Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 9

I’m pretty much the epitome of “Early to bed, early to rise”, and also live in Canada which is somewhat northern, which means that at about the time of year when I was watching this it was before the time change and so it got dark right about the time I sat down to watch these episodes.  So for the most part I was watching these episodes with no lights on and in complete darkness right before I went to sleep.  It’s not a good sign for the show that despite all of this I was not creeped out by the episodes at all and it didn’t do anything to impede my sleep (in fact, I managed to doze off during it).  And since I recall “The Haunting of Hill House” creeping me out a bit when I was watching it, that only strikes even more against it.

This disk also tricked me, as it’s the only one in the third season that has eight episodes instead of seven, which meant that I had to stay up a bit later to finish the disk.  But, again, there’s no episode that stands out one way or another, so I’ll cover all of them here.

The first episode is “My Own Place”, where a financial professional finds an apartment where the landlady is an Indian — from India — woman, and finds that the apartment is great and after she dodges the question of the rent a couple of times she eventually says that it’s incredibly reasonable (due to rent control, she claims), and so since he’s always wanted his own place he accepts.  There’s a hole in one of the windows that she insists that they will fix.  Anyway, his girlfriend comes over and they are very happy about the apartment, but then the next day all of a sudden an Indian person from I think Bombay suddenly appears in the apartment and goes on and on about how great it is to live there, which annoys the financier because he was supposed to have it all to himself.  The squatter does various things to annoy him but when he complains to the landlady and to his girlfriend they can never see the supposed squatter.  At the same time, the financier is starting to have dreams of being in a crowded place in India.  Eventually, the issues around this are really bothering the financier, so the girlfriend offers to stay the night and deal with the squatter if he appears.  So when the squatter does appear late at night the financier of course … tries to hid him from his girlfriend, and when she eventually goes to him she thinks he’s insane and breaks up with him.  The next day he locks the squatter in the bedroom and nails the door to it shut, and when he returns there is a hole in the window and the squatter isn’t there.  While he breaks down apologetically for pushing the squatter to kill himself — even though there was no one who jumped or fell from the building — a group of Indian people grab him and throw him out through the hole in the window.  The episode ends with the landlady running the same pitch on a young woman, implying that this has happened before and will happen again.

The issue with this episode is that it’s nonsensical.  We don’t find out how this is possible, what the deal is, what the squatter wants, and why they kill the financier at the end.  In addition, he’s fairly sympathetic and so it just seems mean to have him lose his girlfriend and his life to an annoying squatter.  If there was a reason behind the behaviour, then this wouldn’t be so bad, but ultimately we have an annoying yet good-natured squatter that ends up getting the main character killed for no reason.

The second episode is “Red Leader”, where a shady businessman is celebrating the death of his partner and thus his taking over the entire business.  The partner’s widow arrives and it turns out that he was screwing her and right now is still screwing her because he bailed her husband out of bad debts by taking the partner’s shares in the company as collateral and since the partner can no longer pay he now owns the entire company, which of course enrages her and she storms out.  Soon after, someone with a jackhammer hammers a hole in his floor that leads to Hell, and it turns out that the person doing that was his partner, who is relegated to being a drone in Hell and wants to prove that he did bad things in life by showing them the real books and so to get to be a minion.  Since this incriminates the shady businessman and he’s planning on a late-in-life conversion to get him out of Hell, he refuses.  Then “Red Leader” — who is clearly Satan — shows up and offers to take the shady businessman to Hell but to make him an important person in charge of thousands or millions of souls because he needs evil souls that are competent and ambitious since he isn’t getting them lately, but the shady businessman obviously declines.  Then the widow returns, finds a gun on his desk, and shoots him dead, and pushes the body into the hellhole, and the episode ends with the shady businessman negotiating his agreement with “Red Leader”.

The idea that the Devil might want to give some competent souls sweetheart deals because he needs competent minions is a good one, and it would have been one that it would have been worth exploring more.  However, this episode spends most of the time establishing that the shady businessman is one instead of exploring that.  And without that, we lose what is the usual defining characteristic of Satan:  that he makes offers that seem advantageous — especially to evil people — but that ultimately have tricks built into them that makes them turn out to be rather terrible deals.  But the episode portrays the deal here as completely legitimate, ditching that aspect entirely.  We also don’t even get to see the businessman use his skills to find a loophole in the agreement and force a good deal from Satan.  So it’s a good premise ruined by a poor execution of that premise, mostly by it not really doing anything with that premise.

