Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2: “The Prophecies” Parts 1 and 2 (Tom McLoughlin, director; Tom McLoughlin, writer)
Fallen angels, saintly nuns, and a swan song for Ryan add up to one of the series’ best.
Click below for the full episodes. The first, titled "parts 1 and 2," features only part 1. Part 2 follows.
KRIS'S THOUGHTS: This melancholy double episode is stunning, right up until the finale, where it goes badly off the rails. The structure around the seven prophecies that must be fulfilled makes for an intriguing sequence of events. It’s paced like a 90-minute film, which is interesting, since other double-episodes in the series feel like two 45-minute chapters, not one long, unfolding story.
Much of the episode’s dramatic heft revolves around the possession of Ryan by fallen angel/demon Asteroth. Fritz Weaver as Asteroth is a good choice … well, for anything, but particularly for this. His wild, frenzied ritual readings of the “Book of Lucifer,” the first grimoire of the series, provide a good balance to the episode’s truly morose tone, with the team mostly separated: Jack through an injury, Ryan through his possession, and Micki being interrogated by the police about Ryan’s crimes.
Early in the episode, there is also the return of Ryan’s mother, showing up after a 14-year exile from her son, as he mourns at the grave of his brother. As Ryan and Micki leave for France to help Jack, the dolly shot away from Mrs. Dallion at the airport suggests Ryan might not return from this trip. While he’s on the run after the murder (while possessed) of a nun, Ryan’s breakdown scene begging Jack to help him is heartbreaking, which makes the puppeting of him by Asteroth in the scene directly after the more disturbing. It’s a really great performance by John D. LeMay, which makes his exit from the series even harder to take.
The second half of the episode features a beautiful procession through the streets of town (the steep hills of the cobblestone streets suggest it’s very likely Quebec City) (confirmed in Wax 2015, 338), with doleful singing and torches and candles. Ryan’s own past loss of his brother links him to these tragedies, and he has a vision of it again after being staked by Asteroth; in the wake of the stabbing, Ryan reverts back to his child self. The ending with Ryan, still possessed, brought to the sacred fount to be cured by the blessed mother shifts the episode into maudlin territory. In fact, the ending— with Ryan left at around age 8 to grow up again with his newly-returned mom, is a little too Touched by an Angel for this guy. I suppose they had to give Ryan a decent swan song as he left the series. More than anything, I’m sorry to see John D. LeMay go. He was the series’ best actor, and while his character was uneven, he was probably also the best-drawn character. Johnny, as a character, and particularly Steven Monarque, as an actor, don’t even come close.
Erin: Yes, it was painfully obvious even from the way little Johnny appeared in the episode. Also, how is anyone going to explain to Ryan why 1) his father is dead; 2) it’s 1989; and 3) why his cousin Micki is not around, except for this older lady? Yikes.
K: Classic semi-anthology ‘behavior’: it doesn’t matter; we’ll let them figure it out!
I’m pretty much with Jim Henshaw, who comments that this episode gets a bit too far away from “what we did best” (Wax 339). What at first feels like an interesting experiment on the form of the show (a few season 1 episodes do this to fairly good effect, if I remember well), turns into a bit of an illogical and tonal mess, despite how gorgeous and, at least initially, well paced it is.
Technical note: I wanted to wait until seeing a bit of the next episode before mentioning the poor transfer of this episode. I notice that the third season has a different DVD presentation than the first two, with a new menu design, and a crisper title sequence for the episode, but when the episode begins, it’s certain from the start that the transfer is out of focus and murky. Even the bright yellow titles are fuzzy. I wonder why this episode’s transfer is so shoddy? In subsequent transfers the image quality is much crisper, but the sound is echoey and muffled.
E: I noticed that too! I wonder if they switched from film to video?
ERIN'S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): First off, you were right when you mentioned that there was no real stopping point here; it did feel like a feature-length episode. One thing that is usually quite obvious when watching shows on DVD is where the commercial would have been. Some shows lean into it; watch, for instance, Firefly’s “Serenity”; Whedon structured the episode knowing where the breaks would be to keep audience attention over the distraction of the commercials (hello, Raymond Williams!), as when Mal opens the cryochamber around the 45-minute mark. There was no obvious markers like that in this episode, making it seem much more like a film than a television episode.
There was a lot to enjoy here in Ryan’s swan song. Loved that they went on location; not sure where that is, but it was certainly passable as a small, European village.
K: Quebec City.
E: Liked the bit with Jack dreaming of, and then waking up, at 3:33 am, to the sound of distorted bells and villagers walking like zombies through the streets. The guy playing Asteroth chewed the scenery in a delightful way (nice cackle!); I was afraid they’d bring back Lewis for this, so bonus! The possession effects were creepy but in a (mostly) subtle way: the green eyes, the blinded man in the square; they’d do well to remember that one doesn’t have to go big to up the freaky factor. Visually, this episode was a big step up, although the sound seemed murkier than usual. (Maybe it’s my ears.) The tracking shot with Mom LeMay in the airport was nicely done as well!
What happens when you watch old shows in 2020: The prophecy “All faith and hope depart from the world” (which was nicely accompanied/underscored by the innkeeper burning his cross crosscut with the shrine pilgrims singing “Ave Maria”) and the blinded guy who was caked in orange make up made me think: “Oh, so Trump will still be around? Thanks a lot, SATAN.”
LeMay really brings it in this episode (as does continuity!). While the loss of his brother hasn’t really been mentioned since “Scarecrow,” it is established enough so that the new wrinkle of backstory (that his mom blamed him) makes sense...and adds dimension to his interactions with his father in “Pipe Dreams.” The scene with Jack was heartbreaking and LeMay didn’t overdo it; you could see his struggle and sympathize with the way that Ryan has a history of not catching a break. Why he was more vulnerable leads to one of my big issues with this episode, which I’ll talk about below. There is an undercurrent of fragile masculinity here that is worth teasing out.
Also, the “you can keep your legs if you praise him” bit inspired my note: “Man, Lucifer is a needy bitch!”
OK, what didn’t work: The HUGE cheesy Virgin Mary/Sister Adele bit at the end. While it was cool that it was the young girl who defeated Satan, that whole last 10 minutes seemed really muddled and weird. Ryan takes the blow from Asteroth, who reduces him to a kid so that Satan can possess him, I guess. So why didn’t it work? I mean, I don’t need my hand held, but kid-Ryan was still possessed after Asteroth flamed out, so it wasn’t entirely clear why it failed. I’m guessing divine intervention, but I find that lazy. Also, Ryan (and his mom) get a do-over, which just puts too much of a button on things.
Finally, what bothered me the most here is the conflation of mental illness and evil. I’m not entirely sure that was the intention; the patients in the mental ward were targeted because they were the ones Sister Adele worked with—as dialogue makes clear—but combined with Micki saying Ryan was depressed because of the anniversary of his brother’s death suggests that mental illness makes you vulnerable to evil. I mean, it’s not an uncommon trope, but I don’t have to like it. (That being said, the scene in the ward was scary as hell; complete with a crucified nun!)
Consensus: Really good episode that whiffed it at the end.
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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.