Season 2, Episode 9: “13 O’Clock” (Rob Hedden, director; Rob Hedden, writer)
Wherein Kris and Erin feel qualified relief at an episode that doesn’t entirely suck and is only MODERATELY hateful toward women. Way to lower the bar, Show.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
Oh, dear heavenly heavens, let this be a decent episode.
And “decent” it is. The “Goods” here are pretty much limited to the concept, however. A pocket watch that stops time for an hour at the “13th hour” to give its bearer a chance to do “anything they want.” Of course, the gold digger who gets her hands on it isn’t really all that big of a thinker, limiting her activities to pickpocketing and then pawning her haul.
The time-freeze effect is kind of cool, a combination of rear-screen projection, rotoscoping (Wax 2015, 220), and, apparently, actors who do a really good job of tableaux posing. There may have been another effect here, since even the actors from whom the “out of time” characters remove personal items—that is, physically interact with—seem to be remarkably still. Maybe they hired a bunch of mimes. Interviewed for the Wax book, writer-director Hedden attests to the fact that the rotoscoping was expensive and experimental for TV at the time, yet the producers okayed it. The episode was nominated for an Emmy for special effects as a result (Wax 2015, 220).
The two young street kids, Skye and Jonny-O, a homeless brother and sister who witness the gold-digger’s murder of one of her victims, are a nice touch here, providing an element of genuine sweetness that turns a little too saccharine in the episode’s denouement.
The Cheese: I think we found the missing saxophone player. He’s the guy with Slash’s hair, in the opening. And even though he dies—like, immediately—the sax music stays to ostensibly lend the episode its “street” feel, and tied to a combination of sex and violence as always (and in one scene, both at the same time). Skye, the young homeless woman, tells Micki and Ryan what she’s witnessed with the condition that: “You gotta swear you won’t tell the cops.” Um, not a problem in this series, since even if they did, the cops would just be wandering around and chatting. [E: Or perhaps informing the criminals who ratted them out.]
The Verdict: I would put the unfortunate direction of the acting of the episode’s central culprits in the “cheese” category as well, but it’s so egregious it fairly undoes the episode: Gwynyth Walsh, the actress who plays Reatha, the gold digger, is pretty horrendous, but she’s also directed to be so by Rob Hedden, who should probably stick to writing (though of the episodes we’ve seen that were written by him so far, only “The Electrocutioner” was good). Because she and her boyfriend, Eric (also badly acted), are so central to the story, the episode feels off-kilter. So much for season two’s believability and interest in psychological realism. The comic book villainous scene-chewing and sexy-cruising of Reatha, combined with Eric’s overplayed gangster schtick, doesn’t make sense in the episode’s otherwise gritty sensibility, with subways and street kids, and street life dominating.
With the prior two episodes, this is another entry in a series of pretty horrendous misogyny, not only in the subject matter, but in the realm of representation in the episode’s writing and direction. Gold-digger Reatha is an unredeemable character—fine. But she’s also at times pathetically weak (when the scenario with boyfriend Eric, for example, calls for it), and then over-the-top Cruella-de-subway most other times. When the episode opens, she seems almost a victim, but she shifts in portrayal from this to scheming more quickly than the characters in a primetime soap like Melrose Place. Nowhere near as horrendous as the prior two episodes, this one just feels misguided and a little stupid. And I’m growing fatigued by the show’s recycling of the greed trope. [E: Cruella-de-subway is such a perfect title on SO MANY LEVELS.]
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Maybe it was the abusive nature of the previous two episodes, but this one was a step up. Well, more like a half step. It was very noir (witness the near-abuse of the sex sax in the soundtrack): all double-crosses and shots of the city (rare for this show), and as a genre, tends toward the misogynistic. It hit all the tropes: the vaguely Italian-looking boyfriend (who is of course a gangster of some Trump-ian stripe), the hard-faced woman of the street—with all that implies—who is of course a gold digger of the first order, the foggy streets, and the complete lack of morals for almost every character. Even Ryan’s “women can’t drive” bit fed into it. Don’t even get me started on the gross “daddy” bit.
