It is 1981. Stuart McConchie sweeps up in front of the TV store where he works as a salesman, worrying about the draft for the Police Action in Cuba, and looking down on the patients of Dr. Stockstill, the psychiatrist next door.
Stockstill welcomes a patient, who turns out to be the famed physicist Bruno Bluthgeld, whose miscalculations resulted in a deadly release of radiation. Bluthgeld believes that people stare at him because they can see non-existent blotches on his skin, and that they can read his thoughts. Stockstill believes that Bluthgeld hates people; FBI Director Richard Nixon had spoken out against his anti-communist paranoia.
Jim Fergesson, the owner of the TV store, arrives and berates
McConchie for staring at patients, and tells him that he’s hired a
phocomelus, a quadriplegic named Hoppy.
McConchie and fellow salesman Jack Lightheiser are talking about
Fergesson’s overly generous politics when Hoppy arrives. McConchie
comments that Hoppy is the result of the ’72 Bluthgeld catastrophe, but
Hoppy says his condition was the result of thalidomide in ’64. Hoppy
finds a workbench and another repairman gives him a job. Hoppy repairs
a spring using telekinesis. Fergesson tries to figure out how Hoppy did
Bonny Keller, who referred Bluthgeld to Stockstill, muses on her
debt to Bluthgeld. She turns on the TV to watch Walter Dangerfield and
his wife blast off to become the first Mars colonists. She dreams of
she and her husband going with them, and of having an affair with
McConchie and Lightheiser watch the liftoff on a store TV, both
believing the mission will be a failure.
McConchie is annoyed to find Hoppy eating lunch at his regular
hangout. Hoppy offers to buy him a beer; Stuart tells him Mr.
Fergesson forbids drinking by his staff. Hoppy has a beer in defiance,
and goes into a trance where he can see beyond the grave. When he
returns, he is spent, and he asks Stuart to push him back to the store.
On the way back, Hoppy tells Stuart that he has seen him in his
trances, eating dead raw rat.
Stuart tells Fergesson about the trances. Fergesson summons Hoppy
to his office, asks about himself, and then tells Hoppy not to go into
a trance in public. He says he knows that Hoppy can somehow heal
machines. Then he tells the two to get back to work. They return to
watching the liftoff on TV.
Mr. Austurias sees Hoppy almost run off the road by a truck while
out gathering mushrooms. He thinks about inviting his boss George
Keller and his wife Bonnie to dinner, and thinks about how sad it was
that Walt Dangerfield lost his wife.
The community gathers to hear Dangerfield transmit a reading of On
Human Bondage from orbit. Stockstill and Bonny argue about the
usefulness of psychiatry, and are hushed by community leader June Raub.
George Keller, their daughter Edie, and her imaginary brother Bill
arrive, then Mr. Austurias. Bonny remarks that Raub could use a
psychiatrist; Stockstill recalls Bruno Bluthgeld, the last patient
Bonnie sent him seven years ago, on the very day San Francisco was
bombed. Austurias speculates that Bluthgeld must be dead, but Bonny
knows otherwise. Austurias thinks of how Bluthgeld had him fired when
both were at the University of California Berkeley, and Austurias had
been a peace advocate.
Bruno walks through Berkeley, his perceptions skewed by astigmatism.
Then he realizes that the cracks in the buildings are real, and imply
a catastrophe. McConchie is watching coverage of the liftoff when the
picture goes out. A repairman yells “red alert” and everyone runs for
bomb shelters. At a crucial stage of the Dutchman IV liftoff,
Dangerfield’s radio contact says they are under attack and then is cut
off. Dangerfield looks down and sees nuclear fires on the surface of
the earth. Stockstill and his secretary head for a bomb shelter.
Because Bluthgeld believed there was an enemy, and Bluthgeld was
clearly paranoid, Stockstill feels this must be an accident. Fergesson
leaves the repairmen in the basement, and runs upstairs to get the
sales team into the basement, but is cut in two when the building is
hit. Hoppy is protected by cartons. North in Marin, Bunny’s windows
shatter. She looks through them to see the elimination of San
Francisco, and walks away from her house.
Andrew Gill drives away from where he dropped Bonny off, having just
made love to her, a woman he didn’t even know. He thinks of his liquor
and tobacco shop, and of his wife and children. Then he sees Bonny’s
shoes on the passenger seat and decides to leave it all behind.
Bruno walks around as people flee the area. He believes his psychic
powers caused the catastrophe, and he tries to use those powers to
help, until he realizes he has been helping so long that he has grown a
Stuart McConchie, sharing a basement in Berkeley with a dying man,
kills a rat with a broomstick and eats it. He worries about going to a
relief station because they might laugh at him for eating rat, and for
hoarding cash instead of food or weapons. He realizes that Hoppy could
see the future, not the afterlife. An Army balloon flies overhead
dropping leaflets to convince people to enlist.
