Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk Seven

While these posts won’t come out until log after that, I’m writing them in October, right around Hallowe’en.  So, more appropriate for me, and less so for you!  Anyway, right around this time I changed my approach to watching them, which won’t really impact how you read them — I have them scheduled into December at this point — but hopefully will make it easier for me to watch and comment on them.  My original intent was to watch a disk in my evening session and then write about each disk the next day, but with some events and meetings that dragged into my evening watching time as well as my being really busy and so finding it difficult to carve out the hour or so I needed each day to write about them, I decided to watch and comment on them on the weekends when I had more time and then watch something else in the other evenings, which will likely at some point end up being “The Addams Family”.  That should make things easier for me.

Also, it’s that time of year when I start falling sleep while watching my evening shows again, which for this show and these posts means that I have to rewatch the episodes I fell asleep watching, since these are so short that missing even part of it could give an incorrect impression of the entire episode.  Especially since one of my main complaints about the episodes is that things don’t make sense.  That’s another reason to aim to do it on the weekend times to make it easier to find time for rewatches if I need to, and so to give me more time on the one weekday I need to rewatch and write things up before I have to watch the next disk.  And I really want to comment on the previous disk before I watch the next one to avoid letting my impressions of that disk colour my impressions of the previous one.

Anyway, the disks have moved from eight episodes per disk to seven, and so I’ll talk about all seven here as none of them require a post, although one of them will actually be a bit different from the others.

The first episode is “The Circus”, where a journalist shows up at a circus that advertises acts that feature several supernatural creatures, like a vampire and a mummy.  He says that he arrived there because his car had an accident, and so he has some time to view the exhibits, and the owner of the circus offers to show him around before the real performance starts.  The entire episode is basically banter between the two of them as the owner shows him the exhibits, with the journalist being a cynic and the owner mocking him for it, even as the journalist mocks him and the show itself.  We see the vampire drain the blood from a lamb, and then see an untransformed werewolf, and then see a Frankenstein’s monster that runs a bit amuck.  Finally, the owner takes the journalist to meet the mummy, and says that only believers can survive such encounters, and then waxes on about how children should gain belief early on in life so that they don’t die of shock when they meet the supernatural, and the journalist dies, presumably because of his lack of belief, but it really looks like he was killed by the headless Frankenstein’s monster, described as a reconstructed corpse.  At the end, we look in as the audience tours the backstage of the show and see that the journalist has replaced the Frankenstein’s monster as the reconstructed corpse act.

This episode is one that doesn’t really work.  While the banter between the journalist and the owner isn’t bad, it’s also pretty much all there is to the episode so it gets a bit stale.  And there’s no real theme to the rest of it, although it does try to bring in a point about believing vs not believing but ends up ruining that by having the journalist not die of shock but at least appear to be killed by a monster, and turning him into the monster’s replacement is thus less frightening and more confusing.  Having him just drop dead of shock after building towards the idea that he would need to believe to survive would have worked better, but the episode wastes a lot of time on banter that goes nowhere and doesn’t set anything up.

The second episode is “I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye”, where a young girl living with her mother is watching her much older sister with her boyfriend (and soon to be fiance), as the mother comments that she wishes that the girl’s father was still alive to meet her, but he died the day she was born in an accident.  The sister comes in to announce their engagement, and the mother goes to start the oven but the pilot light is out, and then in all the distraction leaves it running.  The sister and her fiance are going to take the girl to a swimming lesson, but before they leave the little girl rather solemnly says goodbye to her mother, and then as she finishes getting ready to leave the mother strikes a match to light the oven, but it had let too much gas into the room, causing an explosion that kills the mother.  After the funeral, the fiance notes that the little girl had said goodbye in such a strange way to the mother, as if she had known that she was going to die, but then just makes jokes about it.  Later, his asthma is acting up as he directs the little girl and her friend in practice — he’s their choirmaster — and then the sister comes home commenting on how icy things are, and then the practice ends and the friend gets ready to go home, and the little girl again says goodbye in a strangely solemn way, and the friend then leaves but gets her scarf caught in the door and falls, breaking her neck.  This completely freaks out the sister and her fiance, and the little girl threatens to tell the fiance goodbye if they keep treating her badly.  This follows on after the funeral of the friend, where the little girl takes her friend’s doll and uses that threat to push the sister into keeping it, but then sitting outside the kitchen says goodbye in the same way to the doll, and as the fiance storms out saying that he’s leaving the sister because he can’t take living with the little girl he steps on the doll, breaking it.  He freaks out and is having a hard time breathing and can’t find his inhaler, and then the little girl says goodbye to him, and he dies, which freaks out the sister and in her angry tirade the little girl has to admit that she doesn’t make people die, but only sees people die and since she doesn’t want them to die that gets her to make sure she says goodbye to them.  Later, her sister says that she’s going to take the little girl to the lake to teach her to swim in the deep water, and we see the girl looking in a mirror saying goodbye to herself, as the sister is going to drown her.

