Thanks to our readers who have kept with us on this rewatch journey.
THE TOP TWENTY EPISODES
Friday the 13th: The Series is a better show than it has a right to be, all things considered. A syndicated show meant to capitalize on the notoriety and name-recognition of the (unfairly derided) Friday the 13th slasher films (but otherwise having nothing to do with that franchise), the show’s most successful individual episodes managed to tackle issues of race, gender inequity, neoconservatism, fascism, toxic masculinity, abuse of institutional power, the military industrial complex, and child and domestic abuse. Its guest directors included Jennifer Lynch, Atom Egoyan, and David Cronenberg. When it leaned into horror, as in episodes like “Scarecrow,” “Tales of the Undead” and “The Long Road Home,” the show anticipated and inspired later series such as The X-Files; and when it played with themes of the dark fantastic, as in episodes like “Shadow Boxer,” “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul” and “The Playhouse,” it could rival TV classics like One Step Beyond, Thriller and The Twilight Zone.
We base the following list of top 20 episodes on the strength of an individual episode’s innovation within and against the 1980s TV production landscape; their layered scripting and direction; the provocative political or critical content and rich themes blended into their narratives; their intertextuality or allusiveness to horror history, themes and motifs; and their possible creative influence on subsequent series. We could have listed a top ten, but we feel that these twenty-plus episodes are exemplary.
“The Great Montarro” (1.6)
“The Electrocutioner” (1.18)
“The Pirate’s Promise (1.22)
“The Voodoo Mambo” (2.2)
The Top 20
20. “Double Exposure” 1.21
19. “The Prophesy” Parts 1 and 2 (3.1, 3.2)
18. “Better Off Dead” 2.15
17. “Mesmer’s Bauble” 2.20
16. “Scarlet Cinema” 2.16
15. “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul” 3.12
14. “The Playhouse” 2.12
13. “Mightier Than the Sword” 3.10
12. “The Long Road Home” 3.15
11. “The Sweetest Sting” 2.11
10. “Scarecrow” (1.11)
9. “The Maestro” (2.23)
8. “Faith Healer” (1.12)
7. “Shadow Boxer” (1.8)
6. “And Now the News” (2.3)
5. “Repetition” (3.14)
4. “Tales of the Undead” (1.10)
3. “Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)
2. “Pipe Dream” (1.24)
1. “The Butcher” (2.19)
- TOP 20 -
THE BUTCHER (Season 2, Episode 19; Francis Delia, director; Francis Delia & Ron Magid, writers)
THE TOP TEN MOST PROVOCATIVE EPISODES
The following episodes—while they don’t always hit the mark—are interesting for their upfront treatment of subject matter not often handled so transparently in 1980s television.
10. “Mesmer’s Bauble” 2.20
9. “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul” 3.12
8. “Repetition” 3.14
7. “Better Off Dead” 2.15
6. “The Maestro” 2.23
5. “Mightier Than the Sword” 3.10
4. “Faith Healer” 1.12
3. “Pipe Dream” 1.24
2. “The Butcher” 2.19
1. “Wedding Bell Blues” 2.22
- MOST PROVOCATIVE -
WEDDING BELL BLUES (Season 2, Episode 22; Jorge Montesi, director; Nancy Ann Miller, writer)
THE TOP TEN MOST MISOGYNISTIC EPISODES
In a series that idles on misogynistic representation, these are quintessentials. We provide this list not to court outrage, but to illustrate where the series’ most egregious representations of women come to the surface, serving as a kind of key to mapping misogyny across the show. Antidote “chasers” highly recommended.
10. “Cupid’s Quiver” (1.3) [Antidote: “Mesmer’s Bauble” (2.20)]
9. “Night Hunger” (2.10) [Antidote: “The Pirate’s Promise (1.22)]
8. “Symphony in B-Sharp” (2.5) [Antidote: “The Maestro” (2.23)]
7. “Night Prey” (3.8) [Antidote: “The Voodoo Mambo” (2.2)]
6. “The Charnel Pit” (3.20) [Antidote: “Repetition” (3.14)]
5. “The Baron’s Bride” (1.13) [Antidote: “Double Exposure” (1.21)]
4. “Bad Penny” (3.6) [Antidote: “The Prophesy” Parts 1 and 2 (3.1, 3.2)]
3. “Wedding in Black” (2.21) [Antidote: “Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)]
2. “Read My Lips” (2.8) [Antidote: “The Long Road Home” (3.15)]
1. “My Wife as a Dog” (3.16) [Antidote: “Pipe Dream” (1.24)]
THE BOTTOM TEN EPISODES
Selected, for your displeasure, based on the same criteria as the top twenty episodes. Again, antidote chasers highly recommended.
10. “Jack in the Box” (3.17) [Antidote: “A Friend to the End” (18)]
9. “Wax Magic” (2.7) [Antidote: “Tales of the Undead” (1.10)]
8. “The Quilt of Hathor,” Parts 1 and 2” (1.20) [Antidote: “The Prophesy” Parts 1 and 2 (3.1, 3.2)]
7. “Wedding in Black” (2.21) [Antidote: “Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)]
6. “The Baron’s Bride” (1.13) [Antidote: “Double Exposure” (1.21)]
5. “Read My Lips” (2.8) [Antidote: “The Long Road Home” (3.15)]
4. “The Prisoner” (2.25) [Antidote: “Mightier Than the Sword” 3.10)]
3. “Doorway to Hell” (2.1) [Antidote: “Scarlet Cinema” 2.16]
2. “Bottle of Dreams” (1.26) [Antidote: “The Playhouse” 2.12]
1. “My Wife as a Dog” (3.16) [Antidote: “Pipe Dream” (1.24)]
- MOST MISOGYNISTIC / BOTTOM 10 -
MY WIFE AS A DOG (Season 3, Episode 16; Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Okay, to be honest, we don’t feel that guilty about the following lists. A couple of the episodes below are even in our top 20! But there’s something about these entries in the series that cause a titter—a feeling that even though some things aren’t gelling, there’s still much to be savoured. And sometimes bad is just so, so good.
Kris’s List of 10 (in no particular order)
Erin’s List of 10 (in no particular order)
- GUILTY PLEASURES -
WHAT A MOTHER WOULDN'T DO (Season 1, Episode 25; Neil Fearnley, director; Bruce Martin, writer)
Thank you for reading!
Thus ends our journey through Friday the 13th: The Series. Stay tuned, as we prepare our next blog on the George A. Romero-produced series, Tales from the Darkside.
This week, we present the final two episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series. But STAY TUNED!, as next week, we cover the highs and lows, the bests and worsts, and the "guilty" pleasures of the series in a final rewatch wrap-up!
Season 3, Episode 19: “The Tree of Life” (William Fruet, director; Christine Foster, writer)
Even with the hilarity of a man-eating oak tree, this episode remains stillborn.
The Goods: A Druidic sect of women maintain a fertility clinic as a front to “breed their followers.” The women have twins, a boy and a girl, and they keep the girls and feed the fathers to their “tree of life.”
*When they bring the girl twin to the attic room where they’ll raise her with the other kidnapped girls, one of the nurses asks, “What will you call her?” Dr. Oakwood replies, “Sheila. It means out of sacrifice comes joy.” (It’s actually Gaelic for “heavenly.”)
*When one of the Druid nurses suggests that the next mother is aware she’s having twins, Dr. Oakwood replies, “With what we’ll give her, she won’t remember if she’s had one baby or a hundred.”
*Dr. Oakwood calls giving birth “the transition.”
*There’s an attic full of little white girls dressed like dolls.
*Does anyone ever say in real life, “Now, if you’ll excuse me …”?
*Jack and Micki, after all this time, playing the logic and doubt game is super annoying. [E: Yup, that annoyed me too!] Considering all they’ve been through, the way they treat Johnny is almost “gaslighting.” Johnny’s run into a frantic mother wailing at a newsstand over a cover of Newsmaker touting the successes of Dr. Oakwood; he’s found the kids in the attic of the clinic, seen a ring of Druidic stones, heard screams in the night. What more evidence do they need to trust him?
*Logic problems: The Oakwood clinic has a 98% success rate, which means they also have a 98% death rate in the men they kill, required to create the “safe and gentle birth” desired by each couple. The wives are led to believe their husbands have abandoned them. But how long can this go on before someone notices? Even as a critical equation of capitalist enterprise with medicine, religion and death, the scenario stretches belief. Interviewed in Wax, scriptwriter Foster explains that in her original concept, the twins kept by the sect
“were periodically sacrificed to the tree to keep it bearing more statues”; but then the production team said no child sacrifice, even implied, so all my lovely little figures in white with flowers in their hair now trooped out and attended the sacrifice of the husbands. Nutty, really, because no one would miss a child who’d never ‘existed,’ but certainly families would miss a goodly number of husbands. It took a lot of rewriting to even try to justify that and I was never exactly happy with the outcome. (2015, 445).
Yeah, neither is this viewer.
The Verdict: With all due respect to Foster’s struggles with the censors, this script is as bad as one of Jim Henshaw’s worst. I make the comparison because it shares some of the identifiers of a Henshaw script: ridiculous occult ceremonies, storm and wind that kicks up on command (but that no one else notices), set-bound climaxes where the sets look like … sets, and characters trapped in liminal spaces (Johnny and Mr. Sanderson being sucked beneath the tree).
Season 3 is turning out to be a bit of a clunker.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Why wasn’t this more interesting? You’ve got a Druidic fertility cult, a man-eating tree, lightning storms and explosions. It’s timely for its time; fertility clinics were becoming big business in the 1980s, with some dodgy practices and often ineffective, expensive treatments.
A few things stand out, beyond the New Zealand-born Garnett’s bizarre Irish accent: 1) the same beats occur over and over: lady has baby, they steal the girl and kill the dad, life goes on with no real plot progression. 2) Plot-contrivance skepticism from Jack and Micki is frankly ridiculous at this point. This isn’t even something you could roll off on character, like Ryan getting his “soft heart on” [K: Hahaha!] because Johnny hasn’t been developed enough as a character for his motivations in most things to be clear. 3) It’s vaguely irritating when it seems no one is making an effort, from writing to acting to bothering to hide the set design-ness of the outdoor scenes. It was like watching the climax of Manos: The Hands of Fate. (OK, maybe not THAT bad.) There are so many plotholes and questions that the episode seems almost wholly uninterested in addressing. OK, not every dad gets oaked [K: You’re hilarious.], but even one in 12 is not insubstantial, so, what? Nobody cares? Or is the general idea that men are irresponsible douchebags? (Actually, I think that might be the point they’re making.) Do all the rest of the girls get reunited with their parents? Oakwood is well known (appearing in national magazines and all) and only Mrs. Eng has a complaint? UGH.
K: Right?! I mean, I get irritated when my students complain about plot points (Q: “Why didn’t she just leave the house?” / A: “Because it’s a fucking movie!”), but this episode just stretches my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.]
E: There is one shot that shows some thought and interest; there is a neat little fade between Mr. Sanderson drinking from the skull during the ceremony before his wife goes into labor that transitions into Micki drinking from a large white cup at Curious Goods. (The flowers on the tree were kind of neat too.)
K: The flowers were neat. Didn’t notice that other thinger!
E: Kind of disappointing for a penultimate episode, although I guess they didn’t really know it would be.
K: Wait till you watch the ‘ultimate’ episode. A grand finale, it ain’t.
Finally: Did either Tim Minear or Jeffrey Bell see this episode? ‘Cause “Couplet,” from season three of Angel has a LOT of similarities.
K: I don’t remember it. But I always feel it’s likely when TV horror resembles past TV horror. Also, Tim Minear’s current work (on crapola like American Horror Story, or any of his work with Ryan Murphy, is another indication that this cheesed out episode might have influenced him. I hate American Horror Story. Have I mentioned that I hate American Horror Story? Oof.)
E: I mean, it wasn’t a fertility oak as much as a catfishing one, but yeah, even the underground visuals share some similarities. Here’s a link.
Season 3, Episode 20: “The Charnel Pit” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
The series closes with an episode featuring a so-so de Sade, ending not with a bang, but a whimper. (Not even an erotic one.)
The Goods: Micki gets her kink on with a so-so de Sade (has a kind of ring to it, no?). [Erin: It really does!] A double-face painting, with life on the 20th-century side, and death on the 18th-century side, provides a gateway to the past, and the world of the supposedly “sinister” de Sade.
*The composer credit is, for the first (and I think only) time listed as “Music Composed and Performed by Frederic Molin.”
*The continual association of de Sade with pure evil. (Huh?)
*The Marquis de Sade’s many tedious pronouncements, all a variation on the following: “In life there are those who enjoy and those who endure. … If you can’t escape your flesh before death, then death becomes your only escape. Then you’re good for nothing but the charnel pit.”
*On the 20th-century end of the double-face painting, the pervy, dorky college professor, not content with literally sacrificing his ‘research assistants’, but also fashioning himself something of a Sadean, with lines like: “If you’re going to be any use to me, you’re going to have to learn to be a friend of pain.”
*Jack and Johnny make a pretty big leap in figuring out that a bunch of unidentified women victims found in the river are being transported back from the late 18th century through a double-face painting. Like, Jack believes this, but he wouldn’t believe Johnny with all that evidence in the previous episode?
The Verdict: I can’t believe I’m here, but I’m actually here, at the end of Friday the 13th: The Series. The decision to end the series was an abrupt response to fundamentalist minister and American Family Association founder Donald Wildmon threatening to have his followers and listeners (he also founded American Family Radio) boycott one of the show’s major sponsors, McDonalds, which responded that it wasn’t worth their fighting it; they could just sponsor another show (Frank Mancuso, Jr., quoted in Wax 2015, 457). (For the record, everyone should boycott McDonalds, for both ethical and health reasons. But not for Wildmon’s reasons.) Steven Monarque links it to a moral panic that targeted the show’s violence (quoted in Wax 2015, 457), but another view (which I think I read in Wax, but can’t remember where) links it to the series having made enough episodes to be sold into syndication—a rather dispassionate end. And this episode, despite the expense that went into making a sumptuous (and, as always, beautifully shot) costume drama, feels equally dispassionate. It’s a humorless, staid treatment of what might have been a gleefully excessive subject. I mean, it’s de Sade, for shit’s sake!
E: Right? If you’re going to get cancelled for corrupting youth and whatnot, GO FOR IT.
