Thanks to our readers who have kept with us on this rewatch journey.
THE TOP TWENTY EPISODES
Friday the 13th: The Series is a better show than it has a right to be, all things considered. A syndicated show meant to capitalize on the notoriety and name-recognition of the (unfairly derided) Friday the 13th slasher films (but otherwise having nothing to do with that franchise), the show’s most successful individual episodes managed to tackle issues of race, gender inequity, neoconservatism, fascism, toxic masculinity, abuse of institutional power, the military industrial complex, and child and domestic abuse. Its guest directors included Jennifer Lynch, Atom Egoyan, and David Cronenberg. When it leaned into horror, as in episodes like “Scarecrow,” “Tales of the Undead” and “The Long Road Home,” the show anticipated and inspired later series such as The X-Files; and when it played with themes of the dark fantastic, as in episodes like “Shadow Boxer,” “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul” and “The Playhouse,” it could rival TV classics like One Step Beyond, Thriller and The Twilight Zone.
We base the following list of top 20 episodes on the strength of an individual episode’s innovation within and against the 1980s TV production landscape; their layered scripting and direction; the provocative political or critical content and rich themes blended into their narratives; their intertextuality or allusiveness to horror history, themes and motifs; and their possible creative influence on subsequent series. We could have listed a top ten, but we feel that these twenty-plus episodes are exemplary.
“The Great Montarro” (1.6)
“The Electrocutioner” (1.18)
“The Pirate’s Promise (1.22)
“The Voodoo Mambo” (2.2)
The Top 20
20. “Double Exposure” 1.21
19. “The Prophesy” Parts 1 and 2 (3.1, 3.2)
18. “Better Off Dead” 2.15
17. “Mesmer’s Bauble” 2.20
16. “Scarlet Cinema” 2.16
15. “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul” 3.12
14. “The Playhouse” 2.12
13. “Mightier Than the Sword” 3.10
12. “The Long Road Home” 3.15
11. “The Sweetest Sting” 2.11
10. “Scarecrow” (1.11)
9. “The Maestro” (2.23)
8. “Faith Healer” (1.12)
7. “Shadow Boxer” (1.8)
6. “And Now the News” (2.3)
5. “Repetition” (3.14)
4. “Tales of the Undead” (1.10)
3. “Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)
2. “Pipe Dream” (1.24)
1. “The Butcher” (2.19)
- TOP 20 -
THE BUTCHER (Season 2, Episode 19; Francis Delia, director; Francis Delia & Ron Magid, writers)
THE TOP TEN MOST PROVOCATIVE EPISODES
The following episodes—while they don’t always hit the mark—are interesting for their upfront treatment of subject matter not often handled so transparently in 1980s television.
10. “Mesmer’s Bauble” 2.20
9. “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul” 3.12
8. “Repetition” 3.14
7. “Better Off Dead” 2.15
6. “The Maestro” 2.23
5. “Mightier Than the Sword” 3.10
4. “Faith Healer” 1.12
3. “Pipe Dream” 1.24
2. “The Butcher” 2.19
1. “Wedding Bell Blues” 2.22
- MOST PROVOCATIVE -
WEDDING BELL BLUES (Season 2, Episode 22; Jorge Montesi, director; Nancy Ann Miller, writer)
THE TOP TEN MOST MISOGYNISTIC EPISODES
In a series that idles on misogynistic representation, these are quintessentials. We provide this list not to court outrage, but to illustrate where the series’ most egregious representations of women come to the surface, serving as a kind of key to mapping misogyny across the show. Antidote “chasers” highly recommended.
10. “Cupid’s Quiver” (1.3) [Antidote: “Mesmer’s Bauble” (2.20)]
9. “Night Hunger” (2.10) [Antidote: “The Pirate’s Promise (1.22)]
8. “Symphony in B-Sharp” (2.5) [Antidote: “The Maestro” (2.23)]
7. “Night Prey” (3.8) [Antidote: “The Voodoo Mambo” (2.2)]
6. “The Charnel Pit” (3.20) [Antidote: “Repetition” (3.14)]
5. “The Baron’s Bride” (1.13) [Antidote: “Double Exposure” (1.21)]
4. “Bad Penny” (3.6) [Antidote: “The Prophesy” Parts 1 and 2 (3.1, 3.2)]
3. “Wedding in Black” (2.21) [Antidote: “Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)]
2. “Read My Lips” (2.8) [Antidote: “The Long Road Home” (3.15)]
1. “My Wife as a Dog” (3.16) [Antidote: “Pipe Dream” (1.24)]
THE BOTTOM TEN EPISODES
Selected, for your displeasure, based on the same criteria as the top twenty episodes. Again, antidote chasers highly recommended.
