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Series / The Bionic Woman

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The Bionic Woman (ABC, 1976-1978) is a Spin-Off of The Six Million Dollar Man. Lindsay Wagner stars as Jaime Sommers, the other active bionic agent of the OSI.

Jaime is an Ascended Extra from a '75 episode of Six Mill. Steve Austin (Lee Majors) returns to his hometown of Ojai, California, to buy a ranch. Completely unaware that he is a cyborg, Steve's parents do what any parents would do with their confirmed bachelor astronaut son: they try and hook him up with his old flame, tennis pro Jaime Sommers. But tragedy strikes when, while skydiving with Steve, Jaime's parachute fails and she is fatally injured. An overwrought Steve convinces his boss Oscar (Richard Anderson) to authorize bionic replacement surgery to restore Jaime's destroyed legs, right arm and ear. Steve and Jaime rekindle their relationship, but her body starts rejecting the bionics, and after a Bride of Frankenstein freak-out, she flat-lines.

...until the Nielsen ratings come in. What Steve didn't know is that over the summer hiatus of re-runs, Jaime didn't die on the operating table, but was saved at the last second by "cryogenic therapy," but at a price: no memory of Steve. Viewer response to Jaime was so positive that ABC ordered the producers of Six Mill to revamp the third season opener to make room for a two-parter retconning Jaime death. On very short notice, the network commissioned a spin-off for January 1976.

Since her bionics gave her an unfair advantage on the court, Jaime left the tennis circuit to teach problem children at Ventura Air Force Base, near her hometown of Ojai. In-between clapping erasers together, she is occasionally — and reluctantly — deployed on various OSI missions. Jaime boooiiiiiiings from one assignment to the next: a briefing from Oscar, a bit of espionage, some humorous "pocket bionics" (showrunner Kenneth Johnson's term for the bionics being used in a domestic context), and the big action conclusion. One of the keys to the show's success (it often beat its parent program) was Wagner's wry, 'girl next-door' performance as Jaime. One got the feeling that (unlike Austin) she could lose all her augmentations and not care much. Her adventures are down-to-earth and less violent than Steve's. Consequently, the show is lampooned less-frequently than Six Mill. That didn't stop it from occasionally tilting into fantasy: the "Fembots" in Austin Powers are a spoof of the lifelike androids on this show. One of the crossovers with Six Mill featured a run-in with Bigfoot.

During the final season, an attempt was made to shake things up things by saddling Jaime with a "Bionic Dog" named Max, a German shepherd who was one of the early successes of bionic program. He is scheduled to be put down, on suspicion of having an age-related variant of bionic rejection, before Jaime intervenes; she discovers that his erratic behavior is actually pyrophobia, a result of nearly dying in a lab fire when he was younger.

Like Six Mill, the special effects are a product of their time, mainly because the stunts looked silly at full-speed; so sayeth Lee Majors on the 2010 DVD release of his series. The slo-mo effect was inspired, according to producer Harve Bennett, by the iconic instant replays of NFL Films. The second season would see a slight drop in the ratings...and a cancellation order. The drowning series was picked up by NBC in '77. Lower ratings equaled a smaller budget. NBC didn't exactly push back when Wagner, who appears in nearly every scene, decided she wanted out. NBC was in such dire straits that it must have seemed like a godsend when Wagner gave them excuse to yank it. Bionic Woman ended its third and final season as the 14th-most watched show in the country.

Revivals and remakes

A trio of reunion movies with Six Mill were aired between 1987-94. The second introduced a next-gen bionic woman played by a pre-fame Sandra Bullock as a backdoor pilot for a revival which never got made. There were rumors of new movie or TV series based on Bionic Woman, including a cable series which would have starred Jennifer Aniston, and a re-imagining in which the title was simply a metaphor and the lead character had no powers at all.

A short-lived remake aired on NBC in 2007, which was closer in spirit to Martin Caidin's novel series (Cyborg) upon which Six Mill was based. In 2012, a comic book version (featuring a Jaime who is not averse to breaking necks when threatened) was launched, but it was replaced in the summer of '14 with Bionic Woman Season 4, which more resembles the old TV show. In 2017, another comic book teamed Jaime up with the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman.

