Season 2, Episode 3: “And Now the News” (Bruce Pittman, director; Dick Benner, writer)
A shrink goes full Patrick Bateman in a quest for power and prestige.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below:
Kris: According to Wax’s book on the series, this is one of the five best episodes. Let’s see …
Wow, the opening moments are disturbing. The actress who plays Mary is fantastic! Oh … Bye, Mary.
Old radios and radio programs are cool enough, but a radio news program that conjures someone’s deepest fears is nasty (as is the radio’s sinister design, which looks like a grimacing face). One kill equals one cure —just another ordinary day at the asylum.
Loving “Nurse Shirley Jackson”—not a great actress, but a great presence with a delicious inflection to her line deliveries. They don’t use her much in the second half, but I like her!
Erin: OH MY GOD. How did I miss that? And that gives a whole other level to this episode. I mean, one could read it as just a bit of a wink on the part of the writer, but Avril’s narcissism and deliberately unclear reasoning for her actions is kind of Jackson-ian itself, don’t you think?
K: Ha! Not sure, since I think even Jackson’s most megalomaniacal protagonist (Merricat Blackwood in We Have Always Lived in the Castle) has more believable motivation than this!
The issue of professional jealousy returns in a much better episode than the earlier versions of this theme. Yet, the actress who plays the chilly ice queen doctor, Avril, overplays it a lot. Also, I love that these doctors are using the Looney Tunes version of therapy—confront the patient by tormenting them with the one thing (conveniently) that they fear. (“Deeply rooted fear that drives people to murder and suicide.”) It’s the equivalent of curing amnesia with a second conk on the head. I do like how the radio murders take this literally, as well. There is a sense that the media, and the medium, are more real than reality, and take over the subject’s mind.
It’s a greed story here, where power over others and individualistic self-advancement are the prizes. The other doctor espouses working as a team; but Avril is like the equivalent of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman—only of the medical set rather than the yuppie set.
John Gibson is either a great name or a cliched one for a serial rapist-murderer.
I love the literal logic of the curse here, read to us in the newscast. “As we reported earlier, a case history of Maseo Institute patient John Gibson, which contains the roots of his psychopathology, will be broadcast this evening, immediately following news of yet another violent death at the institute. Stay tuned.”
Some cheese: Ryan uses rubber gloves to get safely across the electric fence? Um …
The violence in this episode is disturbing. And Robey’s performance is actually quite good. What a harrowing scene. And she takes the moment so seriously, she actually drools. I have total RESPECT for her portrayal of the ugliness of the scene, and of the resulting emotions. And there’s a pretty tense follow-up finale scene. This episode manages to balance wild excessiveness with serious tension and uncomfortable laughter. (Not during Robey’s attack scene, of course.) The final opening of the vault, with Robey asking “How are we going to keep on doing this?” has real weight. Even the closing “joke” makes total sense and is also disturbing, with the radio offering to make the recovery of cursed objects easier. Very cool. Wax mentions this as the object almost offering to end its own curse, but what is more remarkable is that Wax doesn’t mention the disturbing sexual violence in the prior scene (and the episode more generally)—the idea of anyone putting Micki in the situation she ends up in is simply horrendous, making Avril the series’ most awful villain thus far (for my money), and the notes of real desperation and terror that Robey conjures up in the scene are the closest thing I’ve ever seen on 80s TV to carrying the emotional weight of rape. Wax in her writeup is more interested in anecdotal information that shows off how many interviews she’s done. It’s a bit of an ugly omission on her part not to address the thematic and emotional weight of this kind of content.
Erin’s Thoughts (before reading yours):
Whoa. If “Pipe Dreams” was a giant leap forward in terms of structure and characterization, so too is this. I don’t have to make any excuses for the plot, for character actions, or even for special effects. Even the last moment of the episode, which usually airs on the cheesy side, with freeze frame side eyes or laughs that tend to undercut the episode, actually works.
Here’s another doctor whose pride dictates their actions. Yet, unlike “Doctor Jack,” who was trying to rehabilitate his reputation (but somehow, that motivation didn’t add up to a good or seemingly logical episode), or having Avril be not taken seriously because of her gender, the episode makes the bold choice of making her the pure embodiment of success at any price, without having to actually put in the work. (How’s that for a Boomer indictment?) By having her boss take her to task for being ungenerous (not sharing methods), undercutting others, but not gendering it means the episode really gives her no excuse for what she does. That means overweening pride is both her motivation and her sin, which I LOVED.