K: Micki’s thoughts, penned in a journal, about de Sade having a certain “magnetism” and about how “he makes you doubt everything you hold dear,” would have more effect if the actor playing Sade were a bit more charismatic (at the very least). It’s almost laughable that she’d feel this way about this portrayal of de Sade, or this actor for that matter. And I’m not referring to his puffy, bloated appearance (well, not entirely), but to his total lack of charisma and … well, magnetism. All he does is smirk, and even George W. Bush is a better smirker. The episode matches him in its 20th century timeline with a creepy, sleazy professor. On the one side, we have an aging, pudgy professor, and on the other a mediocre de Sade. They’re really two sides of the same loser. Leave it to Henshaw (who wrote “My Wife as a Dog” [3.16]), to script an episode about gross, ineffectual men into using female students as fodder for easy research, on the one end, and hapless servants as disposable pleasure slaves, on the other. Even more so, leave it to Henshaw to think these men are remotely intriguing. In fact, on the professor’s side, this episode becomes the one, truest evocation of sloth in the series—his research is literally handed to him (in the form of letters) by the returning dead bodies of the young women he sends through the painting.
E: You’re right! YAY! We get sloth at last!
K: In both diegetic and scriptwriting ways.
At least the episode doesn’t quite court the outrage of the series’ more problematic episodes (one of them, “My Wife as a Dog,” also penned by Henshaw). That’s all there, but this is another one of those inconsequential episodes, leaving the series to end with the equivalent of a wet fart.
The last shot of the episode and series—of the vault being closed, shutting out the faces of Jack, Johnny, and Micki, and leaving the viewer inside—was a nice touch. Through all the ups and downs, I’m going to miss Friday the 13th: The Series.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, so we’ve reached the end of the series, one that clearly wasn’t intended as an ending. And yet, like season one’s finale and season two’s opener, we get a portal to another time or plane of existence. That fits quite well with the format; semi-anthologies in particular are far less about the destination and more about individual journeys. In that respect, this works fine as a closer to the series as a whole.
That being said: Oof. I know it’s too much to ask for even a whiff of historical accuracy, and “The Charnel Pit” does a better job in this respect than, say, the completely divorced from reality portrayal of Bram Stoker in “The Baron’s Bride.” And, hey, one can have fun by re-casting historical figures and events in new ways; that was pretty much the whole premise of the series Sleepy Hollow (complete with a zombie George Washington and Freemasons). In some respects, I think there is a bit of that impulse here, with Lafayette’s suggestion that the Marquis de Sade’s excesses are a factor in the coming revolution. Then again, I’m likely giving Henshaw too much credit.
ANYWAY, so we’ve got a predatory college professor (Webster) who uses de Sade as a justification for his abuse (and sending them to their deaths in the 18th century) of his female students, like a dude-bro using Rand as a reason it’s OK for him to be a selfish prick. I was gratified when Larissa basically calls him out on it in front of the whole class; that whole exchange was an empowering note in an icky episode. (Of course, she ends up being tortured by him, because god forbid she isn’t punished for speaking out.) On the other side of the “double face” painting of this episode is, of course, de Sade. Is it just me, or did both Webster and de Sade look really alike? (I thought it was the same actor at first. What can I say? All pudgy white guys look alike to me.)
K: I momentarily thought it was the same actor, as well. It probably should have been.
E: And, he has no compunction in sacrificing these women simply so he can get his hands on a manuscript that will further justify (in his own mind) what he does, because he thinks the journey itself is deadly. While the double face painting is, of course, about “life and death,” which Webster interprets literally, the metaphor of it could have been so much more interesting if they’d pushed it: the face you show to the world (college professor) versus the ugliness hidden inside. Jack’s closing remarks point to this, but…
K: Webster really needs to watch the mandatory sexual violence tutorial that his university obviously never produced.
E: Finally, it’s never a good sign when you have to have a character voiceover to convince you of the attractions of another character. Micki talks about de Sade as charismatic and alluring, of which neither the script nor performance ever suggested.
Now that we’re at the end, I’ll say that this show, of which I really only remember two episodes from watching it back in the 1980s, was a bit of a roller coaster. There were some great episodes, some that made me weep for those involved, and a whole lot of episodes that were OK, but not great. Losing LeMay was a blow the show never really recovered from; I never thought I’d say this back when we started, but I found myself missing him more and more as this season went on. The more I think about it, though, the ending here, with Jack providing what could be the thesis statement of the show—“If people are looking for evil, they’re going to find it”—and then the image of the vault doors closing, is a fine way to go out.
K: Agreed, particularly on LeMay’s exit. His pleading through real tears and heart-wrenching sobbing at the beginning of season 3 for an unconscious Jack to help him still resonates across this lackluster season. Season 2 really gave us “The Goods” more consistently than the first or third seasons, and for me represents what this show could really do. Season 3 fell victim to courting the audience by extremes of misogyny in particular that made it just too difficult to step into that critical spectator role where you negotiate your love for the show with your outrage at its politics. The interview with Frank Mancuso, Jr., in Wax is really worth reading. He talks about Donald Wildmon, and the general climate around series like this one really needing sponsors because there was no network behind them.
E: That sounds vital! It’s the challenge of syndication, really, that I think resonates with the other texts we’re looking at!
Note: The episodes are out of chronological order on the disc in the boxed set of the series; this is verifiable in the listings of the series airdates on both Wikipedia, and in Alyse Wax’s book Curious Goods. We therefore present "Jack-in-the-Box" prior to "Spirit of Television."
Season 3, Episode 17: “Jack-in-the-Box” (David Winning, director; Dennis Foon, writer)
Deadly sea shanties help a girl get revenge on those who murdered her father. You know, like they do.
The Goods: A tale of a child’s vengeance against those who caused her father’s drowning (plus one stripper). This is the second (?) instance of a child’s toy bringing murderous revenge; the first was the series pilot with Veda the doll.
Erin: HA! Great minds.
K: I was hoping for something closer to “A Friend to the End” (2.18), but young Meghan goes from a sympathetic, morose kid who witnesses the murder of her father, to a twisted weirdo who would rather ultimately kill herself to be with her dad than be with the living. While that scenario is understandable, and even fertile, the episode has too much about it that is laughable (Meghan stalking her father’s killer, loitering outside the bar he frequents, being one such thing) to settle into a tale of melancholic vengeance and denial of grief.
*The song played on the jack-in-the box is “What do you do with drunken sailor?,” a fitting tune for someone whose father was drowned by a drunken swimmer. But the curse object is called (by Jack) “The Drowning Sailor’s Jack-in-the-Box.” I don’t think we need the name change to get the connection, writers.
*I just realized something about Johnny’s acting style: he’s got the perpetual “who farted?” look all wrong; it looks like it’s that it’s him who farted, thus the “I farted” look.
*Every scene between Meghan and the apparition of her dad, she giggling with glee, and he telling her not to use the jack-in-the-box, is uncomfortable in the wrong way—they’re all boring.
*Johnny’s earnest line: “If someone is drowning drunks, what do they get in return?” Also, I’d really like to know the answer to this question.
*Everyone who dies does so by drowning; it’s a good thing they are all near water when Meghan uses the box. It’s especially good luck for Meghan that murderer Mike goes from the bar where he hangs out at night directly to the car wash. And it’s hilarious that the stripper’s death occurs in her bathroom sink, rather than in the tub full of sudsy water right next to her. Intentional?
*The final exchange between a portentous Jack—“Grief is one of the hardest things that any of us has to deal with. It takes all the courage and faith that we can find.”—and an earnest Johnny—“Well, the most important thing is that Helen and Meghan will discover how much they can help each other.”
E: Yes! While I respect what they’re trying to do here, particularly around the scenes with Meghan and Brock, it just doesn’t land; it comes across as if they’re not even in the same room. Also, “I farted” face made me snort laugh.
The Verdict: Writer Dennis Foon says, “What drew me to this show was the idea that horror was a way of looking not just at fear, but at a wide range of deep emotions” (Wax 2015, 432). Accordingly, he turns a PBS spec script into a tale of grief and vengeance (432). The original script, where the dad has cancer, sounds like a maudlin version of a so-so episode of the ABC Afterschool Special series (1972-97). Oddly, this episode doesn’t turn out to be much more than that. (No disrespect to the classic ABC Afterschool Special intended. In fact, “B-TV” needs a book on children’s and young adult “educational” TV.)
E: YES. PLEASE.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): So we’ve got Meghan, who is literally having the worst birthday ever. I mean, I’ve had some sucktastic birthdays, but never one where a drunken douchebag kills my dad. So Meghan “wins” in that respect. (Also, and this is not entirely vital, but Meghan’s free-range wanderings [sure, riding her bike past strip clubs at night] is the most Gen X thing ever.)
There are some interesting shifts here in how the object is used. We’re near the end, and we have an episode that parallels the first one, where we have a child in possession of a cursed object. Unlike Sarah Polley’s dead-eyed sociopathic in the series pilot, though, it’s easy to see why Megan is angry, and her sense of morality and justice is age-appropriate (very eye for an eye; I think that’s stage 2 on Kohlberg’s scale). The “drunken sailor” sea shanty is a lovely touch in an episode about drinking.
We also have an object that is bought in good faith (like the doll in episode one) that happens to be cursed. (Jack-in-the-boxes are always creepy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVI0Olskhqk.)
E: We also have, shockingly, Johnny saying something insightful about loss and grief. Finally, this may be the first time the beneficiary of a curse’s “upside” pleads with—and does everything within his limited power—to prevent her from completing it. That alone suggests some A+ plus parenting on this show.
Yet—and maybe I’m more alert to it after the abomination of an episode following this one—but not only do Meghan’s claims about seeing her father get dismissed (almost understandable; could be a grief response) but Micki’s as well, by Jack, who should know better. There’s also a suggestion—both by Brock appearing to Micki and by a remark from Helen—that there was/had been something kind of thing between Brock and Micki that is never explored. Irritating, that.
Side note: This is the third appearance of Jill Hennessey in season three! She went on to have a semi-decent US TV career, particularly on Law & Order and later her own series, Crossing Jordan.
In some respects, “Jack-in-the-Box” is an interesting meditation on grief and death and the various ways we deal with loss. But there is a “very special episode” element, particularly in the writing, that leaves me a bit cold.
Season 3, Episode 18: “Spirit of Television” (Jorge Montesi, director; Robert (Bob) Holbrook, writer)
The series gets sorta meta with a medium using a medium to extend her time—and her time in the spotlight.
The Goods: This is the only cursed object that is part of a network (pun intended): it drains the subject itself, and then kills by reaching out through other TV sets. The best scene might have been Jack’s friend, Robert, killed by an entire display window of TV sets in a retail store. I feel awful: because of the potential for spectacle in this setup, I’ve never wanted an innocent character to die more than Robert, but Jack takes him away before the windowful of TVs can get him. His later death by falling out an upper floor window isn’t nearly as cool as what could have been.
Erin: I agree, so we can be sick in the head together on this one.
*This episode has the longest mullet I’ve ever seen. In the cold open, one of the band members visiting cursed-object-using medium Ilsa Van Zandt sports one that trails halfway down his back.
*If sacrificing a life to the cursed TV set gives Ilsa only as much as another ten days of life, and she’s in danger of degenerating rapidly, it would seem that there should be many, many more deaths than just one, prior to the death that begins this episode.
*I can definitely say I’ve never seen anyone literally chased by a television set before … until the scene of the fashion designer’s death.
The Curiosities: Have we ever seen a cursed object be this finicky before? The deaths Ilsa sacrifices to the set have diminishing returns, from ten days, to one day, to none, added to Ilsa’s life. Because it apparently has a particular taste only for certain victims whose guilt is … juicier.
E: Exactly! They could have pushed that a bit more; it’s basically suggesting that television is a ratings-obsessed junkie.
The Sins: Vanity rules this one; every client is seeking to alleviate guilt for having used or abandoned someone close or important to them: a parent, a lover, a mentor. In other words, it’s not the loved one that draws them, but the promise of closure and alleviation of guilt that brings them to call upon the lost soul. Saving face. Micki warns Jack not to go to Ilsa in the end over having brought his own friend to Ilsa: “You’re doing this out of your own guilt, just like all the others she’s killed.”
The Verdict: Ultimately, this episode is … fine. My key issue with it is that, aside from the focus on celebrity and the notion of vanity that drives the clients of Ilsa Van Zandt (actors, fashion designers), the thematic connection of the TV medium to the events of the episode is strained at best. As Wax puts it, the curse is “not quite as item-specific as many of the other curses are” (2015, 440). I agree with her on this and on her final statement that this all “makes for a perfectly average, perfectly forgettable episode” (440).
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): It’s funny how much there’s a thematic correspondence between this and the prior episode; in both, you have different takes on loss and grief. Not usually the case on this show.
Any time TV is involved, there’s always going to be at least a whiff of the meta.
K: Blame that whiff on Johnny. (Get it?!)
E: In this one, you get a medium who uses a medium in order to grant herself more time in the “spotlight” (of life), and for some reason, seems to specifically target celebrities while being one herself. There is a particularly poignant exchange between Ilsa and her himbo William: “What’s beyond death is far less important than living,” which is essentially what Brock tells Meghan in “Jack-in-the-Box.” Of course, her sin here is the unspoken nihilism implied by her words, and that others lives are less important than hers. The TV scenes are all rather cool: you’ve got the “trapped” spirits coming out of the static while random scenes play in the background, TV-related killings, the image of her own headstone changing her date of death, and finally she and William being pulled into TV hell at the end of the episode.
It also touches on the secrets and guilt that most people have; and that, Jack rightly points out, is why they would seek her skills in the first place. She didn’t show them anything that they weren’t already aware of on some level, but as Jack says: “she used TV to twist reality.” (Which, duh; that’s kind of its function.)
K: I thought its function was to be the centerpiece of my living room, relegating all other furnishings in deference. Huh.
So, greed or lust for life was her sin, but again, like (too) many times in this series, this felt like a first draft. It didn’t seem clear how long this had been going on, or if there were literally dozens of deaths by TV plaguing the area for years. The episode seems to suggest she’d been active as Ilsa for a while, certainly long enough to make big money and get a young dude as her kept boy. (And his assertion that he loves her for more than her money is borne out by his immediate willingness to help her kill Jack; are they suggesting that’s somehow romantic?)
I liked this better than the previous episode, if for nothing else the inventive ways TVs kill here, but I suspect I’ll soon forget it existed.
K: At the time of posting this to our blog, I remember only the scene in which a TV chases someone.
Season 3, Episode 15: “The Long Road Home” (Allan Kroeker, director; Carl Binder, writer)
Micki and Johnny wander into some hillbilly horror with this inventive anticipation of The X-Files, combined with an homage to / ripoff of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: The cold opener for this one is like a mini capsule narrative. We’re in the middle of a case. Micki rescues Johnny from certain doom in a swimming pool. (What’s with Micki kissing Johnny underwater as she rescues him? She chalks it up to “business,” but it’s far too short for mouth-to-mouth—which you don’t do underwater anyway—and the practical scenario of rescuing someone tied up underwater from drowning would seem to outweigh other business.) The lifeguard who leaves Johnny to die has meanwhile escaped to meet his lover so that he can kill her husband and body-swap with him using the cursed yin/yang charm. A fight ensues, and Johnny and Micki leave the tearful wife/lover the only one standing. Begin title sequence.