10. “Jack in the Box” (3.17) [Antidote: “A Friend to the End” (18)]
9. “Wax Magic” (2.7) [Antidote: “Tales of the Undead” (1.10)]
8. “The Quilt of Hathor,” Parts 1 and 2” (1.20) [Antidote: “The Prophesy” Parts 1 and 2 (3.1, 3.2)]
7. “Wedding in Black” (2.21) [Antidote: “Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)]
6. “The Baron’s Bride” (1.13) [Antidote: “Double Exposure” (1.21)]
5. “Read My Lips” (2.8) [Antidote: “The Long Road Home” (3.15)]
4. “The Prisoner” (2.25) [Antidote: “Mightier Than the Sword” 3.10)]
3. “Doorway to Hell” (2.1) [Antidote: “Scarlet Cinema” 2.16]
2. “Bottle of Dreams” (1.26) [Antidote: “The Playhouse” 2.12]
1. “My Wife as a Dog” (3.16) [Antidote: “Pipe Dream” (1.24)]
- MOST MISOGYNISTIC / BOTTOM 10 -
MY WIFE AS A DOG (Season 3, Episode 16; Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Okay, to be honest, we don’t feel that guilty about the following lists. A couple of the episodes below are even in our top 20! But there’s something about these entries in the series that cause a titter—a feeling that even though some things aren’t gelling, there’s still much to be savoured. And sometimes bad is just so, so good.
Kris’s List of 10 (in no particular order)
Erin’s List of 10 (in no particular order)
- GUILTY PLEASURES -
WHAT A MOTHER WOULDN'T DO (Season 1, Episode 25; Neil Fearnley, director; Bruce Martin, writer)
Thank you for reading!
Thus ends our journey through Friday the 13th: The Series. Stay tuned, as we prepare our next blog on the George A. Romero-produced series, Tales from the Darkside.
This week, we present the final two episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series. But STAY TUNED!, as next week, we cover the highs and lows, the bests and worsts, and the "guilty" pleasures of the series in a final rewatch wrap-up!
Season 3, Episode 19: “The Tree of Life” (William Fruet, director; Christine Foster, writer)
Even with the hilarity of a man-eating oak tree, this episode remains stillborn.
The Goods: A Druidic sect of women maintain a fertility clinic as a front to “breed their followers.” The women have twins, a boy and a girl, and they keep the girls and feed the fathers to their “tree of life.”
*When they bring the girl twin to the attic room where they’ll raise her with the other kidnapped girls, one of the nurses asks, “What will you call her?” Dr. Oakwood replies, “Sheila. It means out of sacrifice comes joy.” (It’s actually Gaelic for “heavenly.”)
*When one of the Druid nurses suggests that the next mother is aware she’s having twins, Dr. Oakwood replies, “With what we’ll give her, she won’t remember if she’s had one baby or a hundred.”
*Dr. Oakwood calls giving birth “the transition.”
*There’s an attic full of little white girls dressed like dolls.
*Does anyone ever say in real life, “Now, if you’ll excuse me …”?
*Jack and Micki, after all this time, playing the logic and doubt game is super annoying. [E: Yup, that annoyed me too!] Considering all they’ve been through, the way they treat Johnny is almost “gaslighting.” Johnny’s run into a frantic mother wailing at a newsstand over a cover of Newsmaker touting the successes of Dr. Oakwood; he’s found the kids in the attic of the clinic, seen a ring of Druidic stones, heard screams in the night. What more evidence do they need to trust him?
*Logic problems: The Oakwood clinic has a 98% success rate, which means they also have a 98% death rate in the men they kill, required to create the “safe and gentle birth” desired by each couple. The wives are led to believe their husbands have abandoned them. But how long can this go on before someone notices? Even as a critical equation of capitalist enterprise with medicine, religion and death, the scenario stretches belief. Interviewed in Wax, scriptwriter Foster explains that in her original concept, the twins kept by the sect
“were periodically sacrificed to the tree to keep it bearing more statues”; but then the production team said no child sacrifice, even implied, so all my lovely little figures in white with flowers in their hair now trooped out and attended the sacrifice of the husbands. Nutty, really, because no one would miss a child who’d never ‘existed,’ but certainly families would miss a goodly number of husbands. It took a lot of rewriting to even try to justify that and I was never exactly happy with the outcome. (2015, 445).
Yeah, neither is this viewer.
The Verdict: With all due respect to Foster’s struggles with the censors, this script is as bad as one of Jim Henshaw’s worst. I make the comparison because it shares some of the identifiers of a Henshaw script: ridiculous occult ceremonies, storm and wind that kicks up on command (but that no one else notices), set-bound climaxes where the sets look like … sets, and characters trapped in liminal spaces (Johnny and Mr. Sanderson being sucked beneath the tree).
Season 3 is turning out to be a bit of a clunker.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Why wasn’t this more interesting? You’ve got a Druidic fertility cult, a man-eating tree, lightning storms and explosions. It’s timely for its time; fertility clinics were becoming big business in the 1980s, with some dodgy practices and often ineffective, expensive treatments.
A few things stand out, beyond the New Zealand-born Garnett’s bizarre Irish accent: 1) the same beats occur over and over: lady has baby, they steal the girl and kill the dad, life goes on with no real plot progression. 2) Plot-contrivance skepticism from Jack and Micki is frankly ridiculous at this point. This isn’t even something you could roll off on character, like Ryan getting his “soft heart on” [K: Hahaha!] because Johnny hasn’t been developed enough as a character for his motivations in most things to be clear. 3) It’s vaguely irritating when it seems no one is making an effort, from writing to acting to bothering to hide the set design-ness of the outdoor scenes. It was like watching the climax of Manos: The Hands of Fate. (OK, maybe not THAT bad.) There are so many plotholes and questions that the episode seems almost wholly uninterested in addressing. OK, not every dad gets oaked [K: You’re hilarious.], but even one in 12 is not insubstantial, so, what? Nobody cares? Or is the general idea that men are irresponsible douchebags? (Actually, I think that might be the point they’re making.) Do all the rest of the girls get reunited with their parents? Oakwood is well known (appearing in national magazines and all) and only Mrs. Eng has a complaint? UGH.
