Season 1, Episode 12: “Faith Healer” (David Cronenberg, director; Christine Cornish, writer) (13 February, 1987)
In which a one-and-done Cronenberg takes things to the next level.
The Goods: A fake, disgraced faith healer happens upon a glove that actually gives him real healing powers, but only by passing that disease to someone else.
The Cheese: Mostly, that the mystical glove looks less mystical, and more bought in bulk
The Sins: Greed is the big winner here, although various shades of gluttony and lust are also at play.
Erin: OK, I haven’t watched all of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, but the body horror alone in the episode feels very him. (Also, possibly the grossest/most visceral horror yet shown in the series.) The scabby, breathing lesions (what illness is that? hmm) put me in mind of his version of “The Fly,” which I think came out the year before this aired? The final shot of Fishoff trapped between two dumpsters was not subtle, but I liked it nonetheless. Indeed, the episode feels more like a short film than a television episode, down to the bookended structure of Jerry revealing Fishoff’s trickery at the beginning to Jerry’s final words being “Pray for Me, Jack.”
Kristopher: Jerry says “a crime against every one of you, and a crime against reason”: The pro-science message here isn’t exactly dear to Cronenberg, but the emphasis on broken, disabled bodies very much is. That the glove takes on the disease in a kind of transference is also an interest of Cronenberg’s in parasites, and technology (in parasitechnology) that begets a kind of new sensory organ. That the TV console plays a significant role here is also an allusion to Cronenberg’s other work (Videodrome particularly). Jerry’s eventual obsession with the glove and its potential to heal him is in line with the series trope of otherwise normal folk becoming obsessed with the curse objects, drawn to them. The fact that the swelling dark red pustules that appear on several of the sufferers (including Jerry) isn’t explained is also very much in line with Cronenberg’s sense that modernity and all of its shocks has a physical and psychological impact on the human sensorium and body that we may not yet or ever understand. The idea that the flesh is turning into something new and radically different is very much present here, and it is very likely that Cronenberg brought this specific aspect into play. The sufferers could easily have been physically disabled like several other folks we see here, but the repetition of the pustules, especially on Jerry, seems a Cronenberg-ian touch. Finally, Jerry calls these “frauds and hustlers” “parasites,” which is fitting with the way the glove transfers the curse like a fleshly infection, and very much in keeping with a Cronenbergian reality. His first film, Shivers, was originally titled Orgy of the Blood Parasites.
E: I really liked this episode, even though the actor playing Jerry felt a bit too low-energy throughout to justify the maniacal laugh at the end. Structurally, it felt a bit different; it was nearly 11 minutes into the episode before the Curious Goods’ crew even makes an appearance.
K: I noticed this as well. In the Curious Goods book, Wax notes that Robey quotes Cronenberg as saying that he had no interest in the main characters, and this lack of interest could have, perhaps unintentionally, created a shift in the structure of the episode.
E: The episode offered some decent development on that front; Jack (and the show to some extent) seems to treat them as children (they arrive on bikes at Jerry’s boat!) At the end, though, it acknowledges the sacrifices all of them made to be there; will that hold moving forward?
K: That final scene was clunky in this respect, particularly the acting: “We’re your friends, Jack.” But I liked the further bookending of the humorous “magical cure” vs. science. Ryan’s head cold: “You try magic, I’ll try science.”
E: Other things: the glove was created for a king to ensure the royal family’s health at the expense of the populace, which feels timely right now.
K: Also interesting that an alchemist has the glove made. The silly part is that the glove looks like it was purchased in the sale bin at Montgomery Ward.
E: It’s a nice touch, too, that Fishoff basically tells his audience (on TV , exactly what his healing entails, but by couching it in religious language (healing requires sacrifice) they don’t realize he’s giving them what he probably thinks is fair warning.