Erin: I think it was supposed to be giving him a bit of oxygen to buy time while she undid the rope, but yeah.
K: The opener is a kind of feint … a far cry from the hillbilly horror scenario we’re about to be served. From the moment after the title crawl, this episode shifts from a story about yuppie trysts to a down-and-dirty homage to (ripoff of) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. (The X-Files will do it better around fifteen years later with the episode “Home” [4.2].) The tonal shifts in colour—baby blues in the opening’s glowing swimming pool area and well-lit upper-middle-class living room—and shadows and pitch-black nighttime shots on the road and in the eventual “terrible house” indicate two different worlds, one on the map so to speak, and one very much off. Despite these contrasts, I like that the bourgeois spaces of gym (pool) and upper-middle-class living room still feature violence with undercurrents that parallel the later “hillbilly horror” scenes. Everything turns on sex and relationships (and the violence that is mistaken for these) in the episode.
After the title sequence, we’re on the road with Micki and Johnny, with “a big storm on the way,” according to the gas station attendant. Micki muses about the yin and yang, the “passive force in the universe” and the “active,” “female and male.” The moment makes this viewer at least hope the episode will prove the opposite. It doesn’t, really. Instead, it seems to serve as initiator of a sub-theme to Micki and Johnny’s intimate talk and flirtation throughout. In a later scene, having been stranded on the road and approached an Old Dark House in the night for gas, Micki and Johnny warm up next to a fire. Talk turns to things they haven’t shared with each other, and a telling moment comes when Ryan’s name pops up. It’s difficult not to think that writer Binder didn’t have in mind that this scene should have occurred between Micki and Ryan, their relationship coming to a tipping point here in terms of intimacy. But we’ve got Johnny instead, so the moment results as more or less circumstantial.
It’s interesting, though, in keeping with this theme that they pretend to be a married couple in the diner scene, when the two Negley brothers, Mike and Eddie, push in at their table and begin making them uncomfortable. Once the two are captives of the Negley brothers, there is some real tension, particularly because the talk of Mike, the more dominant Negley brother, having his way with her. This is the most disturbing implication of the episode’s passive-active subtheme, with Mike’s seeming need for a mate limited to sexual violence (rape), and murder— since killing and embalming creates the most passive mate possible.
Outside, Johnny and Eddie fight, and only Eddie returns to the attic room where Mike is introducing Micki to his family, all embalmed corpses. But there’s something wrong with Eddie after he returns. I’m a little slow on the uptake, I guess, because it took me longer than it should have before I realized Johnny had used the cursed charm to body-swap with Eddie after their struggle. (Earlier in the car, Johnny has mused about when it might be appropriate to use a cursed object— his first time expressing such thoughts since he had similar sympathies for the cursed object-user in “Crippled Inside” (3.4). Micki has responded “never,” but she certainly comes around when she and Johnny are in peril.
*Johnny’s pensive moment: “I’m sorry, I just have a lot on my mind. … I’m just sick of people dying. This body swapping, it just brought back some bad memories.” Yes, I’m sure body swapping would.
*They stop off at Henshaw’s Roadhouse diner for a bite to eat, a little nod to executive story editor (and the series’ worst scriptwriter) Jim Henshaw.
*Robey, interviewed by Wax, weighs in on the Micki-Johnny intimacy: “Why on earth would Micki be dating a dolt?” (2015, 420). Ouch! And, agreed.
E: I noticed that too; that’s at least the fourth time they’ve done a little Easter egg like that.
*Micki and Johnny think they’re in the clear, having reinstalled Johnny from Eddie’s dying body to his own. But then, Grandpa, whom we thought was dead, jumps out of the shadows to attack. Johnny stabs him, sending sawdust flying, but Grandpa resiliently re-stuffs himself, grabs the shotgun and starts firing. But he gets caught in one of the family’s own traps (a favourite horror moment) and hangs upside-down, sawdust flying in the stormy night. But, why is Grandpa alive? Or, what is Grandpa? Did Mike somehow transfer himself into his body? Did I miss something?
*Wax speculates that the (real) farmhouse used in the episode might have been the same one used for “Scarecrow” (1.11) (2015, 420).
E: Well, when Micki found the object, it was on Grandpa’s shirt, so I’m guessing the transfer happened at that point. But wouldn’t it have transferred Johnny’s consciousness instead? Or is it like a cursed USB drive and can store multiple person files at once? WE’LL NEVER KNOW.
The Verdict: “The Long Road Home” is stunningly shot and well-scripted. The cold opener is a little light, and arguably played for laughs (its cheesiness is not clearly intentional), but the tension in the rest of the episode is thick. There is no humor here, as there was in Tobe Hooper’s original, unsettling dread film, though the scenario features an equally bleak view of America (without Hooper’s clearly political thrust). This episode is probably the most the series ever leaned fully into horror. The procedural aspect is gone, and it’s just a fairly raw and violent ride into the territory of nightmares. It’s not perfect, but it’s an exercise in unsettling the viewer. It’s top 20 for me, and maybe even top 10.
E: OK, I must be sick in the head, because I thought there was some humor in it (see my thoughts below).
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): So, way back in the day, I used to think that Friday the 13th: The Series was a kind of proto-X-Files (in a similar way to Forever Knight as a proto-Angel). I now realize that that idea came directly from this episode, the details of which had faded over time (except for the fireplace scene, for some reason).
And I absolutely LOVE this episode. Visually and narratively, Kroeker and Binder suggest a blend of humor and horror that just wasn’t that common in series like this back then. Aside from the cursed object’s fidget spinner effect, the mood and the scares were created by lighting and the ever-creepy presence of taxidermy. My favorite shot: After the fireplace near-kiss, the camera cuts to a stuffed owl, its eyes wide as if in shock.
The script is tight, and so is the structure. You’ve got this little mini-sode at the start, playing like a modern noir (wife cheats on horrible husband with sexy lifeguard, schemes to body-swap them; you know, the usual) before going full-on Deliverance (with a Raimi-ish Evil Dead twist). I actually didn’t take that many notes, because I was so engaged with how the dread and horror builds and builds. In particular, the way that literally everything that came out of the brothers mouths suggested death, rape, and necrophilia, adding to the potential horror with only dialogue. It’s a bloodless slasher, essentially. Brilliant. And Robey, excellently, goes subtle rather than over-the-top; this may rival her performance in the basement scene in season one. This is what happens when you trust the viewer; you get a flash of the mailbox, so you know Micki and Johnny are walking into trouble (and really, guys, if there is a bunch of taxidermy out in the open, that’s a SIGN). But then it takes time for some character development, with a mention of Ryan and the nature of the work, tinged with dread because you know the brothers are coming back at some point. When the older brother is acting “weird” it’s easy to dismiss based on what we’d seen of him in earlier scenes, so the fact that Johnny had body-swapped with him was a surprise, but made perfect sense.
And the final bit, with the younger one stuffing his...stuffing back in, then hitting one of the aforementioned traps and swinging in the window was darkly hilarious and absolutely of a piece with the humor/horror thing throughout the episode.
Is it weird to call this episode fun? Because it totally was for me.
K: Not weird. I think I received it as less humorous because its absurdities didn’t seem all that off. It seemed fairly realistic (though I have no idea what the brothers do to support themselves, and stuffed grandfathers don’t usually come to life), and the dread in scenes like the diner scene was really heavy. As were the implications of what they were planning to do to Micki, how they planned to use her.
Season 3, Episode 16: “My Wife as a Dog” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Without a doubt, the very worst episode of the entire series. Gross. Wrong. Horrible. Hateful.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: This episode takes the series’ misogyny to its logical, hateful extreme. I was worried about this possibility when I saw the episode’s title, and the result confirmed everything I suspected. It’s a fucked-up Freaky Friday for the misogynist set. Returning guest star Dennis Forest is back in another lunatic role as firefighter Aubrey, whose wife has filed for divorce. He doesn’t want that, so he keeps stalking and hounding (ahem) her at work. And when he’s with the guys at the station, he says things like: “Too bad a woman can’t be more like your dog. Dependable, faithful.”
Enter Aubrey’s ailing dog—and soon after, a cursed leash (?!) with Aboriginal Australian origins—and we have this episode’s ludicrous mixture of misogyny, base appropriation of indigenous tradition, and ophidiophilia (bestiality). According to Jack’s explanation of this “leash of dreams,” “Aboriginal tribes have always had a great affinity with animals. And they don’t distinguish between waking reality and dreams. … They believe that whatever you can envision must become real; otherwise, the images couldn’t drop into your mind.” Totally intriguing territory, but Peter Weir's The Last Wave (1977) this is NOT.
Aubrey proves he’s quick to kill already when he strangles a colleague with the leash during a (well shot) house fire scene. He takes the leash home to find out that it returns his dog to health, and after three other kills discovers that the leash gradually transforms his dog into his wife, and vice-versa. The end result? The episode closer features Aubrey in prison for murder in the episode’s closer, and his dog-wife brings him his slippers. The final shot is a close-up of her, tongue out, panting for approval. I don’t even want to think about the kind of audience that would find this amusing. It’s fucked up, sick, and absurd.
I wish clumsy dialogue scenes where essential information about other characters is just dropped in to move the narrative along were this episode’s only offence. The only thing that makes Wax “a bit uncomfortable” in her book is the suggestion of bestiality (2015, 428). Director Mastroianni’s comments on said hints of bestiality also provide a parallel clue to the context for this episode’s vicious misogyny: “It was an atmosphere that allowed you to explore and experiment. Nobody was telling you not to. They were all saying, ‘Go for it. If we can’t use it, at least we know we did it’” (2015, 428).
Dennis Forest and some well shot scenes cannot overcome the politics; this episode represents the nadir of the entire series.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Ugh. I feel soiled by this episode. At best (well, there is no best), it’s a Henny Youngman/Don Rickles bit brought to life. I mean, there was no part of this episode that wasn’t gross. It suggests that we are supposed to feel sympathy for Audrey because his dog is dying, but this is immediately followed by a barrage of stalking, gaslighting, and being generally abusive to his soon-to-be-ex wife. And it’s not like he’s alone; his fellow firefighters are just as dismissive and misogynistic and entitled as he is, so he’s surrounded by no one who challenges his behavior. Except the one firefighter who tells him to grow up...and then gets strangled.
The only thing that pushes against this is casting Denis Forest, who plays these kinds of creeps so well. But then we have a button to the episode where, AGAIN, this type of behavior is excused by the “madness” loneliness causes. That is NOT what this is, dude, OK? It’s never that. At least “Epitaph,” which featured a similar type, did not attempt to excuse or justify his behavior. (Necrophilia and bestiality; dear gods, show!)
I don’t give Henshaw credit for it, because given the general tone and the horrifying ending, I doubt it was his intention, but Lea and Jodi are practically the only sympathetic characters here. Everything Lea says is correct: she clearly states she wants nothing to do with him, that his behavior is inappropriate. There is no ambiguity. Bonus, she’s got support in Jodi, who tosses him out and tells him he’s barred from coming in there.
Side note: Did I miss something? How did he know it was called the “Leash of Dreams”?
K: Jack always seems to be speaking from some sort of mythical or esoteric knowledge pool, maybe from his occult days?
E: Oh, I meant Aubrey. He calls it the “leash of dreams” as well.
K: Ohhhh. Weird.
And then that final scene, which you just KNOW they thought would be hilarious. It was reprehensible, and a slap in the face.
K: There’s just nothing at all funny about it. It’s reprehensible. And series like Tales from the Darkside have an occasional tendency to go there as well, but as my friend Mario has said, the pulp magazines often featured misogynistic tales where wives were the focus of much violence.
E: What’s even worse is that she is the one who suffers here; he may be in prison, but it’s Lea who pays the price. The implication here is what? That it’s the price she pays for being such a “bitch” as to leave her stalker husband? ARRRGHHH.
I think I hate this episode more than any other. BURN IT. BURN IT WITH FIRE.
K: It’s truly the worst of the series. Almost like it's trying to be.
Season 3, Episode 13: “Midnight Riders” (Allan Eastman, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Bikers, dead dads, and incest. Just another day for the Curious Goods gang.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: The first, and apparently only, episode of the series without a cursed object, but not that much the better for it in terms of uniqueness. The planets are aligning, and a gang of biker ghosts (the Dragon Riders) returns for vengeance and possible ascendance if they can kill off their adversaries before the final alignment. It’s astrology meets John Carpenter’s The Fog. Plus ghost bikers? This should’ve been great! There’s a legend of a group of men wronged, and a priest and a number of townfolk who are responsible. Add the appearance of Jack’s father into the mix, and we have another relatively overloaded premise that leaves almost zero room for the Jack/Jack’s dad story, and leaves the legend little time to really develop.
*Cold opener hilarity: Jack, Micki and Johnny are out in the night looking at the planetary alignment—and that’s not even the funny part. Jack and Micki are waxing cosmic, but Johnny is just … existing. [E: My favorite way for Johnny to be.] He does, at least, provide the episode’s opening and closing sentiment, a passing comet prompting him to say that his mom called them “heaven’s fireworks.”
*There’s a little family resemblance in that Jack’s father seems just as fond of portentous pronouncements as Jack: “They’re wandering spirits, looking for the leader they left behind,” he says of the bikers.
*The episode’s two “I think we’re alone now” lovers are confounded by their parents not wanting them to see each other, until they find out they’re (half-?) brother and sister. I can only imagine what Ryan would say if he were still around (and post-puberty).
The Curiosities: We learn in another pronouncement from Jack’s father that the bikers were wrongly accused (of rape), hence their return for vengeance: “We killed them for what they seemed to be, not for what they were.” Yet what exactly were they? The current leader of the gang wears an “SS” patch on his jean jacket, suggesting this was no Harry Potter fanclub (though perhaps it was a J.K. Rowling one?) (too soon?).
E: It’s never too soon for a sick Rowling burn. And yes, I noticed that too and talk about it below.
The Goods: This episode is a welcome twist on writer Jim Henshaw’s usual race against time to close a demon-style portal. Another welcome aspect is the play with urban legends. To the tale of this episode’s “Headless Biker” legend, Johnny adds mention of “The Hook” and “The Hanged Boyfriend.” The “Hook” is one that Stephen King mentions, a legend told mostly to scare necking teenagers out of their wits (and back into their pants). Director Allan Eastman also directed the tight “Hate on Your Dial” (3.7), so the episode moves at a good pace. And it occurs in the brief span of a single night.
E: It also gave me big time “Route 666” “Hook Man” vibes from season one of Supernatural. Perils of collaborating with someone in the midst of writing an SPN book; sorry about that.