K: Right?! I mean, I get irritated when my students complain about plot points (Q: “Why didn’t she just leave the house?” / A: “Because it’s a fucking movie!”), but this episode just stretches my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.]
E: There is one shot that shows some thought and interest; there is a neat little fade between Mr. Sanderson drinking from the skull during the ceremony before his wife goes into labor that transitions into Micki drinking from a large white cup at Curious Goods. (The flowers on the tree were kind of neat too.)
K: The flowers were neat. Didn’t notice that other thinger!
E: Kind of disappointing for a penultimate episode, although I guess they didn’t really know it would be.
K: Wait till you watch the ‘ultimate’ episode. A grand finale, it ain’t.
Finally: Did either Tim Minear or Jeffrey Bell see this episode? ‘Cause “Couplet,” from season three of Angel has a LOT of similarities.
K: I don’t remember it. But I always feel it’s likely when TV horror resembles past TV horror. Also, Tim Minear’s current work (on crapola like American Horror Story, or any of his work with Ryan Murphy, is another indication that this cheesed out episode might have influenced him. I hate American Horror Story. Have I mentioned that I hate American Horror Story? Oof.)
E: I mean, it wasn’t a fertility oak as much as a catfishing one, but yeah, even the underground visuals share some similarities. Here’s a link.
Season 3, Episode 20: “The Charnel Pit” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
The series closes with an episode featuring a so-so de Sade, ending not with a bang, but a whimper. (Not even an erotic one.)
The Goods: Micki gets her kink on with a so-so de Sade (has a kind of ring to it, no?). [Erin: It really does!] A double-face painting, with life on the 20th-century side, and death on the 18th-century side, provides a gateway to the past, and the world of the supposedly “sinister” de Sade.
*The composer credit is, for the first (and I think only) time listed as “Music Composed and Performed by Frederic Molin.”
*The continual association of de Sade with pure evil. (Huh?)
*The Marquis de Sade’s many tedious pronouncements, all a variation on the following: “In life there are those who enjoy and those who endure. … If you can’t escape your flesh before death, then death becomes your only escape. Then you’re good for nothing but the charnel pit.”
*On the 20th-century end of the double-face painting, the pervy, dorky college professor, not content with literally sacrificing his ‘research assistants’, but also fashioning himself something of a Sadean, with lines like: “If you’re going to be any use to me, you’re going to have to learn to be a friend of pain.”
*Jack and Johnny make a pretty big leap in figuring out that a bunch of unidentified women victims found in the river are being transported back from the late 18th century through a double-face painting. Like, Jack believes this, but he wouldn’t believe Johnny with all that evidence in the previous episode?
The Verdict: I can’t believe I’m here, but I’m actually here, at the end of Friday the 13th: The Series. The decision to end the series was an abrupt response to fundamentalist minister and American Family Association founder Donald Wildmon threatening to have his followers and listeners (he also founded American Family Radio) boycott one of the show’s major sponsors, McDonalds, which responded that it wasn’t worth their fighting it; they could just sponsor another show (Frank Mancuso, Jr., quoted in Wax 2015, 457). (For the record, everyone should boycott McDonalds, for both ethical and health reasons. But not for Wildmon’s reasons.) Steven Monarque links it to a moral panic that targeted the show’s violence (quoted in Wax 2015, 457), but another view (which I think I read in Wax, but can’t remember where) links it to the series having made enough episodes to be sold into syndication—a rather dispassionate end. And this episode, despite the expense that went into making a sumptuous (and, as always, beautifully shot) costume drama, feels equally dispassionate. It’s a humorless, staid treatment of what might have been a gleefully excessive subject. I mean, it’s de Sade, for shit’s sake!
E: Right? If you’re going to get cancelled for corrupting youth and whatnot, GO FOR IT.
K: Micki’s thoughts, penned in a journal, about de Sade having a certain “magnetism” and about how “he makes you doubt everything you hold dear,” would have more effect if the actor playing Sade were a bit more charismatic (at the very least). It’s almost laughable that she’d feel this way about this portrayal of de Sade, or this actor for that matter. And I’m not referring to his puffy, bloated appearance (well, not entirely), but to his total lack of charisma and … well, magnetism. All he does is smirk, and even George W. Bush is a better smirker. The episode matches him in its 20th century timeline with a creepy, sleazy professor. On the one side, we have an aging, pudgy professor, and on the other a mediocre de Sade. They’re really two sides of the same loser. Leave it to Henshaw (who wrote “My Wife as a Dog” [3.16]), to script an episode about gross, ineffectual men into using female students as fodder for easy research, on the one end, and hapless servants as disposable pleasure slaves, on the other. Even more so, leave it to Henshaw to think these men are remotely intriguing. In fact, on the professor’s side, this episode becomes the one, truest evocation of sloth in the series—his research is literally handed to him (in the form of letters) by the returning dead bodies of the young women he sends through the painting.
E: You’re right! YAY! We get sloth at last!
K: In both diegetic and scriptwriting ways.
