Season 2, Episode 13: “Eye of Death” (Timothy Bond, director; Peter Jobin, Timothy Bond & Roy Sallows, writers)
The series branches out to showcase Curious Goods’ competition and make some unfortunate excuses for the Confederacy.
The magic lantern transporting the user into whatever image is projected is in keeping with the cinema’s long history of associating (illusory) desire with the projected image. Here, the proto-cinematic lantern is in the hands of Atticus Rook, a collector who uses it in the typical exploitative style that interests this series: he steals objects from history and sells them in the present, “robbing the dead” as co-writer and director Timothy Bond puts it (in Wax 242)). The fact that he does so here with the Confederate army in its last gasps as his source carries a disturbing and complicated sense of victimhood. This unsettling perspective rears its head in Ryan’s comment to the recently widowed nurse Abigail that nobody in the present thinks badly of them; they were just fighting for what they believed. Well, I’m not so sure it’s that simple. And I find myself wishing the episode would have complicated this response a bit.
*Oops, Ryan met a girl. I guess she’ll die. Oops, Ryan met another girl. I guess she’ll die. A few more and Ryan’ll will qualify for the “Sam Winchester Peen of Death” Award (http://www.supernaturalwiki.com/Peen_of_Death).
*The lamp burns for three hours, Jack observes, which means that the projected portal lasts only three hours as well. And then he and Micki leave Rook’s house instead of waiting for him to return.
*The cops let Micki and Jack wander around inside the building where a body has been found just outside.
The Verdict: Friday the 13th: The Series gets a time-travel episode. The destabilizing of time and space here comes with an instrument that … well … also happened to be one of the earliest contraptions to reveal unsettled time and space, a precursor to moving image projection. The anxiety related to being trapped behind that limited three-hour window between past and present was fairly palpable in this episode, handled through repeated back-and-forth journeys and both Ryan and Micki being trapped in the Civil War past for a time. I wish the magic lantern had been a little more closely tied to the notion that its illusory powers to capture time and event leading to its being known as the ‘eye of death’ of the episode’s title. Here, as in many cases with the cursed objects, it’s really just a gimmick (or a kind of Hitchcockian Macguffin).
Still, all of the traveling back and forth between different times/spaces/realities was handled better here than in the season 2 opener, and several others that feature this conceit. Overall, the episode, while well shot and especially well lit (it’s kind of beautiful, and according interviews in Wax (242), used few exterior lights) isn’t much more than a curiosity in terms of what the show can really do conceptually at its best.
E: Right? Not quite filler, but not great.
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, so just to get this out of the way immediately: “in my time, no one thinks badly of them.” WRONG. SO SO WRONG, RYAN. Given the current climate, both that line and Ryan’s insistence on not taking a side is a stumbling block to my enjoyment of this episode. I mean, they are fighting for the right to own people, of which there is zero acknowledgement in this episode. Do I look for trenchant social commentary in this series? No. But this is veering dangerously toward the “lost cause” narrative that the South likes to comfort itself with, and that pisses me off.
K: You got it.
E: That being said, there was stuff to like here. They made the wise decision not to go for “sweep” in their (few) shots of fighting, given the budgetary constraints, and that worked well to give those scenes a more oppressive sense of the costs of war. The magic lantern effect was great; again, simple but effective. Even better? A time travel episode in which, at several points, the only soundtrack (outside of the dialogue of course) was ticking clocks; plus, Ryan’s watch being the key to convincing Abigail he was from the future. And, of course, the photographs/lantern is all about captured time.
K: Nicely synthesized!
Other things: I liked the effect for this one, of running through that still shot, as well as Rook’s ultimate, Wile E. Coyote fate.
E: His name made me think of chess, but I think the two alternate meanings of rook are what they intended. First, of course, that it means to swindle someone, which was his MO. But, even better, it’s also the name for a type of crow/raven, which is frequently what they called those who robbed corpses on battlefields (eg, Thenardiar in Les Miserables). Normally I wouldn’t impute that level of subtlety on the series, but given both his slender frame and visage and how he was dressed in the Civil War sequences, it’s hard not to think it was intended.
