Jaime Sommers (The Bionic Woman)
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Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers.
|First appearance||"The Bionic Woman" (episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, 1975|
|Last appearance||Bionic Ever After? (TV movie), 1994|
|Portrayed by||Lindsay Wagner|
|Aliases||The Bionic Woman|
|Occupation||Secret agent, schoolteacher, former professional tennis player|
|Children||Michael Austin (stepson)|
Jaime Sommers, sometimes spelled Jamie Sommers, is a fictional character portrayed by Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man. She is a former professional tennis star, a teacher of middle school students and an occasional agent of the Office of Scientific Information. Through the use of cybernetic implants, known as bionics, she was gifted with extraordinary strength in one arm and both legs. She also had a bionic ear which allowed her to hear at low volumes, at different frequencies than most humans, and over uncommonly long distances. In 2004, Sommers was listed in Bravo's 100 Greatest TV Characters. AOL named her one of the 100 Most Memorable Female TV Characters.
Conception and creation
Jaime was not the second "bionic person" but the third. She followed the astronaut/test pilot Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man and the race car driver "Barney Miller" The Seven Million Dollar Man. Her bionics were thus Rudy Wells' third-generation and potentially more powerful than Steve's. She has been shown to be able to run slightly faster than he could. Also, her pre-bionic life as a professional athlete gave her greater natural agility than Steve. Her difficult transition to post-bionic life, along with later degrees in psychology, would make her the ideal candidate to be Rudy's assistant in training new-implantees in the use of their bionics. Notably, she trained Steve's son, Michael (Tom Schanley), to control his bionics after his operation as well as Kate Mason (Sandra Bullock).
According to the opening credits of The Bionic Woman, the cost of Jaime's bionic implants was "classified". This lack of specificity has sparked frequent debates amongst fans as to whether it is appropriate to call her "The Six Million Dollar Woman". The scripts reveal only a few contradictory clues. In the spin-off's opening story "Welcome Home, Jaime", she suggests to Oscar that she must have cost as much as Steve. He replies, "Well, not quite. The parts are smaller, after all." In a later episode, when she, Oscar and Rudy are trapped on a desert island and trying to get some food out of a tin, Oscar says, "Make way for my six million dollar can opener."
Born in 1949, Jaime is the daughter of James and Ann Sommers. Jaime was raised in Ojai, California, and she showed high potential in the sport of tennis. Her parents were political science college professors. Unbeknownst to Jaime, they also worked undercover for the United States government. Both were killed (presumably murdered) in a car accident on April 16, 1966. Long-time family friends Jim and Helen Elgin became the 16-year-old Jaime's legal guardians. She and Helen's son, Steve Austin, became high school sweethearts, but he left Ojai to go to college and later to join the U.S. Air Force, and the NASA space program as an astronaut.
Jaime graduated from high school and went on to study education at Carnegie Tech. Tennis—and not education—was her first career. After receiving her teaching degree, Jaime became a professional tennis player. By 1975 she had won many major tournaments and was ranked among the top five female tennis players in the world. According to the pilot, "Welcome Home, Jaime" she has both beaten—and been beaten by—the real-life tennis stars, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert.
On a visit home to Ojai, Jaime was reunited with Steve Austin (now a colonel and former astronaut). With some matchmaking from Steve's mother, Jaime and Steve's relationship quickly blossomed. But their happiness was replaced by tragedy one day when the couple went skydiving. Jaime's parachute ripped, and she plummeted to the ground. Her injuries were critical; both legs and her right arm were crushed beyond repair. Severe head trauma had also caused damage to her right ear. Steve, who was deeply in love with Jaime, contacted his boss Oscar Goldman at the Office of Strategic Intelligence (OSI) and pleaded with him until he authorized a top secret procedure—bionic replacement. Steve knew that it was the only way to save Jaime, because the government had performed the same experimental operation on him two years earlier. Under the skilled hands of Dr. Rudy Wells, Jaime's surgery was a success. Her badly damaged arm, legs, and inner ear were replaced with state-of-the-art electronic prostheses. Upon learning of the radical surgery performed on her, Jaime was fearful of being a freak. However with Steve's support she soon learned to accept her new limbs after he revealed that he was bionic too. It seemed that Jaime and Steve, evenly matched in more ways than one, were truly made for each other. The world's first bionic man and woman were in the midst of planning their wedding when tragedy struck again. Jaime's body rejected her bionics. Emergency surgery was performed to save her, but it was fruitless. With Steve by her side, Jaime died on the operating table.