At least the episode doesn’t quite court the outrage of the series’ more problematic episodes (one of them, “My Wife as a Dog,” also penned by Henshaw). That’s all there, but this is another one of those inconsequential episodes, leaving the series to end with the equivalent of a wet fart.
The last shot of the episode and series—of the vault being closed, shutting out the faces of Jack, Johnny, and Micki, and leaving the viewer inside—was a nice touch. Through all the ups and downs, I’m going to miss Friday the 13th: The Series.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, so we’ve reached the end of the series, one that clearly wasn’t intended as an ending. And yet, like season one’s finale and season two’s opener, we get a portal to another time or plane of existence. That fits quite well with the format; semi-anthologies in particular are far less about the destination and more about individual journeys. In that respect, this works fine as a closer to the series as a whole.
That being said: Oof. I know it’s too much to ask for even a whiff of historical accuracy, and “The Charnel Pit” does a better job in this respect than, say, the completely divorced from reality portrayal of Bram Stoker in “The Baron’s Bride.” And, hey, one can have fun by re-casting historical figures and events in new ways; that was pretty much the whole premise of the series Sleepy Hollow (complete with a zombie George Washington and Freemasons). In some respects, I think there is a bit of that impulse here, with Lafayette’s suggestion that the Marquis de Sade’s excesses are a factor in the coming revolution. Then again, I’m likely giving Henshaw too much credit.
ANYWAY, so we’ve got a predatory college professor (Webster) who uses de Sade as a justification for his abuse (and sending them to their deaths in the 18th century) of his female students, like a dude-bro using Rand as a reason it’s OK for him to be a selfish prick. I was gratified when Larissa basically calls him out on it in front of the whole class; that whole exchange was an empowering note in an icky episode. (Of course, she ends up being tortured by him, because god forbid she isn’t punished for speaking out.) On the other side of the “double face” painting of this episode is, of course, de Sade. Is it just me, or did both Webster and de Sade look really alike? (I thought it was the same actor at first. What can I say? All pudgy white guys look alike to me.)
K: I momentarily thought it was the same actor, as well. It probably should have been.
E: And, he has no compunction in sacrificing these women simply so he can get his hands on a manuscript that will further justify (in his own mind) what he does, because he thinks the journey itself is deadly. While the double face painting is, of course, about “life and death,” which Webster interprets literally, the metaphor of it could have been so much more interesting if they’d pushed it: the face you show to the world (college professor) versus the ugliness hidden inside. Jack’s closing remarks point to this, but…
K: Webster really needs to watch the mandatory sexual violence tutorial that his university obviously never produced.
E: Finally, it’s never a good sign when you have to have a character voiceover to convince you of the attractions of another character. Micki talks about de Sade as charismatic and alluring, of which neither the script nor performance ever suggested.
Now that we’re at the end, I’ll say that this show, of which I really only remember two episodes from watching it back in the 1980s, was a bit of a roller coaster. There were some great episodes, some that made me weep for those involved, and a whole lot of episodes that were OK, but not great. Losing LeMay was a blow the show never really recovered from; I never thought I’d say this back when we started, but I found myself missing him more and more as this season went on. The more I think about it, though, the ending here, with Jack providing what could be the thesis statement of the show—“If people are looking for evil, they’re going to find it”—and then the image of the vault doors closing, is a fine way to go out.
K: Agreed, particularly on LeMay’s exit. His pleading through real tears and heart-wrenching sobbing at the beginning of season 3 for an unconscious Jack to help him still resonates across this lackluster season. Season 2 really gave us “The Goods” more consistently than the first or third seasons, and for me represents what this show could really do. Season 3 fell victim to courting the audience by extremes of misogyny in particular that made it just too difficult to step into that critical spectator role where you negotiate your love for the show with your outrage at its politics. The interview with Frank Mancuso, Jr., in Wax is really worth reading. He talks about Donald Wildmon, and the general climate around series like this one really needing sponsors because there was no network behind them.
E: That sounds vital! It’s the challenge of syndication, really, that I think resonates with the other texts we’re looking at!
Note: The episodes are out of chronological order on the disc in the boxed set of the series; this is verifiable in the listings of the series airdates on both Wikipedia, and in Alyse Wax’s book Curious Goods. We therefore present "Jack-in-the-Box" prior to "Spirit of Television."
Season 3, Episode 17: “Jack-in-the-Box” (David Winning, director; Dennis Foon, writer)
Deadly sea shanties help a girl get revenge on those who murdered her father. You know, like they do.
The Goods: A tale of a child’s vengeance against those who caused her father’s drowning (plus one stripper). This is the second (?) instance of a child’s toy bringing murderous revenge; the first was the series pilot with Veda the doll.
Erin: HA! Great minds.
K: I was hoping for something closer to “A Friend to the End” (2.18), but young Meghan goes from a sympathetic, morose kid who witnesses the murder of her father, to a twisted weirdo who would rather ultimately kill herself to be with her dad than be with the living. While that scenario is understandable, and even fertile, the episode has too much about it that is laughable (Meghan stalking her father’s killer, loitering outside the bar he frequents, being one such thing) to settle into a tale of melancholic vengeance and denial of grief.
*The song played on the jack-in-the box is “What do you do with drunken sailor?,” a fitting tune for someone whose father was drowned by a drunken swimmer. But the curse object is called (by Jack) “The Drowning Sailor’s Jack-in-the-Box.” I don’t think we need the name change to get the connection, writers.