K: I’m always up for a SPN parallel.
The Verdict: Despite two cool scenes—the biker gang bursting through the doors of the town church on wheels (and suggesting the bikers-in-church scene from Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels ), and the buried biker leader later bursting out of the earth on his motorcycle looking a bit like Iron Maiden’s “Eddie the Head”—it’s another one of the series’ just-okay episodes. Dammit.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): I felt like there was a better episode lurking beneath the surface; another instance of the show being “good enough” but not striving for better. Because there were some great visual moments, particularly around the bikers (eg, the church scene) and that each act opened with the moving planets aligning, and some of the dialogue pointed at a particular self-awareness (Tommy’s crack about those “dorks from Riverdale”; the quintessential clean-living comic teens, right?). Plus, a “sins of the parents”, buried secrets story (where we even get a bit of Jack backstory!), and the shift of having no cursed object, should make for a much more interesting episode than this ended up being.
Some of this was down to the narrative choices. You’ve got bikers showing up in town, as well as Jack’s dad (‘cause, sure, why not? [K: I’m with you; he could have been anyone.]) 17 years earlier, with the express goal of wreaking havoc. So, why is Cawley acting as if they are the innocent victims (“what they seemed to be is not what they were”)? I mean, they did beat up two teenagers for no reason except they were there. Obviously, the town’s response was horrifying, and makes the episode play like an homage to Nightmare on Elm Street (sins of the parents), but I’m not sure the suggested total exoneration Cawley implies with his statement is justified either.
K: I was going to add the Elm Street connection as well; if this episode were really willing to explore this notion, it would have been built more clearly on parallels between the biker past and the return of Jack’s father.
E: Also, if I found out that for months I’d been making out (or more) with my own half-brother, I would be so freaked out and disgusted and furious at both parents. I mean, that’s some Flowers in the Attic shit right there, and the episode really spends no time on it. (Perils of the semi-anthology, I know.)
The cheese: Johnny’s It’s a Wonderful Life bit about “heaven’s fireworks” and angels, with the implication that Cawley has ascended.
K: Again, Steven Monarque’s performative combination of “gee whiz” attitude and “oops, I farted” facial expressions lend themselves well to such hokum.
E: PERFECT description. Another “meh” from me on this one.
Season 3, Episode 14: “Repetition” (William Fruet, director; Jennifer Lynch, writer)
A masterful Jennifer Lynch-written gem about accidents, atonement, and guilt.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: This episode is a sustained exercise in dread, starting with its gruesome opening, where award-winning columnist of the year, Walter Cromwell runs down a little girl out for a walk with her dog, and only the dog returns home. (Way to kill this guy’s buzz, Jennifer Lynch!) From the point at which Walter decides to hide the body, to the ending where he sacrifices himself so that all he’s done to thwart that initial death can be put right, this episode is a tightly constructed treatise on the power of guilt.
Walter appears in the confession booth at least three times over the course of the episode, each time marking a point at which he is willing to take on increasing guilt, but only in the confidential framework provided by the Catholic church. [Erin, I suspect you’ll have a lot to say about this, as it’s the driving force of the entire episode.] Walter’s succession of bad choices is underscored by the cursed object itself, a cameo necklace (a gift from the girl’s grandfather we learn later) that he finds under the bumper of the car where he hit the girl. The cameo both gives a life for a life, and yet also dogs Walter with the voice of the latest victim trapped inside it, begging Walter to let their souls return to their bodies. Those constant voices drive Walter to distraction so that he loses his creative focus, his job, his will, his sanity, and ultimately his life.
Erin: Hee! I always have something to say about that. And I didn’t say it below, but the Catholic element (I know it shows up in Protestant denominations more strongly, but we were here before you, so, suck it) beyond the overwhelming guilt that it suggests more subtly—and darkly—is that of substitutionary atonement. In essence, we have Walter and his victims as sort of an “evil” version of “dying for your sins” before Walter realizes he has to put himself on the cross, so to speak. Oh, and resurrection, obviously.
K: As with several other of the cursed objects in the series, Walter’s use of it on himself (here intentional, but usually accidental in the series) breaks at least this “chain” of events so that the locket can be vaulted. How it gets to Micki at the Curious Goods store is one of this episode’s interesting innovations. A social worker who has met Walter in her homeless shelter becomes enmeshed in Walter’s story, and ultimately takes action to try to stop him. The social worker also knows Micki, and she unwittingly brings the locket to Curious Goods because of its ‘uniqueness’. The episode ends with a phone call from Jack, who’s away with Johnny watching “hot videos”... er, I mean, on a trip (see writeup for “Femme Fatale” [3.9]); the social worker overhears Micki saying that she hopes they’ve gotten the cameo before it does any harm, and the moment freezes on her shocked expression. The implication is that this might have become another recurring character on the show, once she’s been brought into the fold of secret occult knowledge the Curious Goods team has. I will say that this move would have been welcome, as the actress who plays Anne, Kate Trotter, is really wonderful. She also appeared in significant roles in “Quilt of Hathor” (1.19, 1.20, as Effie Stokes, the highlight of that relatively silly double episode) and the excellent episode “And Now the News” (2.3), both times as more villainous cursed object users, lending a kind of extratextual significance to her unwitting transfer of the cameo to Micki.
The uniqueness here is that the episode shifts focus entirely to Walter’s extended guilt, and Anne’s attempt to help him and, earlier, the mother of Heather, Walter’s accidental victim who goes “missing” for the month that Walter has her body hidden. Writer Jennifer Lynch’s (writer-director of 1993’s notorious Boxing Helena) script is not only tight as a drum around its Catholic guilt theme, balanced by the selfless charity of a character like Anne; it’s also the only episode that reduces the Curious Goods team—here represented only by Micki—to marginal figures in their own quest. It’s a side story about people who would otherwise have been relatively ordinary. I would say that this uniqueness sets it apart enough for at least a mention in our book, but what really crystallizes this episode’s top 20 (and possibly top 10) importance is its pondering of the deeply moral stance of Friday the 13th: The Series.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): What a gem of an episode! Again, we have a “guest” writer (in this case) that barely touches on the Curious Goods team, which seems to be a feature of bringing in someone new. Indeed, Lynch may be the only one who almost completely sidelines them; Micki appears for fewer than five minutes, and Jack and Johnny are, of course, completely absent. Yet it shows so well what can be done with the anthology/semi-anthology format when you’ve got good writing and direction to elucidate the themes of not only a single episode, but the series as a whole.
What really works here is that Walter is essentially a decent man; he writes a column that “looks out for the little guy,” cares for his ailing mother, and is hardworking (if a little boring). Indeed, the episode is almost entirely populated by decent people: the mother who won’t give up hope her child will be found, the physician who blames himself for Mrs. Cromwell’s death, the homeless guy who seems almost child-like in his trust, his fellow homeless friends who watch out for each other, even the editor who lays Walter off tells him he’s there for him if he needs him. And Anne Halloway, who only wants to help and does not judge those in her care, might be one of the most moral/empathetic characters we’ve seen.
K: Yes, and yet played by an actor who has played two of the more reprehensible characters in prior episodes!]
E: Nice catch; I missed that! It’s always been one of my narrative pet peeves to have a character in a book or film and series being described as a “good” person, merely because they are not actively bad.
In that respect, the narrative and character choices Lynch makes here highlight this SO well. Walter himself, at the start of the episode, quotes his mother as he’s receiving his award, and what she told him about responsibility: “never turn from them; tackle them as best we can.” The episode proceeds to basically test that idea in a delightfully Poe-like “Tell-Tale Heart” fashion.
K: A Poe reference. Bless you. And, yes!
E: The cameo was one of those low-key effects that works so well! He fails at the first test; rather than doing the right—if difficult—thing of owning up to falling asleep and causing the accident, he buries Heather as if it never happened. It’s interesting that he doesn’t find the locket until he hears his mother’s voice calling for him, as if that awakened his moral sense. This may be one of the few instances in the series where the cursed object user isn’t drawn to it (or outright buys it), but rather draws itself to him. While it was obvious that the only way out for him was to sacrifice himself, that scene was suspenseful and moving. That he did it for one of the “little guys” he supposed wrote his column provides a nice parallel and suggests he’s not entirely damned.
Also: two episodes of people waking up on the embalming table might be making me develop a phobia. The scene was horrible to contemplate, but kudos to the episode for acknowledging that is not a survivable situation, which makes Walter’s actions (to himself and the audience) all the worse.
Other things: while we’ve never seen them before and will likely never see them again, I like the idea that Micki has a group of female friends outside Curious Goods. This may be one of the most female-centric episodes of the series (and what a sad commentary that is). The final freeze frame on Anne, where she appears to overhear Micki, was interesting; obviously Micki keeps that side of her life from her non-Curious friends, but Anne clearly knows something weird happened.
Finally, this episode may say more about Lewis’s truly evil nature than all his cackling ever managed. The locket/cameo doesn’t really corrupt Walter; he is absolutely tortured by what he’s done, of which the object keeps reminding him and which will never be satiated. It browbeats him into damnation. In that respect, the homeless shelter offers a poignant symbol Lynch uses quite well: one mistake, one slip-up, and you could lose everything.
I feel like I have more to say, but also that I’ve said WAY too much. Either way, this is going in my personal top 10.
K: I’m with you on the top 10. You haven’t said way too much at all! Look at my write up for the next one, if you need to feel better about yourself. LOL.
PS. One pet peeve: I was raised Catholic, and no priest I knew would deny absolution unless someone went to the civil authorities. It worked for the plot, but….
K: This just means the plot is less effed up than Catholicism.
E: I mean, you’re not wrong. And it’s not entirely unbelievable; I could buy the priest telling him to go to the police—it’s a very “render onto Caesar” thing—but the denial of absolution was weird.
Season 3, Episode 11: “Year of the Monkey” (Rodney Charters, director; R. Scott Gemmill, writer)
The series displays its usual cultural sensitivity in an episode that borrows heavily from King Lear.
KRIS'S THOUGHTS: This conventional story of a generations-old family curse (not the usual type of curse for this series) has a lot going for it, at least initially: It’s a combination of fairy tale, turning on lessons of greed and honor (and pride); it recalls (and I’m not kidding) King Lear with its ailing (kind of ancient) Japanese father testing his children’s honor and honesty with a set of Monkey statues “brought from the underworld to challenge man’s virtue”; and it has Tia Carrere, who isn’t any better an actress than I remember her being.
Erin: Oh, you magnificent bastard! The Lear stuff was right there and I didn’t pick up on it. This English major hangs her head in shame.
K: We’re not always looking for the same things!
We later learn that the monkey trio, fashioned in the see, hear, and speak no evil mold has granted a kind of eternal life to their possessor, largely because he hasn’t found a single child among his children in many generations who is worthy enough to take on his financial “empire” (a word he uses). Thus, the explanation by one character that “The monkeys allow him to live long, if only he sacrifices his family to them.”Carrere’s Michiko, his only daughter this time around, proves worthy, but she impales herself rather than kill her father.
With Jack, Micki, and Johnny canvassing different parts of the world to pursue the children who possess the objects as a way of testing them (and all this just to get their hands on one of Vendredi’s actual cursed objects), the goals of this episode feel a bit fuzzy. The three kids, two of them total greedy dicks, and the third a pretty cool woman who prefers suicide to standing up to a father who— let’s face it— has killed generations of his offspring (were they all that awful?) probably should have been the focus here, but there’s yet another narrative related to the family’s backstory about thwarted love that isn’t very compelling.
It’s too bad, really, as the originating concept of a cursed object from another tradition could have been a nice variation on Lewis’s “I sold my soul to Satan” version. Even Wax is prompted to do a little digging into the origins of the three monkeys (2015, 398). Otherwise, she’s all logic questions, which this episode definitely begs. It’s filler for me—not good, yet not really bad enough for me to make a “see no evil episodes” joke.
E: Right? It’s in that special “meh” category. For some of these there is a distinct feeling that if they’d given the scripts just one more edit, it could have been much better. It’s the sense of not trying hard enough that bugs me.
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): I am always wary when a white show, with white directors and writers, sets their stories in another culture. I am not well versed enough in Japanese culture to know exactly how far off their portrayal of samurai culture was, but I’m pretty sure the three monkeys (and their powers) was wholly an invention of the show. And the “Year of the Monkey”? What is that supposed to mean, especially since (yes, I looked it up), 1990 was the Year of the Rat. It’s one of those: “Hey, let’s find some vaguely Asian thing and use that!”
Also, how does Tanaka (Japanese) have two children who are Chinese (hi, Tommy from “The Tattoo”!; hey, it’s Cassandra from “Wayne’s World!”) and one who is Filipino?
So, there was an interesting thread throughout the episode, of the father sacrificing his children for his own power that could have been far more resonant than it actually ended up being. Mushashi, too, was one of the first (and maybe only) person throughout the series who didn’t either disbelieve the Curious Goods team immediately, or ignore, or lie, but actually asked a really vital question: “Why should I believe you?” in response to Jack’s insistence that they were not gathering the cursed objects for evil. There is actually no good reason to think that they are trustworthy.
K: Yes, that was a good moment!
E: Finally, the monkeys go in the vault, rather than being returned to the temple they were stolen from? Oy. Is it really that hard to get these things right?
Feh. Not loving this episode, I must say.
Season 3, Episode 12: “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul” (R. Allan Kroeker, director; Carl Binder, writer)
A cogent take on toxic entitlement, featuring a necrophiliac mortician—an episode both of us were surprised even aired.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: A number of the episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series have titles that don’t quite fit the subject matter (“Wedding in Black” [2.21] among them), but none so much as this misnomer, whose titular mortician Eli, while lonely, is about the least sympathetic cursed object user in the series.
We open on a portrait of a forebear, here Neville Morton, founder of Morton Mortuaries, but the episode will turn on the actions of Eli, a solitary mortician whose loneliness, we learn, will make him susceptible to a cursed mortician’s aspirator, of which he comes into possession accidentally.
Erin: Was it accidental? It did seem as if he was subtly drawn to it when he saw it in the back of his fellow mortician’s van.
K: Maybe I meant coincidentally? Serendipitously? Certainly not fortuitously?
The exchange between the driver of the death van that brings in a new “client” for Eli, along with the aspirator, which was apparently used to murder someone (either I’m not clear on these details, or the episode isn’t) is classic, offering the perhaps expected crass commentary of two men who deal in death as a business: “Just a kid. Motorcycle accident. It’s gonna take plenty of cedar and wax.”
Eli initially seems sympathetic. As he begins work on the motorcycle victim, he remarks: “The mysteries of life, the universe … now, you know everything. Don’t you?” He then pops on some classical music and digs in. But, later, doubts as to whether this guy is a kind, thoughtful metaphysical ponderer who sees his job as a fine art, are confirmed by his decision to reanimate the 25 year-old dead wife of one of his clients because “All my life I’ve been alone, waiting for someone like you. Our destinies brought us together.”
