Season 2, Episode 11: “The Sweetest Sting” (David Winning, director; Rick Butler and Roy Sallows, writer)
Season 2 goes on an upswing that’s got us all abuzz.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
A lonely field next to a lonely country road with all the muted colors of a rural landscape … Ahhh, I do get excited when Friday the 13th: The Series goes on location. The opening swarm scene is great (and apparently had real bees added into the S/FX mix), and the following night shot with rows of beehives looking like tombstones is a great touch.
Casting Canadian character actor Art Hindle (The Dead Zone) as the sinister beekeeper is a coup; he’s a step up from the usual guest stars. From the get-go, this episode feels every bit the double-feature of the earlier “Scarecrow” (1.11), another stunner. I guess the eleventh spot in the season means you’re a winner, baby? [Erin: YES! Serious “Scarecrow” vibes for me as well. And I knew that guy looked familiar!]
K: Finally, an episode more akin to Season 2’s initial string of more grounded, darker, stories. This one has a good feel, the casting is great, and the locations are gorgeous. There’s a lot going on here: an immortality-granting object, terminally ill patients, businessmen becoming outsourced by corporate interests. Tied to this is a kind of male virility issue, with the mortality giving these men new, younger, healthier, and attractive bodies of the men whose lives they’ve taken. [E: Absolutely, and makes it nuanced and sympathetic, which is a challenge.]
K: Director David Winning has a long, prolific career in TV directing, including genre fare such as Are Your Afraid of the Dark? (1993-95), Earth: Final Conflict (2001-2) and Todd and the Book of Pure Evil (2010-12). His two other episodes for this series were “Scarlet Cinema” (2.16) (good) and “Jack in the Box” (3.17) (not bad). I’m intrigued.
The death-by-columbine scene in a misty field (shot on a Mennonite farm [Wax 229]) is a nice touch, a throwback to the woodchipper death in the TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981). (Okay, let’s face it, that 1981 scene is incomparable.) The bee attack on Micki later on even has a “bee cam” shot chasing her and Ryan. This episode is directed with verve.
This is one of those episodes that really feels like a progenitor to The X-Files. It’s darker in tone, has a backstory of two brothers at odds, deals with the fragility of the body (and the male ego) in ways that do not moralize, and blends the supernatural “evil” into a natural effect (vampire bees) that has some believability as a kind of mutation. The corporate aspect of the episode doesn’t pan out so much, but it’s there, lingering, in the terminally ill man who dons the body of the CEO who fired him. I would say that ultimately this is one of the stronger ones, possibly top ten.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): OK, I see what you mean, and the previous episode looks much worse in comparison. First, I love a good road-trip episode; the show ought to have more of these! Also, this one was so well structured, the motivations of people like Norman and Purdy’s brother were understandable and made narrative and character sense, and while greed was (again!) the besetting sin, vanity also played a role (at least in terms of the clients).
While we don’t know much about McCabe’s motivation for wanting the beehive, this served almost as a corollary to “Scarecrow” in presenting a villain who basically just wanted more and more and set his sights beyond his little rural town (unlike “Scarecrow”). Oddly, it works here; he sells the wanting youth and wanting power over others as enough motivation to do what he does. Also, the actor playing Fred Marr does a decent job of conveying the Norman-ness of the new Fred.
There is something here that I feel I’m missing; my brain keeps trying to make a link to both the title, the name of the apiary (“Sweet Life”) and the repeated phrase “A Taste of Honey,” except the only thing that pops in is a play by the same name that is considered an early example of British kitchen-sink realism. OH! OK, I may be stretching here, but I think an argument can be made that this was an extremely subtle take on endless pyramid schemes/MLMs of the 80s (and beyond): Watkins, Amway, all that crap. Think about it: You’ve got the head guy, who kills the original owner of the cursed beehive and brings in the next guy. New guy is so impressed with the results he then turns spokesman/salesman for it (eg, Ben to Norman) and on and on up the chain. (It’s like Angel’s “Disharmony” episode: “Turn two, the rest are food.”) Considering that we’ve got an Amway founder family member in the US government right now (Betsy DeVos), it seems timely...particularly combined with Jack’s closing monologue about people being blind to what doesn’t directly affect them…
Really quite impressed. One final bit: Kudos to Robey for not taking it over the top, or having the script force her to do stupid shit to move the plot along. Love it.
K: Maybe this one can tie with “Scarecrow” in our ten or fifteen best list, since they are incredibly complementary. We could list them as “Tied for #th Place: A “Scarecrow” and “The Sweetest Sting” Double Feature. [E: I endorse this idea!]