*I just realized something about Johnny’s acting style: he’s got the perpetual “who farted?” look all wrong; it looks like it’s that it’s him who farted, thus the “I farted” look.
*Every scene between Meghan and the apparition of her dad, she giggling with glee, and he telling her not to use the jack-in-the-box, is uncomfortable in the wrong way—they’re all boring.
*Johnny’s earnest line: “If someone is drowning drunks, what do they get in return?” Also, I’d really like to know the answer to this question.
*Everyone who dies does so by drowning; it’s a good thing they are all near water when Meghan uses the box. It’s especially good luck for Meghan that murderer Mike goes from the bar where he hangs out at night directly to the car wash. And it’s hilarious that the stripper’s death occurs in her bathroom sink, rather than in the tub full of sudsy water right next to her. Intentional?
*The final exchange between a portentous Jack—“Grief is one of the hardest things that any of us has to deal with. It takes all the courage and faith that we can find.”—and an earnest Johnny—“Well, the most important thing is that Helen and Meghan will discover how much they can help each other.”
E: Yes! While I respect what they’re trying to do here, particularly around the scenes with Meghan and Brock, it just doesn’t land; it comes across as if they’re not even in the same room. Also, “I farted” face made me snort laugh.
The Verdict: Writer Dennis Foon says, “What drew me to this show was the idea that horror was a way of looking not just at fear, but at a wide range of deep emotions” (Wax 2015, 432). Accordingly, he turns a PBS spec script into a tale of grief and vengeance (432). The original script, where the dad has cancer, sounds like a maudlin version of a so-so episode of the ABC Afterschool Special series (1972-97). Oddly, this episode doesn’t turn out to be much more than that. (No disrespect to the classic ABC Afterschool Special intended. In fact, “B-TV” needs a book on children’s and young adult “educational” TV.)
E: YES. PLEASE.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): So we’ve got Meghan, who is literally having the worst birthday ever. I mean, I’ve had some sucktastic birthdays, but never one where a drunken douchebag kills my dad. So Meghan “wins” in that respect. (Also, and this is not entirely vital, but Meghan’s free-range wanderings [sure, riding her bike past strip clubs at night] is the most Gen X thing ever.)
There are some interesting shifts here in how the object is used. We’re near the end, and we have an episode that parallels the first one, where we have a child in possession of a cursed object. Unlike Sarah Polley’s dead-eyed sociopathic in the series pilot, though, it’s easy to see why Megan is angry, and her sense of morality and justice is age-appropriate (very eye for an eye; I think that’s stage 2 on Kohlberg’s scale). The “drunken sailor” sea shanty is a lovely touch in an episode about drinking.
We also have an object that is bought in good faith (like the doll in episode one) that happens to be cursed. (Jack-in-the-boxes are always creepy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVI0Olskhqk.)
E: We also have, shockingly, Johnny saying something insightful about loss and grief. Finally, this may be the first time the beneficiary of a curse’s “upside” pleads with—and does everything within his limited power—to prevent her from completing it. That alone suggests some A+ plus parenting on this show.
Yet—and maybe I’m more alert to it after the abomination of an episode following this one—but not only do Meghan’s claims about seeing her father get dismissed (almost understandable; could be a grief response) but Micki’s as well, by Jack, who should know better. There’s also a suggestion—both by Brock appearing to Micki and by a remark from Helen—that there was/had been something kind of thing between Brock and Micki that is never explored. Irritating, that.
Side note: This is the third appearance of Jill Hennessey in season three! She went on to have a semi-decent US TV career, particularly on Law & Order and later her own series, Crossing Jordan.
In some respects, “Jack-in-the-Box” is an interesting meditation on grief and death and the various ways we deal with loss. But there is a “very special episode” element, particularly in the writing, that leaves me a bit cold.
Season 3, Episode 18: “Spirit of Television” (Jorge Montesi, director; Robert (Bob) Holbrook, writer)
The series gets sorta meta with a medium using a medium to extend her time—and her time in the spotlight.
The Goods: This is the only cursed object that is part of a network (pun intended): it drains the subject itself, and then kills by reaching out through other TV sets. The best scene might have been Jack’s friend, Robert, killed by an entire display window of TV sets in a retail store. I feel awful: because of the potential for spectacle in this setup, I’ve never wanted an innocent character to die more than Robert, but Jack takes him away before the windowful of TVs can get him. His later death by falling out an upper floor window isn’t nearly as cool as what could have been.
Erin: I agree, so we can be sick in the head together on this one.
*This episode has the longest mullet I’ve ever seen. In the cold open, one of the band members visiting cursed-object-using medium Ilsa Van Zandt sports one that trails halfway down his back.
*If sacrificing a life to the cursed TV set gives Ilsa only as much as another ten days of life, and she’s in danger of degenerating rapidly, it would seem that there should be many, many more deaths than just one, prior to the death that begins this episode.
*I can definitely say I’ve never seen anyone literally chased by a television set before … until the scene of the fashion designer’s death.
The Curiosities: Have we ever seen a cursed object be this finicky before? The deaths Ilsa sacrifices to the set have diminishing returns, from ten days, to one day, to none, added to Ilsa’s life. Because it apparently has a particular taste only for certain victims whose guilt is … juicier.
