Season 1, Episode 21: "Double Exposure" (Neil Fearnley, director; Durnford King, writer)
Some terrible reality where ratings trump ethics; we can’t imagine such horror.
The Goods: A struggling newscaster, Winston Knight, saves his job through his coverage of a series of local murders. When Ryan sees Knight commit one of the murders the same time he’s live on air, he, Jack, and Micki investigate with the help of Ryan’s new girlfriend Cathy and discover one of Uncle Lewis’s objects—a camera that creates a duplicate of whomever it photographs—is in play.
The Cheese: The police, who blend total incompetence with gossip and a total lack of emotion. / Winston-Clone’s final scene, in the best possible way
The Sins: Pride with a side order of Vanity
Erin: OK, after the iffy Quilt episodes, I ended up enjoying Ft13th: TS’s take on ethics in media. There was quite a bit of handwringing at the time about trash TV and exploiting people for ratings (Caldwell mentions Peter Jenning’s semi-rant about it in Televisuality.) So far we’re hitting all the 80s biggies: greed is good, US values are shallow, and news is spectacle over substance.
Sin-wise: I’ll say pride/vanity. It’s interesting to note that the “pride” episodes (this is a way better take on it than “Doctor Jack”) how cold/dispassionate the villain is. Winston doesn’t seem to want love, money, or anything except higher ratings so he can keep his job.
Kristopher: Yes, I frame this observation below as a question in terms of the motive for killing, since serial killing by proxy seems to evacuate the pleasure from the act of killing, or the drive to kill.
E: Of course, the episode goes out of its way to suggest that pretty much the entire newsroom is a bunch of amoral assholes, so...A feature of the better episodes of the series, IMO, is when the writer and director seem to have any sense of structure (not a given!). You’ve got Winston and his duplicate; with the end of the first scene ending on a photonegative flash, followed by Ryan and Cathy in a photo booth. It ends with Ryan staring at the photo and the echo of before, just as the duplicates are echoes of the real person…The visual of the “real” Winston slowly fading away was the kind of practical effect used so well in “Shadow Boxer” and underscored the theme nicely.
K: You are good at finding the strengths of the script and direction here, while below I do some complaining about the swiss-cheese plotholes and easy-outs the episode falls victim to (like a cop giving Winston a the name of a witness to a serial killing!).
E: Also enjoyed its take on the Frankenstein trope, with the delightfully gross visuals of the clones being born. (Winston’s facial expressions while this was happening were SO over-the-top.) I thought for a moment Ryan might be tempted to resurrect Cathy in this fashion. (His chemistry with her was so much more believable—and Ryan so much more Ryan-y—than in the “Quilt” episodes. Catherine Disher—who played Natalie on Forever Knight—is a much better actress, so that helps.
K: Yes, I really liked her. She was really natural (I almost said super natural, but … well, I didn’t).
E: We even get the requisite: “I’m alive!” bit, which shouldn’t have worked, but totally did (for me, anyway).
Premise alert: “It’s like always, Ryan; we’re on our own” (said every genre show ever about the police); “It isn’t the objects that are cursed; we are.”
K: Haha, yes. I liked the latter line (see below), but Jack’s “we’re on our own” schtick made me groan. I think the first time anyone has ever said in this series that they should call the police was Jack in the “Electrocutioner” episode.
E: Finally: Meta moment; the series’ producers' names are on the parking spaces outside the TV station.
K: No way! Good eye! I wonder if this was a gaffe?
E: Things that bugged me/inappropriate laugh: The disconnect between Ryan’s reaction to Cathy’s death and Officer Monotone. Officer Monotone’s scenes overall: First scene: not only does the black cop with him get zero dialogue, but Monotone calls the accused and gives him his name? Seriously?
K: Hahahaha. Yep. See my rants above, and below!
E: I expected Cathy’s fridging, but I was still disappointed it happened.
K: I’m always a sucker for anything that builds photographic technology into the story, but the chemical process creating a slimy creature to do the camera-owner’s bidding was … unexpected. Question, though: what does a killer get out of killing if he’s not doing it? The double goes out and does the work of violence, but the actual guy with the killer impulse is doing the news. He becomes a celebrity out of this with his performance of the killer calling him while he’s on the air, and in the way it centers him as a “working reporter” of integrity (and boosts his news show’s ratings). But what is the motive or thrill for the actual murdering?