K: Another Cronenberg trope, right out of Videodrome, where Brian O’Blivion, a kind of Marshall McLuhan figure, appears on TV on a talk show set, saying “I only appear on TV on TV.”
E: It’s interesting to consider the implications of what the glove does. Beyond the healing and passing on of the disease, it actually restores the faith of the first woman healed. Obviously, both episode length and format doesn’t really allow for this to be explored further, but the idea that a devil-cursed object restores a woman’s faith is kind of fascinating.
K: This is great thinking and beautiful writing! I also noted some interesting factors with the glove. It is coincidentally stumbled upon in a filthy alley; it just happens to do the real work perpetrated by the fraud. Is this the first time we see one of the objects randomly found by someone? The coincidence here is that he needs this “healing” glove. Incidentally, the first actress healed by the glove is in Cronenberg’s Videodrome.
E: Finally, the “sin” in this episode? Well, Jerry names it: Greed. I would argue pride is in there as well. Like “Scarecrow,” Supernatural’s “Faith” borrows (intentionally? I don’t know) quite a bit from this episode. No glove, but a preacher’s wife uses magic to bind a reaper; when her husband heals someone, another individual dies of the same ailment.
K: I noted the line in my viewing notes: “There’s a power that is greater than the both of us that is running through me. Blessing me.” “Yeah, it’s called greed.” But there’s something else here, as well. Yes, pride, but I’m thinking of Jerry deciding that the glove should be used to heal if it can heal. There is a selfishness here, as in the following exchange: “Jerry, you’ve never been a criminal before.” “I’ve never been dying before, Jack.” But I would say that this might be an entry for Envy (the health of others) and even Lust, though not sexualized and likely more in line with Greed. What makes me say Lust is the degree to which the envy of health takes shape in the flesh here, and the focus on corrupted flesh.
Some random thoughts I noted that don’t have to do with the above that much are that the music in this episode is good! It felt a bit different, but I didn’t see a new name in the credits. This is a particularly urban episode, and I like that particular kind of location as a backdrop for people and their compromised flesh. There’s something about the city that feels more toxic than the rural, and this episode could be interestingly counterposed to the previous one. I think the “Shadow Boxer” episode is another one that makes good use of urban locations. But this episode tops it; the docks/wharf carries shades of the apocalyptic ending of Videodrome, and you can see the CN tower in the background/skyline at some points. Last point here is just that the Curious Goods book suggests Cronenberg’s involvement was simply because he knew Frank Mancuso, Jr. (2015, 87).
Season 1, Episode 13: “The Baron’s Bride” (Bradford May, director; Larry Gaynor, writer) (20 February, 1988)
The series goes super low-rent Anne Rice.
The Goods: A cursed cape turns its wearer into a vampire and bedazzles victims with costume jewelry. A magically roofied Micki gets transported to the past, and Jack and Ryan have to both rescue her and inspire an Irishman.
The Cheese: So much cheese that this episode could legally be classified as fondue—including, but not limited to, the dime-store cape and jewel worn by a dime-store Rick Springfield, the unexplained appearance of an actual vampire who owns the cape and lures others to wear it, and a not surprising but still irritating lack of research into actual historical figures.
The Sins: Lust, for what it’s worth.
Kristopher: The cape in this episode is mentioned in the coda of the previous episode. Mickey is talking about it. Forgive me for the rest of these comments reading like half-baked notes. This episode left me feeling distanced throughout. Holy Toronto neighbourhood!!! There is no mistaking it, and it looks like the upperclass area where Margaret Atwood lives.
The Madame/Vampire/Landlord’s acting is really bad. (Also … Vampires?! So, the supernatural in the series is not limited to the cursed objects, then?) I’m glad the landlord dies early (and also unsure of why she’s a vampire already and what this does to the logic of the entire series). / The cape gets a POV shot! Classic way to suggest its draw upon the beholder.
Jack says the house is on Bay Street, a main drag in Toronto. Jeez, the hetero vibes here are nuts. Couldn’t Ryan or even Jack also be attracted to the cape-wearing guy?
