Season 3, Episode 15: “The Long Road Home” (Allan Kroeker, director; Carl Binder, writer)
Micki and Johnny wander into some hillbilly horror with this inventive anticipation of The X-Files, combined with an homage to / ripoff of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: The cold opener for this one is like a mini capsule narrative. We’re in the middle of a case. Micki rescues Johnny from certain doom in a swimming pool. (What’s with Micki kissing Johnny underwater as she rescues him? She chalks it up to “business,” but it’s far too short for mouth-to-mouth—which you don’t do underwater anyway—and the practical scenario of rescuing someone tied up underwater from drowning would seem to outweigh other business.) The lifeguard who leaves Johnny to die has meanwhile escaped to meet his lover so that he can kill her husband and body-swap with him using the cursed yin/yang charm. A fight ensues, and Johnny and Micki leave the tearful wife/lover the only one standing. Begin title sequence.
Erin: I think it was supposed to be giving him a bit of oxygen to buy time while she undid the rope, but yeah.
K: The opener is a kind of feint … a far cry from the hillbilly horror scenario we’re about to be served. From the moment after the title crawl, this episode shifts from a story about yuppie trysts to a down-and-dirty homage to (ripoff of) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. (The X-Files will do it better around fifteen years later with the episode “Home” [4.2].) The tonal shifts in colour—baby blues in the opening’s glowing swimming pool area and well-lit upper-middle-class living room—and shadows and pitch-black nighttime shots on the road and in the eventual “terrible house” indicate two different worlds, one on the map so to speak, and one very much off. Despite these contrasts, I like that the bourgeois spaces of gym (pool) and upper-middle-class living room still feature violence with undercurrents that parallel the later “hillbilly horror” scenes. Everything turns on sex and relationships (and the violence that is mistaken for these) in the episode.
After the title sequence, we’re on the road with Micki and Johnny, with “a big storm on the way,” according to the gas station attendant. Micki muses about the yin and yang, the “passive force in the universe” and the “active,” “female and male.” The moment makes this viewer at least hope the episode will prove the opposite. It doesn’t, really. Instead, it seems to serve as initiator of a sub-theme to Micki and Johnny’s intimate talk and flirtation throughout. In a later scene, having been stranded on the road and approached an Old Dark House in the night for gas, Micki and Johnny warm up next to a fire. Talk turns to things they haven’t shared with each other, and a telling moment comes when Ryan’s name pops up. It’s difficult not to think that writer Binder didn’t have in mind that this scene should have occurred between Micki and Ryan, their relationship coming to a tipping point here in terms of intimacy. But we’ve got Johnny instead, so the moment results as more or less circumstantial.
It’s interesting, though, in keeping with this theme that they pretend to be a married couple in the diner scene, when the two Negley brothers, Mike and Eddie, push in at their table and begin making them uncomfortable. Once the two are captives of the Negley brothers, there is some real tension, particularly because the talk of Mike, the more dominant Negley brother, having his way with her. This is the most disturbing implication of the episode’s passive-active subtheme, with Mike’s seeming need for a mate limited to sexual violence (rape), and murder— since killing and embalming creates the most passive mate possible.
Outside, Johnny and Eddie fight, and only Eddie returns to the attic room where Mike is introducing Micki to his family, all embalmed corpses. But there’s something wrong with Eddie after he returns. I’m a little slow on the uptake, I guess, because it took me longer than it should have before I realized Johnny had used the cursed charm to body-swap with Eddie after their struggle. (Earlier in the car, Johnny has mused about when it might be appropriate to use a cursed object— his first time expressing such thoughts since he had similar sympathies for the cursed object-user in “Crippled Inside” (3.4). Micki has responded “never,” but she certainly comes around when she and Johnny are in peril.
*Johnny’s pensive moment: “I’m sorry, I just have a lot on my mind. … I’m just sick of people dying. This body swapping, it just brought back some bad memories.” Yes, I’m sure body swapping would.
*They stop off at Henshaw’s Roadhouse diner for a bite to eat, a little nod to executive story editor (and the series’ worst scriptwriter) Jim Henshaw.
*Robey, interviewed by Wax, weighs in on the Micki-Johnny intimacy: “Why on earth would Micki be dating a dolt?” (2015, 420). Ouch! And, agreed.
E: I noticed that too; that’s at least the fourth time they’ve done a little Easter egg like that.