Finally: Micki got to do the rescuing for once! Yay!
So, final verdict: not a favorite, although shot and structured pretty well.
Season 2, Episode 14: “Face of Evil” (William Fruet, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
The series gets continuity points—sort of—when both the compact and the surviving sister from “Vanity’s Mirror” make a reappearance
Watch the FULL EPISODE below!
Kris: Well, if it isn’t a sequel to “Vanity’s Mirror” (1.15)! It takes a full 8 minutes to recount the events of the past episode, with the story of Helen told in flashbacks of her sister, Joanne, in a cemetery to visit her gravesite. I suppose this flashback strategy saved some money, but there are more sophisticated ways of handling this. The flashbacks are used a bit more effectively several times later in the episode, as trauma flashes where Joanne’s memories cue her into connections she sees in a new case of the curse of “vanity’s mirror.” (Still, every time they flash back to Helen within the episode, I can’t resist a chuckle.)
Initially, I was disappointed that Helen was not going to return (outside of reused footage). I could see her developing a real fan following. Alas, not to be. Yet, writer Henshaw creates an interesting twist here, shifting the focus of his script from university life to the fashion magazine industry, and putting the mirror in the hands of a supermodel whose looks are showing signs of fading. The shift to the world where vanity is a business results in some of the series’ juiciest mugging and Falcon Crest style soap opera acting and writing. “Cover those canyons around her eyes,” says the photographer. And, later, Tabitha says to a reluctant plastic surgeon before the mirror kills him: “I’m not interested in nature; I want my face the way it was.”
It’s definitely the case in this episode that the object attracts its user. Tabitha doesn’t even know what the object does, but she keeps looking into it. But has the power of the curse changed? (Ryan: “You mean the object’s changed what it does?”) It now shows the user the dead face of a future death/victim and, once this price has been paid, then seems to alter the face of the user for all to see (because dead people don’t look at you; they look into you). One of the things that delays Micki and Ryan in their search for the mirror is that Tabitha is already beautiful by most standards, even if not perfect by supermodel standards. So, like the antique radio in “And Now the News” (2.3), the curse adapts to the needs of the user here. Jack: “The compact is a simple weapon of revenge. And it feeds on the vanity of whoever has it.” Well, there you have the sins all wrapped up and tied with a bow. Interesting that Tabitha’s wrinkles seem to degrade when they return, the more she uses the vanity.
Best Line: Tabitha, after the photo shoot, when the photographer asks to come into her apartment: “Oh, is that how it is? I’m back on top so you think you should be too?”
The Verdict: Despite the clunky use of the flashback (something I feel the series rarely uses well), this episode is definitely among the better ones, though certainly not among the best ones.
Erin’s thoughts (before reading yours): First of all, points to continuity for casting the same actress as Joanne! I mean, in terms of airing time, it’s only been a year or so, although in show time, who knows? (She was a senior in high school last we saw her and now working for a magazine? OK.)
The opening of this is a PERFECT example of how not to trust your viewers, and is certainly a product of that particular TV era. I can’t recall whether in the original airings they did “previously on” for each episode (they did for the “Quilt of Halthor” two-parter, but it’s lost to time whether it was usual), which would have more briefly covered this. Still, all that was really needed was a few flashes here and there to remind the viewer (as they did at other points of the episode). Instead, we got a full eight minutes of flashbacks, interspersed with the longest cemetery walk ever.
E: By only focusing on Joanne, it implies these are her recollections, except at far too many points, they are scenes she never witnessed. Clunky. VERY clunky.
