Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 8

I think that what I thought about season three in the last post still holds here:  the performances are good and at times the dialogue and the like is really good, but ultimately pretty much every episode does something to pretty much ruin it and turn it from an episode that I might have liked to one that I don’t care for.  Sometimes it’s that the episode meanders too much in the middle that leaves the ending confusing or unsatisfying.  Sometimes the ending itself is the problem.  But to my mind almost every episode has a fatal flaw that results in it not being a very entertaining episode, at least to me.  And if it doesn’t do that, then it most often ends up being boring.

So let’s look at the second disk of episodes from season 3.

The first episode is “A Serpent’s Tooth”, where a mother living with her two children in their twenties is quite frustrated with their life choices.  The son dropped out studying to be a dentist to study agriculture (hoping to do something meaningful, which seems quite strange to me) and the daughter is dressed as a punk rocker and is dating what turns out to be a jock-type and seems to be clearly sleeping with him, and there are no prospects for him marrying the daughter.  There’s also a neighbour boy who comes over to borrow some salt but since his family seems to be moochers the mother denies him the salt and he makes a face at her.  She laments to a family friend that all she wants is for her children to listen to her, and so he gives her a serpent’s tooth that supposedly will do that, but he comments that she should be careful what she wishes for.  It turns out that the tooth is a pretty literalist genie, and so it takes her off-hand comments as wishes and so causes the son to lose his eyesight and catch a cold when she says that’s what he’s going to do reading so much, causes the daughter to sprain her ankle when the mother comments that she’s going to do that wearing the high heels that she’s wearing, and causes the neighbour boy’s face to stick in the funny face he makes to taunt her.  She then figures out what’s happening and declares that her chicken soup is the universal cure, which cures all of their ailments.  She then uses her wishing ability to push her children into doing what she wants them to do, and to push the neighbour boy to run errands for her, by threatening to wish bad things on them if they don’t.  However, when meeting her daughter’s boyfriend she makes an off-hand comment that he’s going to turn into a slice of some kind of dessert bread, and he does, and then comments about the ranting neighbour boy throwing a fit over only get a dollar for running around the entire city to get her some bread at which points he throws an actual fit and is in medical distress.  She talks to her friend again with the family and he says that this is how it works and that she needs to be careful, and her children convince her to give up the tooth … but then they start acting the way they did before and the mother picks up the tooth again, and the daughter calls her out on using it again and the mother declares that if any mother loves their children as much as she does may she turn into a pillar of salt … and so she does, but because of that the children listen to her now which means she gets her wish after all.

When this episode started, I thought that they were going to go for the standard line where she does make wishes for what seem to be the best interests of her children but the wishes turn out to have unforeseen consequences that cause disaster.  Instead, they went with the tooth interpreting non-wish statements as wishes which causes the issues.  Which, okay, fine, I think the other way would have worked better but this can work as well.  But they quickly forget that they discovered that she can use statements and wishes to undo wishes, and so when she’s all panicked about what she’s done with the latest round I was indeed thinking that she could just undo them, which she never does.  Also, it makes no sense that when she was turned into a pillar of salt that her children would start listening to her, and none of that was set up in advance.  The episode actually set up them killing her to escape her wishes better than that ending, so it comes completely out of nowhere and wasn’t all that interesting besides.  So, overall, the episode doesn’t work despite some good performances and an interesting if not entirely creative idea.

The second episode is “Baker’s Dozen”, where an ad man comes to a small bakery to try to negotiate for the bakery to give him their ad business since it would give him a huge boost in starting his own agency, and threatens to figure out and reveal the special ingredients in the cookies that make them so wonderful if she doesn’t.  She agrees, and the helper — who seems to be forced to work there — presses some special cookies on him to help him bring the owner down, which he derides since he’s hoping to make his fortune through her.  He discovers that the gingerbread men that he was given can be used as a sort of voodoo doll, and uses that to make his fortune.  However, as his supply of cookies dwindles so do his fortunes, and he returns to the woman to demand more cookies.  She points out that he never did get the surge in business from helping her expand as he expected, and notes that that was because of her.  He threatens to use his last cookie against her, and she laughs it off.  He goes home and his wife — who had expected that he was cheating on her for most of the episode — finds the cookie and sees lipstick on it, which makes her think that he is indeed having an affair with his secretary and crushes it, which crushes him.  Meanwhile, the owner notes to the helper — who was her father who abandoned her and her mother, which is why she is keeping him there with her magic — turns him into a rat again for trying to fight her, but he’s hidden one of the gingerbread men and eats it, which presumably finally kills her.

The ending resolutions don’t really make sense from the perspective of what the episode has done before, and are kinda anticlimactic.  Why did the helper try to solicit the adman’s help to kill the owner when he could have done that himself, especially given that the only reason the adman was there was because he thought being associated with the woman would be in his self-interest so he was quite unlikely to actually do anything other than what he did.  And the wife killing him off with the cookie isn’t really ironic, especially since he wasn’t actually cheating on her, and so doesn’t seem to follow from the rest of it except the brief scene where they establish that she thought he was cheating on her.  That makes the endings unsatisfying, which then can’t result in a good episode.

The third episode is “Deliver Us From Goodness”, where we meet a woman and her family where the husband is running for mayor and trying to get someone to manage his campaign, and in doing so the woman ends up glowing as she talks about what she can bring to the campaign and then summons fried chicken from the sky since he’s allergic to what she served, which chases him off.  Things like this and heavenly choruses following her around keep happening, which is putting a strain on her husband’s campaign.  It turns out that she’s a literal saint, and since it’s hurting her family she tries to sin enough to lose her purity and so not be a saint anymore.  However, despite breaking all the Ten Commandments it isn’t working, and so a family acquaintance notes that she’s still sinning altruistically, to help her family, and so needs to embrace being a saint out of pride which will then be a big enough since that’s also legitimate to eliminate the saintliness.  So she tries to embrace that and promote herself as a saint, which does eventually result in her falling from grace — but then it passes to her very sinful friend who gave her the advice for her rather small good deed.

