Season 2, Episode 13: “Eye of Death” (Timothy Bond, director; Peter Jobin, Timothy Bond & Roy Sallows, writers)
The series branches out to showcase Curious Goods’ competition and make some unfortunate excuses for the Confederacy.
The magic lantern transporting the user into whatever image is projected is in keeping with the cinema’s long history of associating (illusory) desire with the projected image. Here, the proto-cinematic lantern is in the hands of Atticus Rook, a collector who uses it in the typical exploitative style that interests this series: he steals objects from history and sells them in the present, “robbing the dead” as co-writer and director Timothy Bond puts it (in Wax 242)). The fact that he does so here with the Confederate army in its last gasps as his source carries a disturbing and complicated sense of victimhood. This unsettling perspective rears its head in Ryan’s comment to the recently widowed nurse Abigail that nobody in the present thinks badly of them; they were just fighting for what they believed. Well, I’m not so sure it’s that simple. And I find myself wishing the episode would have complicated this response a bit.
*Oops, Ryan met a girl. I guess she’ll die. Oops, Ryan met another girl. I guess she’ll die. A few more and Ryan’ll will qualify for the “Sam Winchester Peen of Death” Award (http://www.supernaturalwiki.com/Peen_of_Death).
*The lamp burns for three hours, Jack observes, which means that the projected portal lasts only three hours as well. And then he and Micki leave Rook’s house instead of waiting for him to return.
*The cops let Micki and Jack wander around inside the building where a body has been found just outside.
The Verdict: Friday the 13th: The Series gets a time-travel episode. The destabilizing of time and space here comes with an instrument that … well … also happened to be one of the earliest contraptions to reveal unsettled time and space, a precursor to moving image projection. The anxiety related to being trapped behind that limited three-hour window between past and present was fairly palpable in this episode, handled through repeated back-and-forth journeys and both Ryan and Micki being trapped in the Civil War past for a time. I wish the magic lantern had been a little more closely tied to the notion that its illusory powers to capture time and event leading to its being known as the ‘eye of death’ of the episode’s title. Here, as in many cases with the cursed objects, it’s really just a gimmick (or a kind of Hitchcockian Macguffin).
Still, all of the traveling back and forth between different times/spaces/realities was handled better here than in the season 2 opener, and several others that feature this conceit. Overall, the episode, while well shot and especially well lit (it’s kind of beautiful, and according interviews in Wax (242), used few exterior lights) isn’t much more than a curiosity in terms of what the show can really do conceptually at its best.
E: Right? Not quite filler, but not great.
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, so just to get this out of the way immediately: “in my time, no one thinks badly of them.” WRONG. SO SO WRONG, RYAN. Given the current climate, both that line and Ryan’s insistence on not taking a side is a stumbling block to my enjoyment of this episode. I mean, they are fighting for the right to own people, of which there is zero acknowledgement in this episode. Do I look for trenchant social commentary in this series? No. But this is veering dangerously toward the “lost cause” narrative that the South likes to comfort itself with, and that pisses me off.
K: You got it.
E: That being said, there was stuff to like here. They made the wise decision not to go for “sweep” in their (few) shots of fighting, given the budgetary constraints, and that worked well to give those scenes a more oppressive sense of the costs of war. The magic lantern effect was great; again, simple but effective. Even better? A time travel episode in which, at several points, the only soundtrack (outside of the dialogue of course) was ticking clocks; plus, Ryan’s watch being the key to convincing Abigail he was from the future. And, of course, the photographs/lantern is all about captured time.
K: Nicely synthesized!
Other things: I liked the effect for this one, of running through that still shot, as well as Rook’s ultimate, Wile E. Coyote fate.
E: His name made me think of chess, but I think the two alternate meanings of rook are what they intended. First, of course, that it means to swindle someone, which was his MO. But, even better, it’s also the name for a type of crow/raven, which is frequently what they called those who robbed corpses on battlefields (eg, Thenardiar in Les Miserables). Normally I wouldn’t impute that level of subtlety on the series, but given both his slender frame and visage and how he was dressed in the Civil War sequences, it’s hard not to think it was intended.
Finally: Micki got to do the rescuing for once! Yay!
So, final verdict: not a favorite, although shot and structured pretty well.
Season 2, Episode 14: “Face of Evil” (William Fruet, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
The series gets continuity points—sort of—when both the compact and the surviving sister from “Vanity’s Mirror” make a reappearance
Watch the FULL EPISODE below!
