Season 3, Episode 5: “Stick It in Your Ear” (Jon Ezrine, director; Douglas Jackson, writer)
Another ultra-sensitive take on physical limitations that also serves, weirdly, as a jab at the media.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: An ounce of plausibility might have made this episode more than just a fun concept. A hearing aid that allows the user to read minds is a cool enough idea, but in the context of the show, it has to be an antique. Hearing aids have been around since the late 19th century, but the idea of an antique hearing aid being traded around like a cool old lamp or mirror or radio (and somewhere in there being cursed?) feels like a stretch.
A better director might have pulled out some of the latent humor that’s just waiting to be mined here. I’m not referring to the script (which also could have used some better one-liners), but to the presentation of Adam’s ridiculous predicament, and the very fun, gruesome effects. The prosthetics used to indicate Adam’s pulsating face (when he becomes too full of other people’s thoughts that he must unload) are one thing, but much more could have been made of the humorous effects of Adam’s making himself a spectacle: for example, the blood spattered faces of bystanders and spectators, particularly across talk show host Stan Elliott’s appalled face in the episode’s final scene.
The biggest snag here is that turning the hearing aid’s “gift” into an act would mean appearing to do the mind readings without any assistance or “aid,” but that huge, pulsing contraption looks like a throbbing earbud at best, and a Cronenbergian tumor or organ-like outgrowth attached to his head at worst. Jack uses this to the Curious Goods team’s advantage in the episode finale to discredit Adam’s mind reading act in front of a live studio audience, but any of Adam’s supposedly duped audience would have suspected this long before.
Erin: Plausibility, be gone!
K: Also disappointing is that in calling Adam out in front of a live audience, with Micki and Johnny waiting in the wings to grab him, Jack prompts what might have been the series’ second spectacular onstage death. (Yes, TV shows allow random people to enter celebrity dressing rooms, as well as to wander around backstage, into the audience, and onstage.) When they did this before, in “Mesmer’s Bauble” (2.20), the effect was shockingly hilarious (and Micki and Ryan stayed in the audience). Here, director Jon Ezrine cuts away almost exclusively to Jack’s own repulsed reactions, rarely to the audience’s, and ends on a closeup of Adam’s dead face. Considering the buildup, I was expecting a Scanners-like head explosion. Even if handled offscreen, with some blood and grue spattering the faces of the spectators, this would have been a more spectacular way to round out the episode’s latent, ever-imminent promise of spectacularly violent excess (and humor). (And a bit of a commentary on what live TV audiences are really there for.)
Endnotes: The TV Exec angle, with a power hungry producer willing to go along with Adam’s murder, which she witnesses, to further both their rising careers—and falling in love with him to boot—is an interesting prick at the industry.
The Cheese: Considering that the entire episode is completely cheesed-out, Jack’s Obi-Wan-Kenobi moralizing in the episode’s last line registers as total hokum: “He really should have found out what was going on in his own mind before he went around looking at other people’s.”
The Verdict: Another middling episode that could have been terrific.
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Whee! Another Cronenberg-inspired gross out! And the second episode in a row with Ft13th: TS’s signature sensitive take on physical limitations, with Adam’s assertion that a hearing aid will “make him look like a dork.”
(Let me just point out: I don’t care what cursed object is influencing me, I cannot buy the description of Adam Coles’ underfed Howie Mandel looks as “ruggedly handsome.”)
E: I didn’t actually end up taking many notes on this one; it was fairly straightforward, almost in a season one kind of way. The object seems to literally call out to him, with the overlapping voices as he holds it up to his ear. The motivation is obvious: fame and power. While a trope now, the idea that TV execs didn’t need to be influenced by curses to be evil wasn’t as common, and they did underplay it, with Stan’s thought: “small price to pay for ratings” as merely a part of the cacophony Adam hears. Yet, like the echoing thoughts he must purge himself of or die, this episode feels a bit like an echo of better ones from the series: from the transfer of the curse’s effects to another (and the visuals) of “Faith Healer” to the anything for fame/ratings of both “Mesmer’s Bauble” and “Double Exposure.” It also mirrors “Crippled Inside” in the way that the cursed object user (in this case, Adam) tempts others, particularly Randi, by appealing to her desire for success and respect.
E: Way to Not Read the Audience: Stan’s assertion that the network “needs a variety show.” Pretty sure that in 1989, the last “successful” variety show was Donnie and Marie Osmond.