Okay, just when I thought this episode was going to be painful, they go even further by bringing the characters into the past. I mean, though this is a trick from Star Trek, this episode feels like and predates a similar use in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Have they met Bram Stoker? His name is Abraham. Yes, the coda confirms it.
The sudden use of voice-over for the vampire-cape-wearer is silly, as is the dialogue: “Tell me where the pain is.” / “It’s in my heart.” Oof. This episode is having a hard time not going down as the “episode where Micki falls under the thrall of a mulleted vampire.” Part of the awfulness here is, I’m afraid, Louise Robey’s horrendous acting. (I’m not a fan, even still.)
This one was a really nice try. A beautifully shot episode that just doesn’t fall together in the way they want it to. The melodramatics (of which I’m usually a fan) are amped up too high, and the outer-framing narrative doesn’t parallel the time-travel/vortex narrative closely enough. Yet Toronto never looked so good in black-and-white as 1874 (was the past color blind, by the way?). And finally, I don’t recall the novel Dracula coming with that inscription.
Erin: It DOES NOT. (See rant below.) And absolutely. I think this would have worked SO much better if the tone weren’t so serious. Playing this material absolutely straight (as they did) only highlights its ridiculousness.
K: So, we have another entry in the Lust category, finally. (Where is Sloth, for heaven’s sake?!) But I must say, this one left me feeling like I’d just read a fan-fiction episode of the series. Inconsequential for me. Signed … Roger Ebert.
E: OK, so I can appreciate the stylistic chances they took here, although the black and white, as you say, just makes everything look grainy and grimy. Perhaps an homage to the Universal monster movies? I didn’t recognize Toronto (having never been there), but I thought it was hilarious that they tell Bram and Caitlin they are from the States.
The idea that vampires are real I guess would fit into the continuity if you bend it hard enough and cross your eyes—the devil is real, so in theory? That doesn’t explain why the landlady is a vampire; did the presence of the cape turn her? None of it makes any sense...which is why I have a theory: This was purely a ratings (or whatever) stunt. I can’t speak for Canada, but 87/88 was kind of a banner time for vampire-themed stuff, at least partly due to the popularity of The Vampire Lestat/Queen of the Damned, which came out within a couple of years of one another. In 87/88 alone: Vampire’s Kiss, The Lost Boys, My Best Friend is a Vampire, Near Dark, The Monster Squad, Robo Vamp, Beverly Hills Vamp… My guess is that the series was attempting to cash in on the vampire’s popularity at the time. Also? Jack’s mention of Whitechapel and the first victim being a prostitute seems like a weird tie-in that goes absolutely nowhere.
Also: his whole interaction with the cape and its effects, the episode suggests, leads to Bram Stoker’s success as an author. Brings up a similar question to the healed woman getting her faith back in the previous episode. (I am overthinking. I know.)
Some things I liked: Caitlin standing up to Vampire Rick Springfield. Ryan running to get the “Room to Rent” sign to stake the vampire landlady. The cape POV shot. Also, Bram’s line, as true then as it is today: “I’m beginning to think you Americans can’t be too right in the head.” NAILED IT, BRAM.
K: Agreed on all of these. If these elements had been presented less seriously, this episode could’ve been hilarious.
E: Some things that drove me batshit: Dracula as “greatest masterpiece”? Whatever, show. Also? I know there was no internet in 1987, but still! Forget the fact that there are some questions about Stoker’s sexuality—that’s something no US show would have dealt with in 1987—but his wife’s name was Florence, not Caitlin, and she was involved with Oscar Wilde before she married Bram. Apparently after his death she sued the studio who made Nosferatu for infringement, so even a modicum of research would have unearthed her name. Louise Robey’s acting.
K: Louise Robey’s acting nearly always drives me to distraction.
E: All in all, not great.
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.