Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 12

This is it.  This is the last disk, and so the last seven episodes of the last season.  It’s been a long ride for me and an even longer one for you (since these posts, as they are currently scheduling, are stretching into February), but I hope that reading the posts were more interesting than watching the episodes were for me.

This disk again raised the specter of my, at this point, wanting to find issues with the episodes and so possibly overlooking good episodes because I’m being and feeling overly critical.  There are at least a couple of episodes that I was at least moderately entertained while watching, which meant that I wasn’t distracted and wishing that the episode was over, and yet I still wouldn’t have called the episode a good one.  But in pondering it, I think the thoughts I have on the show are really still valid.  They manage to get a number of recognizable names, and so the performances tend to be fairly good.  The writing itself isn’t bad, so the dialogue in the better episodes mostly works, and again in the episodes that most vex me the pacing is pretty good (although, again, it’s hard to fail at that in a half-hour show).  But ultimately, it’s the stories that let me down, and leave me feeling disappointed and unsatisfied.  The episodes that I wonder about are the precise episodes where the acting and writing are good and, often, that the idea has promise but how the story works out just falls flat for me.

Onto the final episodes!

The first episode is “The Cutty Black Sow”, where right before Hallowe’en the great-grandmother of the family is dying, and as she is dying she relates a Scottish folktale about the Cutty Black Sow that comes and steals the souls of people if they don’t perform a certain ritual on Hallowe’en to the young son of the family.  He researches it and thinks that this is all real, and prepares to perform the ritual.  His parents are out at the funeral home and so he and his younger sister — who looks older, to tell you the truth — perform the ritual which involves putting stones marked with the names of the people in the family in the fire.  He then takes his sister trick-or-treating, and when they return one of the stones has been tossed out of the fire, which is the sign that the Cutty Black Sow will take that soul, which freaks him out.  A number of scary things happen over the night, but at the end right about midnight his father comes in to console him and tell him that he is now safe … but then when he steps into the light it turns out to be the Cutty Black Sow who presumably takes the boy’s soul.

Episodes with young children tend to be the better ones, and again this one gets a good performance from the kids (although the sister is a bit annoying as she seems unreasonably obsessed with trick-or-treating right after her great-grandmother died).  But the story is the only thing it has, and it’s nonsensical.  There’s no indication that she performed this ritual before this — surely if she was doing it every year someone would have known about it — and no one’s soul was lost.  There’s also no reason why, all of a sudden, his soul is at risk.  It also makes no sense that the Cutty Black Sow would take the form of the father, and so it at first implied that there might have been a twist where the father’s name looked like the son’s name from a different angle and so the Cutty Black Sow was really going to take the father’s soul, but that’s not what they do.  Also — and this is a minor one but it bugged me throughout the episode — the Cutty Black Sow takes souls.  There’s no indication that it kills people, and that’s all that it is implied, at least, happens to the boy.  There are so many better plots you can do here — starting from the boy trying to save the great-grandmother’s soul to again a mistake over which soul is taken to it being a pure physical threat — that it’s really disappointing that this confusing mess is what they came up with.

The second episode is “Do Not Open This Box”, where a henpecked elderly man who is an inventor and fixer of junk receives a box in the mail that says “Do not open this box” on it, and so he puts it aside and goes on with his life.  His wife comes down to continue berating him as she had been doing from upstairs the whole time, and eventually finds the box and tries to open it, and it turns out that it is empty.  Soon after, a man comes to the door asking for the box and noting that he needs it back, unopened.  The inventor would give it back, but his wife smells opportunity and says that they don’t know where it is right now but if the man pays them they might be able to find it.  She keeps trying to get more and more from the man, but the man notes that he needs to have it back by Friday or else it’s useless.  She tries to call his bluff, and he takes away all the magically created things he gave them, like furs, jewels, and a redo of rooms in the upstairs.  She then gives him the box back and asks him to restore what he’d given them, but he notes that the box has been opened and refuses, and also says that it held a human soul and so one of them must give up their soul to pay him back for the loss.  When he comes back, the woman tries to get her husband to kill the man, but the inventor refuses, so she stabs him herself only to find that the man is really some kind of devil who then declares that he was wrong and the mistake wasn’t a delivery of a soul, but was instead a pick-up of a soul … hers.  Later, the inventor uses his invention that keeps everything completely closed to seal the box permanently, which the devil appreciates, and earlier when the wife was asking for things the inventor said that the only thing he wanted was for his invention to be useful for someone.  After that, the woman the wife considered her main social rival arrives with a devil’s food cake and finds the basement and inventions interesting, which implies that the two of them will get along a lot better and form a connection the same day the wife either dies or disappears.