Kris: Well, if it isn’t a sequel to “Vanity’s Mirror” (1.15)! It takes a full 8 minutes to recount the events of the past episode, with the story of Helen told in flashbacks of her sister, Joanne, in a cemetery to visit her gravesite. I suppose this flashback strategy saved some money, but there are more sophisticated ways of handling this. The flashbacks are used a bit more effectively several times later in the episode, as trauma flashes where Joanne’s memories cue her into connections she sees in a new case of the curse of “vanity’s mirror.” (Still, every time they flash back to Helen within the episode, I can’t resist a chuckle.)
Initially, I was disappointed that Helen was not going to return (outside of reused footage). I could see her developing a real fan following. Alas, not to be. Yet, writer Henshaw creates an interesting twist here, shifting the focus of his script from university life to the fashion magazine industry, and putting the mirror in the hands of a supermodel whose looks are showing signs of fading. The shift to the world where vanity is a business results in some of the series’ juiciest mugging and Falcon Crest style soap opera acting and writing. “Cover those canyons around her eyes,” says the photographer. And, later, Tabitha says to a reluctant plastic surgeon before the mirror kills him: “I’m not interested in nature; I want my face the way it was.”
It’s definitely the case in this episode that the object attracts its user. Tabitha doesn’t even know what the object does, but she keeps looking into it. But has the power of the curse changed? (Ryan: “You mean the object’s changed what it does?”) It now shows the user the dead face of a future death/victim and, once this price has been paid, then seems to alter the face of the user for all to see (because dead people don’t look at you; they look into you). One of the things that delays Micki and Ryan in their search for the mirror is that Tabitha is already beautiful by most standards, even if not perfect by supermodel standards. So, like the antique radio in “And Now the News” (2.3), the curse adapts to the needs of the user here. Jack: “The compact is a simple weapon of revenge. And it feeds on the vanity of whoever has it.” Well, there you have the sins all wrapped up and tied with a bow. Interesting that Tabitha’s wrinkles seem to degrade when they return, the more she uses the vanity.
Best Line: Tabitha, after the photo shoot, when the photographer asks to come into her apartment: “Oh, is that how it is? I’m back on top so you think you should be too?”
The Verdict: Despite the clunky use of the flashback (something I feel the series rarely uses well), this episode is definitely among the better ones, though certainly not among the best ones.
Erin’s thoughts (before reading yours): First of all, points to continuity for casting the same actress as Joanne! I mean, in terms of airing time, it’s only been a year or so, although in show time, who knows? (She was a senior in high school last we saw her and now working for a magazine? OK.)
The opening of this is a PERFECT example of how not to trust your viewers, and is certainly a product of that particular TV era. I can’t recall whether in the original airings they did “previously on” for each episode (they did for the “Quilt of Halthor” two-parter, but it’s lost to time whether it was usual), which would have more briefly covered this. Still, all that was really needed was a few flashes here and there to remind the viewer (as they did at other points of the episode). Instead, we got a full eight minutes of flashbacks, interspersed with the longest cemetery walk ever.
E: By only focusing on Joanne, it implies these are her recollections, except at far too many points, they are scenes she never witnessed. Clunky. VERY clunky.
E: Consequently, we don’t really get into the meat of the episode until almost 10 minutes in, and it is a vast improvement. We get to know the fate of the compact, and what’s better, a bit of nuance as to how these cursed objects can operate. Essentially, Jack’s explanation confirms what we suspected: the curses are related to a particular sin, and the power of the object is whatever can best damn you. Love the Sunset Boulevard/Gloria Swanson vibe Tabitha gives off, and while “vanity” in the modeling world is an easy one, it didn’t make it any less enjoyable.
What else did I like: the ethical plastic surgeon who won’t perform a procedure on her. The magazine name—Degage—apparently means both “nonchalant” and “unconstrained,” which offers a subtle irony. The subtle “on top” discussion between Tabitha and gross photo guy whose name I have forgotten.
The cheese: Near the end, when Tabitha is aiming the compact, the music seems as if directly lifted from, I think, Halloween? Lazy prop master award goes to whomever marked one of the equipment boxes for the shoot “Stuff.”
The Verdict: Not a top one for me, but once you get past the start, there’s a lot to enjoy.
K: Agreed on all counts! (Although I suspect I liked this one better than you did!) This is a weird case where what could have been one of the best episodes for sheer, gleeful soap-operatics (especially in the acting), was hampered by that massive and unnecessary intro segment. When I think of how much more time I could have had with leering, glaring, scheming Tabitha, rather than watching an episode I’ve already seen, I feel grumpy.
E: 100% with you on this one. Tabitha was pure soap opera camp and I loved it! I will say one thing that did occur to me belatedly; this may be one of the few times were the Curious Goods crew actually consider the aftermath. Compare that ending discussion with Ryan’s glib: “that kid needs therapy” remark in “The Inheritance.”
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.