Season 2, Episode 12: “The Playhouse” (Tom McLoughlin, director; Tom McLoughlin, writer)
Season 2’s streak continues with a sad, Twilight Zone-inspired episode of traumatized children trying to survive at any cost.
Watch the FULL EPISODE below.
Well, it must have been sweeps week, because this makes two good ones in a row. This is one of the first times that the holders of the objects seem truly reluctant to provide it with a victim, and of course it’s kids. While they do go through with it in a disturbing scene where two desperate, Mike and Janine, lonely and abused kids feed other kids to the object, the reluctance, particularly on the part of the sister, Janine, is very real.
The news report that precedes the missing child report watched by Micki in Curious Goods tells of a “long, bloody war” between two unnamed countries, but that has ground offensives in the desert. Interesting context.
Bonus! We get to see where the kids get taken to, and it’s a surrealistic toy nightmare. The set design is terrific. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) seem to be immediate influences here, with the original Twilight Zone series, particularly “It’s a Good Life,” obviously a touchpoint. One of the kids is Robert Oliveri, from Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Edward Scissorhands. This role precedes both, but Oliveri definitely has a combination of wickedness and innocence shared by Billy Mumy and, even more so Jeremy Licht from TZ: The Movie, whom he resembles.
Erin: YES! I got that vibe too.
K: When Micki and Ryan try to disassemble the playhouse, the kids are in surreal-toyland in military outfits, enforcing “their rules” once Micki and Ryan appear, tied up with jump ropes (!), in their fantasy space.
This episode really gets the desire for escape in children; here, from a world of abuse and noise in their home. The stereotype of the boozer mother who sleeps around and neglects and abuses the kids is tough to swallow, but it’s limited to a couple of featured scenes. That these kids would want to escape at all costs, even feeding the object “stupid happy kids” (and meddling adults, in the case of the Curious Goods crew), makes sense in that their reality couldn’t be much worse. The repeated “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you” invocation was really harsh early in the episode, but the turnaround where screaming “I love you, I really do care” returns all of the missing children feels trite. Has a cursed object ever given back its sacrificial fodder?
E: That’s the thing, though. Mikey tells Janine he loves her, but neither Janine nor Mikey say they love the other kids. That’s rather what I liked about it. (See below for my complete thoughts on that final scene.) While the kids not returning at all would have been chilling and interesting to watch, I can’t imagine an 80s show (even in syndication) going that dark...they would suspect that viewers would lose sympathy with the kids.
K: Wow, this one is so, so good, at least until the bummer of a happy ending. Considering how melancholic and disturbing this episode can be, it’s too bad Wax spends her time doing the equivalent of an E! interview with the actors and director talking about how great it was to work together. McLoughlin went on to direct a lot of TV; he created the short-lived series She-Wolf of London. He had previously written Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives, which is really quite good, full of postmodern horror film in-jokes. He’d also previously directed “Master of Disguise” (2.6), and would write and direct “The Prophecies,” parts 1 and 2, which open season 3.
This one goes in my top 15.
ERIN’S THOUGHTS (before reading yours): Wow. Just, wow. I didn’t actually take a lot of notes on this one; just watched. It all worked: what the antique was and what it was capable of, and most importantly, what it fed on. It should have been clunky: feeding on Mikey and Janine’s absolutely understandable envy of the children around them, but it wasn’t. Because the writer clearly understood something that far too many miss when writing about abused children: how hard it is to admit they hate the abusive parent. (The scene where Mikey’s mom hits him, and he squares his jaw and says “didn’t hurt” (only to have her up the stakes) was chilling in its realism.
Thus the playhouse works perfectly, as they can project that hate onto other children, and be empowered after always being powerless. (Also, as if more proof was needed; how irredeemable Lewis was. Sure, he had his moment of doubt with the doll in the first episode, but curses a playhouse that feeds on children?) While I’m not of the school that children are little angels, there was real pathos and sympathy in why Mikey and Janine did what they did and that their sense of “us against the world” was completely justified by what they’d experienced. (Also, visually, the “fun” turned “horror” reminded me of the Twilight Zone film version of “It’s a Good Life.”)
Also, give it up for a not-totally-incompetent police force! Following up, asking questions, arresting assholes they find putting children in headlocks. I mean, the bar’s low, but still.
K: Hahahaha! True.
E: Best line goes to Jack: “Nobody listens to children, or quirky antique dealers.” I love the parallel.
K: I liked that line, too. Both are true.
E: Also, the last bit should have been cheesy, but Jack knew just what to say. And the fact that it was “I care about you” rather than “I love you” worked much better. The issue isn’t really about an inability to love (Mikey and Janine love and protect each other) but becoming hardened through suffering.
This is a top one for me.
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.