There was a better episode fighting to get out here. The near-ending reveal that Reatha grew up on the streets and that her current behavior is at least in part motivated by the need to survive is clearly supposed to tie in with Skye’s experience and offer one possible future for Skye, but it comes too late in the episode to either develop sympathy for Reatha or suggest that Skye would at all be tempted. If the actors playing Reatha and Eric had any skill whatsoever, they could have transcended the material, suggesting desperation or nuance, but instead they are cardboard cutouts. (Which, oddly enough, makes their actual fate rather appropriate.)
It isn’t all terrible; there are some interesting choices made that could have worked. The fact that the “frozen” time is in black and white ties into the noir influence the episode is hoping to call upon. Reatha and Eric being “frozen” in the same black and white suggests, likely unintentionally, the noir cliches they actually are (considering its birth in the 30s/40s and heyday in the black and white film era. Also, that Skye wasn’t tempted by the watch was a good choice; it seemed as if it might go there, but her connection with her brother set her apart from Reatha and Eric. Nor were the kid’s problems 100% fixed at the end; Jack points them to a place they can get assistance, but there’s no magic “here’s a nice family/person to adopt you” as in “Cup of Time.”
Sin-wise: It’s noir, so greed. But weirdly, it seemed to have started with wrath from Bert.
Finally, and not really germane to the discussion: Henry’s perpetual “who farted” face was...weird. Also, Reatha was the name of possibly my most despised grade school teacher; this character is literally the second person I’ve ever heard named that.
Season 2, Episode 10: “Night Hunger” (Martin Lavut, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
In which the title has nothing to do with an episode that features race cars as a metaphor for manhood.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
From three misogynistic episodes to an episode that takes on toxic masculinity. I’m reeling! … Or am I? … The focus on father-son male bonding sits right in line with this string of episodes that center male issues at the expense of women characters (at least those who act as anything more than objects to prop up male narratives). There’s the opening sequence of a little league strikeout under pressure of an emotionally abusive father, followed directly by a present-day motorcycle and car chase with the biker (yeah! umph!) driven to his death, and then a drag race. Of course, drag race culture as presented in the episode is a la Grease (1978)—pretty much racing dudes and “slutty” molls hanging around waiting to go for a ride.
There is no mining of the phallic potential of the flatly uninteresting cursed object, an antique chain with an uncut car key attached. “It’s blank, just like you,” says Mikey’s father to him of the key when he drunkenly gives it over. Boring. However, this may be the first time a cursed object literally melds with its holder (Wax notes the same, 224)—who becomes a sort of fleshly remote control for his black Camaro. I thought this was interesting—seeing the object literally cling (for life? for value?) to its holder. This is clearly why it survives the flames of the final father-son car crash (chicken!), to be found by Ryan, Micki, and Jack. I just wish there had been a final moment in the episode that pushed this, along the lines of the final moment in “And Now the News” (2.3), where the cursed radio offers to make finding cursed objects easier; this would have been a nice way to make the heart-tugging of the chain more unsettling. Writer Henshaw, interviewed in Wax (224) remarks on his disappointment that the episode “didn’t gel.” He even says it made him want to stop writing. That said, the episode isn’t THAT bad.
Observation: Normally, it would be a bad idea to rough a guy up who just spoke to the cops—right in front of the cops—but in this show, it’s probably fine. Maybe the cops will give him a hug, if they notice.
This episode’s weakness is that its main theme is so unclear that it has to be literalized through editing. We learn that Mikey’s father wouldn’t let him have a car because “Having a car was a sign of manhood to him.” The second racing scene with intercut B&W footage of Mikey’s dad hitting him isn’t exactly subtle as a follow-up to the comment. Likewise, the connection between final racer Deacon with Mikey’s little league strikeout, with Deacon as the pitcher, is a case of an episode that’s a bit too hermetically structured. It didn’t need to be that tight or that telegraphed. [E: It’s funny, because that part actually worked for me. Maybe I’m giving the episode too much credit, but it seemed of a piece with the focus on racing and cars. Also, viewing this after the sloppy messes of the previous episodes likely does “Night Hunger” favors.]