Life after death
Miraculously, Jaime's life did not end here. Dr. Michael Marchetti used an experimental cryogenic procedure to cool her body and prevent cellular damage. This gave the doctors time to repair the massive cerebral clot which had ended her life. Her heart was restarted, and she was rescued from death. However, the radical operation was not a complete success. Jaime had suffered brain damage, and the memories of her past life were gone. Another surgery restored many of her memories, but the feelings of love that she had felt for Steve seemed unrecoverable. Jaime's extraordinary strength ruled out a return to the tennis circuit, so she decided to return to Ojai to grow some roots. She moved into a coach house apartment situated on Jim and Helen Elgin's ranch. She landed a job teaching school at the Ventura Air Force Base. Jaime felt very indebted to Oscar and the government for saving her life, and she insisted that Oscar contact her if the OSI should need an agent with her special abilities. Oscar did call on Jaime, and from 1976 through 1978 she was sent on numerous covert missions. However, Oscar's use of Jaime was considerably more reserved than his use of Steve. Whereas Austin was a full-time agent, Oscar was generally more reluctant to put Jaime into high-risk situations. She was often seen interjecting herself into missions over Oscar's objections. This hesitancy stemmed from several sources. At least initially, he accepted some of the blame for her death because he sent her out on a mission immediately after her bionic implant operation, using her as an agent before she was really ready. After her rebirth, he was loath to make the same mistake, since, after all, she had died from bionic rejection. Even when resurrected, her memory was not intact. Had she been a regular, non-bionic field agent, her mental issues would have disqualified her from being an agent. As Jaime and Oscar grew to form a working relationship, he exhibited paternalistic feelings for her which sometimes prevented a detached analysis of her suitability for missions.
During her time of most intense involvement with the OSI, her relationship with Rudy Wells was also notably different from Steve's. Whereas Steve was occasionally distrustful of Rudy, and sometimes shown as impatient with, or even hostile to Rudy's medical tests, Jaime viewed him as a helpful ally from the moment of her resurrection. She was frequently in and around Rudy's lab, and generally more enthusiastic about the research obligations of being a virtually unique specimen.
As her experience in the field developed, Jaime herself became increasingly self-assured. Her personality was more mercurial than Steve's, at once quick-witted and morally serious. After the trauma of rejection, Jaime's relationship to her bionics remained ambiguous. But as an operative she was courageous, resourceful with her abilities and increasingly circumspect about the militarism of her employers, preferring a more humanistic approach. Late in the series she adopted Maximillion (AKA Max), a German Shepherd Dog that had been used as a test case for implanting bionics into animals.
Eventually, Jaime became romantically involved with fellow OSI agent Chris Williams, and she yearned for a life of her own away from the government and the constant peril of undercover work. Feeling that she had repaid her debt to the government, Jaime resigned from the OSI. However, the powers that be were not prepared to let her go. Jaime realized that her bionics had become a permanent part of her life, but they did not have to rule her or the life she wanted to live. She returned to the OSI and agreed to take occasional missions on the condition that she would be free to pursue her life.
Jaime and Chris continued their relationship and became very happy together. After years away from the OSI, Jaime decided to accept a mission. She traveled to Budapest with Chris, but the two of them were separated and Jaime was caught in an explosion. Fortunately, she was rescued and hospitalized back in the US. When she recovered from the concussion, she started to remember her past life and feelings for Steve. She also learned the shocking news that Chris had been held captive and killed.
She acted on neither of these revelations, but instead went back to her life working as a therapist at the Los Angeles Rehabilitation Center. In 1987, after nearly ten years with no contact, Jaime unexpectedly reunited with Steve Austin. Steve had left the OSI and had been enjoying life away from the government by running a charter boat. They met in a restaurant where Steve was ostensibly on a date with another woman. Trying desperately to avoid being seen by him, she nevertheless was confronted by Steve who found himself being thrown through the restaurant window. The couple came to terms with their years of separation and decided to see if they could rebuild their relationship.
