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?
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.