Mr. Fiorno confesses to the Curious Goods crew that “I told him all the other kids were better than him, especially that Black kid Deacon. I always held him up to Mike as an example.” The “even that Black kid is better than you” element here goes entirely unchecked in the episode, laying the script’s racism bare like a big, fat bruise. [E: That was bad, although it seemed like Dominick later tried to justify it as claiming he was holding Deacon up as a paragon. Yeah, dude. Sure.]
Unlike the episode “Pipe Dream” (1.24), where the poisonous father-son dynamic is deftly linked to political and capitalist concerns that result in oppressive social and familial dynamics, here it’s tied too strictly to reactionary family dynamics, where abusive fathers get to come clean in the end, and the fucked-up sons, the product of their abuse, become amped up villains on steroids. It’s envy that drives this episode, but from my standpoint, there’s nothing to envy.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Wow. Given the punishing nature of the previous episodes, “Night Hunger” was a freaking tonic. It was tight: the characterization, the pacing, the plot? No side roads, no meandering.
Henshaw nails the dynamic of a certain set of Boomer/Gen X father/son issues, although certainly applicable beyond that. The use of Little League, however, is suggestive of that particular era...or rather, used quite a bit in movies and television as sort of a metonym for toxic father/son relationships. Combined with the focus on drag racing and the sort of rockabilly music on the episode’s soundtrack (never mind Mikey’s duck’s ass hairstyle at the end), there is a huge 50s throwback vibe here that tracks really well with Dominic and Mikey’s issues. [K: I did like this use of music.] Dominic says he’s trying to toughen up Mikey, by putting him down and calling him a wimp (that’s code), but the idea that he doesn’t want the “competition” from his son is something he doesn’t say. [K: Another thing, following from your mention of coding, is that Mikey’s interests lie far from girls (even ones who want to get in the car and go for a ride with him), but solely in cars. The closeted element here could have been played up more.]
(Side note: all this car/road stuff really gave me Supernatural vibes; complete with daddy issues!)
While steeped in the 80s/50s vibe, this episode, with its angry white guys, feels fairly relevant nonetheless, although Mikey seems self-aware enough to not entirely lay it all on Deacon. That Lewis targets Mikey, sensing his rage and loneliness, is creepy and toxic all on its own; Lewis as a one-man QAnon/Proud Boy founder. Jack really didn’t need to explain it: the “unlocking” metaphor was obvious without Jack putting a button on it.
Finally, two moments I really liked: the opening race where Mikey steps out of the car in darkness, before it transitions to light. And the continuity of Ryan drawing a parallel between his own experience with his father and Mikey’s. Sadly, Mikey was too far gone (it was literally inside of him) for Dominick’s sacrifice to save him. [K: Well, except that one drag race moll does come on to him; he tells her to ‘beat it’—maybe he’s already disillusioned by prior turn-downs, but this is a come-on!]
E: Right? And he could NOT care less. Mind you, 80s TV would almost never actually confirm anything like this. See, as per example, Jim J. Bullock on Too Close for Comfort. (Or don’t; it’s not remotely good.) Still, at least a few episodes tried to convince the viewer of his character’s interest in girls, which Bullock, bless him, could not sell. (Never mind the two-part very special episode in which his character is kidnapped by two overweight women who rape him, played partially for laughs. US Television is really fucked up.)
The Cheese: Night Hunger? What does that even mean?
[K: Totally. I thought the episode was going to be about werewolves.]
E: Or vampires!
The sins: Envy, certainly. But wrath seems to be the main driver here. (Sorry.) [K: hahaha!]
[K: Well, I’m glad you liked this one, because the next two are both leagues better!]
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.