This is the episode that’s different, because it’s actually good.  We aren’t sure why she has this ability, and they imply that it might have something to do with her father dying, but it really doesn’t matter.  The premise is simple and the episode does a great job to focusing on it, as the reason there’s so much in the summary is that so much of what happens earlier plays out in the end (and I left out the less interesting aspect that the sister, before taking her to the lake, buys her the swimsuit she wanted that the sister had bought for her honeymoon and that the little girl had been asking for for her birthday).  And the ending is one that is both horrific and yet follows from the plot, and we can feel the horror of the little girl knowing that she, herself, is going to die after being innocent of what her sister believed of her.  The only thing that I would have liked to see was more an implication that the sister wanted to drown her because she felt that the little girl was killing people and had to be stopped, as opposed to in the episode where the implication is that it’s more out of revenge.

The third episode is “The Bitterest Pill”, where a middle-class family ends up winning the lottery and improving their lives (though not their house), but find themselves swamped with people wanting them to spend their money on their pet projects.  A former friend of the family — who seemingly tried to steal the wife away from the husband on their wedding day — shows up with a pill that can give someone perfect recall for a short period of time and wants them to invest in creating that with him.  The bulk of the episode is him trying to convince the husband to invest in it while the boy is upstairs wanting to come downstairs.  Eventually, the pills spill and the husband has the guy removed, but the boy finds them and eats them — they look like candy to him — and develops that recall.  Later, the wife and husband are living in the house when the boy shows up, clearly a wealthy businessperson, who ends up getting authority over them and denies them cable, but leaves them a copy of a book about himself, presumably with that treatment being in revenge for their treatment of him early in the episode.

This episode doesn’t work.  Most of it is just the repetitive arguments over whether the pills work or not or whether the husband should invest in it or not, which wouldn’t be that interesting even if it wasn’t the same thing over and over again.  There are constant comments about how the pills cause headaches that is handwaved away at the end by the claim that the pills work better with a developing brain.  And it doesn’t seem like they treated the boy badly enough to justify his treatment of them at the end, even though that scene is actually more interesting and more time should have been spent on that than on the inane argument over investing in the pills.

The fourth episode is “Florence Bravo”, where a couple moves into a house that has had a famous murder, where the wife was supposedly sleeping upstairs when her husband was shot, but also wasn’t too concerned with his death either.  It turns out that the wife had had a nervous breakdown previously, at least partly caused by the husband cheating on her, and she starts getting suspicious of him again with the attractive realtor, who is bringing him details on the house and murder for him to do research on.  At the same time, she starts hearing a woman’s voice telling her that the husband is cheating on her and telling her to kill him.  This leads to her finding the murder weapon — that no one had ever found — and kills him, ending the episode sitting in a rocking chair side-by-side with the purportedly man-hating Florence Bravo.

When I went to rewatch episodes that I had dozed off during, I found that I couldn’t remember what this episode was about at all, so that is not a good sign.  On top of that, it turns out that I had seen the entire episode and didn’t care for it.  This is another episode where tying in an explicit supernatural influence hurts the episode, because this being the result of her breaking down mentally would have both been more horrific and would have made a lot more sense.  As it is, we are pretty sure that the husband isn’t cheating on her here and aren’t sure what the ghost wants, so this is more of a “Meh” episode that’s a bit confusing at the end.

The fifth episode is “The Geezenstacks”, where the uncle of a young family brings the little girl a dollhouse that he found in a house that was found completely abandoned except for that dollhouse, which sets off no alarm bells whatsoever.  The little girl plays with the dolls and has conversations with them, conversations that seem prescient of what will happen but that aren’t that impressive on that score (the doll wife and real wife buy a coat, the doll husband and real husband get sick).  This freaks out the husband, who gets more and more unnerved about the dollhouse even though nothing else happens.  Eventually, they decide to give it away, but the little girl says that the dolls were going to go on a long trip anyway.  The dollhouse erupts with light in the night, and the next morning the uncle returns to find a completely empty house except for the dollhouse, while the family is still inside the house and can hear his calling for them in a muffled way.  He shakes the dollhouse and they feel it, and then he opens it and finds three dolls in it that look like the family, and reacts in horror.  Later, a new realtor comes in to look at and sell the house, opens the dollhouse to find a doll that looks like the uncle, and then finds a smaller dollhouse that contains the three dolls that look like the family.