Semi-anthology ruptures in the fact that they follow Ryan’s lost love back at the cult compound with him carefree and light-hearted on a date (in a photo booth, no less) at the beginning of this episode. I guess she’ll die. The Wax book says of this: “Well, that was fast” (132).
E: And again, as you say so well above, that is one of the issues with this format. First, we really don’t get a bead on Winston’s motivations here; obviously it’s “in him” to kill, or else why would his clone do it? Unless it’s because his maker has instructed him to do so, which may be the case, since he was ordered to kill Micki and Ryan but went after the Jack clone instead. (And that itself suggests his growing independence from original-recipe Winston as the time gets closer to Winston himself disappearing, but the episode is, as you say, kind of a mess. Second, “I’ll write you every day” becomes “Laura who?” in the space of a single episode. I suppose, if I stretched my interpretive powers, I could look at it as characterizing Ryan as fickle, but I think that would be giving the show too much credit.
K: There is an erotic bookstore or video store in the background of the episode’s first murder scene. The sign reads, “From the Erotic to the Exotic.”
E: I missed that! Brilliant.
K: The detective gives newscaster Ryan’s name. Oof. And why doesn’t Kathy, the girlfriend, go find Ryan or the police? She goes home while her purse is with the killer. From the way the information gets conveniently bandied about, to Jack’s conclusion that “We’re on our own” (when they have Kathy’s voice message as evidence of the two reporters), the whole thing has more holes than swiss cheese.
Vying for best (and possibly most horrifying) image of the series so far: the TV reaching out and grabbing Ryan by the neck in an explosion of light (in his dream, of course).
E: Loved that! It had a Nightmare on Elm Street quality I appreciated. Also, I think it was intentionally thematic; the TV/reporter is the source of the evil...
K: Ryan’s claim that “It isn’t the objects that are cursed, we are. Everyone that comes near us dies,” is pretty on point. The episode ends on an appropriately bleak note here, with the realization that this work means alienation and isolation of the three Curious Goods team members from the rest of the world.
E: Yes. It’s a well SPN returns to many a time; it also reminded me of the dialogue at the end of Buffy’s “I Robot, You Jane” (I think), where Xander, Willow, and Buffy discuss their dating woes, laughing at how they’re doomed until it sinks in and they stop laughing…
K: Totally. This is a good observation about an issue that these series treat well. It’s deep.
Season 1, Episode 22: "The Pirate’s Promise" (Bill Corcoran, director; Carl Binder, writer)
Clearly, they’ve never heard Humperdinck’s take: “Pirates are not known to be men of their word.”
The Goods: A lighthouse lamp summons the vengeful spirit of a betrayed pirate; in exchange for killing off the descendent of his mutinous crew, the murderer is rewarded with gold. Micki and Ryan hit the road to the world’s most depressing seaside town to investigate.
The Cheese: Robey’s acting gets another (anti-)nod. / Best bad line? “I did everything you said; I killed twelve people!” / Best use of freeze frame? The descending ax, and cut to commercial. / Bit players who telegraph their deaths.
The Sins: It’s a pirate episode, so it pretty much has to be greed. But what’s greed without a little wrath?
Kristopher (pre-watch): I always hoped that the “pirate’s promise” is that he’ll capture me, make me his love slave, and cuddle me while defending me against interlopers (aka, other gay pirate rapists). Is that so much to ask?
Erin: We all have dreams, my friend. Although now I’m thinking you should totally write a treatment; I would watch the hell out of that show!
K: Okay, anything with a lighthouse, and you’ve got my interest. I am obsessed with them. But even beyond the lighthouse, and the gorgeous seaside setting (another location score for this show, right on Lake Erie), this episode is pretty intriguing. All of the scenes where Angus McBride appears are beautifully lit and evocatively eerie. The voice actor for McBride’s voice, however … is a Scooby-don’t.
