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?
Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2: “The Prophecies” Parts 1 and 2 (Tom McLoughlin, director; Tom McLoughlin, writer)
Fallen angels, saintly nuns, and a swan song for Ryan add up to one of the series’ best.
Click below for the full episodes. The first, titled "parts 1 and 2," features only part 1. Part 2 follows.
KRIS'S THOUGHTS: This melancholy double episode is stunning, right up until the finale, where it goes badly off the rails. The structure around the seven prophecies that must be fulfilled makes for an intriguing sequence of events. It’s paced like a 90-minute film, which is interesting, since other double-episodes in the series feel like two 45-minute chapters, not one long, unfolding story.
Much of the episode’s dramatic heft revolves around the possession of Ryan by fallen angel/demon Asteroth. Fritz Weaver as Asteroth is a good choice … well, for anything, but particularly for this. His wild, frenzied ritual readings of the “Book of Lucifer,” the first grimoire of the series, provide a good balance to the episode’s truly morose tone, with the team mostly separated: Jack through an injury, Ryan through his possession, and Micki being interrogated by the police about Ryan’s crimes.
Early in the episode, there is also the return of Ryan’s mother, showing up after a 14-year exile from her son, as he mourns at the grave of his brother. As Ryan and Micki leave for France to help Jack, the dolly shot away from Mrs. Dallion at the airport suggests Ryan might not return from this trip. While he’s on the run after the murder (while possessed) of a nun, Ryan’s breakdown scene begging Jack to help him is heartbreaking, which makes the puppeting of him by Asteroth in the scene directly after the more disturbing. It’s a really great performance by John D. LeMay, which makes his exit from the series even harder to take.
The second half of the episode features a beautiful procession through the streets of town (the steep hills of the cobblestone streets suggest it’s very likely Quebec City) (confirmed in Wax 2015, 338), with doleful singing and torches and candles. Ryan’s own past loss of his brother links him to these tragedies, and he has a vision of it again after being staked by Asteroth; in the wake of the stabbing, Ryan reverts back to his child self. The ending with Ryan, still possessed, brought to the sacred fount to be cured by the blessed mother shifts the episode into maudlin territory. In fact, the ending— with Ryan left at around age 8 to grow up again with his newly-returned mom, is a little too Touched by an Angel for this guy. I suppose they had to give Ryan a decent swan song as he left the series. More than anything, I’m sorry to see John D. LeMay go. He was the series’ best actor, and while his character was uneven, he was probably also the best-drawn character. Johnny, as a character, and particularly Steven Monarque, as an actor, don’t even come close.
Erin: Yes, it was painfully obvious even from the way little Johnny appeared in the episode. Also, how is anyone going to explain to Ryan why 1) his father is dead; 2) it’s 1989; and 3) why his cousin Micki is not around, except for this older lady? Yikes.
K: Classic semi-anthology ‘behavior’: it doesn’t matter; we’ll let them figure it out!
I’m pretty much with Jim Henshaw, who comments that this episode gets a bit too far away from “what we did best” (Wax 339). What at first feels like an interesting experiment on the form of the show (a few season 1 episodes do this to fairly good effect, if I remember well), turns into a bit of an illogical and tonal mess, despite how gorgeous and, at least initially, well paced it is.
Technical note: I wanted to wait until seeing a bit of the next episode before mentioning the poor transfer of this episode. I notice that the third season has a different DVD presentation than the first two, with a new menu design, and a crisper title sequence for the episode, but when the episode begins, it’s certain from the start that the transfer is out of focus and murky. Even the bright yellow titles are fuzzy. I wonder why this episode’s transfer is so shoddy? In subsequent transfers the image quality is much crisper, but the sound is echoey and muffled.
E: I noticed that too! I wonder if they switched from film to video?
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): First off, you were right when you mentioned that there was no real stopping point here; it did feel like a feature-length episode. One thing that is usually quite obvious when watching shows on DVD is where the commercial would have been. Some shows lean into it; watch, for instance, Firefly’s “Serenity”; Whedon structured the episode knowing where the breaks would be to keep audience attention over the distraction of the commercials (hello, Raymond Williams!), as when Mal opens the cryochamber around the 45-minute mark. There was no obvious markers like that in this episode, making it seem much more like a film than a television episode.