E: Consequently, we don’t really get into the meat of the episode until almost 10 minutes in, and it is a vast improvement. We get to know the fate of the compact, and what’s better, a bit of nuance as to how these cursed objects can operate. Essentially, Jack’s explanation confirms what we suspected: the curses are related to a particular sin, and the power of the object is whatever can best damn you. Love the Sunset Boulevard/Gloria Swanson vibe Tabitha gives off, and while “vanity” in the modeling world is an easy one, it didn’t make it any less enjoyable.
What else did I like: the ethical plastic surgeon who won’t perform a procedure on her. The magazine name—Degage—apparently means both “nonchalant” and “unconstrained,” which offers a subtle irony. The subtle “on top” discussion between Tabitha and gross photo guy whose name I have forgotten.
The cheese: Near the end, when Tabitha is aiming the compact, the music seems as if directly lifted from, I think, Halloween? Lazy prop master award goes to whomever marked one of the equipment boxes for the shoot “Stuff.”
The Verdict: Not a top one for me, but once you get past the start, there’s a lot to enjoy.
K: Agreed on all counts! (Although I suspect I liked this one better than you did!) This is a weird case where what could have been one of the best episodes for sheer, gleeful soap-operatics (especially in the acting), was hampered by that massive and unnecessary intro segment. When I think of how much more time I could have had with leering, glaring, scheming Tabitha, rather than watching an episode I’ve already seen, I feel grumpy.
E: 100% with you on this one. Tabitha was pure soap opera camp and I loved it! I will say one thing that did occur to me belatedly; this may be one of the few times were the Curious Goods crew actually consider the aftermath. Compare that ending discussion with Ryan’s glib: “that kid needs therapy” remark in “The Inheritance.”
Season 2, Episode 11: “The Sweetest Sting” (David Winning, director; Rick Butler and Roy Sallows, writer)
Season 2 goes on an upswing that’s got us all abuzz.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
A lonely field next to a lonely country road with all the muted colors of a rural landscape … Ahhh, I do get excited when Friday the 13th: The Series goes on location. The opening swarm scene is great (and apparently had real bees added into the S/FX mix), and the following night shot with rows of beehives looking like tombstones is a great touch.
Casting Canadian character actor Art Hindle (The Dead Zone) as the sinister beekeeper is a coup; he’s a step up from the usual guest stars. From the get-go, this episode feels every bit the double-feature of the earlier “Scarecrow” (1.11), another stunner. I guess the eleventh spot in the season means you’re a winner, baby? [Erin: YES! Serious “Scarecrow” vibes for me as well. And I knew that guy looked familiar!]
K: Finally, an episode more akin to Season 2’s initial string of more grounded, darker, stories. This one has a good feel, the casting is great, and the locations are gorgeous. There’s a lot going on here: an immortality-granting object, terminally ill patients, businessmen becoming outsourced by corporate interests. Tied to this is a kind of male virility issue, with the mortality giving these men new, younger, healthier, and attractive bodies of the men whose lives they’ve taken. [E: Absolutely, and makes it nuanced and sympathetic, which is a challenge.]
K: Director David Winning has a long, prolific career in TV directing, including genre fare such as Are Your Afraid of the Dark? (1993-95), Earth: Final Conflict (2001-2) and Todd and the Book of Pure Evil (2010-12). His two other episodes for this series were “Scarlet Cinema” (2.16) (good) and “Jack in the Box” (3.17) (not bad). I’m intrigued.
The death-by-columbine scene in a misty field (shot on a Mennonite farm [Wax 229]) is a nice touch, a throwback to the woodchipper death in the TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981). (Okay, let’s face it, that 1981 scene is incomparable.) The bee attack on Micki later on even has a “bee cam” shot chasing her and Ryan. This episode is directed with verve.