With so much to do in a 45-minute episode—getting Jack and Micki onto the scene as our intrepid investigators being primary among them—there’s no way the script could follow through on the perverse and disturbing implications of its main scenario. But what’s there is provocative enough. Eli’s resurrection of his new “bride” Lisa (the first of two in the episode) results initially in a kind of a living doll, a reanimated body with no will and no memory that doesn’t know what it’s doing, even when it embraces him. Eli consummates his new relationship with Lisa (whom he renames “Deborah”) in this state, the shades of abduction, rape and necrophilia disturbingly upfront in his actions. Will she spend the rest of the episode prone to the manipulations of perhaps the show’s most perverse cursed object user? No, in fact. She will regain some memory, recognize fiancee Steve just before Eli kills him and reduces him to ash, and ultimately decide to die in flames as the mortuary burns down. The moment alludes back to James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935), with Karloff’s monster intoning “We belong dead.” It’s no surprise that the moment will recall a classic Universal horror film, since director Binder’s script for a previous episode, “Symphony in B#” (2.5), evokes Phantom of the Opera and the later independent horror classic Deathmaster (1972). The Glenview Mortuary over which Eli presides is also a castle-like building left in ruins in the end.
E: Ooh, star this! Clearly this is an element of Binder’s work!
K: Totally. He’s one of the series’ best writers (and he also directs an episode or two).]
The Curious / Goods:
*The show airs in 1990, but again the date reads a year earlier. A sign of production context.
*As Eli raises his second “bride” to a seated position on the gurney, her bones crackle.
*There is a continual balance between the gruesome reality of death and the fragility of the body, and the spiritual accouterments we heap onto these things to deny them in the effort to find closure. The mortuary’s chapel with its open casket and artfully displayed body feeds into a corridor of clinical whiteness that connects the chapel to both the embalming room and the apartment where Eli lives. The fine separation between where we live and where we die is collapsed together here into a single space.
*In the climactic scene, we have three women victims, and Micki manages to coax the newly resurrected second “bride” to release her from her constraints. Micki is able to save herself but not the two others, who, again, “belong dead.”
*Director Kroeker notes that the effect of the aspirator plunging into the bodies of the living and dead in the episode had to be censored because one of the sponsors, an unnamed car company, requested cuts (in Wax 2015, 404).
Interviewed for the Wax book, director Kroeker notes that the episode is “all about the destructive folly of control” (403). Um, okay. It’s also one of the more “aware” evocations of that control relating to white male privilege. Here, the position of power over life and death, and the rights to a woman’s body, are all centered in Eli’s (and, if we include the cursed object itself, Uncle Lewis’s) horrendous acts. There is one last detail that fits this notion as well— that the cursed aspirator was ‘rumored’ to have been used first by mortician Nevill Morton himself, possibly to kill his own wife.
E: Bringing in his work on “Ariel” would be really relevant here, as that episode revolves all around the way River’s body/brain was invaded/changed for the Alliance/Blue Sun to control her.
K: Interesting. I just took a look at Kroeker’s work, and he did Dollhouse and Supernatural, and a bunch of other stuff, as well.
This one may crack the top 25 for me.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): I did not expect to like this one as much as I ended up doing so. With the title, and the start of the episode, it seemed as if the episode was pushing sympathy for Eli. And yet, it really didn’t. If they’d wanted to garner sympathy, there are any number of tricks they could have employed: a brief flashback of a lost love, or a tragic accident (a la “Badge of Honor”). Instead, Eli comes off as super creepy from the start, with the possessive way he touched Lisa’s corpse. (Steve seemed put off by it in that first scene; as if Eli was grossing him out in a way he couldn’t quite define.)
K: My cursor will battle your cursor for supremacy! Ahahahahaa!
E: It’s Cursor Thunderdome!
E: Eli was grossing ME out in a way that I could totally define.
K: Hahaha. Word. And the way they attempt to recover him from the creepy-ass presentation in the rest of the episode (as you say next) just doesn’t work.]
E: Never mind Micki’s assertion of Eli’s loneliness at the end “driving him mad”; that was, as I mentioned above, way more than the story as seen on screen suggests. I was surprised at how in no way did the episode shy away from the necrophiliac aspects of Eli’s behavior; the scene with Lisa lying corpse-like on the bed as he moved in on her was….yikes. For a Bush-era episode, the portrayals of Eli and Lisa, as well as Micki’s appeal to the newly resurrected Linda, showed a (sadly) surprising awareness of both gender dynamics and the reality of what this really was: a man who couldn’t deal with developing any kind of normal relationships, due to a desire for control.
K: Yes! Smart.
E: Yet, because neither Binder nor Kroeker even really hint at the reasons for it, it allows us to read it as not just Eli’s problem, but maybe a privilege problem. (I mean, how many episodes of this show alone feature men who do horrible things because they feel it’s “owed” them?)
K: Again, we share the same brain.
E: Micki’s “he’s going to abuse you” speech was absolutely on point, and Lisa and Linda embracing in the flames, choosing to be at peace, was moving.
If there’s one aspect that didn’t quite work, it was Micki and Jack’s stubborn insistence that Steve was imagining things in his grief. (This may have been plausible in season one, but not at this juncture.) And yet it also kind of did work, because in an episode about control and gender, they basically “well, actually”-ed him. Steve’s “Don’t apologize for me,” was an interesting combo of Micki both dismissing Steve’s concerns/feelings and deferring to Eli.
Finally, Allan Kroeker is actually a familiar director to me. Not only did he direct a number of Forever Knight episodes, but “Ariel” from Firefly, “True Believer” from Dollhouse, and “Faith” from season one of Supernatural. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to watch those eps again and see if there is a signature style….
K: I’d be into that. ;-) OH! I just realized that Kroeker also directed “The Long Road Home” (3.15). That’s a good one!
E: Ooh, and it occurs to me that not only “Ariel” is about control, but also SPN’s “Faith” (a preacher’s wife controls a Reaper to give her husband healing powers and punish those she thinks are “sinful”) and DH’s “True Believer” is about a religious cult.
This is definitely a top 20 episode for me.
K: I do like it, and I am easily convinced on this one. I think that what might bump it out of the top 20 for me (if there isn’t room) is how much it’s trying to do, and the sense that it feels a bit overstuffed. The implications in the script are so large, it feels weird to not have them more fully, excessively explored. And then again, this is commercial TV, and we are at the mercy of the sponsors.]
Season 3, Episode 9: “Femme Fatale” (Francis Delia, director; Jeffrey Bernini, writer)
A 1940s film director gets off on his own creation, and the two guys of Curious Goods “bond” over some “hot videos.”
KRIS'S THOUGHTS: A little bit of Sunset Blvd. here, slightly flipped, with famous 1940s director Desmond Williams (a name that evokes that film’s Norma Desmond) bringing in the young ingenue to watch a film that will transport her onto the screen to die in place of the director’s beloved creation. Lilli Lita is the star of A Scandalous Woman, in which the heroine dies in the end, and she is also the director’s aged wife, an invalid sick in bed, largely (we presume) because she’s being gradually poisoned by her husband, who prefers the character she played to the person she now is. “As long as she’s alive I’ll never be free of that damned film,” says the younger femme fatale version of Lilli, thus establishing the logic of the cursed film print: if current Lilli dies, film Lilli lives.
The concept is fun, as is the episode. But I’m not sure it goes much further than this for me. For one thing, the actress who plays the younger Lilli, stuck in a femme fatale character from a film noir world, is only occasionally a convincing presence. Her successes occur mostly in the black-and-white film in which she’s “stuck,” saying juicy lines like, “I came for the only thing you can give me … a light.” In fact, I wish the manifestation of Lilli from the print were to appear in the show’s reality in black-and-white, as well. That would have been an extra reason for director Desmond’s wish for her not to be seen in his reality.
Erin: Ooh, that would have been so cool. They may not have been able to manage that, technologically.
K: I’m pretty sure they did something similar with the episode “13 O’Clock” (2.9).] Given that Desmond’s films were still being shown, hiding her away seemed ridiculous; anyone who saw her at the screening would have probably thought she was just cosplaying.
E: I’d have to look it up, but it might have actually been a practical effect; ie, body paint and grey clothes.
K: Micki, of course, gets trapped in the film, to live out its scripted scenario where the femme fatale meets her doom, gunned down at the end of a car chase. The climax of the episode runs parallel with this, played out in Desmond’s private screening room (where several others have met their fate). I love that Lilli shows up after Desmond tries to kill her by smothering her with a pillow: “Death scenes were always my forte,” she intones. Awesome! Though her subsequent lines are unnecessary and force a reading on the proceedings that isn’t necessary: “You said you loved me. But what you really loved was that pathetic coward that I portrayed. … I am not that slut you created for your movie.” More effective perhaps is Micki’s comment about being trapped in a genre film (or a semi-anthology horror TV series?): “I was completely at the mercy of everyone around me. I never felt so manipulated.”
E: I actually wrote, “Way to go, Lili!” And yes, loved Micki’s line at the end.
*At the beginning of the episode, Jack appears after a long night “partying,” according to Micki. Jack says they were playing chess, but Johnny has told Micki they stayed up until 4:45am watching “hot videos.” I’m not sure what to make of this detail, on a number of levels, aside from the fact that it ties together the episode’s focus on the moving image and erotic desire.
*Also, I guess this is partly why Johnny seems so resistant to seeing a film noir (in Johnny’s words, a film “they play all the time on TV”) with his new girlfriend. (Incidentally, if there were any more reason not to like Johnny, this works for me.) I’m glad his date ditched him. I’m also pleasantly surprised to see that Johnny’s date, who idolizes director Desmond, doesn’t become a victim of the cursed film print. I guess it’s because it wasn’t Ryan she was dating!
E: Snort. Maybe Gen X Ryan will have greater luck than Baby Boomer Ryan; the curse that made him a kid cures his peen of death!
The Verdict: Fun, but ultimately a bit inconsequential. Probably like having a sex date with Johnny.
E: Hee! And yes, EWWW on the idea of Jack and Johnny watching porn together. Is that a thing straight guys do?
K: It is. As a queer guy, I find it totally hot. But maybe not so much with Jack and Johnny.
E: Hee! I get to learn something new every day!
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): I’m not sure it’s possible (and certainly not by 1989) to have an episode about film or television and not have it be even a little metatextual. Certainly they did here, from fun little Easter eggs to the more serious thread of Desmond’s use of young women to feed his fantasy (and thereby literally destroy them).
I appreciate it when it’s clear the writer did his or her homework: Desmond’s “A Scandalous Woman” says it was released by Paramount, who, of course, co-owns CBS (which produced and aired Ft13th: TS), but it was also known for its noir output. There’s also a fun little Easter egg in the opening credits of the film; it lists “Frederick Mollin” as the composer of the film score; indeed, Fred Mollin is the composer of the series’ score.
What I found really fun (and a bit subversive) was the Sunset Blvd.-ness of it, down to naming the main villain Desmond.
K: Yes! Although his name should have been Norman Desmond, to riff on both Sunset Blvd.’s Norma Desmond, and Norman Bates.
E: Old Lili may wear the turban, but Desmond is the real out-of-touch diva here.
K: Haha, totally.
E: Gender-swapping the one who felt like “it was the pictures that got small” and retreating further and further into his own fantasy allows the episode to say some pretty on-point things (at least for the late 80s) about power and control. Older Lili has accepted that she has grown older and changed; Desmond has not. He needs constant attention and adulation (as did Norma). The real surprise, however, is Film Lili’s realization and assertion of her own autonomy, and being enraged at how he objectified her and diminished her contribution. “You’re mine! I created you!” (Pity it’s followed up by her dying due to exposure to horrible special effects.). There’s a deeper point to make about the predatory nature of studios/directors/producers and the actors/actresses they too frequently used, abused, and discarded. Micki’s “I felt so manipulated” while in the film is both apt and could be looked at as a commentary on how the show treats Micki overall.
K: Yes, I say the same thing above, as you know. We share the same brain sometimes.
Verdict: Fun (so much better than the last one) but with surprisingly deep moments.
PS. Geez, I can count on one hand the amount of characters named “Erin” in films or books or TV shows, and I had to get the whiny one who thinks noir is romantic? GRRRR. Still, she was smart enough to ditch Johnny.
Season 3, Episode 10: “Mightier than the Sword” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Brian Helgeland, writer)
A smart take on true crime, celebrity, and the lust of retribution, with the incomparable Colm Feore.
KRIS'S THOUGHTS: This episode is tightly constructed and deftly written around the fascination the general public has for serial killers. The cold opener (quite long at 6.5 minutes) nails the complexity of this, with its group of protesters outside a prison having a tailgate party with ice-cold beer to support the death of a killer. “Die, Fletcher, Die! … Gas him, gas him, gas him! … Time’s up, buddy!” (Side note on a little inconsistency: Arizona, California, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri and Wyoming are the only states that use the gas chamber, placing this episode’s events somewhere not where the shot takes place.)
Colm Feore plays Alex Dent, a crime biographer who uses the cursed pen to turn innocent people into killers whose murders he turns into bestselling true crime books. It’s a smart concept. Feore is an excellent actor, conveying the cold cruelty necessary for his particular use of the cursed fountain pen. Dent’s best line (outside of the juicy passages he writes) is directly related to his wicked greed. After rendering a priest an eventual killer with his “poisoned pen,” he intones: “He’ll be more than a new man; he’ll be a bestseller.”
Erin: He was SO good!
K: Micki, who will become Dent’s final victim, inadvertently sets herself up for the victim role when she intones early on, “Serial killers aren’t my idea of a good read.” Reluctantly, she attends a talk by Dent with Jack and Johnny (who, we’ve learned in a prior episode, is a budding writer of trash—his source of inspiration is a publication like The National Enquirer or Weekly World News). At the talk, Dent’s “Evil is a disease” thesis is an interesting comment considering that the pen requires the transmission of fluids. (This is the 80s, after all, and anxieties around the Reagan-denied HIV-AIDS crisis would still have been rather high.) Dent advances evil as a biological process, a disease. And considering his cursed pen requires blood, a blood he writes with, the metaphor is compelling, even as the HIV-AIDS context makes the idea of “evil” biological transference deeply problematic.
It’s interesting here that the cursed pen allows Dent to create his own true crime serial killer narratives using real men (and eventually Micki) as his “protagonists.” The brother of one of Dent’s victims who has an outburst at his talk (“You glorify serial killers!”) notes as much. But on a more nuanced critical level the episode suggests that true crime books do in fact manufacture the kind of fascination that, if it doesn’t create serial killers, certainly centers them and not their victims. The man at the talk says, “You didn’t even know my brother!,” here perhaps inadvertently tagging the notion that true crime almost never focuses on the victim, despite the fact here that victim and victimizer are at least partly one and the same.