There was a lot to enjoy here in Ryan’s swan song. Loved that they went on location; not sure where that is, but it was certainly passable as a small, European village.
K: Quebec City.
E: Liked the bit with Jack dreaming of, and then waking up, at 3:33 am, to the sound of distorted bells and villagers walking like zombies through the streets. The guy playing Asteroth chewed the scenery in a delightful way (nice cackle!); I was afraid they’d bring back Lewis for this, so bonus! The possession effects were creepy but in a (mostly) subtle way: the green eyes, the blinded man in the square; they’d do well to remember that one doesn’t have to go big to up the freaky factor. Visually, this episode was a big step up, although the sound seemed murkier than usual. (Maybe it’s my ears.) The tracking shot with Mom LeMay in the airport was nicely done as well!
What happens when you watch old shows in 2020: The prophecy “All faith and hope depart from the world” (which was nicely accompanied/underscored by the innkeeper burning his cross crosscut with the shrine pilgrims singing “Ave Maria”) and the blinded guy who was caked in orange make up made me think: “Oh, so Trump will still be around? Thanks a lot, SATAN.”
LeMay really brings it in this episode (as does continuity!). While the loss of his brother hasn’t really been mentioned since “Scarecrow,” it is established enough so that the new wrinkle of backstory (that his mom blamed him) makes sense...and adds dimension to his interactions with his father in “Pipe Dreams.” The scene with Jack was heartbreaking and LeMay didn’t overdo it; you could see his struggle and sympathize with the way that Ryan has a history of not catching a break. Why he was more vulnerable leads to one of my big issues with this episode, which I’ll talk about below. There is an undercurrent of fragile masculinity here that is worth teasing out.
Also, the “you can keep your legs if you praise him” bit inspired my note: “Man, Lucifer is a needy bitch!”
OK, what didn’t work: The HUGE cheesy Virgin Mary/Sister Adele bit at the end. While it was cool that it was the young girl who defeated Satan, that whole last 10 minutes seemed really muddled and weird. Ryan takes the blow from Asteroth, who reduces him to a kid so that Satan can possess him, I guess. So why didn’t it work? I mean, I don’t need my hand held, but kid-Ryan was still possessed after Asteroth flamed out, so it wasn’t entirely clear why it failed. I’m guessing divine intervention, but I find that lazy. Also, Ryan (and his mom) get a do-over, which just puts too much of a button on things.
Finally, what bothered me the most here is the conflation of mental illness and evil. I’m not entirely sure that was the intention; the patients in the mental ward were targeted because they were the ones Sister Adele worked with—as dialogue makes clear—but combined with Micki saying Ryan was depressed because of the anniversary of his brother’s death suggests that mental illness makes you vulnerable to evil. I mean, it’s not an uncommon trope, but I don’t have to like it. (That being said, the scene in the ward was scary as hell; complete with a crucified nun!)
Consensus: Really good episode that whiffed it at the end.
Season 2, Episode 25: “The Prisoner” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Pressed to plug some backstory into a new character replacing the departing John LeMay (Ryan), the show gives us a Johnny-centered prison episode (oh, the possibilities!) that abandons any pretence to nuance or believability.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: The shift to Johnny as main character has begun in the centering of his story in this wholly unbelievable episode. Director Mastroianni mentions, “I think they called John LeMay’s bluff,” referring to LeMay’s intimations of leaving the show (quoted in Wax 2015, 313). Mastroianni mentions receiving a call saying that an episode had been written (by executive story editor Jim Henshaw) to center Johnny, and from here on out Johnny would be built into the Curious Goods team (Wax 2015, 313). Steven Monarque is a hard sell as Johnny. He plays the cliched tough guy to the hilt in a way that doesn’t really let the viewer in, and this episode’s ridiculous storyline doesn’t do him any favors.