E: Exactly! They could have pushed that a bit more; it’s basically suggesting that television is a ratings-obsessed junkie.
The Sins: Vanity rules this one; every client is seeking to alleviate guilt for having used or abandoned someone close or important to them: a parent, a lover, a mentor. In other words, it’s not the loved one that draws them, but the promise of closure and alleviation of guilt that brings them to call upon the lost soul. Saving face. Micki warns Jack not to go to Ilsa in the end over having brought his own friend to Ilsa: “You’re doing this out of your own guilt, just like all the others she’s killed.”
The Verdict: Ultimately, this episode is … fine. My key issue with it is that, aside from the focus on celebrity and the notion of vanity that drives the clients of Ilsa Van Zandt (actors, fashion designers), the thematic connection of the TV medium to the events of the episode is strained at best. As Wax puts it, the curse is “not quite as item-specific as many of the other curses are” (2015, 440). I agree with her on this and on her final statement that this all “makes for a perfectly average, perfectly forgettable episode” (440).
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): It’s funny how much there’s a thematic correspondence between this and the prior episode; in both, you have different takes on loss and grief. Not usually the case on this show.
Any time TV is involved, there’s always going to be at least a whiff of the meta.
K: Blame that whiff on Johnny. (Get it?!)
E: In this one, you get a medium who uses a medium in order to grant herself more time in the “spotlight” (of life), and for some reason, seems to specifically target celebrities while being one herself. There is a particularly poignant exchange between Ilsa and her himbo William: “What’s beyond death is far less important than living,” which is essentially what Brock tells Meghan in “Jack-in-the-Box.” Of course, her sin here is the unspoken nihilism implied by her words, and that others lives are less important than hers. The TV scenes are all rather cool: you’ve got the “trapped” spirits coming out of the static while random scenes play in the background, TV-related killings, the image of her own headstone changing her date of death, and finally she and William being pulled into TV hell at the end of the episode.
It also touches on the secrets and guilt that most people have; and that, Jack rightly points out, is why they would seek her skills in the first place. She didn’t show them anything that they weren’t already aware of on some level, but as Jack says: “she used TV to twist reality.” (Which, duh; that’s kind of its function.)
K: I thought its function was to be the centerpiece of my living room, relegating all other furnishings in deference. Huh.
So, greed or lust for life was her sin, but again, like (too) many times in this series, this felt like a first draft. It didn’t seem clear how long this had been going on, or if there were literally dozens of deaths by TV plaguing the area for years. The episode seems to suggest she’d been active as Ilsa for a while, certainly long enough to make big money and get a young dude as her kept boy. (And his assertion that he loves her for more than her money is borne out by his immediate willingness to help her kill Jack; are they suggesting that’s somehow romantic?)
I liked this better than the previous episode, if for nothing else the inventive ways TVs kill here, but I suspect I’ll soon forget it existed.
K: At the time of posting this to our blog, I remember only the scene in which a TV chases someone.
Season 3, Episode 15: “The Long Road Home” (Allan Kroeker, director; Carl Binder, writer)
Micki and Johnny wander into some hillbilly horror with this inventive anticipation of The X-Files, combined with an homage to / ripoff of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: The cold opener for this one is like a mini capsule narrative. We’re in the middle of a case. Micki rescues Johnny from certain doom in a swimming pool. (What’s with Micki kissing Johnny underwater as she rescues him? She chalks it up to “business,” but it’s far too short for mouth-to-mouth—which you don’t do underwater anyway—and the practical scenario of rescuing someone tied up underwater from drowning would seem to outweigh other business.) The lifeguard who leaves Johnny to die has meanwhile escaped to meet his lover so that he can kill her husband and body-swap with him using the cursed yin/yang charm. A fight ensues, and Johnny and Micki leave the tearful wife/lover the only one standing. Begin title sequence.
Erin: I think it was supposed to be giving him a bit of oxygen to buy time while she undid the rope, but yeah.
K: The opener is a kind of feint … a far cry from the hillbilly horror scenario we’re about to be served. From the moment after the title crawl, this episode shifts from a story about yuppie trysts to a down-and-dirty homage to (ripoff of) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. (The X-Files will do it better around fifteen years later with the episode “Home” [4.2].) The tonal shifts in colour—baby blues in the opening’s glowing swimming pool area and well-lit upper-middle-class living room—and shadows and pitch-black nighttime shots on the road and in the eventual “terrible house” indicate two different worlds, one on the map so to speak, and one very much off. Despite these contrasts, I like that the bourgeois spaces of gym (pool) and upper-middle-class living room still feature violence with undercurrents that parallel the later “hillbilly horror” scenes. Everything turns on sex and relationships (and the violence that is mistaken for these) in the episode.
After the title sequence, we’re on the road with Micki and Johnny, with “a big storm on the way,” according to the gas station attendant. Micki muses about the yin and yang, the “passive force in the universe” and the “active,” “female and male.” The moment makes this viewer at least hope the episode will prove the opposite. It doesn’t, really. Instead, it seems to serve as initiator of a sub-theme to Micki and Johnny’s intimate talk and flirtation throughout. In a later scene, having been stranded on the road and approached an Old Dark House in the night for gas, Micki and Johnny warm up next to a fire. Talk turns to things they haven’t shared with each other, and a telling moment comes when Ryan’s name pops up. It’s difficult not to think that writer Binder didn’t have in mind that this scene should have occurred between Micki and Ryan, their relationship coming to a tipping point here in terms of intimacy. But we’ve got Johnny instead, so the moment results as more or less circumstantial.