The Cheese, the Beautiful Cheese:
*I love the scene with Marion, Alex’s estranged wife, watching the news conference in curlers, plotting blackmail, and putting out her cigarette in her coffee.
*Another scene where the Curious Goods team is allowed to wander onto a police operation scene—this one where Dent is poised to meet the killer. They lose Dent when he unplugs his wire, and yet Johnny and Jack are allowed to lurk in the background.
* The address on Micki’s driver’s license: 666 Druid Ave / Hilldale, USA / 90039 (a Los Angeles zip code).
*The artist’s rendering of Micki as “female slasher” pictured on a TV newscast is fantastic! (See image below.) I hope Robey got to keep it.
*As they break into Micki’s murder of Dent, Johnny’s line to Jack, who has the pen: “Pull the evil from her neck!”
The Verdict: One of the better ones, top 20.
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Pardon the pun, but that was definitely more than a few cuts above the usual episode. In some respects, it’s touching on the same material as both “Poison Pen” (the writing implement that lets you control others) and “Double Exposure” (guy gains popularity through creating the crimes he reports on). Yet the blend actually transforms the material here into a highly enjoyable, beautifully cheesy episode.
There is an element here that initially seems to suggest to me, as a child of the 80s, the PMRC [K: I don’t catch the acronymic reference!] [E: Sorry! It stands for the Parents Music Resource Center; it was headed by Tipper Gore and claimed bands like Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest were corrupting kids’ minds. It’s why we still have “Parental Advisory” stickers on music releases.] [K: Ah, yes. I remember Tipper’s righteous campaign. I never knew it was called that!] stuff: that violent imagery, books, or music lead to violence. (Just one of the innumerable ways the 1980s were “1950s: The Sequel”.) I say suggests: Jack straight up says it with regard to Billy/Alex, that writing pulp novels made him violent. Yet the rest of the episode seems to undermine that reading. It isn’t just him; from the very first scene, the writer/director seem to purposefully suggest Alex is tapping into the general bloodlust of the population. I absolutely love the cross-cutting between inside the prison walls and outside, where the crowd is shouting “Gas him!” while drinking beer and dancing. (A little close to the current reality.)
K: Agreed. Mind-bending, that.
E: That Alex monetizes and gets off on it doesn’t make the others’ behavior better. (And to go full Freudian for a minute: “get off on it” is exactly how it’s shot, as he sweats and stops and rubs his sore hand. Yup.)
K: Get yer mind outta the gutter! (Also, agreed.)
E: Hee! Never!
The plot here moves fast and the dialogue is crisp. Not once did my attention flag; this was a remarkably well-constructed and well-written episode. Too many times it’s glaringly obvious what the cursed object does, and thus makes the Curious Goods team look slightly idiotic for not getting it right away. But this wasn’t entirely clear at the first instance, and it remains slightly mysterious at the end. (In a good way.) Was there a first killer Billy met with and jabbed with the pen, or did Billy/Alex make the first one, and then continue to “create” them? It suggests the “disease” metaphor quite well, with Billy/Alex as the vector and the pen as an infected needle. (As an AIDS metaphor, it’s both subtle and not subtle, but the conflation with “evil” is troubling, to say the least.)
Robey did a pretty good job with the empty-eyed serial killer bit [K: Agreed. I love her performance.], and I loved the connection to the slasher genre not only in Alex’s naming of her, but the final jump scare at the end. For once, the episode doesn’t hand wave the negative/lasting consequences of the work. Of course, the real gem is Colm Feore’s Alex, who brings the same intensity he had as the ballet maestro in “The Maestro” (2.23) to Alex’s smirking “king of sleaze.”
This is a top 20, if not top 10 for me, even with the clear green-screening during Micki’s breakdown.
K: It has to be intentionally unreal. There was no reason for this except to suggest a destabilizing of Micki’s reality. I see it as a conscious choice to turn a familiar space, the Curious Goods’ overstuffed display floor, to an uncannily compromised space of off-kilter nightmare.
E: I meant to say above: I really like your take on this!
Season 3, Episode 7: “Hate on Your Dial” (Allan Eastman, director; Nancy Ann Miller, writer)
An interesting—if deeply problematic—take on toxic families and the persistence of hate.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: At its most political, this show is disturbing and important. In this context, this episode is the first from season 3 worthy of discussion at length in our book. It’s equally as political as writer Nancy Ann Miller’s previous effort, “Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22), but dramatically different in tone. It’s also more problematic in what it’s trying to do.
The cold opener features a scene in a garage between brothers Archie and Ray Pierce. Archie is noticeably “slow” (a word used in the script; Johnny’s word for him later is “retarded”), and Ray is noticeably a racist pig, longing for days past in Mississippi when their daddy was in the KKK. Daddy was later hanged for killing a black man, leaving only the two boys and their mother, a young actress wearing old-age makeup, suggesting clearly that this will be a flashback episode. The boys are working on a white 1954 Chevrolet in this scene that will figure pivotally later when Johnny accidentally sells a cursed factory-made ‘54 Chevy radio to Archie (adding in a confederate flag that just happens to be in the Curious Goods shop as a bonus).
Curiously (ahem), the radio comes to the shop when a Black woman brings in box of “junk.” for this viewer, at least, the suggestion was that this could be a case where the radio’s “allegiances” are to a cause that is not necessarily that of the owner, which would have made this episode in some ways more trenchant in its investigation of racism. I’ll explain. In the episode “Crippled Inside” (3.4), the so-called benefits of regaining sensation in her body ultimately result in the protagonist’s moral corruption and rather tragic death. In “Hate on Your Dial,” the radio gives Ray what he desires: to return to a time and place where his vicious racism could be more out in the open. (Of course, he could have waited for the Trump era for this.) But the “tragic” ending for Ray—burned at the stake as a spy at a KKK rally by his own father—is inadvertent. Had the radio transported Ray back to 1954 actively as a way to punish him, rather than fulfill his desire to be freer in his hate, the episode might have a different edge in its entirely white-centered narrative. At least, in other words, there would be at least a centering of Black agency in the cursed object itself, which would offset the episode’s problematic discussion of racism’s degenerative effects on white families.
The question is, can this episode push past its white-centering? The answer is, unfortunately, no. The script refers to Black Monday, “the day all white folks got in trouble,” possibly a riff on the more typical use of the term to indicate moments of stock market crashes and ensuing economic depressions. And in keeping with the sidelining of this once-mentioned event, we see nothing of the black families affected, just Black victims being persecuted by hooting and yee-hawing white folks. The “tragedy” here is one of how racial hate tears apart white families, and the episode ends with Ray’s father burning him at the stake thinking him a spy, and on the final image of Mrs. Pierce in tears holding the photo of her family.
Erin: Yes! Like the previous episode, it’s privileging the wrong pain.
K: As he and Jack drive “back to the future,” Johnny’s last line is, “I can’t imagine what it must have been like being black here.” And that is part of the problem: neither can this episode, which doesn’t do anything to center that reality, instead electing to unsettle whiteness. And yet it does unsettle white viewership. An early flashback scene in a diner plays out like a stage, with a Black man touching a white waitress and ensuing violence watched by the white patrons. The white TV viewer will likely feel their own positionality in this uncomfortable scene, but how is a Black viewer meant to be addressed here? Their discomfort comes from being aligned (yet again) with victimhood.
The early scene in which Ray torments a kind and friendly young Black kid—making him dance to flying bullets in a basketball court—and then shoots him in the back while he crawls away is an all-too-familiar image, then, now, and in the past. The episode centers the past, but the Rodney King riots are just two years away (29 April to 4 May, 1992).
Jim Henshaw, Executive Story Editor for the series, marks this as the series’ best episode, but I would suggest it might instead be the series most exemplary “best intentions” episode. While it handles the subject of racial hate head-on, it fails to situate this experience at all with the perspective of marginalized people, who exist as figures to support a tragic narrative of degenerate whiteness. And yet, taken in the context of the whitewashed, amnesiac, denying Reagan era’s “Morning in America,” the episode is doing some important things.
For one, this is the most fucked-up twist on Back to the Future (1985) that I could imagine, and it almost is a critical lesson in what could have been done with that idea instead of revisiting the 1950s as some sort of nostalgia trip. (“Time travel back to a frightening future …” intones the episode promo.) Ray meets his own mother, pregnant with him, and comes to learn that his father’s racial hate is accompanied by acts of violence on his own family. The question of the witness that puts Ray’s father away for murder is never answered, and yet it has to be Ray Pierce’s mother. She’s a silent sufferer in the present, and a silent witness in the past, to discussions of the crime in the family home, and to her husband’s violence with Archie (to stop him from chanting, “Daddy killed a Negro” over and over again). It seems she will act as a witness in part to get him out of the house, and in part due to her conviction that Black folks are “just people like us,” which she says to the grown version of her son, Ray, in the past—again, while he’s gestating in her belly. The fact that Archie in the present narrative is an ally of marginalized folks—telling Ray at one point that he doesn’t like Ray’s violent treatment of his Black friend, Elliott (the boy whom Ray later kills)—is as much an act of resistance to an ideology of hate as his mother’s turning witness against her husband.
E: It’s the smallest flash; while Ray is burning, the episode briefly shows what is going on in Steve’s head; he hears Ray saying “there’s a witness” and he sees his wife. He knows who will turn him in.
K: In a bit of foreshadowing of similar family violence, at around 29:15, Ray bludgeons Archie to death with a ball peen hammer. As Archie falls to the floor, the confederate flag falls with him. The image (below) would make a compelling screenshot for the book. Another interesting image follows just after, when Jack and Johnny are transported back with Ray to 1954, as Ray rushes to escape the murder scene. As Ray tears off into town, Jack and Johnny stand in the middle of a country road in front of a giant billboard of a smiling Eisenhower backed by the confederate flag and the familiar tagline, “I like Ike.”
There are other significant details in the episode that feel rather characteristic of scriptwriter Miller’s previous satirical gifts in “Wedding Bell Blues,” and that undercut some of the episode’s earnest white-centering. One comes in a visual motif that features the town sheriff always sweating. Later, arriving half-heartedly to break up a white protest of Black lawyer Henry Emmett’s efforts to bring justice, he also mentions the sweltering heat. For all his confidence and bravado, he’s “sweating it.” Everything the sheriff says to Emmett as he quells the protest reads like a warning, something Emmett confronts him with. It comes as no surprise, then, when later a captured Jack observes that one of the KKK members has the same shoes as the sheriff.
In another such detail, following the protest, the moment where Jack’s friendly warning to Emmett ends in his being thought of as a KKK member is on point: “Thank you, sir,” says Emmett. “I have to say that I’ve never been intimidated so politely.” At least the script doesn’t let Jack come off as a white savior.
In a later scene in the final 1954 segment, Ray comes in after Archie has been beaten by his father, and he doesn’t even ask until well into the conversation while Archie is on his mom’s lap badly injured. Here is Ray, after having killed his own brother in the present, looking upon him, brutalized and abused in the past, by a father that will later burn Ray himself at the stake, Ray pleading, “Daddy don’t!,” as his face burns off.
E: What’s even worse? He HEARS Archie being beaten and actually fucking shrugs and drives off. BURN HIM.
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Well, this was brutal to watch, although it taps into what went fairly unacknowledged at the time this aired; the Boomer second wave, of which Ray would be a part, were frequently just like him. (Witness, as per example, Randall Terry, the guy who started Operation Rescue.) These are the Boomers that missed out on the economic boom of the 60s and came of age in the 1970s. They generally were super pissed off and blamed everybody except the ones that were actually responsible. Ray fits this mode quite well.
(The episode also takes a page from, in my view, The Twilight Zone movie section “Time Out,” particularly the fate of the bigoted “time traveller”.)
K: Interesting. The ill-fated one with Vic Morrow? There is also a segment of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery that does this kind of thing better than anything I’ve ever seen on television, before or since.]
E: Oooh, want to see! And yes, the Morrow one.
K: It’s in the series pilot, the last segment, called “The Escape Route,” about a Nazi in hiding in South America.
E: I found this episode extremely difficult to watch. The whipping/beating scene went on for too long; I had to fast forward. There is a line—at least for me—between what serves the narrative and what becomes gratuitous. The mention of Roots in the episode is instructive; having aired maybe 10 years earlier, and containing scenes of abuse such as were shown here. At the time, that was groundbreaking, and given that Alex Haley wrote the source material based in part on his own family history, it has a different resonance. Because the episode stays firmly in the point of view of the white characters (even those with good intentions), the violence it shows becomes even more problematic; we don’t get the perspective of the victims at all. Even the fact of having Archie be a stand-in for the other marginalized people (and hands-down the most sympathetic white character) doesn’t quite push it into “white savior” territory, but still privileges the white perspective in a story about racism.
K: On point.
E: There are some things that this episode absolutely nails. One, that you can’t tap into that rage and expect it’s not going to be enacted against anyone who gets in your way. While this seems obvious, clearly the writer understood the psychology of that time of person well enough to show that no one was safe from it; poor Archie. Even better? Unlike “The Shaman’s Apprentice”, when Henry Emmett (that last name cannot be accidental) tells Jack that it was the most “polite” intimidation he’d gotten, Jack’s first instinct ISN’T to try and “not all white people” him. He reads the time and the situation exactly right; there is no way that Jack, no matter his intentions, can communicate that information to Henry without it sounding like intimidation.
K: Agreed. And, funny that the same humility and comprehension could be given to an Indigenous person in “Shaman.”
E: That the sheriff was complicit was expected; that he was in the Klan and responsible for burning Ray and attempting to do the same to Henry was a bit of a turn. (Not sure this qualifies as a plot hole, but if the sheriff is in the Klan and is himself guilty of murder, how did Steven ever come to trial, never mind being convicted and hanged?) The constant use of the word “boy” directed at African American men of all ages. Finally, that racism isn’t “solved” or a product of the past. “The future isn’t much more comforting.” Jack, you’ve no idea.
K: It’s quite a different voice here from Ryan’s notion in “Eye of Death” (2.13) that “in my time, no one thinks badly of” the confederacy. And yet, that these two statements can come in the same series suggests a very messy and unformed series politics, mostly conservative with the occasional blip of subversion and critique. This episode is almost a capsule of the rest of the series in that respect.
E: This, I think, is a significant issue with the anthology/semi-anthology format overall, and the era. Excepting Lear and MTM Productions, the era of the “showrunner” was more than a decade later. There’s no real sense of this as a “Mancuso” production, so it is the writers/directors who set the narrative and visual tones, rather than having an overarching POV that is typical of showrunners now. Add that to the lack of a strong arc and it makes it indeed makes it messy and hard to pin down.