The Bionic Woman provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: "Doomsday Is Tomorrow", a two-parter by showrunner Kenneth Johnson (V, Alien Nation) which pits Jaime against a computer programmed to destroy the world.
  • Aborted Arc: Jaime's schoolteaching job, which drove a number of early plotlines, is all but forgotten about by season 2.
  • Achilles' Heel:
    • Extreme cold can make her parts stop working until they warm up.
    • Jaime natural arm is vulnerable, as was the rest of her human body, obviously.
    • Following on from something established in the parent series, after Jaime jumps from too high a building in "Kill Oscar" and makes her legs explode, taking out her legs has the potential to leave her at death's door.
    • She is also vulnerable to some forms of electrocution, again through her legs.
    • Early on, attempting to remember her relationship with Steve still had the potential to cause her pain, though this was downplayed more as time went on.
  • Action Girl: Jaime, obviously, though she actually makes an effort to avoid being one.
  • Affably Evil: ALEX 7000 from "Doomsday is Tomorrow". He tries to kill Jaime so she can't stop him from causing the destruction of humanity. Still, he politely warns her of his intentions, speaks to her in a friendly manner, and even considers her something of a "cousin", due to her bionics.
  • Artistic License – Military: The soldiers or airmen Jaime encounters tend to have shaggy 70s haircuts.
  • Analogy Backfire: Jaime does this to herself during "Black Magic" when she is forced to work with one villain to take down another.
    Manfred: Don't you trust me?
    Jaime: I trust you about as far as I could throw you. No, no, I don't trust you that far.
  • As Himself, Special Guest: Evel Knievel in Season 3 episode "Motorcycle Boogie", where he becomes an unwitting accomplice to Jaime when she tries to retrieve a stolen data tape from behind the Iron Curtain. Needless to say his trademark motorcycle stunts prove conveniently useful.
  • Backdoor Pilot
    • The episode "Biofeedback" was clearly intended to launch a spin-off, but it never happened.
    • Several sources have suggested that Max the bionic dog was going to get a spin-off, often to illustrate the "one spin-off too many" concept, but there's little sign that this was ever planned.
    • Bionic Showdown, the second of the Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman reunion movies, was a backdoor pilot for a potential spin-off featuring a pre-stardom Sandra Bullock as a next-generation bionic woman.
  • Battle in the Rain: Technically Steve's encounter with her in the pilot 2-parter counts.
  • Belly Dancing: Jaime performs for an Arab sheik in "Jaime and the King".
  • Bound and Gagged: Jaime does get captured quite a bit in the series and is tied up by some villains, but due to her bionics she's able to break her ropes quite quickly.
    • In the episode, "The Over the Hill Spy" she ends up this way twice. First, she's drugged with chloroform by a spy in disguise and wakes up tied up. After getting over her grogginess, she's able to snap her ropes off. Late in the episode, Jaime is captured while snooping around the bad guys' hotel room and they intend to have her shipped to their command base. They have her tied and gagged and placed in a shipping crate. Once again, Jaime snaps her bonds off with ease.
  • Break the Cutie: Literally, both before and after she becomes bionic.
    • Jaime came damn close to cracking in "Doomsday is Tomorrow Part II," then again an episode later in "Deadly Ringer Part I."
    • The final episode, "On the Run" as well.
    • Applies to Steve, too, in relation to Jaime. From the beginning, we see that being around her turns him to mush; he's so in love with her that he begs Oscar to make her bionic rather than lose her, despite Oscar's warnings about what it will cost both of them. Steve then watches her literally self-destruct, gets told she's dead, finds out she's actually alive—only to discover she doesn't remember him anymore.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation:
    • Charlton Comics put out a short-lived adaptation concurrent with the series; in the 2010s a reimagined version also appeared.