It’s interesting, though, in keeping with this theme that they pretend to be a married couple in the diner scene, when the two Negley brothers, Mike and Eddie, push in at their table and begin making them uncomfortable. Once the two are captives of the Negley brothers, there is some real tension, particularly because the talk of Mike, the more dominant Negley brother, having his way with her. This is the most disturbing implication of the episode’s passive-active subtheme, with Mike’s seeming need for a mate limited to sexual violence (rape), and murder— since killing and embalming creates the most passive mate possible.
Outside, Johnny and Eddie fight, and only Eddie returns to the attic room where Mike is introducing Micki to his family, all embalmed corpses. But there’s something wrong with Eddie after he returns. I’m a little slow on the uptake, I guess, because it took me longer than it should have before I realized Johnny had used the cursed charm to body-swap with Eddie after their struggle. (Earlier in the car, Johnny has mused about when it might be appropriate to use a cursed object— his first time expressing such thoughts since he had similar sympathies for the cursed object-user in “Crippled Inside” (3.4). Micki has responded “never,” but she certainly comes around when she and Johnny are in peril.
*Johnny’s pensive moment: “I’m sorry, I just have a lot on my mind. … I’m just sick of people dying. This body swapping, it just brought back some bad memories.” Yes, I’m sure body swapping would.
*They stop off at Henshaw’s Roadhouse diner for a bite to eat, a little nod to executive story editor (and the series’ worst scriptwriter) Jim Henshaw.
*Robey, interviewed by Wax, weighs in on the Micki-Johnny intimacy: “Why on earth would Micki be dating a dolt?” (2015, 420). Ouch! And, agreed.
E: I noticed that too; that’s at least the fourth time they’ve done a little Easter egg like that.
*Micki and Johnny think they’re in the clear, having reinstalled Johnny from Eddie’s dying body to his own. But then, Grandpa, whom we thought was dead, jumps out of the shadows to attack. Johnny stabs him, sending sawdust flying, but Grandpa resiliently re-stuffs himself, grabs the shotgun and starts firing. But he gets caught in one of the family’s own traps (a favourite horror moment) and hangs upside-down, sawdust flying in the stormy night. But, why is Grandpa alive? Or, what is Grandpa? Did Mike somehow transfer himself into his body? Did I miss something?
*Wax speculates that the (real) farmhouse used in the episode might have been the same one used for “Scarecrow” (1.11) (2015, 420).
E: Well, when Micki found the object, it was on Grandpa’s shirt, so I’m guessing the transfer happened at that point. But wouldn’t it have transferred Johnny’s consciousness instead? Or is it like a cursed USB drive and can store multiple person files at once? WE’LL NEVER KNOW.
The Verdict: “The Long Road Home” is stunningly shot and well-scripted. The cold opener is a little light, and arguably played for laughs (its cheesiness is not clearly intentional), but the tension in the rest of the episode is thick. There is no humor here, as there was in Tobe Hooper’s original, unsettling dread film, though the scenario features an equally bleak view of America (without Hooper’s clearly political thrust). This episode is probably the most the series ever leaned fully into horror. The procedural aspect is gone, and it’s just a fairly raw and violent ride into the territory of nightmares. It’s not perfect, but it’s an exercise in unsettling the viewer. It’s top 20 for me, and maybe even top 10.
E: OK, I must be sick in the head, because I thought there was some humor in it (see my thoughts below).
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): So, way back in the day, I used to think that Friday the 13th: The Series was a kind of proto-X-Files (in a similar way to Forever Knight as a proto-Angel). I now realize that that idea came directly from this episode, the details of which had faded over time (except for the fireplace scene, for some reason).
And I absolutely LOVE this episode. Visually and narratively, Kroeker and Binder suggest a blend of humor and horror that just wasn’t that common in series like this back then. Aside from the cursed object’s fidget spinner effect, the mood and the scares were created by lighting and the ever-creepy presence of taxidermy. My favorite shot: After the fireplace near-kiss, the camera cuts to a stuffed owl, its eyes wide as if in shock.
The script is tight, and so is the structure. You’ve got this little mini-sode at the start, playing like a modern noir (wife cheats on horrible husband with sexy lifeguard, schemes to body-swap them; you know, the usual) before going full-on Deliverance (with a Raimi-ish Evil Dead twist). I actually didn’t take that many notes, because I was so engaged with how the dread and horror builds and builds. In particular, the way that literally everything that came out of the brothers mouths suggested death, rape, and necrophilia, adding to the potential horror with only dialogue. It’s a bloodless slasher, essentially. Brilliant. And Robey, excellently, goes subtle rather than over-the-top; this may rival her performance in the basement scene in season one. This is what happens when you trust the viewer; you get a flash of the mailbox, so you know Micki and Johnny are walking into trouble (and really, guys, if there is a bunch of taxidermy out in the open, that’s a SIGN). But then it takes time for some character development, with a mention of Ryan and the nature of the work, tinged with dread because you know the brothers are coming back at some point. When the older brother is acting “weird” it’s easy to dismiss based on what we’d seen of him in earlier scenes, so the fact that Johnny had body-swapped with him was a surprise, but made perfect sense.
