Space: Above and Beyond Review #5: Ray Butts
Originally aired October 22, 1995
When the mysterious and unpredictable Lt. Col. Raymond Thomas Butts arrives aboard the USS Saratoga with orders to take the 58th on a dangerous mission to a Chig held planet, the only question is who is coming back alive and who won’t be coming back at all?
“Ray Butts” is another strong early episode of S:AaB, so much so that it might be my favorite episode of the series so far. Here, the character of Ray Butts, played by Steve Rankin, arrives aboard the Saratoga with the expressed mission of making the lives of the 58th squad a living hell. First, he challenges the entire team to a fight, which he wins, then he “auditions” them for a dangerous mission via a game of paintball which he tags out the 58th in a matter of minutes.
Butts’ assignment, which only he knows the details of, allows him to pick his own team on this practically suicidal mission only he has the details of.
Which at first doesn’t make much sense. Even if Butts is as well connected as he says he is with headquarters, would he really be able to take the 58th on a top secret mission not even the commanders of the Saratoga know about? It’s later revealed that, spoiler alert, Butts needs the 58th to parachute onto a hostile planet so they can recover and fly out some jets Butts and his last team stashed there sometime in the past.
But Butts real mission is to atone for a mistake he made with that previous team who were ambushed while Butts was away and killed by the Chigs. And Butts has really returned to find and bury his comrades.
Which does make me wonder if that isn’t a cheat in the episode? With Butts being Mr. Mysterious so much in the first half of the episode and we as the audience not totally knowing what’s going to happen to the 58th after they leave with Butts this all adds a whole mess of drama to “Ray Butts.” I suppose if when Butts would’ve first landed, gotten out and said, “I’m here under orders to take the 58th to recover some jets,” that would have made for a lot less interesting an episode.
One thing I noticed in the special effects dept. was that from the ring around the planet Butts and the 58th arrive at to recover the jets to the orange/yellow sky of the planet once they get there this episode has to be visually the best episode of the five I’ve seen so far. Even modern sci-fi series don’t go to the trouble of recoloring the skies of alien planets so to see it done here nearly 20 years ago was awesome.
“Ray Butts” would also be the second time a song, here Johnny Cash’s “I walk the line” would be used as a sort of character calling card; here for the character of Butts. The first was in the pilot episode with The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” for both the character of Cooper Hawkes and ‘Pags.’ This character calling card as a particular song would be used in later episodes too.
T.C. McQueen: “Kind of a bummer getting your butt kicked by a dead guy.”
T.C. McQueen: “I will pull every string to get you away from my people and off this bucket and back to the slime pit you crawled out of.”
Ray Butts: “Maybe you can pull every string, but I pull the rope.”
Ray Butts: “Easy as eating pancakes.”
Ray Butts: “I guess Ray Butts has ate his last pancake.”
Ray Butts service number is “9247158437.”
The planet the mission Ray Butts leads the 58th to is called “Planet 2063-F.” Which to me says they’ve given up creatively naming planets in fictional 2063 SAaB. 😉
The mission they’re on is codenamed “Get Rhythm.”
In the episode after they parachute onto the planet, Nathan West asks Paul Wang who’s looking at the sky, “What are you doing?” Wang responds, “I’m waiting for my testicles. They should be dropping in any second.” This line was censored when the S:AaB episodes originally aired on SCI FI Channel in syndication.
According to the names on the side of their aircraft, four of the five soldiers Butts lost were named:
- Robert Joseph Grant
- Joseph Hodges
- Teddy Sharps
- Eddie Duncan