An OK episode, I suppose, although Jack’s little button at the end showed all the depth and understanding of a fortune cookie. It just...it was cheesy, but not cheesy enough. It’s an inherently silly premise (kind of like the show as a whole) mixed with gross, throbbing visuals, which would have worked well if they’d leaned into it a bit more.
Sins: Greed. As usual.
K: This is such a disappointing episode because of what it could have done, and I feel so bad for you to be about to watch the next episode, which just sucks ass and never had a chance of not sucking ass.
E: Having just watched it, I have to agree.
Season 3, Episode 6: “Bad Penny” (William Fruet, director; Marilyn Anderson and Billy Riback, writers)
A cursed object returns, and everything—including the acting and the writing—goes straight to hell.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: Well, the “Tails I Live, Heads You Die” (2.4) writing team is back. I suppose it’s interesting that the angle shifts here from a cult to a couple of cops, a more quotidian scenario, the coin falling into the hands of more ordinary men. Johnny, too, will be enticed to resurrect his father. But like the cop, he’ll come back not quite right.
I don’t know why this episode was necessary, really. I guess that, besides fleshing out Johnny’s character, it’s also an attempt at getting into Micki’s continued doubts about her safety in what the Curious Goods team does. But either in the scripting or Robey’s overacting, it just feels inconsistent with her character to this point. Frankly, I would rather have seen her use some of her occult powers from the end of the previous season to kick some effing butt with these coin users (including Johnny, really). But no. We get a terrified, crying, broken Micki throughout.
The Curiosities: Johnny’s father’s grave dates his death as 1987, but that episode at least aired near the end of the previous season, putting it more likely in 1989. (Wax also notes this [2015, 361]).
The Verdict: Of the prior effort by this writing team (this episode’s retro-prequel, 2.4), I noted that it had moments but ultimately felt “lightweight” and thin; this one doesn’t have those moments and feels even lighter and thinner. In short, it’s a bad penny.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): One of the only positive things I can say about this thoroughly “meh” episode was that I was worried that it was going to again be a Johnny-centric episode, with Jack and Micki being gone for most of it. Thankfully, while Johnny-heavy (‘cause, you know, I really needed to go on this emotional journey with a new character), Jack and Micki do stick around.
This ends up being a mixed blessing. I mean, we finally get Micki showing understandable signs of the trauma she’s undergone, and Jack could not be less sensitive about it. I mean, we get a whole episode of Jack processing his experiences in World War II in “The Butcher,” an episode that sensitively examines loss and violence, but Micki, who not only recently lost Ryan, nearly got raped by Satan, but also, you know, DIED by the very object that has now reappeared, and Jack’s all: “Suck it up; walk it off. We’ve got work to do.”
K: This is very true, and feeds into the argument that this series—while occasionally tackling key issues, and on a rare occasion confronting representations of women head-on [“Wedding Bell Blues” (2.22)]—is also deeply misogynistic through and through.
E: The sad thing is, that’s absolutely par for the course during this time period. (Well, not just this time period, but went unquestioned far more in the 1980s. That’s why shows like Buffy (and magazines like Sassy) meant so much to girls my age.
Worse, this trauma is portrayed mostly by a lot of whining, suggesting that the writers are trying to make the audience side with Jack’s point of view rather than Micki’s.
K: I mean, it was really difficult not to.
E: Worse [K: Worser?], while Jack (temporarily) kicks out Johnny for using the cursed object to resurrect his father (without bothering to explain the differences in resurrecting Micki), he later comforts him, with Micki being forced to say that what she went through was nothing compared to Johnny’s (self-inflicted) pain. (Which might have resonated more if the actor playing Vince hadn’t been so obviously breathing after he was dead.) Way to prioritize man-pain as legitimate, while suggesting women are just being overly emotional, SHOW.
Weirdly, I did prefer the dirty cops to the scenery-chewing Satanists, but all the flashbacks to previous episodes felt less like filling in the blanks and more like filler. Aside from liking the choice not to make zombie Vince evil, I think I might hate this episode.
K: Me too. But it’ll look like Thelma and Louise by comparison when you see “My Wife as a Dog.” And now I’m thinking we need to do a top ten most misogynistic episodes list. And I’m not kidding.
E: I fully support that idea. [K: And, dear reader, we did do this! Coming, in our series wrap-up post, sometime in … July?]
Sins: Greed, again. Also bad screenwriting (again).
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.