"I can't feel anything from my chest down."
Throughout the series, David spends a lot of time helping others. He's a good Samaritan, often helping those in distress. This episode turns that theme on its head wonderfully. What if David is the one in need?
Who will be the hero when our hero needs saving?
This episode starts as so many often end, with David hitching a ride. Only this time, the car doesn't stop to pick him up - it drives right into him. David is left paralyzed from the waist down after being struck by the car.
He falls into a depression and wants pity, but gets a dose of realism instead. At one point a sullen David bitterly tells the nurse that physical therapy won't make him walk again, and she tells him that "neither will sitting around feeling sorry for yourself". Ouch! Talk about tough love!
Later, when the nurse says it's time to go to physical therapy , he says he's not ready. She tells him, "maybe you are, maybe you aren't. We'll find out together." And drags his sorry self to therapy.
The first act is comprised of David dealing with his new reality. Much of this act illustrates David's new life as a paraplegic. He comes to terms with his situation and strives for acceptance, while learning to do things he once took for granted, like getting in and out of bed.
Dreams of running.
David is a man whose dreams have always haunted him. Usually they are dreams of him lost wife, but now they are dreams of his lost ability. At night, he dreams of running. During the day he has a flashback of Elaina in the Pilot episode discussing his rapid metabolism and quick healing after his gunshot wound..
He contemplates purposely injuring himself in order to trigger a metamorphosis in the hopes of restarting his healing process, but then he has flashbacks of the aftermath of previous transformations.
The unasked question: can he unleash the monster on this hospital in the hopes of healing himself? Is there nothing so selfish as to destroy this place of healing for his own needs?
"Life changes. How it changes is up to you"
Towards the end of Act 1, David befriends Paul Corton. Paul is a former athlete and sporting goods store owner who lost everything after his accident. Paul helps restore David's desire to live. Paul helps push David with his physical therapy, and acts as a kind of personal trainer and mentor. All the while, a bond is growing.
Gradually, the focus of the story shifts to Paul's struggles to live his dream of opening another sporting goods store and reclaiming the life he once had. His problem is funding, and he's been waiting on a government grant. When the grant falls through, Paul's optimism is shaken to its core and this leads him to take some risky action.
The final act is then focused on David's return as good Samaritan, as he returns the favor done to him by Paul as it's now David turn to pull him back from the brink.
Why this is a great episode
What makes The Harder They Fall such a standout episode is the treatment of the subject.
The story shows the turmoil David experiences, but never succumbs to sappy melodrama. The story illustrates the hardships of transitioning to life as a paraplegic, but never becomes preachy. The subject is also blended well into the overall series. It advances the character of David Banner, but seamlessly marries with fact that it is still an episode of The Incredible Hulk.
The episode never feels disjointed, which I think is a huge accomplishment. This is especially true when viewed in the context of other episodes in which David Banner and even the Hulk are subjugated to an overall story premise meant to lecture the audience in a heavy-handed manner. Although the subject of such episodes may be important, such as alcoholism, child abuse and the like, at the end of the day we're still tuning in to be entertained and escape into fantasy. Those story often times miss that mark, but I think The Harder They Fall hits a bulls eye.
Lou Ferrigno also does an excellent job of portraying the Hulk in David's first transformation after the accident. It's a Hulk whose legs don't quite work right. At times, he falls down and pounds on his thighs as if to say,
"Wake up! Damn you! Why won't you work!!"
This serious and poignant portrayal of the debilitated Hulk is balanced by his second transformation later. That transformation is pretty funny and gives a new interpretation to the phrase "road rage".
When I read the synopsis of The Harder They Fall, I thought this episode was going to be yet another episode of thinly disguised social commentary in which David is at best a bystander, at worst simply lost. I couldn't have been more wrong. This episode is the quintessential character story and embodies much of what makes The Incredible Hulk so great when it works.
The Harder They Fall is a great story and truly highlights the difference between the 1978 series The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and that of virtually every other appearance of the Hulk character.
This is no comic book super hero show. This is a real topic, and a serious one treated with dignity and honesty by the writers and actors and it works, despite the 7 ft tall green superhero context.
Where to watch The Harder They Fall
- Amazon.com: The Incredible Hulk: The Harder They Fall : Amazon Instant Video
Amazon.com: The Incredible Hulk: Season 4, Episode 11 "The Harder They Fall": Amazon Instant Video
- Watch The Incredible Hulk - The Harder They Fall | Netflix
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