The third episode is “Everybody Needs a Little Love”, which is a noir-themed episode where a man is sitting drinking in a bar lamenting being single after a relatively recent divorce when a drinking buddy of his suggests that they aim for a middle ground between being single and being married, which ends up being them getting drunk and playing around with a female mannequin from the drinking buddy’s store.  The drinking buddy seems strangely attached to the mannequin, and ends up calling it the name of his ex-wife.  Things get even more weird when the drinking buddy invites him over for dinner and there’s a terrible smell in the room and the drinking buddy is treating the mannequin as if she’s alive.  A police lieutenant pops by later to note that it looks like the drinking buddy stole some things from the store other than the mannequin itself, and after he leaves the man goes to warn his drinking buddy about it.  Things have gotten even more weird, as the drinking buddy clearly thinks that the mannequin is alive and also thinks that she’s tormenting him.  And the smell has gotten worse.  As the man tries to restrain his drinking buddy he is hit from behind and when he wakes up the drinking buddy has been stabbed to death and the mannequin is gone.  It turns out that he’s been telling this to the lieutenant and claims that the mannequin hit him over the head and then would have killed the drinking buddy, but they found the body of the ex-wife in a cupboard, and a woman comes in to claim that the man and the ex-wife were having an affair — she saw them together at a restaurant, apparently — and the police theory is that he discovered that the ex-wife had been killed by the drinking buddy and killed him in a rage, and then it is revealed that the woman is the mannequin.

This is another episode that raises so many questions that it never answers.  Why did the mannequin come to actual life during the last event and became a real girl at the end, so much so that she could fool the police officer?  She had given no sign of ever being actually real before.  And why would she want to implicate the man in the murder of the drinking buddy?  It’s not like she needed the mystery solved because she didn’t resemble the mannequin that much and, well, wasn’t a mannequin anymore and so wouldn’t be suspected.  And since the only evidence of them having an affair was her word, surely even those police officers would check to see if she was a real person, which she might actually have a hard time proving that.  And why did she seem to actually torment the drinking buddy?  Nothing is explained and nothing follows from the events in the episode, so it would only be interesting if you liked the noir theme and even then there are better noir stories than this.

The fourth episode is “Auld Acquaintances”, which starts with an older woman looking around a witch prison’s exhibit in a museum.  Another woman arrives, and it seems like the two of them are looking to settle something with a pact that they had made previously, although the other woman claims that they are two weeks early.  She also says that she had a great year while the first woman says she had a terrible one.  We then get a flashback where two women are in that very prison, and the second woman is being accused of being a witch despite the fact that she isn’t one, and it turns out that her accuser was in fact being tormented by a witch … the other woman in the cell.  But it turns out that she left her talisman behind while spying on the second woman having sex with someone, and the second woman has found it.  She won’t give it back, and so after they fight over it she first woman actually drowns the second woman, but then she is revived and claims to have been offered a deal by what has to be Satan, but declined to become his lover.  She did get the talisman as a gift, and then the two women make a deal to share the talisman, which each of them getting for a year, and so the first woman gets the use of the talisman back and the second woman gets the first woman to teach her how to use it to make her life better, as she has no interest in doing evil or hurting people but just wants a good life.  We return to the present — that was hundreds of years ago — and the first woman insists that the time has come to exchange the talisman and accuses the other woman of seeking to break the pact which will have horrible consequences.  The second woman relents, but when the first woman puts it on she screams and is turned into a cat, as it turns out that the exchange point really was two weeks later but now that the pact has been broken the talisman belongs totally to the second woman.  It turns out that she spent her year making the first woman’s life miserable in the hopes of driving her to break the pack in this very way, and so she gathers up the transformed cat and walks off into her extended, happy life.

The plan here was rather convoluted and incredibly vulnerable to failure.  Why would the first woman’s life being miserable make her miscalculate the astronomical signs that signified when the exchange was to be made?  And since she knew that breaking the pact would have terrible consequences — she taunts the second woman with them, after all — she wasn’t going to just take it from her.  So this outcome wasn’t a very likely one, which makes the plan rather idiotic and uninteresting.  And the only other thing in the episode is the interplay between the two of them, but neither of them are sympathetic enough for us to care about them, which makes that rather pointless.  So it relies too much on a plan that makes no sense, and the characters are not interesting enough to carry the episode otherwise.

The fifth episode is “The Social Climber”, where a young man is working in a shoe shop that he considers to be a dead end job, despite being admonished by the kindly owner that if he works hard he can have a good life.  The young man is also looking to get married to a woman who works in a donut shop, but he still has ambitions beyond that store.  However, it turns out that the shoemaker can add some kind of magical nails to give people that he considers deserving success and happiness, and the young man finds a pair of these that give him a debonair look that lets him get into a Hollywood party.  An actress comes in the next day and the young man tries to impress her with his stories, which doesn’t work, so he tries using the shoes again.  But he doesn’t put them back properly and the shoemaker tells him not to touch them, but the young man can’t resist and takes the next pair out before the person comes to pick them up, and it turns out that the person who was supposed to receive them died the previous day, at which point there is a scream from back room and the young man ends up dead from putting on the shoes of a dead man.