This is one of those episodes that really feels like a progenitor to The X-Files. It’s darker in tone, has a backstory of two brothers at odds, deals with the fragility of the body (and the male ego) in ways that do not moralize, and blends the supernatural “evil” into a natural effect (vampire bees) that has some believability as a kind of mutation. The corporate aspect of the episode doesn’t pan out so much, but it’s there, lingering, in the terminally ill man who dons the body of the CEO who fired him. I would say that ultimately this is one of the stronger ones, possibly top ten.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, I see what you mean, and the previous episode looks much worse in comparison. First, I love a good road-trip episode; the show ought to have more of these! Also, this one was so well structured, the motivations of people like Norman and Purdy’s brother were understandable and made narrative and character sense, and while greed was (again!) the besetting sin, vanity also played a role (at least in terms of the clients).
While we don’t know much about McCabe’s motivation for wanting the beehive, this served almost as a corollary to “Scarecrow” in presenting a villain who basically just wanted more and more and set his sights beyond his little rural town (unlike “Scarecrow”). Oddly, it works here; he sells the wanting youth and wanting power over others as enough motivation to do what he does. Also, the actor playing Fred Marr does a decent job of conveying the Norman-ness of the new Fred.
There is something here that I feel I’m missing; my brain keeps trying to make a link to both the title, the name of the apiary (“Sweet Life”) and the repeated phrase “A Taste of Honey,” except the only thing that pops in is a play by the same name that is considered an early example of British kitchen-sink realism. OH! OK, I may be stretching here, but I think an argument can be made that this was an extremely subtle take on endless pyramid schemes/MLMs of the 80s (and beyond): Watkins, Amway, all that crap. Think about it: You’ve got the head guy, who kills the original owner of the cursed beehive and brings in the next guy. New guy is so impressed with the results he then turns spokesman/salesman for it (eg, Ben to Norman) and on and on up the chain. (It’s like Angel’s “Disharmony” episode: “Turn two, the rest are food.”) Considering that we’ve got an Amway founder family member in the US government right now (Betsy DeVos), it seems timely...particularly combined with Jack’s closing monologue about people being blind to what doesn’t directly affect them…
Really quite impressed. One final bit: Kudos to Robey for not taking it over the top, or having the script force her to do stupid shit to move the plot along. Love it.
K: Maybe this one can tie with “Scarecrow” in our ten or fifteen best list, since they are incredibly complementary. We could list them as “Tied for #th Place: A “Scarecrow” and “The Sweetest Sting” Double Feature. [E: I endorse this idea!]
Season 2, Episode 12: “The Playhouse” (Tom McLoughlin, director; Tom McLoughlin, writer)
Season 2’s streak continues with a sad, Twilight Zone-inspired episode of traumatized children trying to survive at any cost.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
Well, it must have been sweeps week, because this makes two good ones in a row. This is one of the first times that the holders of the objects seem truly reluctant to provide it with a victim, and of course it’s kids. While they do go through with it in a disturbing scene where two desperate, Mike and Janine, lonely and abused kids feed other kids to the object, the reluctance, particularly on the part of the sister, Janine, is very real.
The news report that precedes the missing child report watched by Micki in Curious Goods tells of a “long, bloody war” between two unnamed countries, but that has ground offensives in the desert. Interesting context.
Bonus! We get to see where the kids get taken to, and it’s a surrealistic toy nightmare. The set design is terrific. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) seem to be immediate influences here, with the original Twilight Zone series, particularly “It’s a Good Life,” obviously a touchpoint. One of the kids is Robert Oliveri, from Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Edward Scissorhands. This role precedes both, but Oliveri definitely has a combination of wickedness and innocence shared by Billy Mumy and, even more so Jeremy Licht from TZ: The Movie, whom he resembles.
Erin: YES! I got that vibe too.
K: When Micki and Ryan try to disassemble the playhouse, the kids are in surreal-toyland in military outfits, enforcing “their rules” once Micki and Ryan appear, tied up with jump ropes (!), in their fantasy space.
This episode really gets the desire for escape in children; here, from a world of abuse and noise in their home. The stereotype of the boozer mother who sleeps around and neglects and abuses the kids is tough to swallow, but it’s limited to a couple of featured scenes. That these kids would want to escape at all costs, even feeding the object “stupid happy kids” (and meddling adults, in the case of the Curious Goods crew), makes sense in that their reality couldn’t be much worse. The repeated “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you” invocation was really harsh early in the episode, but the turnaround where screaming “I love you, I really do care” returns all of the missing children feels trite. Has a cursed object ever given back its sacrificial fodder?