    • In 2014, Dynamic Comics launched The Six Million Dollar Man Season 6, a direct continuation of the TV series. Jaime debuted in the 3rd issue, and Dynamite eventually launched The Bionic Woman Season 4 in the summer of 2014.
    • In the UK, the magazine Look-In published a weekly comic strip titled Bionic Action in the 1970s that featured both Steve and Jaime.
    • In the mid-1990s a new US comic book series titled Bionix was announced, again to feature both Steve and Jaime, but it was cancelled despite being promoted in various magazines, though a few pages of sample art were published.
  • Concealing Canvas: In the episode "Black Magic", a dying man hides his will in a wall safe concealed behind a painting.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Much as she wouldn't dare say it, those bionics have gotten Jaime out of more scrapes than she cared to admit.
  • Cyborg: Jaime and Steve, naturally, but also Max the bionic German Shepherd.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Numerous episodes imply that Oscar is in love with Jaime (a fact confirmed by Word of Saint Paul years later), yet in the series her heart remains with Steve Austin (even though most of her memories remain blocked), then Chris Williams, then with Steve again in the reunion movies, culminating in their long-delayed marriage.
  • Disability Immunity: In an episode, extraterrestrial aliens use mind control on the residents of a small town. One young girl is immune, and Jaime is partially immune. The mind control is based on hearing, and the girl is deaf and one of Jaime's ears is artificial.
  • Disney Death: Jaime's own, at the beginning of the series when her parachute fails.
  • Distaff Counterpart: To The Six Million Dollar Man, of course.
  • Does Not Know Her Own Strength
    • In the 1994 reunion movie, Steve was trying to help Jaime with her malfunctioning arm... and promptly got whacked into the drink for his troubles. He responded by instinctively tossing a stream at her. (Their friendly little racquetball game was also hit on all sides with this trope.)
    • Jaime crushes a tennis ball by accident in her first SMDM episode, and the scene was replayed during the spin-off's opening credits. Similar incidents pepper the series as a form of comic relief. However, the original tennis ball crush was in fact an indication of serious side-effects with Jaime's bionics (which ultimately lead to her "death"), lending an air of Mood Whiplash.
  • Dramatic Hour Long
  • Early-Installment Weirdness
    • Due to the short timeframe given to the producers to mount the first season of the series, they were forced to recycle several Six Million Dollar Man scripts.
    • One of the first episodes shows Jaime outrunning a race car going 100 miles per hour. Later, her top speed is said to be more comparable to Steve's.
  • Easy Amnesia: Jamie loses her memories of Steve after barely surviving surgery.
  • "Everyone Is Gone" Episode: The episode "The Vega Influence". When a plane lands at an old Air Force base to refuel, the crew finds the place completely deserted. As the crew searches, some of them start to disappear as well. It turns out that almost all of the inhabitants are under alien control and are in hiding.
  • Everything's Sexier in French: As demonstrated by Jaime in "Doomsday is Tomorrow".
  • Evil Is Hammy: Manfred in "Black Magic" was played by Vincent Price, insuring that this trope was in full force.
  • Face–Heel Turn: The OSI in the final episode of the series, "On the Run".
  • Feminist Fantasy: At their best, both Bionic Woman and Six Mill transcended the usual limitations of TV action/adventure. For example, in "Kill Oscar", an evil scientist decides to replace the female personnel of the OSI with life-like female "fembots". The 3-part crossover took this and actually made it both disturbing (at how easily people could be replaced, and how much harm could come of it if a high-ranking person was one of them) and oddly non-sexist, in that the women the robots replaced were the secretaries and assistants of high-ranking male OSI personnel. These secretaries are clearly shown as having high security clearances, access to important knowledge and making a very important contribution to the work, and yet underappreciated and too often ignored. This nearly enables the scientist to bring about the defeat of the OSI.
    • Wagner became the first actress in a sci-fi TV series to win a Best Actress Emmy Award for her work on The Bionic Woman, a fact which often goes overlooked.
  • Genre Savvy: In "Black Magic" ( Jaime - "The butler did it?").
  • Glasses Pull: Oscar was given to these in moments of alarm.