So much good here! Having the radio be the cursed object, the first real mass medium, both “selling” Avril success and turning her into a celebrity is an inspired choice which, wisely, the episode doesn’t feel compelled to lampshade for the viewer.
Other things: Again, Micki and Jack are shown to be smarter and more proactive when Jack’s missing. Ryan’s “frat” excuse is plausible; later, he realizes something is wrong and takes action. As for Robey, she takes a GIANT leap forward here; while continuing down the hallway of a clearly abandoned ward was not the most brilliant move, the assault scene was genuinely terrifying and her terror seemed genuine. Indeed, it made that scene all the worse (in a good way) because she didn’t oversell it, she didn’t get a sudden burst of strength to repel Gibson, and the outcome didn’t appear to be a foregone conclusion. Combined with her reactions after her escape, it adds up to one of the more realistic portrayals I can recall on 80s TV. Cutting the power was a great move as well; it alone didn’t magically save Ryan, but bought enough time for Avril to miss her window, and thus be hoisted on her own petard.
Finally, the stinger at the end, when it becomes clear that the temptation is specifically tailored to the listener (a targeted ad, you might say), and thus becomes revealing of their particular propensities, sins, or issues.
Did I mention that the scares were actually scary? Doesn’t say a lot for some of the other episodes, but even with 80s-level special effects, this was next level. Definitely a top three for me so far, even without Jack.
Season 2, Episode 4: “Tails I Live, Heads You Die” (Mark Sobel, director; Marilyn Anderson and Billy Riback, writers)
Satanic monks meet a misreading of the Salem witch trials, via a magic coin. Can’t say the show doesn’t have a type.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below:
The Goods: I really like the opening here: intimations of many Buffy openings to come, plus a grave-digging scene that feels right out of a Universal Frankenstein film. And in fact more than Universal this scene and episode in general, with its occult focus, reminds me of Hammer Studios’ films, right down to the bearded Christopher Lee wannabe. And everyone is dressed like it’s the 1880s, not the 1980s. Beautiful color shooting.
Erin: Right there with you on this!
There’s a ceremonial gravitas to the occult ritual scene. Nice detail that the corpse’s fingernails are all grown out. The follow-up scene with Hewitt and the leader has dialogue undergirded by the Satanic panic that was probably on the wane at this point. The logic of the curse is much less complicated in that the coin helps the bearer align with Satan. There’s no “middle-person” to worry about. It’s this-for-that, and you’re the devil’s pet.
The undead figures look very much like those in Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962). The episode’s genre genealogy is clear, though I’m not sure everything in it adds up to a successful effort. The mystical aspects are muddled, as are the coin’s power and needs.
The series’ shift to a more emotional/psychological drive is apparent here with Micki “killed” and the fallout with Ryan and Jack a feature of the episode. The witches of Salem provide the background here, with a kind of 1970s cabal of occultist endeavour to take over the world. There’s a very 1970s Hammer-esque element to this episode. It bothers me when shows like this make myth of the Salem Witch trials; here, the rewritten history is disturbing, linking Hiberia, “Satan’s lover,” to a group of persecuted women who were all victims of patriarchal fears of losing power and viability. The power of storytelling … sucks sometimes.
The postindustrial space of the episode’s secret occult ceremonies again reminds me of a series like Buffy. There is a certain practicality here in the sense that such spaces are cheap to construct (or easy to find), bu there is another aspect here of the remnants of capitalist endeavour. What does one do in late-industrial times when capitalism has fully failed everyone? Make that final step and sell the rest of your soul to the devil, of course.
*Flub: When Jack opens the envelope of evidence, a paper slips out and falls to the floor, unnoticed by all three characters, and apparently by the cast and crew, continuity person, etc.. It’s minor, but also kind of hilarious in that these intrepid investigators would let that “slip.”
*I guess occultist’s basements are still supplied with live gas line feeds for lighting?
*Jack tells Micki to run for the shop and get out of there, and then he does it, returns to Curious Goods, and has the nerve to be shocked when Ryan says she’s not there!