*Micki and Johnny think they’re in the clear, having reinstalled Johnny from Eddie’s dying body to his own. But then, Grandpa, whom we thought was dead, jumps out of the shadows to attack. Johnny stabs him, sending sawdust flying, but Grandpa resiliently re-stuffs himself, grabs the shotgun and starts firing. But he gets caught in one of the family’s own traps (a favourite horror moment) and hangs upside-down, sawdust flying in the stormy night. But, why is Grandpa alive? Or, what is Grandpa? Did Mike somehow transfer himself into his body? Did I miss something?
*Wax speculates that the (real) farmhouse used in the episode might have been the same one used for “Scarecrow” (1.11) (2015, 420).
E: Well, when Micki found the object, it was on Grandpa’s shirt, so I’m guessing the transfer happened at that point. But wouldn’t it have transferred Johnny’s consciousness instead? Or is it like a cursed USB drive and can store multiple person files at once? WE’LL NEVER KNOW.
The Verdict: “The Long Road Home” is stunningly shot and well-scripted. The cold opener is a little light, and arguably played for laughs (its cheesiness is not clearly intentional), but the tension in the rest of the episode is thick. There is no humor here, as there was in Tobe Hooper’s original, unsettling dread film, though the scenario features an equally bleak view of America (without Hooper’s clearly political thrust). This episode is probably the most the series ever leaned fully into horror. The procedural aspect is gone, and it’s just a fairly raw and violent ride into the territory of nightmares. It’s not perfect, but it’s an exercise in unsettling the viewer. It’s top 20 for me, and maybe even top 10.
E: OK, I must be sick in the head, because I thought there was some humor in it (see my thoughts below).
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): So, way back in the day, I used to think that Friday the 13th: The Series was a kind of proto-X-Files (in a similar way to Forever Knight as a proto-Angel). I now realize that that idea came directly from this episode, the details of which had faded over time (except for the fireplace scene, for some reason).
And I absolutely LOVE this episode. Visually and narratively, Kroeker and Binder suggest a blend of humor and horror that just wasn’t that common in series like this back then. Aside from the cursed object’s fidget spinner effect, the mood and the scares were created by lighting and the ever-creepy presence of taxidermy. My favorite shot: After the fireplace near-kiss, the camera cuts to a stuffed owl, its eyes wide as if in shock.
The script is tight, and so is the structure. You’ve got this little mini-sode at the start, playing like a modern noir (wife cheats on horrible husband with sexy lifeguard, schemes to body-swap them; you know, the usual) before going full-on Deliverance (with a Raimi-ish Evil Dead twist). I actually didn’t take that many notes, because I was so engaged with how the dread and horror builds and builds. In particular, the way that literally everything that came out of the brothers mouths suggested death, rape, and necrophilia, adding to the potential horror with only dialogue. It’s a bloodless slasher, essentially. Brilliant. And Robey, excellently, goes subtle rather than over-the-top; this may rival her performance in the basement scene in season one. This is what happens when you trust the viewer; you get a flash of the mailbox, so you know Micki and Johnny are walking into trouble (and really, guys, if there is a bunch of taxidermy out in the open, that’s a SIGN). But then it takes time for some character development, with a mention of Ryan and the nature of the work, tinged with dread because you know the brothers are coming back at some point. When the older brother is acting “weird” it’s easy to dismiss based on what we’d seen of him in earlier scenes, so the fact that Johnny had body-swapped with him was a surprise, but made perfect sense.
And the final bit, with the younger one stuffing his...stuffing back in, then hitting one of the aforementioned traps and swinging in the window was darkly hilarious and absolutely of a piece with the humor/horror thing throughout the episode.
Is it weird to call this episode fun? Because it totally was for me.
K: Not weird. I think I received it as less humorous because its absurdities didn’t seem all that off. It seemed fairly realistic (though I have no idea what the brothers do to support themselves, and stuffed grandfathers don’t usually come to life), and the dread in scenes like the diner scene was really heavy. As were the implications of what they were planning to do to Micki, how they planned to use her.
Season 3, Episode 16: “My Wife as a Dog” (Armand Mastroianni, director; Jim Henshaw, writer)
Without a doubt, the very worst episode of the entire series. Gross. Wrong. Horrible. Hateful.
