a way to rescue the hostages and take out the revolutionaries. How will the agency do that, though, without screwing it all up? Mallory would seem to be the obvious CIA choice to handle the situation, but, as he finds out while doing surveillance of the compound hideout used by the revolutionaries, taking out the bad guys is going to be more than a “one man” operation. What the hell are they going to do?


So the CIA asks McCallister, who they’ve arrested and attempted to interrogate to no avail (there was suspicion that McCallister and Max were somehow in on the whole revolutionary invasion), to infiltrate the revolutionary compound and take out the bad guys. I mean, McCallister is a ninja and this is what ninjas do, right? McCallister eventually agrees to do it, but he has two conditions: one, he doesn’t Max to participate because he’s hurt and he’s still a bit too “ninja green” with something like this. And two, McCallister wants Mallory to be his backup/partner on this operation. Mallory agrees, and off they go to the compound to rescue the hostages.


Now, before any of this happens, Okasa pops into the story again and attacks McCallister in McCallister’s hotel room. This sequence is a fantastic ninja fight action scene and shows, once again, that having Sho Kosugi around and a major part of the story is a good thing. This fight takes place in a small space, yes, but is incredibly exciting and a testament to Kosugi’s skills as both a performer and as a fight choreographer. McCallister essentially beats Okasa, Okasa escapes, and McCallister heads to the compound to rescue the hostages.

Up until this point the episode is fantastic. The action scenes, the dramatic scenes, everything about the episode is firing on all eight cylinders. But then Mallory shows up to infiltrate the revolutionary compound still wearing his tuxedo (with a bright as hell white shirt) and the episode starts to go off the rails. I sort of understand why Mallory doesn’t change into some sort of commando outfit (time was of the essence, he didn’t have time to change into something else, and there’s a chance that the CIA didn’t have something else for him to change into). Mallory is meant to be a James Bond type character, and he is played by James Bond, so it makes sense to have Mallory in a tuxedo. James Bond wearing a tuxedo is “iconic.” However, even knowing all of those things, it’s still ridiculous, especially when McCallister has his ninja outfit on and ready to go. Why couldn’t Mallory have had a commando jumpsuit in the trunk of his car? Why shouldn’t Mallory be prepared for any eventuality?

The action going forward from this point isn’t as good as the first part of the episode. There are some nice moments here and there, but most of what we see seems rushed and incomplete. It’s almost like director Austin filmed the episode in sequence and, by the time he got to the infiltration sequence, he was running out of time and he had to cut as many corners as he could in order to get the episode completed. There are also some dramatic scenes that don’t play out as well as they should, like when we see the hostages all in the same room, not to mention just about everything with Castile. Castile is disillusioned, sure, but why? Would a guy like Castile, even being a professional mercenary and all that, even do something like this? Just how bad does he need the money? We never really find out. All we know is that Castile is just going through the motions because he wants to do something else with his life. Shouldn’t Castile have had at least one scene, by himself, explaining himself?

Max, as you would expect, shows up via his ultra-light aircraft (there had to be a reason for Max to use that at the beginning of the episode) and helps out, pissing McCallister off (not enough to make him tell Max to leave). McCallister, Mallory, and Max take out Castile and the other bad guys, and the episode ends. Max and Alicia have one final moment, and then Max and McCallister go off onto their next adventure (Max tells McCallister that he wants to go to Las Vegas for some rest and relaxation. Does anyone think that would ever happen on this show? You know damn well that if they do go to Vegas they will get embroiled in some sort of conflict. You just know it. And, ha, based on what I just read on imdb it looks like that exact thing happens in the next episode). And that’s the end of the episode.


Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patten both do fine work. At this point in the series they seem to have figured out what their relationship is supposed to be and how they’re supposed to interact with one another. George Lazenby does a great job as Mallory. I wonder if his relationship with McCallister would have been explored in later episodes had there been a second season. It almost seems like the show would have done something with that later on.


As for David McCallum, I don’t really get why he wasn’t given more to do with Castile. McCallum does a good job giving Castile a kind of melancholy that you don’t expect to see in a mercenary working for revolutionaries. I really thought that Castile was going to turn on his employers by the end of the episode and almost side with the CIA in some way. That kind of thing probably would have happened if The Master was made today and the show did an episode like “Hostages.” Maybe Castile would have appeared again in a later episode?

Even with the unexpected downturn in action and slickness towards the end of the episode, “Hostages” is the best episode yet of The Master. I enjoyed this episode tremendously. Will the next episode kick as much ass? I guess I’ll find out soon enough.


Rating: 4/5


Next issue: The Master Episode 5: “High Rollers”



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