Jaime and Steve occasionally returned to the OSI in times of international crisis. Their time together proved that the love they once felt for each other had never died, and in 1989 the couple officially became engaged to be married. During the five years that followed, Jaime became a doctor. She moved to Washington, DC, and established a family counseling practice. Her experience with the government and top secret clearance also opened the door for her to help government agents. A computer virus, however, corrupts Jaime's bionic systems. Dr. Wells informs Steve that "she may never be bionic again," but Steve's main regard is he wants her alive above all else. She undergoes a major upgrade, which not only increases the power of her bionics but gives her night vision.
On September 4, 1994, Dr. Jaime Sommers and Col. Steve Austin married. At the ceremony, Rudy Wells gave Jamie away and Oscar was Steve's best man.
In literature and culture
Unlike Steve Austin, Jaime Sommers did not appear in the novel Cyborg, the original story which started the first series. She was entirely a television invention of Kenneth Johnson, a writer of The Six Million Dollar Man, under the supervision of executive producer Harve Bennett. Sommers' only literary appearances to date have been in two novelizations of televised episodes released in the mid-1970s; Caidin had already concluded his series of Cyborg novels by the time her character was established on television.
Johnson named Sommers after a water skier he met while producing whale shows at SeaWorld. The name "Jaime" was predominantly a male name (a derivative of "James") before the television series began. It is probably not a coincidence that in 1976 the name Jaime became one of the 100 most popular names of the year in every one of the 50 US states. The female name Jamie (a variant spelling) also gained enormous popularity at the same time.
In 2007, NBC debuted Bionic Woman, a remake of the original series. Very few elements of the original series were kept, except for the main character, Jaime Sommers (to whom the middle name, "Wells" was added as an homage to the earlier series' character, Dr. Rudy Wells). She is played in this version by British actress Michelle Ryan, affecting an American accent.
The new version of Sommers has the same basic bionic parts as the 1970s version, with the addition of a bionic right eye, a component associated with Steve Austin. As in the earlier series, Sommers is not the first bionic guinea pig; the series introduced an emotionally unbalanced prototype bionic woman, Sarah Corvus, played by Katee Sackhoff.
The reimagined series was eagerly anticipated and drew large initial audiences, however, the combination of diminishing ratings and a 2008 writers' strike caused NBC to re-evaluate and ultimately cancel the show after production of only 8 episodes.
- There is some dispute over whether the OSI stands for Office of Scientific Information or Office of Strategic Intelligence. This version of the name is per several episodes of Season 1 of The Bionic Woman that explicitly spell out what OSI stands for. Spin-off media, however, such as novels and comic books, have tended to use to Strategic Intelligence version.
- "Bravo > 100 Greatest TV Characters". Bravo. Archived from the original on July 16, 2007. Retrieved November 11, 2006.
- Potts, Kim (March 2, 2011). "100 Most Memorable Female TV Characters". AOL TV. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Sometime substantially faster, as in the season 1 episode "Winning is Everything" in which she is shown running faster than a race car driving at 100 MPH; Austin's speed is generally said to top out at 60 MPH
- Some syndicators outside the United States have had fewer problems with this issue. The name of the program in German-speaking countries is The Seven Million Dollar Woman. In Dutch-speaking countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, the show is The Six Million Dollar Woman.
- The reference to "Carnegie Tech", drawn from dialogue in "Welcome Home, Jaime", is somewhat suspect. Given that Jaime would have likely started her post-secondary education no earlier than 1967's merger of Carnegie Tech with the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, it is probably safe to say she was speaking colloquially, not precisely. If we are to believe that she was referring to a real-life university, her degree would have come from Carnegie Mellon University.
- The first season episode "Jaime's Mother" includes another character indicating in dialogue that Jaime suffers from emotional problems, and these issues manifest themselves on several occasions where Jaime exhibits a degree of nervousness and neurotic behavior uncommon in experienced agents.
- It is not altogether clear how, exactly, this arrangement was different from the one she enjoyed during the majority of the run of The Bionic Woman. Oscar had generally treated her as an occasional agent, and often blocked her from helping on missions, even when she insisted on participating. In many ways, it was merely a reiteration of a situation that already existed.
- Silden, Isobel (August 1976). "The Bionic Woman / Creating a Cyborg for the '70s". Starlog. pp. 8–11. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- See the timeline at Namemapper (Type Jaime or Jamie (female) into the search line).