KRIS’S THOUGHTS: This episode takes the series’ misogyny to its logical, hateful extreme. I was worried about this possibility when I saw the episode’s title, and the result confirmed everything I suspected. It’s a fucked-up Freaky Friday for the misogynist set. Returning guest star Dennis Forest is back in another lunatic role as firefighter Aubrey, whose wife has filed for divorce. He doesn’t want that, so he keeps stalking and hounding (ahem) her at work. And when he’s with the guys at the station, he says things like: “Too bad a woman can’t be more like your dog. Dependable, faithful.”
Enter Aubrey’s ailing dog—and soon after, a cursed leash (?!) with Aboriginal Australian origins—and we have this episode’s ludicrous mixture of misogyny, base appropriation of indigenous tradition, and ophidiophilia (bestiality). According to Jack’s explanation of this “leash of dreams,” “Aboriginal tribes have always had a great affinity with animals. And they don’t distinguish between waking reality and dreams. … They believe that whatever you can envision must become real; otherwise, the images couldn’t drop into your mind.” Totally intriguing territory, but Peter Weir's The Last Wave (1977) this is NOT.
Aubrey proves he’s quick to kill already when he strangles a colleague with the leash during a (well shot) house fire scene. He takes the leash home to find out that it returns his dog to health, and after three other kills discovers that the leash gradually transforms his dog into his wife, and vice-versa. The end result? The episode closer features Aubrey in prison for murder in the episode’s closer, and his dog-wife brings him his slippers. The final shot is a close-up of her, tongue out, panting for approval. I don’t even want to think about the kind of audience that would find this amusing. It’s fucked up, sick, and absurd.
I wish clumsy dialogue scenes where essential information about other characters is just dropped in to move the narrative along were this episode’s only offence. The only thing that makes Wax “a bit uncomfortable” in her book is the suggestion of bestiality (2015, 428). Director Mastroianni’s comments on said hints of bestiality also provide a parallel clue to the context for this episode’s vicious misogyny: “It was an atmosphere that allowed you to explore and experiment. Nobody was telling you not to. They were all saying, ‘Go for it. If we can’t use it, at least we know we did it’” (2015, 428).
Dennis Forest and some well shot scenes cannot overcome the politics; this episode represents the nadir of the entire series.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Ugh. I feel soiled by this episode. At best (well, there is no best), it’s a Henny Youngman/Don Rickles bit brought to life. I mean, there was no part of this episode that wasn’t gross. It suggests that we are supposed to feel sympathy for Audrey because his dog is dying, but this is immediately followed by a barrage of stalking, gaslighting, and being generally abusive to his soon-to-be-ex wife. And it’s not like he’s alone; his fellow firefighters are just as dismissive and misogynistic and entitled as he is, so he’s surrounded by no one who challenges his behavior. Except the one firefighter who tells him to grow up...and then gets strangled.
The only thing that pushes against this is casting Denis Forest, who plays these kinds of creeps so well. But then we have a button to the episode where, AGAIN, this type of behavior is excused by the “madness” loneliness causes. That is NOT what this is, dude, OK? It’s never that. At least “Epitaph,” which featured a similar type, did not attempt to excuse or justify his behavior. (Necrophilia and bestiality; dear gods, show!)
I don’t give Henshaw credit for it, because given the general tone and the horrifying ending, I doubt it was his intention, but Lea and Jodi are practically the only sympathetic characters here. Everything Lea says is correct: she clearly states she wants nothing to do with him, that his behavior is inappropriate. There is no ambiguity. Bonus, she’s got support in Jodi, who tosses him out and tells him he’s barred from coming in there.
Side note: Did I miss something? How did he know it was called the “Leash of Dreams”?
K: Jack always seems to be speaking from some sort of mythical or esoteric knowledge pool, maybe from his occult days?
E: Oh, I meant Aubrey. He calls it the “leash of dreams” as well.
K: Ohhhh. Weird.
And then that final scene, which you just KNOW they thought would be hilarious. It was reprehensible, and a slap in the face.
K: There’s just nothing at all funny about it. It’s reprehensible. And series like Tales from the Darkside have an occasional tendency to go there as well, but as my friend Mario has said, the pulp magazines often featured misogynistic tales where wives were the focus of much violence.
E: What’s even worse is that she is the one who suffers here; he may be in prison, but it’s Lea who pays the price. The implication here is what? That it’s the price she pays for being such a “bitch” as to leave her stalker husband? ARRRGHHH.
I think I hate this episode more than any other. BURN IT. BURN IT WITH FIRE.
K: It’s truly the worst of the series. Almost like it's trying to be.
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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.