E: That’s the thing, though. Mikey tells Janine he loves her, but neither Janine nor Mikey say they love the other kids. That’s rather what I liked about it. (See below for my complete thoughts on that final scene.) While the kids not returning at all would have been chilling and interesting to watch, I can’t imagine an 80s show (even in syndication) going that dark...they would suspect that viewers would lose sympathy with the kids.
K: Wow, this one is so, so good, at least until the bummer of a happy ending. Considering how melancholic and disturbing this episode can be, it’s too bad Wax spends her time doing the equivalent of an E! interview with the actors and director talking about how great it was to work together. McLoughlin went on to direct a lot of TV; he created the short-lived series She-Wolf of London. He had previously written Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, which is really quite good, full of postmodern horror film in-jokes. He’d also previously directed “Master of Disguise” (2.6), and would write and direct “The Prophecies,” parts 1 and 2, which open season 3.
This one goes in my top 15.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Wow. Just, wow. I didn’t actually take a lot of notes on this one; just watched. It all worked: what the antique was and what it was capable of, and most importantly, what it fed on. It should have been clunky: feeding on Mikey and Janine’s absolutely understandable envy of the children around them, but it wasn’t. Because the writer clearly understood something that far too many miss when writing about abused children: how hard it is to admit they hate the abusive parent. (The scene where Mikey’s mom hits him, and he squares his jaw and says “didn’t hurt” (only to have her up the stakes) was chilling in its realism.
Thus the playhouse works perfectly, as they can project that hate onto other children, and be empowered after always being powerless. (Also, as if more proof was needed; how irredeemable Lewis was. Sure, he had his moment of doubt with the doll in the first episode, but curses a playhouse that feeds on children?) While I’m not of the school that children are little angels, there was real pathos and sympathy in why Mikey and Janine did what they did and that their sense of “us against the world” was completely justified by what they’d experienced. (Also, visually, the “fun” turned “horror” reminded me of the Twilight Zone film version of “It’s a Good Life.”)
Also, give it up for a not-totally-incompetent police force! Following up, asking questions, arresting assholes they find putting children in headlocks. I mean, the bar’s low, but still.
K: Hahahaha! True.
E: Best line goes to Jack: “Nobody listens to children, or quirky antique dealers.” I love the parallel.
K: I liked that line, too. Both are true.
E: Also, the last bit should have been cheesy, but Jack knew just what to say. And the fact that it was “I care about you” rather than “I love you” worked much better. The issue isn’t really about an inability to love (Mikey and Janine love and protect each other) but becoming hardened through suffering.
This is a top one for me.
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!]
WARNING!: This week, we invite you to behold an unfortunate double feature of two of the absolute worst episodes of the entire series, one an innocuous dud and one that courts outrage. Come along with us as we discuss ...
Season 2, Episode 7: “Wax Magic” (William Fruet, director; Carl Binder, writer)
We interrupt Season Two’s winning streak with the thud of Lizzie Borden’s waxen axe.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
The Goods: This will be brief. “See Jack the Ripper! See Bluebeard …!” The opening speaker/barker loudspeaker tags masculine monsters—one real, one mythical—who targeted women in their violence. This makes it all the more curious that Micki is “away for the weekend till Monday.” And it should have informed the episode’s treatment of a man who captures a woman to make her both his slave and his death-servant. To no avail.
The Cheese: This won’t be brief.
Regarding the opening: Yes, we know what a carnival looks like. A quick set of establishing shots would have been just fine. But this sequence looks like a music video for the Huey Lewis knockoff song that underscores it. It’s not hip to be THAT square.
