"Flag Day"
Original airdate: Week of October 17, 1999
by Michelle Erica Green

Capture the Flag

"Flag Day" Plot Summary:

Larivee, California, 1846: A man is shot in a gun battle with the Mexicans. "Zeke!" yells his comrade. "The flag..." whispers Zeke, motioning to the standard waving over the fort. The other man swears that he won't let anything happen to it as Zeke dies. After rescuing the burning flag, the survivor shoots two Mexicans, then explodes what's left of the fort with dynamite. He survives.

In Sydney's classroom, a lecture on the struggle to control California is interrupted by smart-ass student Marty, who keeps adding details about the battle in Larivee. Marty insists that the flag over the fort was not destroyed, because he saw a photo of it on a saloon wall years later...and he also insists that Professor Ellman is not on a leave of absence but was suspended for sexually harrassing a student. Despite her annoyance, Sydney asks whether she can see a copy of that photo of the flag from Larivee. Flag Day is coming up, she's going to a conference in California, and she thinks the original flag would make a perfect contribution to the celebration. Marty agrees...on the condition that Sydney arrange a date for him with her assistant Claudia. Claudia agrees...on the condition that Sydney owe her a favor to be named later.

The gold rush town of Larivee doesn't seem to have changed much since the late 1800s when Sydney and Nigel arrive. Miners still harrass locals in the saloon, strangers (especially Brits who order Pibbs) are still frowned upon, and the mine is still owned by the Bertram family, which recently re-opened it. Helpful waitress Hannah introduces them to Jake, the oldest resident of the town. When she shows him a copy of the photo of the old flag hanging in the saloon, he recognizes it immediately, and remembers Marty's smart-ass great grandfather.

The flag was made by a man named Merritt Falsey, who lost his best friend Zeke at a battle over the local fort. Zeke made Merritt swear to protect the flag. Though reportedly there were no survivors of the fire that destroyed the fort, Jake says the story is wrong. The flag survived...and so did Merritt. Jake whispers that the flag is supposedly in Falsey's grave, buried under his hat.

Sydney and Nigel get shovels at the local hardware store, but miners who didn't like the way Sydney talked to them in the bar leeringly ask her to dance, then pick a fight. She trounces them all handily, then drags a cranky Nigel out to dig by the light of the full moon. "Think of it as an excavation," the professor suggests helpfully. But the coffin is empty, and the next morning, Jake is missing too. Hannah says that he always hid his briefcase in the back room, where they find it hidden behind a panel that says "Eureka" which Sydney identifies as the California state motto since it means "I've found it."

Jake's briefcase contains a slang dictionary, some news clippings about the mine, and a letter containing instructions in the form of riddles. A biblical reference to still waters leads Hannah to recall that the general store in town used to be called Still Waters. They realize that the riddles comprise a map leading to a large stone "X" on the outskirts of town.

Hannah trails along with Sydney and Nigel, staring admiringly at Professor Fox who finally asks whether she has a rip in her pants. "I've never met a woman like you before," admits Hannah, who obviously needs to get out of Larivee. Nigel eats one of her snack bars, commenting that Hannah really should sell them. The group is stumped by a clue about Ground Zero to A in Hallowed Ground until Nigel falls in a pit and Sydney realizes Ground Zero was the letter "O" and the command was to change the "A" to "O" in "hallowed."

Down an abandoned mine shaft, the two find Jake's chewing tobacco and a battery-operated lantern which they use to follow the old tunnels. The place is full of bats which panic Nigel, causing the pair to slip down an incline to a lower level. There they find Jake...dead. Later, the owner of the mine reiterates the police report which says the old man died accidentally. Mr. Bertram warns them that the same thing could have happened to them, and advises against trespassing any further in his mine since the mine is unstable. The moment they leave his office, Sydney tells Nigel and Hannah that they're going back in. Jake's head wound didn't look like the result of an accidental fall. Someone murdered him.

Hannah says she delivers lunch to Bertram and offers to steal a map of the mine to see if that gives them any clues. Chinese carvings on the wall near Jake's body send them into "China Alley," an abandoned mine corridor where they bump into a granite wall. In a sandstone mine, this seems curious to Sydney. "You can't seal anything up with sandstone," observes Nigel. Promptly they begin to hack through it.

Inside the hidden chamber, a skeleton falls on Nigel - with a gash in its skull, and Merritt Falsey's clothes. There's also a case of unstable old nitro, and a box holding the deed to the mine in Falsey's name. Sydney and Nigel realize that Bertram's family murdered Falsey, then claimed the mine in their own name a year later. Just then, the younger Bertram and a crony blow up the wall by remote, saying they warned the outsiders against trespassing in an unstable mine.

While Sydney attempts to move the nitro to blast open the fallen wall without blowing themselves up in the process, Hannah overhears Bertram and his thugs talk about having sealed Sydney and Nigel inside the mine. Despite Nigel's shaking hands, the pair manage to ignite the nitro and free themselves, but Bertram's security workers stop them at gunpoint. While Sydney takes on one man, Hannah sneaks around from behind and knocks the other out with a board.

Hannah had consulted a lawyer and learned that Jake was Merritt Falsey's last descendant...thus the rightful owner of the mine. She has also set up her own business selling snack bars, and learned to tell off delivery men who annoy her. The group makes a final discovery from the dictionary of slang. When Jake told them that Merritt's flag was supposedly under his hat, it probably wasn't literal; in miner's slang, "under his hat" meant "dead and buried." Sydney and Nigel check directly under the tombstone and find the relic.

Back at school, Claudia has given Marty a makeover and now finds him an acceptable date. But as her part of the exchange, Sydney must agree to date someone who promised a favor to Claudia...and who turns out to be Professor Ellman, who promised Sydney's assistant an extension on a paper in exchange for a date with his attractive young colleague. Revenge is sweet.


I believe I have stated before that I really enjoy this show, so I won't belabor the point. I will just add that, well, I really enjoy this show. I have no idea whether there was really a fort in Larivee, CA, nor whether any of the "period piece" touches were realistic. I admired the Bible-based treasure map, I got a kick out of the local thugs (Sydney's best line: "Don't you guys have a chili cookout to go to?").

And I was pleasantly surprised that the punchline didn't turn out to be Sydney discovering a gold mine which seemed to be where the episode was leading. I figured she would learn that Jake was descended from Falsey and that Hannah was descended from Jake, whom she called the only family she had ever known...thus, gold in the mine would be rightfully hers. Yet discovering that Sydney could inspire Hannah to change her life merely through the force of her personality was much more satisfying. That's two episodes in which Nigel screams and runs away from bats while Sydney gets other women interested in changing history!

Nigel and Sydney are simply delightful together. It was impossible not to laugh after he suggested they were even in terms of saving each other's lives, especially since he landed on top of her to protect her from the nitro explosion and their legs waved around as if they were making love for several moments. The chemistry is terrific. I wanted to smack Sydney for asking her assistant to go on a date with someone - that's pretty darned close to sexual harrassment - so to have Claudia turn the tables and force Sydney to date the lecherous professor was also a great touch. This show gets marketed on the basis of Tia Carrere's babe-hood, but it has some of the best female characters on TV.

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