K: This makes me think it might be a good idea to take a look at the most truly subversive episodes, and locate the more critical voices (writers, directors) on the show. We could even do a separate list of top ten “most subversive/political/edgy” episodes. I’m not sure this one would make the cut, solely for its white-centering narrative. We could make a “Nice try” list to compliment it!
E: I LOVE every part of that idea. I think it makes the most sense in approaching these types of shows; it should have occurred to me before, but I’ve gotten so used to that particular paradigm that it didn’t. Not to veer too far off, but Caldwell’s Televisuality is a good read for this, particularly when he talks about the zero-style aesthetic of TV in the 1970s which prized the writing/acting over the visuals. It’ll take some digging, I think, but I think focusing on individual writers/directors is already kind of baked into what we’ve done here.
I also was surprised by some of the plot turns. I’d figured out that Margaret was probably the witness about the halfway mark, and figured that might be a turning point for Ray. Instead, he never figures it out, and dies horribly. (Am I sad about that? No. Does it trouble me that it doesn’t make me sad? A little.
K: It’s hard to be sad because the episode’s centering of whiteness is so troubling, you feel like you’re forgetting to be outraged by that, if you’re sad for Ray.
E: That Steven was responsible for what happened to Archie also surprised me, and the way in which Ray mythologized his father would lead where it did was exactly right in terms of his character. The way this episode resonates with what’s happening today makes it a chilling watch, from the mythologizing of the past to the fact that the “radio” is a conduit to enacting hate is a subtle touch from a show that’s rarely subtle.
K: Interesting, yes. And connects to “The Butcher” (2.19) with its radio show, and, to a lesser extent, “And Now the News” (2.3). The radio gets a lot of “airtime” on this series. I’m about to watch “Spirit of Television” (3.18), so we’ll see where that one takes us.]
Season 3, Episode 8: “Night Prey” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Peter Mohan, writer)
The introduction of a community of vampires plays fast and loose with the show’s mythos, pushing this one into backdoor pilot territory.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: In this episode’s cold opener, a pensive, melancholic Jack sits on a boardwalk bench at night, musing on the blurring of distinctions between good and evil (his words are quoted in full in Wax [2015, 370]). It’s a scene in keeping with the times, with the romantic vampire popularized by Anne Rice (1976) now at the height of its popularity. The decade began with John Badham’s (1979) sexy Dracula played by Frank Langella, and the TV series Cliffhangers’ (1981) Dracula played by Michael Nouri. And Interview with the Vampire (1994) was soon to come. Intimations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) come as well with much of the action taking place in a post-industrial warehouse space where vampire hunter Kurt has holed up in an attempt to reclaim his fiancee, kidnapped and turned years before in 1969 by hot vampire Evan Van Hellier (A vampire stole my bride!).
Bonus note on the cold opener (and one later scene): Conventional populism would suggest the opening scene of two ill-fated lovers being stalked by a vampire be underscored by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”; yet, here, a pleasant surprise comes in the use of music used by Stanley Kubrick for a morose ending scene in Barry Lyndon (1974) (it’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat major, D. 929 [Op. 100] 2nd Movement by Franz Schubert). Director Mastroianni seems to be the one who chose the piece, and its placement as a motif in the episode (interviewed in Wax 2015, 75-6).
E: OOOH! Nice catch; that’s brilliant, and thumbs up to Mastroianni!
All cool with the setup. But has the series ever fully acknowledged the supernatural existing outside of what cursed objects make happen? Here, there are vampires regardless of the cursed objects’ power. So, what exactly is the mythos or “‘verse” of Friday the 13th: The Series, then? The latter episodes of Season 2 and several episodes of Season 3 thus far seem to be playing fast and loose with the show’s established tropes, with Micki’s occult powers, Ryan’s reversion to a child self, and now the presence of vampires in the show’s reality. And I would find this experimentation more intriguing, I suspect, if any of these ideas were sustained beyond a single episode. Maybe this is the special superpower of the semi-anthology series—to be able to pick up and drop reality-altering ideas for the show without repercussions.
I would say that the above hermetically-sealed element includes Jack’s early identification with the vampire’s own compulsion to “hunt,” and his morbid and dark musings at episode’s end about vampires, after he has let one of them live: “I wish I had their wisdom. … They must understand more than we do. God help me, I almost envy them.” We almost invariably see Jack as a support system for the younger set when they have these moments. This kind of deep thoughts moment is usually reserved for Jack’s wise pronouncements. His morbidity here is just not prepared for elsewhere in the series.
The Cheese: Okay, let’s talk requisite lesbian vampire makeout scenes. Or let’s not. But here’s a fairly upfront place where the horror series’ luridness meets that of late-night TV. All the big cable/satellite channels at the time—Showtime, The Movie Channel, Cinemax, HBO—had their late-night softcore erotica, and the Playboy Channel (1982-89) was very popular on cable and satellite at this time (it continued on and still exists, rebranded as Playboy TV), and the fact that these scenes made the cut for syndicated TV (Mastroianni expresses surprise that they did) is likely due to a hetero-masculinist sense that homosexuality is okay on TV as long as it’s two women. (Because, of course, they aren’t doing this for themselves; they’re performing for an audience that is presumably heterosexual and male. I certainly can’t imagine the same scene occurring on 1980s TV between two men. They were barely passable in Neil Jordan’s big-budget borefest adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.) Still, these scenes get away from Mastroianni, who seems to think he’s doing cutting-edge work by having women in white lingerie caress and kiss each other in bedrooms that look like they were dressed for the set of a Bonnie Tyler video (lots of flowy netting around the beds).
E: And Tyler herself has said “Total Eclipse” was supposed to be about vampires.
K: “I’m one of them now,” says vampire Michele to her former fiance (and now captor), Kurt. Now, that statement could “go both ways,” if you know what I mean. I guess Kurt gets the picture, since the “meal” he brings home to his vampire bride is a woman. More specifically, she’s a sex worker he meets while she’s erotically licking an ice cream cone, and whom Mastroianni describes as more “classy” and “innocent,” not “trashy” like the sex workers hand-picked to feed the daughter in the episode “Better Off Dead” (2.15). Anyway, The Hunger (1983) this is not. Hell, this isn’t even Zalman King. (Mastroianni would soon after direct two of the twelve episodes of Dark Shadows: The Revival ).
E: Huh. That’s why his aesthetic rings a bell. Yes, I totally watched the Ben Cross version of Dark Shadows. Mock me if you will.
K: No mockery here. I very much want to see it. I also like Ben Cross.
E: IF you can watch UK DVDs, you can get it cheap on Amazon.
K: I can!
One of the things I really liked about this episode was the flying vampires, achieved with a combination of crane shots and SteadiCam, and obviously wires. Even better was the homage at around nine minutes in to Tobe Hooper’s 1979 TV miniseries Salem’s Lot (image below). I wish the episode had sustained this aspect of its narrative rather than the so-called erotics of its main love story. Still, there is much to recommend about this episode, including its cheese factor. And, as I’ve said before about many episodes in this series, it’s drenched in atmosphere and beautifully lit.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): As per our discussion above, here is yet another entry that seems to be its own thing, instead of part of a bigger picture. My “arc” impulse suggests that somehow this retroactively explains the vampire landlady in “The Baron’s Bride,” but honestly, nothing really explains that and I highly doubt that was their intention. Because, suddenly, there’s a whole community of vampires living in the city? Which they’ve just now discovered and yet have clearly been operating there for decades?
K: Agreed. As I say above, this kind of reinvents the show’s mythos a little too widely.
E: Don’t mind me; I’m still annoyed that in the previous episode everyone said “hung” instead of “hanged.” (Because, clearly, that’s the biggest issue with the previous episode.)
K: I didn’t notice! I guess I was ‘hanged’ up on those other issues.]
Stylistically, this is really well done; clearly they were going for a noir feel: the lighting, the grey morality, and Jack’s be-hatted and be-trenchcoated pensive voice over. Oh, and the sex sax.
A few things to note here. There’s a definite shift, likely inspired by Rice, in the highly romanticized/erotically charged interactions between the vampires and humans. Evan, of course, is trying to put the moves on Micki, but it is two drinking scenes, with the first staged/shot to imply a menage a trois, and then Kurt’s “drink me” scene. Also, Micki straight up says that the “objects call out to the users,” which is nice of the show to finally acknowledge. Finally, the “green” eyes effect is used again in Forever Knight a few years later.
And yet? This episode reads to me as quite choppy and uncertain as to where it’s going.
E: Kurt’s quest for revenge leads him to dark places, including killing a cop and a priest, which suggests the cross’s firepower is fueled by the stabby bit, and yet once he loses the cross, he’s got no problem becoming what he hates? Jack lets Michele go because? If she doesn’t feed, she’ll die, so it’s not like what Micki suggests at the end: That she can choose to, I don’t know, go vegetarian?
K: As a vegan vampire, I can tell you they have some really great ‘blood replacer’ products on the market these days.
E: HA! For the discerning bloodsucker! [K: The “ethical vampire”?] Micki runs in to save Kurt and then just stands there? But, perhaps the most egregious: As Jack sits by the water and contemplates these events, he’s not thinking of Kurt and Michele’s tragedy. Instead? “I wish I had their (the vampires) wisdom.” That’s the takeaway?
K: LOL, I know.
E: Ugh. I think I might be a bit cranky and tired. Kurt’s sin is wrath, while I’m stuck in sloth.
Season 3, Episode 5: “Stick It in Your Ear” (Jon Ezrine, director; Douglas Jackson, writer)
Another ultra-sensitive take on physical limitations that also serves, weirdly, as a jab at the media.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: An ounce of plausibility might have made this episode more than just a fun concept. A hearing aid that allows the user to read minds is a cool enough idea, but in the context of the show, it has to be an antique. Hearing aids have been around since the late 19th century, but the idea of an antique hearing aid being traded around like a cool old lamp or mirror or radio (and somewhere in there being cursed?) feels like a stretch.
A better director might have pulled out some of the latent humor that’s just waiting to be mined here. I’m not referring to the script (which also could have used some better one-liners), but to the presentation of Adam’s ridiculous predicament, and the very fun, gruesome effects. The prosthetics used to indicate Adam’s pulsating face (when he becomes too full of other people’s thoughts that he must unload) are one thing, but much more could have been made of the humorous effects of Adam’s making himself a spectacle: for example, the blood spattered faces of bystanders and spectators, particularly across talk show host Stan Elliott’s appalled face in the episode’s final scene.
The biggest snag here is that turning the hearing aid’s “gift” into an act would mean appearing to do the mind readings without any assistance or “aid,” but that huge, pulsing contraption looks like a throbbing earbud at best, and a Cronenbergian tumor or organ-like outgrowth attached to his head at worst. Jack uses this to the Curious Goods team’s advantage in the episode finale to discredit Adam’s mind reading act in front of a live studio audience, but any of Adam’s supposedly duped audience would have suspected this long before.
Erin: Plausibility, be gone!
K: Also disappointing is that in calling Adam out in front of a live audience, with Micki and Johnny waiting in the wings to grab him, Jack prompts what might have been the series’ second spectacular onstage death. (Yes, TV shows allow random people to enter celebrity dressing rooms, as well as to wander around backstage, into the audience, and onstage.) When they did this before, in “Mesmer’s Bauble” (2.20), the effect was shockingly hilarious (and Micki and Ryan stayed in the audience). Here, director Jon Ezrine cuts away almost exclusively to Jack’s own repulsed reactions, rarely to the audience’s, and ends on a closeup of Adam’s dead face. Considering the buildup, I was expecting a Scanners-like head explosion. Even if handled offscreen, with some blood and grue spattering the faces of the spectators, this would have been a more spectacular way to round out the episode’s latent, ever-imminent promise of spectacularly violent excess (and humor). (And a bit of a commentary on what live TV audiences are really there for.)
Endnotes: The TV Exec angle, with a power hungry producer willing to go along with Adam’s murder, which she witnesses, to further both their rising careers—and falling in love with him to boot—is an interesting prick at the industry.
The Cheese: Considering that the entire episode is completely cheesed-out, Jack’s Obi-Wan-Kenobi moralizing in the episode’s last line registers as total hokum: “He really should have found out what was going on in his own mind before he went around looking at other people’s.”
The Verdict: Another middling episode that could have been terrific.
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Whee! Another Cronenberg-inspired gross out! And the second episode in a row with Ft13th: TS’s signature sensitive take on physical limitations, with Adam’s assertion that a hearing aid will “make him look like a dork.”
(Let me just point out: I don’t care what cursed object is influencing me, I cannot buy the description of Adam Coles’ underfed Howie Mandel looks as “ruggedly handsome.”)
E: I didn’t actually end up taking many notes on this one; it was fairly straightforward, almost in a season one kind of way. The object seems to literally call out to him, with the overlapping voices as he holds it up to his ear. The motivation is obvious: fame and power. While a trope now, the idea that TV execs didn’t need to be influenced by curses to be evil wasn’t as common, and they did underplay it, with Stan’s thought: “small price to pay for ratings” as merely a part of the cacophony Adam hears. Yet, like the echoing thoughts he must purge himself of or die, this episode feels a bit like an echo of better ones from the series: from the transfer of the curse’s effects to another (and the visuals) of “Faith Healer” to the anything for fame/ratings of both “Mesmer’s Bauble” and “Double Exposure.” It also mirrors “Crippled Inside” in the way that the cursed object user (in this case, Adam) tempts others, particularly Randi, by appealing to her desire for success and respect.
E: Way to Not Read the Audience: Stan’s assertion that the network “needs a variety show.” Pretty sure that in 1989, the last “successful” variety show was Donnie and Marie Osmond.
An OK episode, I suppose, although Jack’s little button at the end showed all the depth and understanding of a fortune cookie. It just...it was cheesy, but not cheesy enough. It’s an inherently silly premise (kind of like the show as a whole) mixed with gross, throbbing visuals, which would have worked well if they’d leaned into it a bit more.
Sins: Greed. As usual.
K: This is such a disappointing episode because of what it could have done, and I feel so bad for you to be about to watch the next episode, which just sucks ass and never had a chance of not sucking ass.
E: Having just watched it, I have to agree.
Season 3, Episode 6: “Bad Penny” (William Fruet, director; Marilyn Anderson and Billy Riback, writers)
A cursed object returns, and everything—including the acting and the writing—goes straight to hell.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: Well, the “Tails I Live, Heads You Die” (2.4) writing team is back. I suppose it’s interesting that the angle shifts here from a cult to a couple of cops, a more quotidian scenario, the coin falling into the hands of more ordinary men. Johnny, too, will be enticed to resurrect his father. But like the cop, he’ll come back not quite right.