I’m willing to suspend my disbelief to near-fantastical degrees, but nothing about this episode is remotely plausible, from the botched heist, to the prison scenes, to Railsback’s nightly murders (even under the cloak of invisibility), to the resolution. In fact, the cursed Japanese bomber jacket offering the power of invisibility is the most believable aspect! Railsback kills Johnny’s father while searching for the loot in the storage facility where Johnny’s father works. Within two weeks, Johnny is imprisoned for his father’s death, has seemingly integrated into prison life (one scene shows him boxing in the gym), and has had time to become suspicious of, and start to investigate Railsback. Even the two-week turnaround between Johnny’s father’s death and his being thrown in prison defies all logic, let alone all the rest of this.
Erin: To paraphrase Clueless: “Looking for story logic in a Friday the 13th episode is like searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.”
The Goods: The scenes with Railsback stalking the heist crew that betrayed him are compelling and in one case gruesome. But there’s not much else to recommend here.
The Cheese: Some of the logical gaffes are actually borderline funny:
The Verdict: The glimmer of hope in this sloppy, dismal effort is Les Carlson as Arkwright (great name). I recognized him from Cronenberg’s Videodrome. [E: And The Dead Zone!] There, he plays a sinister conspirator of sorts, but here he’s the wise helper figure who decides that life “out there” isn’t for him anymore, so he helps Johnny to (ironically) frame Railsback for the crimes Railsback is actually committing, but pointing out an escape route no one knows about. It seems Railsback wouldn’t have needed the bomber jacket after all.
Not the worst of the worst, but it’s a contender for bottom 10.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, well that was a thing that happened. There is a larger potential point to be made here about the horrors of the penal system, and law enforcement more generally that the episode really doesn’t really comment on. I mean: 1) the cops start shooting at Railsback and his gang before they even raise a weapon; 2) the warden is more concerned about missing sleep than a potential breakout at the prison; 3) the guards just randomly fire their weapons at prisoners or randomly beat the shit out of them.
K: I mean, haven’t they seen Jules Dassin’s Brute Force? It’s a crime if they hadn’t, and it’s a greater crime if they had, and still produced this mess.
E: Aside from Railsback, the only violence we see the prisoners engage in is the battle of the painful stereotypes that clue Railsback into the jacket’s powers. (Also, please note that these two scenes represent the only speaking parts for any of the non-white characters.) [K: Ouch]
So. Johnny. Watching these episodes is, at times, like watching with double vision. Current me is frequently squirming; 1989 me might have squirmed a bit, but also would have been used to a lot of this. That is, there’s no doubt, in that double-vision kind of way, that Johnny’s macho bravado and arrogance would have been the writer’s obvious choice for a “bad boy with a heart of gold” character that I think they were going for with him. It doesn’t, however, make it remotely appealing as a main character going forward. (Also, can we just acknowledge: HE SET A MAN ON FIRE.) (Double also: the “NOOOOOOO!” when his dad died.)
K: Double-Double also, Ryan can be every bit the dick that Johnny seems to be in this episode.
E: So much of this was just lazy writing and characterization. I know Curious Goods is supposed to be in some unnamed US city. So why do Railsback et al all sound like they’re from New York? Why did Reese buy that jacket, and then trade it? Did he know how it worked? Why was the gang still hanging around when they’d already taken the money from the storage place? Railsback didn’t have a key, so…
K: Well, as a wise friend of mine once wrote: “To paraphrase Clueless: ‘Looking for story logic in a Friday the 13th episode is like searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie’.”
The Bad: Lewis’s cultural appropriation strikes again with the cursed object. All of Johnny’s acting. The legal and penal system.
K: A given.
The Good: Arkwright/Les Carlson, who was way too good for this episode.
K: Totally. We share the same brain. Les Carlson is a class act.
The Cheese: Kreuger-style: “You don’t go outside with wet hair; you’ll catch your death!”
The sin: Well hello Wrath.
Bad. Not the worst, but bad.
K: I’m still thinking bottom 10. Maybe Arkwright saves it.
Season 2, Episode 26: “Coven of Darkness” (George Bloomfield, director; Wendy Rodriguez, writer)
Micki gets witchy and Ryan gets cursed as season two draws to a close.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: A bit of the semi-anthology arc coming in here, with a finale focused on the legacy Vendredi left to the Curious Goods team. Beautiful Giallo-style / Hammer Horror lighting in the opening sequence continues throughout the episode, even (oddly) in the Curious Goods nether regions, where it is revealed Jack sleeps. (Has the show noted before that Jack sleeps next to the vault?) The setup here is interesting, with mention of competing occult groups, and Lewis Vendredi’s coven attempting a past takeover of the one Jack is friendly with.
