Bride of the Incredible Hulk is just the season two two-part opener, “Married,” as a theatrical release (for overseas). But it’s also a remarkably self-contained outing for Bill Bixby (and even more so for series costar Jack Colvin, who gets a single scene). The movie opens with Bixby arriving in Hawaii to consult with preeminent psychologist Mariette Hartley. Hartley’s developed new applications for hypnosis to combat physical ailments, and Bixby thinks he can use it to keep Lou Ferrigno at bay.
Unfortunately, just as Bixby gets to Hartley’s office (some lovely California location shooting filling in for Hawaii), she’s headed onto permanent sabbatical. She’s got a fatal illness, which the audience knows about because the episode opens with the teaser, and it gives away Hartley’s condition, messing up the first act. It’s a shame the Bride version doesn’t have a release, so at least there aren’t spoilers from the “Next On.”
Bixby eventually convinces Hartley to help him, revealing his secret identity—he’s using “Benton” as his last name in this episode, but once Hartley finds out he’s David Banner, she can’t stop saying his name loudly in public. Even though Colvin’s around looking for the Hulk after he shows up, though—wisely—Colvin’s story goes entirely untold. Because Bride’s staying very busy with Hartley. The movie’s mostly her ruminating on her condition, which is similar to ALS, but director Johnson didn’t want to come up with a whole fake name for the disease. Not when Hartley is mooning over Bixby using big medical words to describe stubbed toes and so on.
If she agrees to help him with the big green guy, he’ll try to help her cure her own mitochondrial-based disease in the six to eight weeks she has left to live. She starts mooning over him after a couple of days. He reciprocates after she proves she can handle herself with his Ferrigno outbursts, including Ferrigno breaking up a luau. An incredibly problematic luau on at least two fronts. First, the cultural one—though Bride’s entirely unaware; it’s frequently racist, with one of Bixby and Hartley’s couple bits being mocking Japanese people. Then there’s third lead Meeno Peluce. He’s the little boy who lives nearby and shares a beach with Hartley. When Ferrigno breaks up the luau, everyone abandons Peluce to watch in awe. He’ll go on to emulate Ferrigno’s outbursts, which Bixby thinks is adorable and seemingly doesn’t connect the behaviors.
Given how strange it is to watch Bixby in therapy sessions with Hartley and realize he’s just got garden variety anger management issues. He tells Hartley so many flashbacks, Lara Parker should’ve gotten credit for her pilot movie footage (regardless of her not having any lines). Poor Susan Sullivan (the actual love interest from the pilot movie) is forgotten or maybe even retconned. Bixby leaves her contributions to his work out entirely when recapping the show premise for Hartley.
It’s a pretty good episode for Bixby. The racist stuff hurts his demeanor, and his pressuring Hartley to put a ring on it is very strange (and entirely unexplored). But they do have great chemistry. His stuff with trying to control Ferrigno goes completely unresolved, even in terms of episode arcs, and Johnson’s too worried about getting the thing done on budget to tie the final action sequence to Bixby mediating his way into the desert of his mind, population two: him and Ferrigno. Those “dream” sequences are visually striking. They’re somewhat inert, narratively, but they’re cool looking. Bixby gets it really bad at the end when he’s got to have a heart-to-heart with Peluce about the morale of the story, and Peluce is godawful, and Bixby just can’t make it work.
But Hartley—and her processing of her impending death—is the star. She’s fantastic. And she’s the star of Bride (and “Married,” which is a weird way to do a season opener, but it was the seventies). Even when she’s got weaker material—not just her being a racist shit but also when she daydreams Peluce is she and Bixby’s kid, instead of them both giving their lives to science and denying the only fulfilling human experience, raising a child actor.
Johnson does well with a lot of the direction. John McPherson’s photography is nice. Doesn’t match all the stock footage, but it’s nice.
Bride has problems, but it’s a damn good TV melodrama with superhero action accouterment.