This episode has everything—the awesome F13:TS landscapes, cool sets (that horrific underground grotto/mausoleum for the victims, and a folkloric sea tale with a decaying mummer captain returned from a sea grave (the big reveal of the monster’s face does not disappoint). Shades of John Carpenter’s The Fog abound in this episode, including its color scheme.
The final death in the finale is awesome. And I like the info delivered in the coda that this is ultimately a tale of two brothers, one empathic and kind (Dewey), one corrupted (Fenton).
Not much on this from the Wax book, aside from the shoot occurring on Lake Erie, and thus requiring two days’ travel time cut from the week of shooting time. The interiors of the lighthouse were shot on a soundstage (138). The combination of sets and location in this episode blend well.
For me, this one is one of the very best. There is an American Gothic sense here of the pervasiveness of past trauma as it resonates and dominates the present. And here, as so often in the longer tradition of European/British Gothic, it turns on secret identities and how those identities are revealed by virtue of their links to a sordid past.
Best bad line for me goes to Joe Fenton, speaking to Angus McBride’s ghost: “I did everything you said; I killed twelve people!”
Robey’s acting is typically over the top. When she breaks into the lighthouse and gets caught, it’s an obvious conclusion when Joe Fenton says, “You’re lying.” Her crying in the epilogue about Dewey’s heroic death is a fairly weak attempt to infuse the episode with any more pathos than is already there in a story of one brother destroying another without ever knowing of the family connection.
For the episode’s second death, the woman who is discussing setting up an investment plan for Joe’s gold, delivers her lines as though she is is just “killing” time waiting for him to strangle her.
E: There’s an outtake from season three of Buffy, with Anthony Head wincing before Kristin Scott Thomas knocks him over the head; he stops, laughs at himself, says: “I telegraphed that.” Investment woman clearly not as self-aware.
K: One thing I’ll never quite get past in the suspension of disbelief department is how many deaths happen in the episodes that occur in rural areas—deaths that go more or less unquestioned by locals. Three deaths is already a serial killing; twelve is an extravaganza.
E: Pretty tightly plotted opening; touches on the slasher/horror bit with the “kind of spooky”; “part of the charm” exchange. Putting aside the obvious age difference, creepy as it is, I appreciated how, unlike some of the bad guys on the show, managed not to tip his hand to the victim until the moment he killed her. Also? The first victim’s outfit was peak 80s.
The fact that it wasn’t immediately obvious why Joe was doing this, but was set up subtly (for this show) throughout the first act: Barney being a descendent of the crew, finding gold (bounty) when he delivers a victim, etc. I thought at first (to be fair, maybe I’m slow), that any killing would do, so it was a nice surprise to find out the victims were the descendants.
The horror aspects: the ax-ing of Barney, the cave of corpses, was suitably gross for 80s horror. The traveling to retrieve an object—which this show does far too little of so far—gave me SPN vibes again. The sound effects were pretty good as well.
I love ocean scenes; big sweaters, cool, salty mornings, sailing. Making me nostalgic and maybe a little sad. (In a good way.)
Ryan being fairly intrepid; hanging off the edge so he wouldn’t be seen when Joe went to look. Also, that they didn’t do the “accidentally stepped on the fingers” bit.
The sin combo of greed (Joe, Barney) and wrath (McBride).
The first victim’s descendent was named “Abel”; the last minute reveal that Joe and Dewey were brothers, with the older brother killing the (nicer) younger one giving it a Cain and Abel thing they don’t belabor.
K: Agreed. I liked this too, very much.
E: What did not work: It just needs to be said: Stop giving Robey material beyond her range, show. Seriously. The obvious glycerine tears at the end. Fire the continuity editor: When Barney goes to the lighthouse, it’s day. When they go (right) up to the top of the lighthouse, it’s pitch black outside. No Jack! Twelve people go missing in, let’s face it, not a large town, and the town drunk is the only one concerned?
Apparently, there is an actual Whaler’s Point; a gated community in Seaside, Oregon. (Considering how low-rent the town looks in this episode, I found it rather amusing.)
All in all, I didn’t hate it. Not necessarily a favorite, but it was clear some thought went into the episode, so I can’t say it failed. Indeed, the more I think about it, the better I like it. Also, I really want to go sailing now. *sigh*
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.