E: What? You weren’t rockin’ to such deathless lyrics as “deep in the heart of a Midwest night”? K: I grew up deep in the heart of a Midwest night, and I do not approve.
This episode is pretty overstuffed with ideas. I was expecting that the victims of the w/ax(e) murderer would become wax figures themselves (though even this isn’t clearly explained in the end), but Marie’s sudden clairvoyance when she wipes the blood off of the death-bringer’s cloak adds an extra angle. We learn later that it’s Marie (sort of) who is the murderer, puppeted by her husband-captor-creator. Yet we also learn that the cloaked figure is Lizzie Borden in wax. If I thought the initial mention of Jack the Ripper and Bluebeard were a subtle cue to the episode’s thematic concerns, I guess I was giving the writing more credit that it is due.
At the crime scene, within which the cops unbelievably let Ryan wander around, Ryan finds a wax finger and removes it (!), saying it’s a quarter when asked by one of the cops. Impossibly, they let him. Wouldn’t someone trying to remove anything from a crime scene be suspected as the murderer or an accomplice? This moment feeds into one of the series’ continually absurd suspensions of disbelief— that multiple murders occur and the police are, variously: not called, oblivious, or flatly and hilariously ineffective.
The backstory of the curse is so convoluted I can’t even summarize it two seconds after hearing it. We’ve got Madame Marie Toussaud of wax museum fame making a death mask of King Louis, escaping the French Revolution; the handkerchief is payment for the mask (?) and so it takes on power to turn whomever it’s placed onto into a beheader (because Louis was beheaded), and so the wax museum curator at the carnival tucks it into the lapel of the Lizzie Borden wax figure, so that there will be a natural fit for the killer. This is all so stupid that I didn’t even rewind it to listen again to the details. Because I don’t care if I get them right. Because I’m never going to think about this episode again after this post.
Biggest understatement of the series so far goes to Jack, who tells Ryan: “You have to stop becoming so soft-hearted when it comes to a pretty face.” He’s right, though I’d add: “obsessive and sociopathic” to “soft-hearted.” From now on, I’m going to refer to Ryan’s stalkery horniness with, “Oh, look, Ryan’s got a soft heart on.”
E: LOVE IT.
Ryan stops the w/ax(e) murderer by melting her in an earlier scene, which I liked. And of course she follows suit with her melty self-immolation: “It was the only way, Ryan. The only way.” The coolest thing about the episode is watching her melt away. It actually manages to be disturbing in a way that this episode never achieves elsewhere. Wax notes that writer Carl Binder was disappointed in the episode, particularly that the wax museum wasn’t creepy enough. He’s right— the wax museum itself looks about as menacing or uncanny as a bunch of mannequin displays of knockoff fashion at JC Penney (RIP). No, I take that back … JC Penney displays are/were much creepier. The entire episode fails on this note. It takes place at a nighttime carnival, for shit’s sake. It’s convoluted and ridiculous in all the wrong ways. Here I am, kicking into Roger Ebert mode again, but if an episode has as much potential subtext as this one has going for it, and squanders every bit of it at every turn, it could at the very least just be a creepy mood piece. It’s got nothing going for it except that carnival setting that it forgets to use. A total, unforgivable stinker.
Erin’s thoughts (before reading yours): Well, that was certainly an episode.
There is a whole thing that could have been done with this setting, of the ways in which carnivals are viewed by “townies” and how townies (“rubes”) are viewed by the tight-knit community of a carnival. Instead, like the wax museum itself, it was all stage-dressing. It was easy to twig to the fact that there was some type of Pygmalion situation going on, although I will admit that I wasn’t immediately aware that it was Marie as the Lizzie.
And poor Marie. Once AGAIN we’ve got creepy asshole using magic to control women, but Aldwin dialed this up to eleven and managed to embody every incel trait one can imagine. But almost nobody comes out great in this episode, from Jack saying it’s a “domestic” issue to Ryan Ryan-ing whenever a pretty girl comes along. (Kudos to the unseen Sally for ditching him.) The only decent and relatable character in the episode was Danny (and thank you Ft13th: TS for not making the little person the criminal in this one), and of course he gets killed. GRRR.