  • Impeded Communication: "Doomsday Is Tomorrow" has an Air Force bomber en route to drop a cobalt bomb on the Elaborate Underground Base. A spotter for OSI sees Jaime Sommers emerge alive and well, and the recall code is issued to the bomber. The A.I. Is a Crapshoot computer, however, wants the bomb dropped to create massive radioactive cloud. It beams the "404 = continue mission" code to the bomber, which is stronger than the "808 = abort and recall" code.
  • Instant Sedation: One of the few weaknesses Jaime has throughout the series is that she can be susceptible to certain tranquilizers and drugs. Examples include a tranquilizer injection in "Rodeo", being drugged by a laced drink in "Mirror Image", gassed unconscious in "Deadly Ringer" or drugged with chloroform in "Bionic Beauty" and "The Over the Hill Spy".
  • Jump Scare: In-Universe in "Tomorrow is Doomsday", as Jaime is descending stairs, Alex blasts a loud sound out of a speaker beside her, startling her and causing her to fall down the steps. Works well on the viewer too, despite the mild foreshadowing of the speaker being clearly in frame the entire shot.
  • Idiot Ball: In "The Return of the Bionic Woman," Rudy and Oscar fret over the dangers of treating Steve in the same hospital where they're hiding the secretly-alive Jaime. Perhaps parking Steve's gurney just outside Jaime's open door while they have this conversation isn't the smartest way to prevent Steve from noticing her.
  • Kid-Appeal Character: Jaime's class of preteens. Since they figured into the story from the beginning, they don't count as Cousin Oliver...though you might think they did, considering the class actually included Cousin Oliver.
  • Killed Off for Real: Fellow agent and love interest Chris Williams from Season 3, though this occurs after the end of the series, and is revealed during the first reunion movie.
  • Lighter and Softer
    • As Kenneth Johnson explains on the 2010 DVD release, The Bionic Woman was conceived as a less-violent companion to The Six Million Dollar Man. The use of "pocket bionics" (a term coined by Johnson to describe a normal everyday use of bionics, such as opening a can of soup with a bionic fingernail) was emphasized over violent use, and Jaime would rarely be seen being the aggressor in a fight or, certainly, killing.
    • Averted in the 2012 comic book version, in which Jaime has a well-established "kill count" (referred to as such), and in the 2007 remake the character also became less averse to deadly force as she became more experienced as an agent.
  • Magical Native American: "Out of Body," in which Jaime's comatose native American friend contacts her (and his deceased parents) through visions. Subverted in "The Night Demon," which appears to be a native vision but turns out to be fake.
  • Magic Antidote: The eponymous drug in "The Antidote." Most of the episode is a Race Against the Clock before a poisoned Jaime dies, but when the doctors find the vial of poison (with all its ingredients listed on the label), they are easily able to concoct a fast-acting antidote.
  • Market-Based Title: "The Return Of Bigfoot, Part 2" was shown in the UK as part of The Six Million Dollar Man.
  • Master of Your Domain: The episode "Biofeedback".
  • More than Just a Teacher: Jaime takes on an undercover identity as a teacher at the Venture Air Force Base.
  • Mr. Fanservice: In "Kill Oscar Part III", Lee Majors spends the last 15 minutes of the episode wearing nothing but a pair of swim trunks.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rarely invoked, except for a few cases.
    • For instance, the episode in which Jaime impersonates a female wrestler and dons a skimpy costume to do so.
    • "Kill Oscar Part 1" features glimpses of Katy the Fembot wearing hot pants for no particular story-related reason.
    • The beginning of "Mirror Image" has Jaime tanning in a bikini in Nassau and bemoaning the fact that her bionic limbs don't tan. Ultimately subverted when she decides to cover herself up with a beach smock instead.
    • "Jaime and the King" has Jaime reluctantly steal and don a belly dancer's costume to go undercover, and later does a "veil dance" as a distraction while looking for a bomb.