The wife is really annoying, and while that was intentional since she does most of the talking that makes the episode hard to watch.  She’s also an idiot as she ignores the time deadline which had to be the only reason the delivery man was willing to pay them a lot to get the box back.  Also, the only introduction we have to the other elderly woman is the wife’s discussions about competing with her, which is usually code for the two of them being catty rivals, and so it’s a bit disconcerting to have her be nicer, even if it is consistent with the wife’s personality.  I also find the elderly man a bit too cavalier about her death and her soul being taken by the devil, especially since he’s supposed to be the nice guy in the story.  So, again, ultimately a disappointing episode from an interesting idea, about the box you shouldn’t open and what might be inside.

The third episode is “Family Reunion”, where a man is keeping his son locked in a room because he’s a werewolf while his wife desperately tries to find him.  She tracks them down and calls in Social Services to help, but the man still refuses to let the son out and chases them away with a gun.  They then go to the police who plan on serving notice, and the two of them go there at night to pick up the son for some reason.  The police aren’t there, but when they get inside the room the son changes into a werewolf and attacks the worker, and when the father comes back to save her it turns out that the mother was also a werewolf — earlier it was stated that they were both attacked while in Ireland — and she seemingly kills both the worker and the father, and then has a loving reunion with her son.

That she was also a werewolf was pretty obvious, even as it was also obvious that the father didn’t know that.  Also, most of the story talks about how brutal werewolves are and talks about them killing people, and the son talks about starting to enjoy the primal urges, but the episode ends with both brutal murders and then being a loving mother and son.  This is an interesting idea, but it should have been followed through with a bit more, or else the brutality should have been toned down and the son should have at least started to believe that being a werewolf wasn’t as much of a curse as the father believed.  As it is, we don’t really want to see the two of them let loose on the world to do the killing that they seemingly have been doing, and so can’t be happy about the
“happy ending”, but wouldn’t find it disturbing either since it’s perfectly reasonable that they’d still love each other as werewolves.

The fourth episode is “Going Native”, which involves a woman who talks from the beginning as if she is an alien saying that she should never have gone to some kind of therapy group because the fact that she isn’t as emotional as humans means that they can figure out that she isn’t right, putting her mission at risk.  As things progress, she starts to explore emotions a bit more, and ends up having sex with one man and then a date and sex with a philandering man from the group.  When she discovers that he’s having sex with another woman from group — that he said he was done with — she attacks the woman and then in the next group session rants about how she can’t go home now because she has the emotions of humans and so has to stay here.

The idea isn’t a bad one, but is too big for a half-hour episode.  We needed a much slower progression of emotions to make this work.  Also, the ranting at the end is problematic, as it’s more angry.  We really needed her to be accepting of it at the end, showing that she has really changed.  It’s an interesting twist to stories like that which normally end with them being happy at having what they were missing, but we would have needed to understand her alien species more to really get that, and again there just isn’t enough time to do that in a half-hour episode.