K: Just wait till the next one. Oof.
What else didn’t work? Almost nothing worked, from my point of view. Louis’s hanky? Madame Tussaud? OK, we’ve got wax and the hanky, but how exactly is that supposed to bring wax to life? And how did Aldwin get a hold of it? And the police letting Ryan traipse across the crime scene (which, weirdly, had no blood?). The slo-mo fight? (Although, Ryan gets points for the fire idea.)
The melty bit at the end was fairly effective, although it went on a bit too long for comfort. Which might have actually been the point.
BLARGH. What a hot mess this episode was.
Season 2, Episode 8: “Read My Lips” (Francis Delia, director; Peter Lauterman, Angelo Stea, writers)
In which Kris and Erin slog through the worst, arguably most misogynistic (and ableist) episode of the entire series.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
The Goods: There is one—and only one—good one-liner in an episode that should have been full of them: ventriloquist dummy Oscar to promoter Bernie as he’s stabbing him: “Keep it, Bernie. It’s your cut.”
The Cheese: I wish there were some cheese to offset this episode’s vicious misogyny, its total lack of awareness of anything, and its near-total lack of humor.
The Verdict: The episode’s logic and tone are completely off, and suspension of disbelief is stretched to an all-time, gossamer thinness. The indecisive tone begins early. Just after the opening routine with Edgar Van Horne and his ventriloquist dummy Oscar, something is really off (and off-putting). The Oscar routines aren’t funny, and the second routine where Micki joins her friend at a show is the wrong kind of uncomfortable. It’s unclear how these routines would draw any audience. Vulgar and “inappropriate” humor is a delicate balance— if you’re going to be offensive, you have to be funny and also suggest that you understand you’re being offensive, and be clear why. I understand that Oscar is an entity all to himself, but the scenes of his misogynistic comments aren’t balanced with anything to give the sense that the writers don’t share it. The episode is the apex (or nadir) of the show’s misogyny, in the sense that it’s seemingly both the underlining theme of the narrative and the force that drives the episode. Here is a case in point, from Alyse Wax’s Curious Goods book (and I read the following passage in the Wax book after I wrote the above thoughts):
Although [director Francis] Delia didn’t write the script, he made the decision to make Oscar the dummy a misogynist. “I thought it would add a fun dimension to that half of the story. Edgar is very dedicated to his lovely, much younger fiancee, but any time he has the dummy on his lap, the dummy is shooting nasty wisecracks at her. To this day, I still think it’s funny because psychologically, this guy is talking out of two sides of his mouth. For reasons that don’t really need to be explained, when he is talking to his fiancee through the dummy, he’s letting out the side of him that really, perhaps, has issues with women. The rest of the time, he is this very dedicated, caring fiance.” (Wax 2015, 214, emphasis added).
When I read this passage, my jaw dropped, and I’m not sure I can say much else about the “for reasons that don’t really need to be explained” line. I mean, this guy directed a lot of the show’s episodes. Misogyny becomes a “fun dimension” to complement a narrative. Fuck this guy.
E: What the hell does that even mean? What a dick. (Also, he apparently directed a porn film called Nightdreams, described in IMDB as: “In an experiment, a pair of scientists use electric jolts to induce a sleeping woman to have erotic dreams” which seems very on-brand for what we’ve seen so far. Weirdly, Nightdreams stars “Dorothy LeMay,” who apparently is no relation to John.) K: Hahahaha! :-/
Also, Oscar or no Oscar, why is Micki’s friend “crazy about” Edgar? He treats her like total shit and has no charisma—and there isn’t even a sense that either of these things were any different in the times before Oscar. Case in point: Edgar brings Oscar to his wedding. The actor playing him does do “crazy” well, however; the scene with him strapped to a gurney in an attic room and startling Ryan with his crazed speech is pretty juicy. John D. LeMay doesn’t seem to be performing his startled reactions as much as just having them.