    • Jaime's Navel-Deep Neckline blouse in "Brain Wash" is pretty fanservice-y, although it's Played for Drama since it's implied that Callaghan thinks Jaime is trying to play up the fanservice to steal her new boyfriend.note 
  • Mundane Utility: Most episodes featured Jaime using her bionics to make some mundane household chore or activity easier. The term "pocket bionics" was coined by creator Kenneth Johnson to describe these humanizing moments (although to be fair Steve Austin had been shown engaging in "pocket bionics" since the start of his series, too). This is used as both a Moment of Awesome and Funny in Jaime's first meeting with her unruly class... when she rips a phone book in half in front of them. The kids behave from that point on.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: Meeting a young girl who fell in a lake (played by a young Helen Hunt), Jamie brushes off the girl's claims of being from an alien world as just an over-imaginative child. That is, until the girl shrinks herself to about three inches tall before a stunned Jamie's eyes, leaving her stammering before blurting, "everything you just told me is true?"
  • Navel-Deep Neckline: The blue shirt that Jaime wears in "Brain Wash" plunges down to her stomach.
  • No Can Opener: Averted. Maxmillion, the bionic dog, doesn't need an opener to feed himself. All he has to do is bite the can open with his bionic jaw and Jaime Sommers can open cans with her bionic fingernails.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Max, the Bionic Dog.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: In "Doomsday is Tomorrow", ALEX 7000 says this of himself (a supercomputer with a near-human personality) and Jaime (a cyborg).
  • Not Wearing Tights: Since she's a secret agent who frequently goes undercover, Jaime has no need for a costume. Averted with the action figure, which initially depicted her in the tracksuit she wears in the opening credits (and later versions showed her in a blue pantsuit).
  • Novelization: Two volumes of novelizations were published (credited to different authors in the US and UK, with different titles). One was based on the "Welcome Home, Jaime" two-parter, the other combined two other episodes as one narrative. An unusual aspect of these books is they included a detailed description of Jaime's bionic rebuild, however the text was taken mostly from The Six Million Dollar Man novelizations. As a result, in one book Jaime is described as having a bionic eye!
  • Obvious Stunt Double: Oh dear, yes, in HD on a big screen TV. It's a side effect of the slow motion effect for bionics. Jaime's double is frequently visible in glorious detail.
  • Off Screen Moment Of Awesome: At some point between this series and the reunion TV movies, Jaime fully regains her memories of being in love with Steve Austin.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: It's long been rumoured that one two-parter was considered a backdoor pilot for a potential Max the Bionic Dog spinoff, however there's no indication this was ever seriously planned.
  • Put on a Bus: Kind of an ironic way to put it, but Jaime's junior-high-school students and the classroom setting figured heavily into early episodes and then were written out altogether.
  • Railing Kill: Carl Franklin, the son of the Fembots' creator (and himself a robot), hurtles to his destruction when he lunges for Jaime and instead goes over a railing (one of the only times Jaime - albeit unintentionally - is actually involved in someone's death).
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: When Bionic Woman changed networks, the producers were - in an unprecedented move - allowed to feature Oscar Goldman and Rudy Wells in both it and The Six Million Dollar Man. No crossovers were allowed with Steve Austin, however, resulting in the series introducing a Replacement Goldfish. By the time the reunion movies were made, the prohibition no longer existed, so that character was Killed Off for Real at some point between the TV series and first movie.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: partly; Come Season 3 Jerry Fielding's original theme was due to be supplanted by a new theme by creator Kenneth Johnson's Associated Composer Joe Harnell. Fielding did not care for this. So Fielding's theme remained at the beginning of the show, with Harnell's theme heard over the end credits.
  • Remember the New Guy?: The episode "Out of Body" introduces Jaime's Native American soulmate, Tommy Littlehorse. Even though we've never seen him before this episode and never so much as hear about him afterward, Jaime's apartment is suddenly littered with pictures of the two of them hanging out and cuddling, and when he hovers near death she wistfully recalls many sweet Noodle Incidents with him. Rudy and Oscar also act as though he's been around forever.