This is an episode that is too silly to be taken seriously, but also doesn’t seem to be very funny.  Sure, there are some moments but for the most part it almost seems like they are playing it too straight for it to be really funny.  Perhaps they were hoping that simply playing the ridiculous premise straight would be funny on its own, but it really fell flat for me.  There is a consistent pattern in this show of having somewhat ridiculous premises that seem to mean that the episode was meant to be comedic but the episode doesn’t deliver the comedic payoff, and this is one of them.

The fourth episode is “Seasons of Belief”, where on Christmas Eve a couple are insisting that they and their young children are going to have a traditional Christmas, which means no television, which results in the children being bored.  The parents are asked to tell them a story, and decided to tell them a scary story about the Gither, who is a creature that lives at the North Pole and comes after people who say its name, and they end up soliciting the children’s uncle to help scare them into believing it.  This freaks the children out, but eventually they tell the children that the Gither and Santa Claus don’t exist — the children already didn’t think Santa existed, which I found a bit depressing given how young they looked — and so there’s nothing to fear.  And then the Gither breaks through the windows and kills the parents in front of the horrified children and uncle.

The show somehow managed to get really good performances out of children, and so out of the episodes many of the better if flawed ones involve children (“I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye” is the only really good episode featuring them, but the episodes with children often seem more tolerable than the ones without them).  The ending here is random and shocking, but it comes across less as the parents being hoisted by their own petards and more that these children will be traumatized by what happened when they didn’t do anything wrong.  This doesn’t really ruin the episode, though, but what most bothers me is that the parents seem awfully mean to the kids and spend the entire night traumatizing them, which ties into the ending doing that all the more and was a bit annoying to watch given that the children are pretty sympathetic.

The fifth episode is “Miss May Deusa”, where given the title and the introduction we quickly learn involves Medusa being freed from I think looking at herself in a mirror which keeps her in a mannequin form by a thief who looks her in the eye and gets turned himself.  She heads down to a subway station and meets a man playing the saxophone, and they get to talking and start to get attracted to each other, and then as they kiss he takes off her dark glasses and looks her in the eye, but doesn’t turn, which makes her think for some reason that she must be cured and so she destroys her dark glasses, only to discover that he’s blind which is why looking her in the eye didn’t cause him to turn.  At first, she’s enraged that he didn’t tell her, but then realizes that this could give her love but has to return to where she started for some reason to get a new pair of dark glasses before she can go home with the blind guy, but while there she looks at herself in a mirror, which freezes her and frees the thief, and when the blind man goes in to find out what happened to her the thief shoots him, and he dies on the floor of the warehouse calling out for her.

There isn’t much to this other than the interaction between the two, but the episode could have worked except for the ending.  There was no reason why she needed to get the glasses right away, and if she had gone to his place he probably had a spare set anyway.  And then it ends with the blind man calling out for her melodramatically when a more subdued idea where he simply loses her and doesn’t know where she went would have been more poignant.  Another episode where the ending makes the episode less enjoyable than it could have been.

The sixth episode is “The Milkman Cometh”, where a man who is struggling to make ends meet and support his family is told by his son that people are leaving wishes for the milkman and they’re coming true.  He starts leaving messages asking for a raise, money and for his wife to conceive — they had recently lost a baby — and he starts gaining money, which he claims he made at the track.  A friend of his is also doing that but has told his wife, while the man here hasn’t yet.  His wife finds out as he is trying to meet the milkman — which is a no-no — and gets upset by that.  He ends up asking for the baby to come quickly for whatever reason, and falls asleep across his threshold, but when he wakes up in the morning his son brings down the baby but it turns out to be some kind of horrible creature.

This is a nonsensical episode.  We never learn what the milkman’s deal was or why he did it, nor do we get anything more than an implication that those requests have a cost — the friend’s wife is killed in an accident and, of course, the horrific baby — and so we don’t have any idea what is going on, and so are stuck watching a fairly standard family do standard things, which isn’t that interesting for a horror show.

The seventh episode is “My Ghostwriter — The Vampire”, where a moderately successful horror writer is writing a terrible vampire novel while being chided for it by his assistant, who also wants him to get her novel looked at.  He is then confronted by a vampire who is upset about how he portrays vampires but offers a deal where the vampire will give him details from his past to write down as horror novels if the writer will keep him in the house.  He agrees, but after publishing one hugely successful novel kills the vampire with a silver knife (which might have been a reference to earlier when his assistant notes more creative ways to kill a vampire).  The assistant arrives and cuts herself on the knife, but discovers the vampire stuff and is intrigued despite the writer’s attempts to hide it, and then bleeds onto the vampire’s remains which resurrects him, and so he kills the writer when he runs into the room with the coffin to check (out of sight of the assistant).  He then moves into the room with the assistant and threatens to kill her to cover up his trail, but the assistant is wearing all sorts of crosses and the like so he can’t, so she offers to take the same deal that the writer had, and the vampire gets her to cover up and remove her earrings and looks like he’s going to bite her, but instead he just kisses her on the neck and cheek to seal the deal and they walk off together.

That the writer would turn on the vampire so quickly is never explained, and ultimately shows that not much happens in this episode outside of conversation as all the plot points seemed rushed.  This strikes me as being an episode where the idea was too big for the run length and the episode didn’t really do much with it to get it to work, even though the writing and performances are fine.

So season three does seem to be proceeding as expected:  decent to good performances and dialogue, but subpar stories. I’ll see how that works out in the last disk of season three.

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