There was a constant refrain in this episode about the right shoes being for the right person, but when making them the shoemaker seemed to be only creating blessings and not using that to create the person that was getting the shoes.  That’s also how it worked for the actress:  it gave her confidence, abilities and luck but didn’t make her someone else.  The magical change of clothes could imply him taking on that person’s life or abilities, but it really isn’t clear and since that’s the climax of the episode the confusion around what that all meant ruins the climax and the episode.

The sixth episode is “The Swap”, where an old, deformed man is looking to discover the secret of transferring souls into other bodies, using a recipe left by his voodoo practicing mother.  It turns out that he has an incredibly attractive wife who is only with him for his money, but she doesn’t get anything if she leaves him or if she doesn’t give him sex when he wants it.  She is having an affair with the handyman, but when he catches them he gets to add another condition to his will, even though she still gets everything she will have to jump through more and more hoops if he catches her with another man.  They decide to use the materials in the old man’s workshop to poison him, and we discover that he has most of the formula but is missing one ingredient, a seven letter word that has an “e” as the second letter.  So the two of them tie him down, take his formula, add hemlock to it and make him drink it, which seems to kill him.  Later, she discovers that the last condition is that she must marry the handyman, which thrills her, but she finds out after the wedding that the missing ingredient was hemlock and so the old man transferred his soul into the handyman’s body (and is deforming it as well) and if she wants the money she has to stay with him due to the communal property laws, which horrifies her.

None of the characters are sympathetic here, so I don’t really care about what happens to any of them, although what is effectively a rape at the end is a bit much.  That they’d use both his potion and the final ingredient is both contrived and idiotic, but it’s also obvious given how the episode is structured.  The condition in the will that she has to marry the handyman seems too convenient unless the old man knew what would happen, but the only reasonable answer here is that the old man didn’t have that as the condition but went to his judge friend after the switch and told him to lie and claim that was the condition, which explains why the judge is so amused by the whole thing.  Still, with unsympathetic characters with a stupid plan this isn’t very horrifying and isn’t very interesting.

The seventh episode is “Let the Games Begin”, where a man attending his high school reunion ends up collapsing from a heart attack, and a male angel and a female devil argue over who should get him, as both can make claims for him being good or being sinful.  They decide to adopt one human form each and, after reviving him, try to convince him to walk out the door with one of them and whichever one he walks out with will get his soul.  The angel picks his friend and in general tries to convince him to come with him by threatening to commit suicide — relying on his loyalty to his friends — while the devil adopts the guise of his sister-in-law and tries to seduce him into going with her.  This goes on through a death and subsequent revival until, finally, they draw up a temporary truce to potentially let him go and apologize to and take up with a former high school crush, and then the two of them physically fight with each other, but the physical contact overcomes them and they decide to have sex, but before they do they tear up their copies of his record giving him another ten years at least.  They take the room and throw him out of it, and he toddles off to make up with the old high school crush.

The idea of someone caught between good and evil and that the two sides would try things to convince him to join their side is interesting, but the episode doesn’t take it at all seriously.  Thus, the episode comes across as an episode that they meant to be a comedy but that, again, isn’t all that funny.  Also, that the two of them would suddenly want to have sex with each other makes no sense and isn’t developed at all, and it also simply comes across as carnal desire instead of something like love that would have been more interesting.  So not very funny and not very interesting, so it’s the squandering of a good premise.

The eighth episode is “The Enormous Radio”, where a young couple has their radio break, so the husband splurges on an enormous radio to replace it.  But it doesn’t quite work properly, and they discover that they can hear what their neighbours are doing, which is mostly fighting.  They are enthused by it at first, but then it bores the husband but the wife starts to get obsessed by it.  A big part of her problem is that what she hears are arguments and the seamier, hidden side of her neighbours, which ends up disturbing her with how bad and negative everyone is.  However, her reaction to it starts annoying the husband, and despite her pleas that they not fight and be like those other people they start fighting, and the episode ends with someone else on another radio listening to them argue.

The episode was serviceable until the very end, when the other person listening to them on a completely different radio ruined everything.  Up until that point, this episode could have worked as a strange and supernatural radio that gives them the ability to hear what their neighbours are doing and that the wife gets overwhelmed by the negativity, but with the other person listening to them that makes no sense whatsoever.  This, of course, opens up all sorts of questions about how this all works that the episode didn’t answer, and those are questions that it wouldn’t have needed to answer if they hadn’t gone for that twist ending.  So the idea wasn’t developed much but they could have gotten away with it except for the very ending, which spoils that notion and raises issues that the episode could have solved if the twist had happened earlier but since it couldn’t if it wanted to be what it was it creates issues that it is impossible for the episode to solve.

Season three has better writing and some good performances, but it still has a lot of trouble developing and resolving the ideas and issues the episodes raise, which quite often results in the reaction that the ideas are good but they didn’t do enough — or sometimes anything — with them.  Last up is season four and so I’ll see if it manages to put things together any better in the final season.

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