Erin: I don’t think it was mentioned before, but it makes sense! Good catch.
K: Jack initially becomes the occult guru to Micki’s budding witch, with the odd statement to Micki that “Witchcraft isn’t a fear it’s a discipline.” The idea that Micki has occult powers feels a little tacked on here, but I’m good to roll with it if it adds another factor to the show’s lore.
We learn that Lysa Redding, the head of the Black Coven, “was Lewis Vendredi’s second in command.” The idea of a coven linked to Lewis attempting to “destroying anything that get[s] in their way” is much more believable than Satan himself wanting to marry and impregnate Micki (“Wedding in Black” [2.21]) because he’s pissed off about her meddling. The show’s basis in these past occult wars hasn’t been fully developed, though. It seems they just bring it back to bridge seasons, not so much to develop the show’s mythos. In keeping with this half-interest, Micki has what seems to be a psychic blowout, and is told to wait a while before using her powers again. A convenient charge for a series that seems tentative in its ploy to develop her as a magic user. This seems to have been just a convenient plot device, despite the suggestion in the final moment that Micki’s interest in such powers remains. Story editor Jim Henshaw acknowledges that the experiment didn’t pan out as they had hoped, and that they decided to discontinue any narrative thread focusing on Micki’s powers (Wax 2015, 320). Jim, it’s called a so-so episode. In Canadian parlance, either give ‘er or just don’t.
The Cheese: I cringe every time they give Satan/Lucifer a voice. Thank goodness he gets only one line.
The Verdict: Not a bad season closer, but a middling episode.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): And we come to the end of Season 2 and Micki’s occult powers, which have never really been mentioned or suggested before! This may be the first time I’ve said this, but this might have benefitted from a bit longer running time; there are far too many elements at play: the right hand path, the coven, Micki’s powers, Ryan’s curse, etc etc.
K: Agreed. It’s all over the place.
E: There is a nice parallel here: the season opened with one set of Satanists trying to open the door to hell, and closes with another group trying to increase their power. The backwards Lord’s Prayer both use is the kind of cheesy touch I did enjoy, as well as how both the white and black magic practitioners employ Catholic rituals/artifacts in their stuff.
Also, Ryan being cursed was, thankfully, not reliant on either him being afflicted with a “soft heart on” or being an idiot [K: Lysa’s probably too much of a cougar for Ryan.]; Lysa’s getting of his blood as well as her stated desire to fight against evil were managed in a way that Ryan not being immediately suspicious made sense. (Maybe because I tend to wear a lot of rings myself, that handshake scene seemed plausible.)
And yet the overstuffed nature of the episode meant things that should have landed didn’t for me. For example, Catherine Disher (hello again!) showing up at the body shop seemed like a throwaway; that she was one of the witches didn’t land for me until the last 20 minutes. Nor was it apparent what she was doing there, unless checking up on Ryan? The empty eyed stare at the end seemed to suggest Micki was tempted by the power she tapped into, or maybe she was just tired and hungry? Ryan’s over-the-top reactions also didn’t sell his distress for me as much as the make-up department’s work to make him look like a junkie did. Finally, I’m not asking for massive depth, but between Micki’s almost raped by Satan thing and Ryan witnessing a coven murder his friend (whom we’ve never seen before, but considering how little he charges for car repairs, he’d have been a keeper!) you’d think there would be a smidge of reaction to these traumas.
K: Agreed. It’s like semi-anthology amnesia syndrome.
E: Little clay Satan reminded me of nothing so much as Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Gachnar.
K: Please keep doing this.
E: I’ll try! All in all, it was an OK episode—miles better than season one’s finale, but I’m not confident they are going to pay it off in any meaningful way. I would like to please request a moratorium on anyone screaming “NOOOOOOO!” for at least a few episodes.
K: Yeah. What would George Lucas say?
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.