starring Steve Kanaly, Michele Scarabelli, Wayne Crawford, Fats Bookholane, Lance Scott and Sandor Smit
The McKenzie family arrive in Africa. A jeep trundles into view from the distance and the voices of Jack McKenzie and his son, Kyle, can be heard with raised tones. The McKenzie family have arrived so that Jessica can settle her Uncle Bill’s estate. [Note – the prelude to this is seen over the opening titles only.]
They approach Okavango which heralds the sign “All Trespassers Will Be Shot”. Jessica and Nealy are entranced by the graceful movement of giraffes moving close-by but their attention is soon distracted by the smouldering embers of the burned house belonging to Uncle Bill.
While Jessica and Jack investigate the remains of the house, the driver of their jeep – TwoDays – secretly sabotages the engine. Jack races outside and asked TwoDays what happened to the house but he isn’t of much help. Jack begins to panic – they’ve no house, no car, and as he turns around, he sees TwoDays running away. Just when he fears nothing else can go wrong, Nealy spots a lion and thunderclouds boom overhead.
The family spend a wet night undercover of a makeshift tent. When they wake, Jack hears the distant shout of voices as a gathering of Tambu men approach. Jessica gathers up Nealy when a gun-shot rings out. Two men on horses approach. There is an exchange of words and the Tambu move away. The man the the zebra- striped hat approaches Jack and Jessica introducing himself as J.D. During the conversation that follows, J.D. (the McKenzie’s nearest neighbour – from 20 miles away) and his friend discover information that points the finger of the burnt house to TwoDays and the Tambu. J.D. paints a less than rosey picture of Okavango but offers to help take care of the wounded animals around the ranch.
When TwoDays returns to fix the jeep, Jack questions him but TwoDays protests his innocence. At that moment Jessica calls Jack to the back of the house. There they find the animal sanctuary.
Later, Jessica and the rest of the family are watching a videotape left by Uncle Bill in the event of his death. He goes on to explain that towards the end of his life, he changed his ways. Once known as a “Great White Hunter”, William Schofield has been running this half-way house for sick and hurt animals for the last eleven years. He also tells of a project that he had instigated to help some of the rarer animals to become less endangered. Uncle Bill goes on to tell of the strained budget Okavango has but that, due to the way modern man has treated the planet, its task is more than important – it’s crucial. He wants Jessica to take on and run Okavango but before he lets her make a decision he instructs that the video be changed to show her a view of the alternative to Okavango. What follows are scenes of mass slaughter on a frightening scale as innocent elephants are shown being massacred. There is a third tape but, in tears, Jessica stops it from being played.
During the night, Jack sees movement around the outskirts of the house. He goes off to investigate.
Back in her makeshift hammock, Jessica is looking at some photos similar to the scenes she had seen on the videos. She is deep in thought but her face shows that her mind has clearly come to a decision.
Meanwhile, Jack is attacked by an accomplice of TwoDays and is dragged away under TwoDays’ watchful eyes.
The exhausted Jessica has fallen asleep and now the morning sunlight shines across the land. It’s morning and Jessica is concerned for her husband. She scours the land until she sees J.D. pulling up in a truck. He’s arrived to pick up the wounded animals he had volunteered to help. Jessica lets him in as she’s more concerned for her husband. However, she discovers commotion as a group of Tambu approach the house – this time, led by Jack. He explains that he has been watching the third video tape and it tells a very interesting tale about J.D. When Jessica tells Jack that J.D. is already there, Jack races in and prevents the animals from being taken. J.D. looks around and sees TwoDays at the head of the Tambu. Jack explains that J.D. is the owner of the local hunting lodge. His only interest in the animals is how much money they will fetch. J.D. claims that hunting the animals isn’t illegal so Jack threatens him with tales of arson and that’s enough to make J.D. back off.
Back at the jeep, TwoDays explains that he cut the drive belt to ensure that Jessica would stay long enough to learn about Okavango. Jessica tells him that he’s forgiven – just so long as he doesn’t do it again.
There is activity back at the burned down house. Many of the Tambu are working together as they begin to rebuild it. As Nealy runs to help the men, Jessica tells Jack that this is something she really wants to do. Jack watches after her as she moves towards the house to help with the rebuilding. Jack has hesitations but when his son tells him “it ain’t no big deal” he realises he has more to gain by working with them…
THE MICHELE SCARABELLI FACTOR
The first episode of Okavango is stolen totally by Michele Scarabelli. There’s no shame in that as she does a wonderful job. Of particular note is the scene in which the McKenzie family watch the video. Anyone who’s left without a tear in their eye after watching Michele as Jessica in this scene must have a heart of stone. It’s through Jessica that the message is told. And it’s through Michele that the message is underlined. Despite being the professional actress that she is, it’s unlikely that Michele was acting during this sequence.
A Personal View
So This Is Africa? is one of the finest pieces of television you could ever hope to watch. There is so much going on that you are swept off your feet with the events. Television has reached the stage where you are no longer watching a box in the corner of your living room. Now you’re there. Pitching in with the McKenzies. If only it were so.
The scenery plays well as a marvellous backdrop to this fantastic episode. The way the episode plays perfectly on the emotions is simply captivating. But you want more? Well you’ll get more… Check out the final scene as you hear the Okavango song and as the soft sunlight catches Michele Scarabelli’s face. Television doesn’t get any better than this.