E: “Crazed” and “creepy” are Billy Drago specialties, believe me.
At about three-quarters of the way through the episode, suddenly Oscar is no longer a dummy, but a little man in makeup? Have I missed some subtle information about the length of time wearing the boutonniere bringing someone back to life? While I find this shift to dummy-fleshiness way more effective than the endless dummy scenes—and the devilishly inappropriate “little man cam” that hues closely to Oscar as he stalks his potential victims in the finale is certainly uncomfortable fun—it’s another sign of this episode being a total mess. Hey, let’s add ableism to our mix of marginalization!
E: It just occurred to me that Oscar biting Edgar at the bachelor party was probably their idea of foreshadowing.
And, for perhaps the final outrage … I’m not sure what to think of Jack’s collection of Nazi paraphernalia (is he really leaving Micki and Ryan to find cursed objects while he is in … Florida? … collecting Nazi stuff?). The idea of Nazi occult experimentation having something to do with Oscar’s inhabited or possessed body—and thus a pink silk boutonniere that Hitler wore to be immortal—is patently ridiculous and as the logic behind a cursed object is about as tenuous as the John Wilkes Booth makeup kit in “Master of Disguise.” [The idea of associating Florida with Nazism is, however, not ridiculous.] Also, my feeling is, if you’re going to dredge up the Nazis’ occult interests (or, frankly, the Nazis at all) in a TV horror show, have the decency to build the intricacies of that history into the episode’s logic or themes somehow. The cursed object here might as well have been a pair of underwear Hitler wore. Or that John Wilkes Booth wore, for that matter.
Sins: Sloth (the dummy does most of the work). And Greed. And Being a Shitty Episode—not necessarily in that order.
Erin’s Thoughts (before reading yours): Wow. That was PAINFUL. Putting aside the fact that ventriloquist dummies kind of freak me out, there was so much wrong in this episode I don’t even know where to begin? With the misogynistic “humor”? With the horrible “rap”, compounded by the camera cutting to an African-American woman in the audience who is attempting to laugh? The lack of any foreshadowing or build up to the reason for the killing until the last act of the episode? Billy Drago’s scenery chewing? (Seriously, that should have been on his business card; you want scenery chewed by a guy who does “creepy” better than anyone in the business, call Billy Drago! Well, actually, you can’t anymore, ‘cause he died. But my point stands.) That the first killing we see is the black guy? The fact that almost every guy in the episode is a misogynistic asshole? Going to the “little people are evil” well again, and the weird-ass tracking/running shot of Oscar at the end? K: I feel serious shame for finding this last aspect twisted and inventively funny. I am a horrible person.
Also, if you’re going with the Don Rickles schtick and nobody makes a “how to get a head in show business” joke upon discovering the agent’s head in the freezer, I feel cheated. K: Totally.
Nobody’s behavior or motivations make any sense in this episode. Oscar wants to be human, but there is literally nothing human-looking about him until nearly the end. Micki wants to get involved with what’s going on with Gabrielle, then she doesn’t, then she does again. Ryan takes Jack’s troubling line from the previous episode of suggesting obvious domestic violence isn’t worth bringing the police in before saying they need to investigate it.. Finally, is that supposed to be a hospital Edgar’s locked up in, or did someone just stick him in a random attic?
K: I thought the attic looked kind of like the undressed set of a shitty 80s sitcom about “middle-class” people living in an area of, say, San Francisco that no middle-class person could ever afford. You know, like Full House or something. E: That’s hilariously accurate; and weirdly, something I talked about in my PhD thesis! K: Legit.
Sins: This whole episode is a sin. It makes “Bottle of Dreams” look like an Emmy contender.
K: Haha, for sure. I do think this is one of the minority entries in the sloth category. Unintentionally so for the writing and directing. This one is like Season One bad for sure.
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.