seaQuest DSV: S1 E1: ‘To Be or Not to Be’

The 21st century. Mankind has colonized the last unexplored region on Earth–the ocean. As captain of the seaQuest and its crew, we are its guardians for beneath the surface lies the future.

On September 12, 1993, a series premiered on NBC. For a long time thereafter, I was glued to television each Sunday at 8:00 p.m.  seaQuest DSV. A series created by Rockne S. O’Bannon (Farscape) and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. To celebrate this anniversary, I will be looking back at each episode.

It had everything I wanted in a show: the Spielberg connection (including lead actor Roy Scheider from Jaws, a cute teen heartthrob (Jonathan Brandis), and a “talking” dolphin (voiced by esteemed talent Frank Welker).

The pilot “To Be or Not to Be” also had another surprising connection to another passion of mine: Star Wars. Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, helmed the first episode. What was not to love?

And love it I did. I had (and still have!) the hat, the soundtrack, the novels, the trading cards, the coffee mug.

So what was this show about? Set in the “near future” of 2018, mankind has colonized the ocean. The seaQuest, a deep submergence vehicle, is operated by the United Earth Oceans organization (UEO) to help keep the peace and lead underwater research. But Captain Marilyn Stark (guest star Shelley Hack of Charlie’s Angels) proves a rebellious captain who is relieved of command by Commander Jonathan Ford (Don Franklin).

Admiral Noyce (Richard Herd) tries to convince retired Nathan Bridger (Scheider) to return to duty. He convinces Bridger to visit the ship he helped design, but Bridger realizes belatedly it was a trap to get him to stay onboard when the ship begins moving.

He takes the opportunity to wander the ship, meeting lead scientist Dr. Kristen Westphalen (Stephanie Beacham), Chief Manilow Crocker, head of security (Royce D. Applegate), communications officer Lt. O’Neill (Ted Raimi aka Joxer the Mighty), chief engineer Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Hitchcock (Stacy Haiduk), supply and morale officer Benjamin Krieg (John D’Aquino), Miguel Ortiz (Marco Sanchez), and last but not least, Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis). He used to appear in teen magazines, I’m told. I wouldn’t know. Heard it from a friend.

Bridger also learns that Noyce brought Darwin, his companion from his island retirement hideaway, to the ship. Lucas shows a contraption that can translate the beeps and whistles of dolphin speak, allowing Darwin to communicate. And he communicates a lot, revealing more information than Bridger would like.

The self-guided tour ends abruptly when systems begin failing onboard and a renegade sub appears in the water. Lucas discovers a virus infiltrated the systems, and Bridger pieces together that it was installed by Stark, his former student. She single-mindedly seeks to destroy the seaQuest and prevent anyone else from captaining her ship. Supported financially by George Le Chein (Michael Parks, notably Texas Ranger Earl McGraw and Esteban Vihaio from the Kill Bill movies), she cripples seaQuest but doesn’t destroy the ship.

The crew takes the ship to the depths of the ocean to work on repairs and disable the virus. To lure them out, Stark begins attacking innocent civilians. Bridger outsmarts her, though, and uses Darwin to place a tracking tag on her ship. With only 50% of their torpedoes operable, they fire and disable her sub. She’s not among the crew when they are picked up. It’s assumed she escaped.

But otherwise their efforts were successful, and Bridger is now captain of the, uh, bridge. 

Where are they now?  Roy Scheider

Roy Scheider died in 2008 of multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells). His final role was in Iron Cross, but for me his standout role after seaQuest was as Frank Castle’s father in the The Punisher starring Thomas Jane. But that may be because I just really love that movie. Naturally, his most enduring role is as Chief Brody in Jaws. I can still see him, perched on what’s left of the Orca, speargun in hand. “Smile, you son of a bitch!