After saving the day — along with the lives of Ava and Don — from the last episode, Maureen’s still puttering about in her maintenance pod, with not enough fuel to make it back into the Resolute and needing an assist from John. This plays right into Hastings’ game plan, who continues to double-down on his role as the season’s true antagonist. Worried more about “the narrative” than he is the colonists still stranded planet-side or anything else resembling the right thing to do, Hastings enlists a still hesitant Adler into framing the entire Robinson clan as selfish grand-standers who don’t give a wit about their fellow colonists. It’s a ridiculous idea, but Hastings knows that people generally believe what they’re told, regardless of if it makes sense or not. And despite everything the Robinsons have done for this mission, Hastings isn’t wrong in his assertions on affecting what others think; of course, a big part of that lies in his plan to eliminate Maureen and John from ably defending themselves.
Right away, the biggest issue with “Shell Game” becomes the sloppy nature of the Resolute’s command structure. Not only does Hastings give orders to increase speed (what better way to knock the Robinson bugs off the Resolute windshield, so to speak) but no one ever verifies that Maureen has returned to the ship. This type of omission, one that breaks credulity of how ships run (Kamal, who’s conspicuously absent in this episode, knew where Maureen went but never verified that she returned on board?) can really harm a show’s narrative strength. This is a big miss, one necessary to let some of the chips fall in order to increase the stakes for the Robinson kids who, with the help of Samantha, are determined to keep Scarecrow and Robot out of the Hastings’ grubby fingers.
But as sneaky as Hastings may be, he gets an unexpected boon when Smith joins the ‘We Hate the Robinsons’ campaign. Proving that she’s never been about changing for the better, Smith helps bolster the efficiency of the Robinson kids’ search. She knows their moves and, were it not for Samantha and a bit of outside-the-box thinking, they never would have eluded the security forces. But they do, eventually getting Scarecrow to the Jupiter and ready to take a trip down to the desert planet in order to facilitate its healing. And that, Lost in Spacers, is where we get the most shocking of ends.
Though he’s an intelligent guy, I’ve been harsh on Adler’s questionable decisions. For much of “Shell Game”, he only strengthened these assertions, continuously looking as if he can’t think for himself, and instead allows Hastings to lead him around by the nose, despite knowing what Hastings had planned was, at best, morally questionable. We’ve been given flashes as to the man he is… or wants to be.
From changing his mind on ambushing Robot to seeing Smith for what she truly is, Adler does come across as a decent fellow who’s lost his way. It takes Robot’s sacrifice (allowing Hastings to capture it) and relaying Scarecrow’s message that “Ben Adler” is a “friend” to finally seeing the truth: there’s no time for more selfish and morally corrupt behavior like Hastings leads with, rather sticking your neck out for those you call friend (“Shell Game’s” most important theme). This isn’t out of obligation, rather, because it’s the right thing to do.
Like Adler, Will also learns that lesson, albeit earlier on, and though it pains him to leave Robot in the hands of Hastings (to be ‘spiked’ and hooked into the hyperdrive engine), he too realizes that sacrificing a friend may be the only thing you can do. Especially if that friend asks you to do it.
The primary responsibility of a penultimate episode is to tidy up the season’s narrative to the point where the finale can adequately address the major arcs, tying off some storylines while also leaving some threads open to be explored the following season. “Shell Game” does that with an intelligent mix of humor, action, crafty character decisions, and an ending that, were this a weekly show, would have viewers raging for seven days until the finale. This would have made the episode that much more effective but, even with the ability to watch the finale seconds after the credits closed, “Shell Game” remains, to this point, Lost in Space’s strongest episode. There can be no better lead-in for a finale than that.
Danger, Will Robinson
• As much I railed against him (not always fairly), Adler has had a pretty satisfying arc. It’s not just that he helps the heroes out for the script, rather the natural progression of his character. A big part of this is realizing that, despite his assumptions, he did connect with Scarecrow; enough for the alien robot to see him as “friend” and that Will does have the colonists’ best interests at heart.
• For the second straight episode, Lost in Space gave us some extremely impressive action visuals as Maureen and John fought to stay alive and return to the Their entire outside adventure was well-orchestrated and highlighted some beautiful eye-candy of this ammonia-rich planet as well as the Resolute itself. It almost made me forget about the ridiculous machinations that put the pair in that position in the first place.
• While I understand the overall need to reach Alpha Centauri, the base manner in which Hastings (and humans) have literally reined in Scarecrow (and now Robot) doesn’t help humanity’s case should the alien robots come a knockin’. I may love the Robinsons and some of the other characters, but I couldn’t blame these creatures if, upon seeing how their brethren have been treated, go for a scorched-earth policy on us humans. Probably won’t happen this go-round but, if we get a third season, I would love to see a major encounter with this mechanical species.
‘Lost in Space’: “Shell Game”
8.5 out of 10