TV’s on again, guys…
One of my favorite shows in college was The Sentinel, and by far one of my favorite episodes of the series is “Light My Fire,” which was originally broadcast on February 5, 1997 as part of the show’s second season. I don’t think it’s the show’s best episode, but it has a lot of sentimental value for me because it’s the first episode I taped.
For those who might not be familiar with the premise, U.S. Army Ranger Jim Ellison (Richard Burgi) has spent eighteen months in the Peruvian jungle and came back with heightened senses. He can see, hear, and smell before anyone else can and his sense of taste is super strong. His sense of touch is never gone into all that much, but apparently he has it.
Five years after he comes back from Peru, Jim is a police detective for Cascade Police Department in Cascade, Washington. He’s busy staking out a warehouse, and while in pursuit of a perpetrator, his vision and hearing suddenly go really, really out of whack. Understandably, he’s a little freaked, and one thing leads to another until he meets Blair Sandburg (Garrett Maggart), an anthropologist and doctoral candidate at the fictional Rainier University, where he’s been working on his dissertation while teaching classes.
Blair tells Jim that in tribal cultures a sentinel would guard his tribe like a watchman, and what set this man apart from his tribemates was his heightened senses due to a genetic advantage. He’s got hundreds of documented cases of people having one or two senses, but not all five. Jim could be some kind of superman.
Jim and Blair become roommates, with Blair working as Jim’s observer at the Cascade Police. He’s not technically on the force, but he’s called Jim’s partner, and what he’s really there to do is help Jim learn how to harness his abilities and use them to his best advantage. Sentinels always have observers anyway. For obvious reasons, no one knows about the arrangement except for Simon (Bruce A, Young), Cascade’s police chief.
“Light My Fire” opens in the AM at the Gershwin’s Furniture Store warehouse, where a mysterious set of gloved hands are lighting bottles of some kind of red liquid, which explode and burn everything in sight. Meanwhile, Jim and Blair are on their way to Tony’s Twenty-four Hour Grill for a bite after Jim has wrapped up a case, and naturally, Jim smells smoke. They come upon a warehouse, Jim rescues a security guard, and they watch as the fire burns white and blue.
Jim and Blair find out they’ll be investigating the case with arson investigator Debra Reeves (Yvette Nipar), who is direct to the point of prickliness, but who has a long history in fire fighting, because her dad, Mitch (Bill Cross) was a fireman for many years, plus her dad’s best friend, Dan Matson (Tom Mason) is still a firefighter.
The fires are all set by someone named Prometheus, an arsonist for hire who finds clients by placing an ad in the paper reading, “Light My Fire,” and the places that burn are always, coincidentally or not, set to collect big insurance payouts. Jim, Blair, and Debra have to gather evidence of not only who’s setting the fires, but how they’re doing it, and one of the big clues comes about when Jim smells Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax (which is a real thing, by the way) in the debris from Mr. Gershwin’s warehouse. More than one of the characters surfs, including Jim, and surfers are particular about which scent of board wax they use.
Meanwhile, Mitch is mounting his own investigation, testing a new kind of fire suit that can take extreme heat. He wants to find the arsonist himself and he has some ideas.
The Sentinel, which was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, has always had a cult following even though there were only sixty-five episodes total. When Season Three ended on a cliffhanger and the show got cancelled, fans made such a protest that the show was brought back for another half season with a real wrapup, and to be honest, they were some of the best episodes of the entire series.
It would be interesting to find out the state of the fan base nowadays. There used to be TONS of Sentinel fan websites, but unfortunately most if not all of them are now gone because they were usually hosted on Geocities or Angelfire, not to mention it’s been about thirty years since the show’s debut. I remember one site let fans claim different items from the show just for fun (I was the proud keeper of Blair’s nightstand).
Watching it now, the show holds up surprisingly well, although it screams late nineties. It’s kinda fun to see the haircuts and the clothes, though–in the first episode Blair wears a Guatemalan vest that gives me all the feels because I remember when everyone was wearing Guatemalan fabric (our source in Auburn was a store called Tribal Weaver). And I like seeing the chunky laptops and the old printers. Oh, and fax machines.
Plus it’s fun seeing the interactions between Jim and Blair because they’re like the Odd Couple. Jim is very no-nonsense, disciplined and driven, while Blair is the son of a flower child and used to a bohemian lifestyle, so these guys clash on a regular basis, but they do respect each other and the relationship is marked by quite a bit of humor.
Some parts haven’t aged well, though, or the show runners just got wrong. There’s one episode when a minor character dies and Jim is told not to call 9-1-1, which is false from a first aid standpoint because 9-1-1 must be called even if a patient is already deceased, and a good cop would know that.
The other thing is that while the show says all five of Jim’s senses are heightened, it doesn’t really go into his senses of touch or taste or the fact that he basically has hyperesthesia. If Jim’s sense of touch was really that sensitive, he would have had to be very selective about what kinds of fabrics he wore because anything too fuzzy or scratchy would have driven him crazy. And if Jim’s taste was extra sensitive he would have had to restrict himself to very bland food. Then again, if Jim learns how to turn these senses on and off, these issues wouldn’t have been problems.
These are small beefs, though, because The Sentinel is still one of my favorites, it shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and once a keeper of the nightstand, always a keeper of the nightstand. 🙂
For more great TV, please see Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts. Thanks for hosting, Terence–this blogathon is always fun! Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you on Tuesday for another review…
The Sentinel is available either as a complete set or as individual seasons 1, 2, 3, and 4.
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8 thoughts on “A Tale of Sentinels and Fire”
Very nice tribute! Some shows, even short-lived ones, have that indefinable something that keeps fans interested even long after the show has gone off the air. Thanks to the web (and particularly Youtube), these shows live on. I also have a lot of fun with decades-old fashion and technology, although I have to confess, ’70s and ’80s fashions always makes me cringe. I have to ask – just what were the duties and responsibilities of a virtual keeper of one of The Sentinel’s props? 🙂
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That’s a really good question. We got clipart of a certificate with our name on it, but that was about it. I’ve falled down in my duties, though–I have no idea what happened to that nightstand.
SENTINEL sounds a bit like DAREDEVIL if he wasn’t blind, though I’m not sure I understand what he was doing in Peru in the first place. Was he fighting a war? Was he stranded? Or does it matter?
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That’s a good question–the show doesn’t really say. It was some mission and Jim got left behind but they don’t get too specific. Thanks for reading. 🙂
Thank you so much for writing about an episode of The Sentinel! I do believe that you are the first person to ever write about a show from UPN in the history of the Favourite TV Show Blogathon! Anyway, I remember The Sentinel from when it first aired. I missed an episode here and there (we didn’t have a UPN affiliate at the time and so it aired late, late night on our local CBS affiliate), but I always enjoyed it. I would love to see it again, although it doesn’t seem like it is on streaming. This episode really does sound like it was an enjoyable one. Anyway, a very good post! Thanks for taking part in the blogathon.
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You’re very welcome, Terence, and thanks–it’s always fun when you bring this one back. 🙂
I’ve never heard of this show, but I really enjoyed reading your post! Fandoms in the late ’90s were such jolly fun. I love that you got to be keeper of the nightstand — that’s just the sort of adorable fannishness my friends and I got into over different shows! Ahhh, good times 🙂
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Thanks, Rachel, and I’m right there with you! I wish people still did that stuff.