Eldon Blaine hunts for antibiotics for his daughter. June Raub stops
him and says she will find the antibiotics in exchange for the
eyeglasses he is peddling, and will not let him leave. They talk about
what a great DJ Dangerfield is. Raub leaves him at her house, where
Hoppy is working. Blaine startles Hoppy, and Hoppy immobilizes
Dangerfield is flying overhead, taking requests, relaying handyman
tips, and giving weather reports. He worries about his chest pain, and
is surprised he has lasted as long as he has, since his wife committed
Blaine returns to Bolinas with the antibiotics and a plan to kidnap
Orion Stroud, the chairman of the school board, introduces teaching
candidate Mr. Barnes to the board. They reveal that Mr. Austurias, his
predecessor, was executed for coming to Marin to hunt down Jack
Stuart McConchie waits for the ferry across the bay to buy
electronic parts for his trap business from a newly discovered
undetonated guided missile. He thinks back on his last good meal, and
wonders how Hoppy is doing. His revulsion of phoces has been subsumed
by his loathing for symbiotics — multiple people fused into one. He
hitches a ride on veteran’s fishing raft. They argue about whether
rats could take over the country.
Bonny and Mr. Barnes go looking for Jack Tree, who herds sheep for
wool. They encounter the intelligent dog that guards the sheep. Bonny
makes a pass at Barnes, who worries that this may have been what
happened to Austurias. They meet Tree / Bluthgeld, who worries that
this teacher is yet another man who has come to kill him.
Stuart returns to the East Bay without any parts, and discovers that
his horse has been eaten. On the walk back, he thinks about
Stockstill, who headed off to the country; Stuart would like to do the
same, but is worried about racism. He arrives home at the room he
rents from Dean Hardy, a former radio engineer, and his wife Ella.
Stuart wants a drink; Hardy tells him that Andrew Gill, the
tobacconist, makes authentic brandy and girly photos. They talk about
selling girly calendars, making sewing needles, selling mutant
Dr. Stockstill examines Edie Keller. Edie is Bonny Keller’s
daughter, but he is sure she’s not George Keller’s daughter. Her twin
brother Bill is growing inside her like a cyst. Edie tells Bill
stories. Stockstill talks to the parents, but decides not to tell them
the growth in Edie is conscious. As they leave, Stockstill wonders who
the father is.
June Raub and the rest of West Marin worry about what will happen if
Dangerfield dies. Hoppy arrives for the broadcast, and afterwards does
a perfect imitation of Dangerfield. Eldon Blaine, the visitor from
Bolinas, watches Hoppy do telekinesis tricks with a coin. Raub starts
up a conversation with Blaine, then asks if he came to kidnap Hoppy.
She says it would be impossible, as Hoppy could kill him and would not
mind doing so.
The Kellers arrive as Blaine is leaving. Edie requests a story for
her brother. Hoppy confronts her, saying she has no brother. She
tells him to lean in close, and when he does, Hoppy hears Jim
Fergesson’s voice in his head. Hoppy screams in horror. Edie says her
brother was paying him back for picking on her. Bill tells Edie he
wants to be born, but Edie says that he couldn’t survive. He says he
can see everyone who is dead, and that Dangerfield and Blaine will be
dead very soon.
Blaine goes to Hoppy’s house to steal his radio transmitter, since
West Marin has two and Bolinas has none. He listens to Dangerfield on
the radio, then Hoppy’s voice comes out, asking Blaine what he is doing
there. Blaine says he is just looking around. Hoppy explains his plan
to use the transmitter and his ability to do imitations to replace
Dangerfield if he dies. Blaine grabs the radio and runs for it. Hoppy
grabs him with an extensor and breaks his neck.
Paul Dietz proofs his newspaper, with stories of Blaine’s death and
Dangerfield’s illness. He muses that he can’t print “Hoppy terrified
by 7-year-old, Bonny Keller having affair with Hal Barnes, negro
meeting with Andrew Gill.” He thinks Stuart might get killed.
Hoppy sees Stuart McConchie and assumes it’s Bill doing another
imitation. Hoppy runs into Dr. Stockstill, literally, and confronts
him about helping the Kellers break the law. Stockstill counters by
asking him what happened to Blaine. Afterward, Hoppy considers that
McConchie could be real. He finds McConchie, they have a tense
reunion, and then Hoppy offers to introduce him to Andrew Gill.
McConchie describes a plan to automate Gill’s cigarette
manufacturing. Gill is impressed by his salesmanship. They compare
the city and the country. Gill says that he was traveling through
Marin when the bomb dropped and opted to stay. He does not mention
that Edie Keller is his daughter and that he still wants Bonny.