The idea of this one was good, and that idea carries the episode for the first part of it, making me think that it might be another good one.  However, the ending ruins all of that.  It completely ignores the prescience part which implied a link between the original dolls and the family to imply that those dolls were the original family, and then the “dollhouse within dollhouse” idea implies that the uncle and the family are still on different planes of existence, whatever that means.  All of that really needed to be explained but the potential explanations that the first part of the episode implied or would support are jetisoned at the end.  So it ends with a contrived horrific ending when simply following the prescience angle would have worked out really well, like it did in “I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye”.

The sixth episode is “Black Widows”, where a daughter and a mother living together in a trailer talk about how the mother never wants to leave the house as the daughter runs off to work.  A salesman comes by and after talking with the mother for a while, kills a spider against the mother’s express wishes and is killed by her.  The daughter comes home and finds the books and is suspicious, but eventually drops the topic to get her mother ready to talk to her boyfriend who is going to propose to her, although the mother finds him way, way too thin and notes that the daughter is too thin as well and needs to eat better food.  The boyfriend says he wants to marry the daughter but wants the mother’s permission first, and the mother only relents when he promises to fatten up.  On the wedding night, a priest friend of the family is there consoling the mother while the couple make a lot of loud noises, and when he finally leaves the daughter comes out having drained her husband dry and asks why her mother didn’t tell her about what she was — a spider-like creature — and the mother notes that she needed that to happen on her own and implies that she wasn’t sure that her daughter was like her.  The daughter is aghast at what she is and even moreso when she discovers that she’s pregnant and the baby will be a girl that is almost certainly to be like them, but the mother assures her that she will love the child.  The child is born and the priest shows up again, and after noting how ugly the baby is he goes to talk to the daughter and is then killed by her.  At the end, we see that the baby looks like the spider-thing they turn into and so isn’t really human.

The episode implies that the mother didn’t tell the daughter because she wasn’t sure if the daughter would be that way, but given that the newborn looks inhuman and the mother notes that the daughter was even uglier that really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  The daughter’s horror at what she’s become also fades way too quickly and so is resolved but not in a sensible way.  And since that was about the only thing of interest in the episode the episode doesn’t work.

The seventh episode is “Heretic”, where an art dealer is receiving a shipment from his somewhat dim associate, where most of it seems like junk except one sketch depicting the trail of a heretic, which is supposedly worth a lot of money.  As he looks to sell it, though, a strange monk ends up in his house asking him to repent of his evil ways and take the example of the saint who originally had the useless beggar bowl, and commit to returning all the items.  He refuses, and then ends up being tried by an Inquisitor.  When he refuses to accept any of this, he is tortured and quite quickly confesses and promises to return the items.  Instead, he plans to sell them all off, finally to his associate, but the Inquisitor returns to punish him for his lies.  The associate shows up and tries to just take the sketch, which has now changed to show a heretic being tortured, and the associate seems to end up in the painting himself, just like his boss, where it is implied that the heretic being tortured is the boss (who is still alive at the end).

There’s really not much here to talk about.  The episode focuses on building up the art dealer as a bad person who is willing to shaft anyone to get what he wants, and in the trial there’s an implication that the causes for that come from his childhood, but none of that is ever developed, and so what we have is a bad person who gets punished, although he seems to get punished for not doing anything really, really bad.  So while it had promise, at the end it’s just pretty meaningless.

What I have to say about season three so far is that the episodes are again better acted and written overall, but it still seems to struggle with turning the ideas into an overall good story.  “I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye” works the best because it has a simple premise that it really focuses on, but the other episodes either have too big a premise to fill in the short runtime, or more often have too small a premise which means that they have to spend a lot of time doing other things, or waste a lot of time doing other things that they could have used to more tightly plot out the premise and make it all work.  So I still can’t say that I like any of the episodes, although I probably hate less of them now than I did in the first season.


One Response to “Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk Seven”

  1. Vacation Update | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Freelance Philosopher « Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk Seven […]

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