*The cops are universally impotent in the scene where they find Micki dead; the hilarity of it undercuts the pathos, unfortunately. This time it’s John D. LeMay’s turn to overdo it in the acting dept.
*Cool as it is to see Hiberia’s face all covered in wriggling worms, they just said that they hoped “Salem’s clay” would have preserved her after all this time.
*During the climax, Jack almost doesn’t get the knife to the leader’s throat in his “surprise” attack. And Ryan’s dragging Hiberia down a corridor on a stretcher produced a chuckle. Finally, any time we get this kind of “Satan himself! He’s coming!” and that’s his voice! stuff, my interest slips— but this can be the case with this occult subgenre of horror as well. (Satan’s voice, by the way, sounds like Barry White with a hangover.) Also, how long does it take to make a mask? According to this episode, about a minute? Or did Ryan make it before they headed to the coven’s lair?
Overall, this one was pretty good and it’s an indication that season 2 of the series continues to be more interested in realistic narrative and motivation, and darker content. Yet, it feels a bit lightweight, more like a season 1 episode, despite all its attempts to infuse the episode with dramatic heft with the very real possibility of our characters’ mortality.
This episode ultimately feels tight, hermetically sealed. All of the most disturbing elements occurred early on in the setting of the scene. All the pyrotechnics in these “grand” near-apocalyptic finales usually see my interest fade. The coin ends up lost but buried under “100 tons of rubble,” so Jack feels they’ve won. But the episode coda suggests otherwise.
I guess we’re looking at greed here in terms of power, but gluttony and pride tie together in these cases of seeking power at all costs.
Erin’s Thoughts (before reading yours):
The Goods: I love the way this opens like a homage to old Universal monster movies, particularly, and borne out throughout the episode, Frankenstein. That it ends up being a combo of that, and the 80s Satanic panic stuff (I was getting some Polanski vibes here too) should not have worked, but for me, totally did. It may be that Satanic monks are my sweet spot. So, these guys want to bring Satan up, and as far as evil plans go, this episode was tightly plotted and plausible: a life for a life, in order to bring back their big Satanic guns. Also Sylvan, besides being Brother LaCroix in “Poison Pen” is a FAR more commanding presence than Lewis could ever be. That one of the resurrected Satanists was a stockbroker pleased me no end, and offers a subtle little nod to the anti-greed element of the show.
Other things that worked: the resurrected people were gross-looking, and the coin didn’t magically make them look like anything but walking corpses. Everyone at Curious Goods had something to do, so no one character dominated the proceedings. Touches such as Ryan sculpting Micki in clay at the start of the episode (preserving her, so to speak) to Ryan sculpting Micki in clay at the end (saving her) was a great parallel structure the first season wouldn’t have thought of. While it’s obvious Micki wouldn’t stay dead, how she’d come back wasn’t overtly telegraphed. The moment with Jack and Ryan in the shop, with Ryan blurred out in the background, and ticking clocks the only sounds was a great touch. The concept of choice is prevailing theme throughout the episode: choose to stay or go, live or die. Finally, hoisting the antagonist on his own petard is always nice to watch.
K: You’re catching some subtleties that I didn’t notice. The ticking clocks moment went right by me (I just didn’t have the time). I found the clay sculpture thing a little forced at the beginning, and felt it was largely abandoned by the end, but I suspect if I were to rewatch with your comment above in mind, I’d catch the clever structural parallels here.
The Cheese: Emotional scenes are difficult; Ryan’s first reaction wasn’t too bad, but it went a bit over the top in the scene with Jack. Also, Jack? It’s “hanged” not “hung.” Unless you were talking about something else. Finally, this is less cheese and more perhaps the writer not thinking it through, but I was highly uncomfortable with the conflation of Sylvan claiming “we’ve been hunted and persecuted” and Hewitt’s accusation of sacrificing babies...it trends dangerously close to “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” shit to sit well with me.
The Verdict: Really liked this episode a lot. Satan monks, surprise death, homages, corpse-y corpses, and neither the Curious Goods nor the Satanists making idiotic moves marks this as a (qualified) winner for me.
Sins: Pride, mostly, and Greed (power).
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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.