Bill tells Edie that Hoppy killed Blaine and that he will kill
again. They argue; Bill wants to transfer his consciousness to a
snail. Hal Barnes walks by as they are playing rock, paper, scissors,
and Bill tells Edie that Barnes is having an affair with their
Later at the Keller’s, Barnes meets Bonny and says he thinks Edie
knows about them. Bonny says he’s wrong, but he pulls away. She calls
him cowardly, and thinks of going back to Gill. They go to hear
Dangerfield, and run into Stockstill and Bluthgeld. Bluthgeld is
losing his grip on reality. He saw McConchie, and he is convinced the
war will restart, since the emergency began the last time he saw
McConchie. When they arrive at the Forrester’s Hall, McConchie is
there. Bluthgeld tells Bonny to get McConchie out of there or he will
cause the bombs to fall again. Bonny doesn’t believe Bluthgeld has the
power to do that, which he takes as a betrayal.
In his own mind, Bluthgeld restarts the war, beginning as before
with orbital blasts. Dangerfield’s broadcast stops, and Bluthgeld
announces that the satellite has been destroyed
Stockstill confirms that McConchie is the man he and Bluthgeld knew
from before the war. Bluthgeld starts ranting that the demolition of
existence has begun, as sanctioned by God. When Dangerfield’s
broadcast resumes with Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, Bluthgeld leaves,
confused. He passes by Hoppy’s house and notices that the transmitter
Bill Keller transfers himself into a worm, and cannot see or hear,
Dangerfield in orbit sees a flash on the horizon and wonders if it
is another bomb. He plays Bach as the satellite shudders, then puts on
Bei Mir Bist Du Schön. Edie watches her brother the worm and
feels the mentality of the worm inside her, then takes him back. They
consider having him switch with mom, Hoppy, dad, and Mr. Barnes before
settling on Jack Tree. She confronts Barnes about his affair with her
Barnes and Bonny Keller lie together. He tells her that Edie knows;
she thinks she will leave him soon. She says Edie hiked up to Jack
Tree’s. She accidentally calls Jack “Bruno”, and Barnes figures out
that Tree is actually Bluthgeld. An explosion lights up the sky. They
consideer that maybe Bluthgeld can restart the war, and run to tell
Hoppy. Edie distracts Tree’s talking dog to get close to Tree. As
they are about to start the transfer, Tree flies into the air and
plummets to the ground, dead, killed by telekinesis by Hoppy.
Orion Stroud tells a meeting in the Forrester’s Hall that Hoppy
killed Bluthgeld. They consider how to reward Hoppy, and decide to
start with cigarettes and brandy. Bonny says she knew Tree was
Bluthgeld, but Hoppy knew before she told him. There is an
undercurrent of fear about Hoppy’s abilities. Five people form a
committee to talk to Hoppy. Bonny suggests killing him. The group
goes to Gill’s factory to get the reward. Gill tells Bonny she should
leave George and go with him and Stuart to Berkeley where they’ll build
their factory. She says there would be no way to keep up appearances;
he says everyone already knows about her affairs. She decides to
Stockstill and Hoppy try to reach Dangerfield. Stockstill thinks
Dangerfield might be a hypochondriac. Hoppy laughs inappropriately at
the idea. Dangerfield brushes them off, then the satellite goes out of
range. Then the appreciation committee arrives. Hoppy is childish,
petulant, and threatening.
Dangerfield records his dying message, but the tape winds up blank.
The machine is running under its own power. He hears his own voice
claiming that his problem was only indigestion, and then the broadcast
resumes. He muses that his pain is always worst over northern
Bill tells Edie that Hoppy killed Bluthgeld. She runs to tell her
mother, but Bonny has gone.
Ella Hardy welcomes Bonny, Gill and McConchie to Berkeley. They
tune in to Dangerfield, who is broadcasting again, but something is
wrong. He is bragging about Hoppy killing Bluthgeld. Bonny
immediately deduces that Hoppy has taken over the broadcast, and
assumes he is also behind Dangerfield’s illness.
Edie goes to Hoppy’s house. Bill plans to scare Hoppy, but Hoppy
hears them coming and telekinetically frees Bill from Edie’s body.
Bill floats into the atmosphere; Edie runs home. Bill is eaten by an
Bill takes control of the owl and makes it fly back to Hoppy’s
house, then regurgitate Bill.
Stockstill arrives at Hoppy’s to resume trying to treat Dangerfield.
Hoppy is oddly awkward. Stockstill says he seems different. Hoppy
confesses that he is Bill Keller. Stockstill examines the cyst, which
expired shortly after Bill transformed into Hoppy. Bill goes to look
for Edie. Stockstill reaches Dangerfield, who is in good spirits, and
mockingly starts broadcasting the therapy session.
Gill wakes Bonny and brings her to the radio. They can tell that
Dangerfield is himself again. Bonny is content, and tells Gill she
loves him. The two and Stuart and the Hardy’s plan their business
together. The future looks bright.