I don’t know why this episode was necessary, really. I guess that, besides fleshing out Johnny’s character, it’s also an attempt at getting into Micki’s continued doubts about her safety in what the Curious Goods team does. But either in the scripting or Robey’s overacting, it just feels inconsistent with her character to this point. Frankly, I would rather have seen her use some of her occult powers from the end of the previous season to kick some effing butt with these coin users (including Johnny, really). But no. We get a terrified, crying, broken Micki throughout.
The Curiosities: Johnny’s father’s grave dates his death as 1987, but that episode at least aired near the end of the previous season, putting it more likely in 1989. (Wax also notes this [2015, 361]).
The Verdict: Of the prior effort by this writing team (this episode’s retro-prequel, 2.4), I noted that it had moments but ultimately felt “lightweight” and thin; this one doesn’t have those moments and feels even lighter and thinner. In short, it’s a bad penny.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): One of the only positive things I can say about this thoroughly “meh” episode was that I was worried that it was going to again be a Johnny-centric episode, with Jack and Micki being gone for most of it. Thankfully, while Johnny-heavy (‘cause, you know, I really needed to go on this emotional journey with a new character), Jack and Micki do stick around.
This ends up being a mixed blessing. I mean, we finally get Micki showing understandable signs of the trauma she’s undergone, and Jack could not be less sensitive about it. I mean, we get a whole episode of Jack processing his experiences in World War II in “The Butcher,” an episode that sensitively examines loss and violence, but Micki, who not only recently lost Ryan, nearly got raped by Satan, but also, you know, DIED by the very object that has now reappeared, and Jack’s all: “Suck it up; walk it off. We’ve got work to do.”
K: This is very true, and feeds into the argument that this series—while occasionally tackling key issues, and on a rare occasion confronting representations of women head-on [“Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)]—is also deeply misogynistic through and through.
E: The sad thing is, that’s absolutely par for the course during this time period. (Well, not just this time period, but went unquestioned far more in the 1980s. That’s why shows like Buffy (and magazines like Sassy) meant so much to girls my age.
Worse, this trauma is portrayed mostly by a lot of whining, suggesting that the writers are trying to make the audience side with Jack’s point of view rather than Micki’s.
K: I mean, it was really difficult not to.
E: Worse [K: Worser?], while Jack (temporarily) kicks out Johnny for using the cursed object to resurrect his father (without bothering to explain the differences in resurrecting Micki), he later comforts him, with Micki being forced to say that what she went through was nothing compared to Johnny’s (self-inflicted) pain. (Which might have resonated more if the actor playing Vince hadn’t been so obviously breathing after he was dead.) Way to prioritize man-pain as legitimate, while suggesting women are just being overly emotional, SHOW.
Weirdly, I did prefer the dirty cops to the scenery-chewing Satanists, but all the flashbacks to previous episodes felt less like filling in the blanks and more like filler. Aside from liking the choice not to make zombie Vince evil, I think I might hate this episode.
K: Me too. But it’ll look like Thelma and Louise by comparison when you see “My Wife as a Dog.” And now I’m thinking we need to do a top ten most misogynistic episodes list. And I’m not kidding.
E: I fully support that idea. [K: And, dear reader, we did do this! Coming, in our series wrap-up post, sometime in … July?]
Sins: Greed, again. Also bad screenwriting (again).
Season 3, Episode 3: “Demon Hunter” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Season 3 officially gets going with a new team member and a (somewhat) expanded story world.
KRIS'S THOUGHTS: This one feels more like a season opener than “The Prophecies” did, and in fact makes “The Prophecies” feel more like a Friday the 13th: The Series movie or special event. The season begins in earnest here, with another episode styled in the “Doorway to Hell” (2.1) mode, with an over-the-top multi-dimensional hellzone and a creature trying to get from one side to the other. No coincidence that this one was written by Jim Henshaw, writer of “Doorway.” It’s essentially the same episode, and it carries most of the clunkiness of that one as well. (At least Satan doesn’t speak.)
The Goods: The cold open of this episode is a first for the series. I like it. (Was there some sort of aesthetic shift at this time in TV where the cold open became a thing? Or is it just this series following/experimenting with a trend?) The credits follow a sequence with a team (a family) of militaristic demon hunters (they have machine guns and grenades and a tricked-out surveillance van), one of whom, the daughter, we learn later has called up the episode’s titular demon when she was part of a demon-worshipping/conjuring cult based in a secret chamber in the Curious Goods’ sub-basement.
Best line (because it’s totally what viewers must be thinking) goes to Jack, telling Johnny, “Make yourself useful and get me that hammer over there, will you?” Ouch. Jack and Johnny need a bonding episode! (I’m kidding; I seriously hope that one isn’t coming.)
The Cheese: I’m starting to understand that Jim Henshaw-scripted episodes require a list of cheesies.
The Verdict: The only thing that saves this episode from charges that Jim Henshaw plagiarized his own pretty silly season 2 opener, “Doorway to Hell,” is the more serious tone, and even more so the experimentation with narrative structure, with the military demon hunter family's operation running parallel to the Curious Goods team’s investigation, unfolding in real time (or close to it), and intersecting only for the final act.
E: Why not a highway? Change it up a bit, Henshaw!
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, I know I’ve said this before, but come on: a fanatical father hunting down a demon that could (or did) destroy his family with his children in tow, regardless of the consequences to them? It’s like watching an ancient pilot episode of Supernatural. I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OdwLrhU9QY. Faron is basically John Winchester 1.0, down to the weapons and obsessive behaviour. Delightful.
Also delightful? Dale Wilson doing his best Bruce Campbell: “He’s gonna go all right. The hard way.”
So we have two new things: a cold open and the episode seemingly unfolding in real time (if the little side clock with running timecode is any indication). While cold opens are fairly common (and long theme songs not so much), it was fairly uncommon when this aired. If you don’t mind me going all production-y, the whole function of a cold open is to keep the viewer watching from one program to the next without an intervening commercial or theme. I wonder if they started using them here because they were concerned about the series’ future and wanted to continue to draw new viewers? (Especially with the loss of LeMay.)
K: It did seem like a bit of an attempt at reinvention.
E: The parallel stories are an interesting concept, although in reality the episode does come off as a bit choppy. (In particular, the confrontation between the Cassidys and the Curious Goods seemed to be weirdly abrupt, as if I’d missed a transition to the Cassidys finding the undervault. [K: Um, that’s the “church of necromancy,” Erin. ;-) ])
K: But, it seems they knew about it even before the Curious Goods team did. Like, those flashbacks might have occurred there, even. What?! Yeah.
E: That Bonnie was the caller was not a surprise, but they did a decent job of writing her in a way that her words could be interpreted differently with that final reveal. It was sweatier and less invested in making Robey look like a fashion plate—something also present in “The Prophecies”—which I appreciate; she actually looks like she’s been investigating a necromancy temple and possible fighting with obsessed demon hunters. Kudos, as well, for the bit of character continuity in not only mentioning Ryan, but having his fate affect her (making sure Jack is covered if something happens to her).
On the down side: Johnny’s fight with Arthiman was staged in such a way as to be unintentionally hilarious: all tosses and growls and widened eyes.
K: Johnny’s entire existence is unintentionally hilarious. I mean, he’s a budding writer who (we now learn) builds model ships at home, hates sushi, did time in prison looking like John Stamos without getting raped, watches porn with Jack [oops, mini-spoiler], and … who knows what else? Oof.
Flawed, but it feels like a bit of a new direction here. There is a cursed object, but Bonnie seems fairly uninterested in it and if there’s any sin here, the episode seems to suggest it lies with Faron.
Season 3, Episode 4: “Crippled Inside” (Timothy Bond, director; Brian Helgeland, writer)
A curious mix of able-ism and rape-revenge fantasy that makes one root for the cursed object user and wish for a bit more sensitivity and nuance. Reader beware.
The Goods: It seems that Season 3 is going to stick with the cold open strategy. I was not expecting the brutal opener, which feels a bit unwarranted considering the lead-in. Ice-skater wannabe Rachel seems neither nerdy enough, nor virginal enough to be the cliché target of a gang rape. Instead, the episode opens on light note, with her having a lively, light-hearted and confident conversation with her "date." So, what we're seeing is the punishment of a young woman's confidence, not her assumed weaknesses. It is very difficult to watch. I can be thankful only for the fact that, Rachel escapes by kneeing her first attacker in the nuts—I hold onto this “win,” despite the fact that this event causes the brutal accident, immediately after, that paralyses her when she runs out into the street and is hit by a car that bump-bumps over her body (this is shown). I’m a little shocked that they got a rape-revenge tale onto the television screen.
Erin: I think you can blame Lipstick (1976) for that, which I actually saw on late-night broadcast TV.
K: I saw Lipstick about ten years ago. It's troubling to say the least.
Imagine my additional horror when we find out that Micki is off to join Jack in London, so we’re left with Johnny as our sole Curious Goods investigator. Another episode featuring Johnny? Argh! At least it’s not about Johnny, and it uses his tough-guy schtick against the rabid pack of young dudes that serve as the episode’s antagonists. I will admit that it's interesting to see Johnny's usual tough-guy attitude come up against the similar attitude of the leader of this gang of criminally depraved youths.
*Rachel is in bed at one point reading Voltaire’s Candide & Zadig. I mean, I read Voltaire at age 18, so that means she’s effing weird.
*A seemingly throwaway line from the episode’s most vicious presence, “Hey, Cindy, how about another concert on Saturday?!” is an indication that these guys are serial gang rapists.
*Johnny takes the black Mercedes with him in his investigations, and it occurs to me that this car is a kind of “Mystery Machine” for the Curious Goods gang, as much a character as any of them.
The ableism of the title extends to the ableism of the episode, with Rachel being truly “free” when released from her body. It’s complicated, and the actress does a good job of not overplaying the hopelessness of the situation. At least there is promise during her “releases” from her body for a good series of vengeful episodes. The first of these is an accidental death, Rachel meaning to coerce a confession to the police from one of her attackers, not his death. Of course, the result— renewed feeling in her fingers, will propel her forward in a series of more intentional acts. And still, what is meant by that title, “Crippled Inside”? That Rachel (and the old man) are morally “crippled”? That their souls are “crippled”? It’s not just a word. Disability studies began in the 80s, so perhaps word hadn’t gotten out that “crippled” has about as much empathy and understanding behind it as “retarded” does.
Diana Leblanc, who plays Rachel’s mother Judith, is really quite good. Her frustration and concern for Rachel mingle constantly on her face, and her final cry of despair and agony upon finding Rachel’s dead body twisted with her attacker’s at the bottom of the stairs is powerful.
E: Yes! One of the few screams/reactions on this show that seem completely justified.
K: Writer Helgeland is a horror vet, having written 976-EVIL and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (both 1988), which precede this episode and must have been the reason he was hired; the latter film, at least, is pretty darn good. The moral ambiguities explored in his later screenplays for Mystic River and L.A. Confidential (whether one likes these films or not; I don’t) [E: Also, A Knight’s Tale, which I have a great deal of affection for; don’t mock me for loving Heath Ledger dancing to Bowie.] pop up here in the way the old man who gives the chair to Rachel sees the use of its power. Corrupted himself (at one point, he becomes partly transparent, as though he’s lost something essential in the bargain that gave him his own body back via the chair), he offers some wisdom that convinces Johnny to leave the chair with Rachel: “You can’t live another person’s life, and you can’t look after their souls for them. Those boys made their choice. She's made hers.” This is perhaps the best, most complicated logic we’ve heard for letting the cursed object stay in the hands of someone who’s using it. The moral quandary here extends out to the viewer, who must also negotiate outrage with the ‘finer’ moral or logical sensibility. In a rape-revenge scenario, revenge will always feel better than taking the higher road, whatever that is.
Even in the end, when the chair has destroyed both Rachel and her attackers, the old man’s logic to Johnny has a ring of truth to it:
What are you gonna do? Put it away somewhere? Keep it safe from people like me? … It doesn’t matter, son. It’ll still be here long after you are gone. And no matter what you do, there will always be somebody that’ll kill for its healing. … You’ll never win. You’re only delaying the inevitable.”
A questioning of the Curious Goods gang’s quest, and the show’s whole logic, is wrapped up in this statement.
All considered, it’s a good, but not a great episode.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Word to the wise: Any time anyone in this genre says: “I know a shortcut” just run in the opposite direction.
K: Hahahaha! I mean, anyone who’s watched even one episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? knows that shortcuts always get you into trouble.
E: The scene that follows is all the more horrifying for the fact that it is more common than the usual horrors seen on the show. Like with “The Shaman’s Apprentice,” there is so much badness in the victims, it’s hard not to delight in the vengeance.
For a Johnny-centric episode, not only was it not bad, but surprisingly nuanced in its portrayal of both Rachel and the situation. The old man—the tempter, if you will—isn’t wrong when he says that Marcus won’t stop; he is a predator. (Witness the couple at the high school that Johnny talks to; they refer to Marcus as a creep even though it’s suggested he’s popular. There is so much complicity it makes my head spin; if that’s known, why didn’t anyone warn Rachel?) Yet at the same time, there is an element here suggesting that the revenge itself solves nothing. Rachel frames it as the return of her body (an excellent metaphor, I might add, for the traumatic effect of sexual assault), and yet she is just as dead at the end of the episode as Marcus. The visual of them locked together in death merely underscores the central point: killing the boys may undo the physical effects, but not the event itself. Witness the scene with Scott, which itself is played as predatory; she appropriates Marcus’s words and actions to get Scott where she wants him. Chilling.
K: Agreed in full.
E: And let’s talk for a minute about the old man, particularly the way that, in that bedroom scene with Rachel, he appears to be an astral projection in a similar way to how Rachel kills the guys. In an episode about predators, he himself is one of them; the devil on Rachel’s shoulder, providing her with the means for revenge, allowing her to damn herself.
K: Good point. I felt this was a bit of a logic slip in terms of the cursed object’s power and results. But I like your reading of this.
E: Why else show him lurking outside her house? What truly works here is not the cackling evil we get from the Satanic covens or Uncle Lewis, but smooth, logical arguments as to why the object is necessary; perhaps even a blessing in disguise. Certainly enough to convince Johnny, although one wonders how either Micki or Jack would have responded to the situation.
Points for continuity: The Shard of Medusa, currently residing in Europe.
All in all, the episode doesn’t rise to “great” for me, but there are surprising depths (who is the one “Crippled Inside”: Marcus and his gang, or Rachel?) and a chilling reality to the episode uncommon to the series.
K: Yes, indeed. And there’s more of this coming.
E: Um, yay?
Critical Rewatch #1
Friday the 13th: The Series aired in syndication from 1987 to 1990. It boasts a large fanbase but almost no scholarly commentary. This episode-by-episode critical blog on the series is part of a research project by Erin Giannini and Kristopher Woofter that will include the series in a scholarly monograph on horror anthology TV series in the Reagan era.