  • Rescue Equipment Attack: In "The Vega Influence" episode, Jaime defeats a microscopic alien by taking advantage of its vulnerability to cold in which she sprays it with extremely cold carbon dioxide gas from a truck-mounted fire extinguishing system to make it go dormant.
  • Required Secondary Powers: See the entry for The Six Million Dollar Man for more details.
  • Robotic Reveal: The first time Jaime tangles with the Fembots, she doesn't realize what they are until she rips off one of their faces and reacts with (understandable) horror at what she sees. The reveal is enough to drive her to leap out a window too high up for her bionic legs to withstand just to get away from them—well, that and the fact that the Fembots are tearing through doors and furniture to get to her.
  • Running Gag
    • Nearly every episode featured at least one moment (dubbed "pocket bionics" by Word of God) where Jaime is shown using her bionics in some every-day circumstance (such as doing the dishes at high speed). According to Word of God these sequences were to acknowledge the fact that in real life people would choose to use bionics for mundane tasks if given the opportunity.
    • Jaime's repeated use of different Snow White-Dwarf code names (Sleepy, Bashful, Grumpy, etc), which often change depending on her mood in a particular episode.
  • A Spy at the Spa: In "Brain Wash", a salon owner uses shampoo laced with Truth Serum to manipulate his clients into divulging sensitive information, which he then records.
  • Stock Footage
    • The World War II-era submarines shown in Part 3 of "Kill Oscar" are especially memorable.
    • In a Fembot episode, stock footage of a lunar module set upside down was used as an "orbiting weapons platform."
    • A shot of a port and beach area is used as an establishing shot as the Bahamas and Monte Carlo.
  • Super Hero: In fact, she was one of the first female superheroes ever depicted in live action on TV, predated only by Batgirl on Batman in the 1960s, and Cathy Lee Crosby's unsuccessful version of Wonder Woman in 1974.
  • Super Villain Lair: Several over the course of the series. Lampshaded in Wagner's commentary, as she wonders aloud why '70s bad guys got to live in palatial European mansions while today's villains tend to be depicted lurking in low places. Epitomized in "Doomsday is Tomorrow", which featured an Elaborate Underground Base.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Chris Williams, fellow agent and potential boyfriend for Jaime, is introduced in season 3 as a counterpart to Steve (as the change of network meant no further crossovers with Six Million Dollar Man were possible), sans bionic powers, of course. But with a similar acting style.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Jaime was conceived from the start as a non-violent character and as such never intentionally used deadly force against mooks or villains.
    • Fembots don't count.
    • Averted in the 2012 comic book series.
  • Throw a Barrel at It: Episode "A Thing of the Past". While Jaime is battling a couple of thugs in a repair garage, she uses her bionic strength to throw a barrel full of oil at one of them. The barrel breaks open and spills oil on the floor, causing the thug to fall down.
  • Title Sequence Replacement: The second season Title Sequence replaced the first one in syndicated reruns, while an early version of the first-season sequence was used for all first-year episodes on the 2010 DVD release.
  • Trouble Magnet Gambit: In "Deadly Music".
  • Waif-Fu: With Wagner, the slow-motion takes on a graceful elegance generally missing from the parent series.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: Or in this case, her. After Jaime Summers suffers catastrophic injuries to her legs, right arm and right ear, she receives replacement cybernetic parts to replace them.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Dr. Elijah Cooper in "Doomsday is Tomorrow". A peace-loving scientist, he wants to prevent a nuclear holocaust by building a humanity-destroying weapon that would be triggered by the detonation of a nuclear warhead. It turns out to be a hoax, intended to force people to appreciate life when they believe they're closest to death. Unfortunately, ALEX 7000 wants to make the hoax a reality.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Played literally in several episodes in which we learn Jaime is, indeed, fearful of snakes.
  • You Can Never Leave: The final episode of the original series has Jaime resigning from the OSI, but in a storyline inspired by The Prisoner, the OSI tries to capture her and send her to a retirement facility instead. Although Oscar ultimately decides not to, it creates a rift between Jaime and Oscar that is not healed until the TV movies.