And the final bit, with the younger one stuffing his...stuffing back in, then hitting one of the aforementioned traps and swinging in the window was darkly hilarious and absolutely of a piece with the humor/horror thing throughout the episode.
Is it weird to call this episode fun? Because it totally was for me.
K: Not weird. I think I received it as less humorous because its absurdities didn’t seem all that off. It seemed fairly realistic (though I have no idea what the brothers do to support themselves, and stuffed grandfathers don’t usually come to life), and the dread in scenes like the diner scene was really heavy. As were the implications of what they were planning to do to Micki, how they planned to use her.
Season 3, Episode 16: “My Wife as a Dog” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Without a doubt, the very worst episode of the entire series. Gross. Wrong. Horrible. Hateful.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: This episode takes the series’ misogyny to its logical, hateful extreme. I was worried about this possibility when I saw the episode’s title, and the result confirmed everything I suspected. It’s a fucked-up Freaky Friday for the misogynist set. Returning guest star Dennis Forest is back in another lunatic role as firefighter Aubrey, whose wife has filed for divorce. He doesn’t want that, so he keeps stalking and hounding (ahem) her at work. And when he’s with the guys at the station, he says things like: “Too bad a woman can’t be more like your dog. Dependable, faithful.”
Enter Aubrey’s ailing dog—and soon after, a cursed leash (?!) with Aboriginal Australian origins—and we have this episode’s ludicrous mixture of misogyny, base appropriation of indigenous tradition, and ophidiophilia (bestiality). According to Jack’s explanation of this “leash of dreams,” “Aboriginal tribes have always had a great affinity with animals. And they don’t distinguish between waking reality and dreams. … They believe that whatever you can envision must become real; otherwise, the images couldn’t drop into your mind.” Totally intriguing territory, but Peter Weir's The Last Wave (1977) this is NOT.
Aubrey proves he’s quick to kill already when he strangles a colleague with the leash during a (well shot) house fire scene. He takes the leash home to find out that it returns his dog to health, and after three other kills discovers that the leash gradually transforms his dog into his wife, and vice-versa. The end result? The episode closer features Aubrey in prison for murder in the episode’s closer, and his dog-wife brings him his slippers. The final shot is a close-up of her, tongue out, panting for approval. I don’t even want to think about the kind of audience that would find this amusing. It’s fucked up, sick, and absurd.
I wish clumsy dialogue scenes where essential information about other characters is just dropped in to move the narrative along were this episode’s only offence. The only thing that makes Wax “a bit uncomfortable” in her book is the suggestion of bestiality (2015, 428). Director Mastroianni’s comments on said hints of bestiality also provide a parallel clue to the context for this episode’s vicious misogyny: “It was an atmosphere that allowed you to explore and experiment. Nobody was telling you not to. They were all saying, ‘Go for it. If we can’t use it, at least we know we did it’” (2015, 428).
Dennis Forest and some well shot scenes cannot overcome the politics; this episode represents the nadir of the entire series.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Ugh. I feel soiled by this episode. At best (well, there is no best), it’s a Henny Youngman/Don Rickles bit brought to life. I mean, there was no part of this episode that wasn’t gross. It suggests that we are supposed to feel sympathy for Audrey because his dog is dying, but this is immediately followed by a barrage of stalking, gaslighting, and being generally abusive to his soon-to-be-ex wife. And it’s not like he’s alone; his fellow firefighters are just as dismissive and misogynistic and entitled as he is, so he’s surrounded by no one who challenges his behavior. Except the one firefighter who tells him to grow up...and then gets strangled.
The only thing that pushes against this is casting Denis Forest, who plays these kinds of creeps so well. But then we have a button to the episode where, AGAIN, this type of behavior is excused by the “madness” loneliness causes. That is NOT what this is, dude, OK? It’s never that. At least “Epitaph,” which featured a similar type, did not attempt to excuse or justify his behavior. (Necrophilia and bestiality; dear gods, show!)
I don’t give Henshaw credit for it, because given the general tone and the horrifying ending, I doubt it was his intention, but Lea and Jodi are practically the only sympathetic characters here. Everything Lea says is correct: she clearly states she wants nothing to do with him, that his behavior is inappropriate. There is no ambiguity. Bonus, she’s got support in Jodi, who tosses him out and tells him he’s barred from coming in there.
Side note: Did I miss something? How did he know it was called the “Leash of Dreams”?
K: Jack always seems to be speaking from some sort of mythical or esoteric knowledge pool, maybe from his occult days?
E: Oh, I meant Aubrey. He calls it the “leash of dreams” as well.
K: Ohhhh. Weird.
And then that final scene, which you just KNOW they thought would be hilarious. It was reprehensible, and a slap in the face.
K: There’s just nothing at all funny about it. It’s reprehensible. And series like Tales from the Darkside have an occasional tendency to go there as well, but as my friend Mario has said, the pulp magazines often featured misogynistic tales where wives were the focus of much violence.
E: What’s even worse is that she is the one who suffers here; he may be in prison, but it’s Lea who pays the price. The implication here is what? That it’s the price she pays for being such a “bitch” as to leave her stalker husband? ARRRGHHH.
I think I hate this episode more than any other. BURN IT. BURN IT WITH FIRE.
K: It’s truly the worst of the series. Almost like it's trying to be.
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.