The fifth episode is “Hush”, where a woman whose husband is an inventor and is out of town hires a teenage girl to babysit her son who has coughing fits but always recovers.  The son shows her a number of inventions including one that will seek out and shut down anything that makes noise, but is controlled by a remote control.  As things progress, the boy leaves the room to talk to the girl and accidentally turns the machine on, and it then shuts down the remote control, which is the only way to shut it down.  It then starts trying to shut down everything that makes noise, including the two of them.  They dodge it and distract it and do all sorts of things, while it shuts down all sorts of things including the phone, a parrot, a dog, and the mother when she rushes home because she couldn’t reach them on the phone.  The girl finally shuts it down by stabbing it in a place that has it make noise, and so it shuts itself down.

There have been a lot of movies and TV shows that at least had episodes that required people to stay quiet or made them be quiet (like “Hush” from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer“) because having to make no noise is indeed tension-building and scary.  However, here the monster looks like a vacuum cleaner, kills humans by clamping the hose over their mouth and nose which it seems like it would be easy to dodge, and the two leads aren’t all that quiet so the tension is lost.  Also, it really does look like taking a baseball bat to it would deal with it well-enough and be quiet enough to avoid at least immediate retribution.  So it’s an episode about being quiet where the threat is ridiculous and no one really stays quiet.  The performances and pacing are good, but the episode itself and its story aren’t.

The sixth episode is “Barter”, which features a family that is an obvious parody of “I Love Lucy”, with “Nicky”, “Ruthie”, and “Little Nicky” made up to look like the characters from that show.  The wife wants to win a household tips contest, and the boy’s drum playing is distracting her.  A strange man — who is clearly an alien — shows up wanting ammonia, and wanting to trade with her for it, so he trades her a device that can turn people and things off and on so that she can turn the boy’s practicing off while she does her work.  Of course, when she shows it to her husband and tries to turn it off it breaks, so she can’t.  They lure the man back with more ammonia, and he offers to trade them the cure if they let the boy come with him for the next three years.  They take the device instead, but it only turns him back on but won’t let him stop.  They eventually let the boy go with the man for his three year mission to Earth, and the two fade out of sight.

This is clearly meant to be a comedy episode, but other than the “I Love Lucy” references it’s not all that funny.  The ending where the boy has to go with the alien is also a bit disturbing for a comedic episode.  But because of the comedic elements we don’t find out anything about the alien and so to understand what he wants, or if he’s hostile or not trustworthy or trustworthy or whatever.  It raises too many questions to be a simple comedy, but focuses too much on the comedy to work as any sort of serious episode.

The seventh and very last episode is “Basher Malone, which features a wrestler who has his mother at ringside who gives cookies and milk and things like that to everyone.  The wrestler has a hard match against the wrestler of a shady promoter, but wins in the end when his mother gives him a cookie.  The promoter then gets a call from his “boss” and demands a better wrestler, and challenges the wrestler to a big match, where if the promoter’s wrestler wins the wrestler — named “Basher Malone” — has to retire, but if Basher Malone wins then the promoter will get out of the business.  It is also revealed that the promoter is an agent for the devil who was trying to get kids to want to emulate the nasty wrestler’s he’s promoted, but Basher Malone is a wrestler precisely to be a good influence for kids and so is ruining that.  The wrestler that the promoter gets is one whose weight goes up the more sinful his opponent is.  So when Basher Malone is too prideful and ignores his mother, he loses, but when he is humble and acknowledges his mother, he wins.  At the end, the promoter is trying to get the mother’s interference out of the picture — the evil wrestler had a sexy woman at ringside who tried to interfere but was stopped by the mother — and wants to toss her purse into a portal to Hell (and possibly the mother as well) — and since he’s threatening the mother Basher Malone regains all his virtue and goes to rescue his mother, which makes the evil wrestler have no weight.  He still tries to jump at Basher Malone, but he gets out of the way and the evil wrestler ends up attacking the promoter, which rockets his weight through the roof and ends up with both of them going through the portal to Hell.  Basher Malone and his mother then go out to dinner to celebrate.

This could have worked as a Virtue Horror story, but the sinning is too contrived to work for that.  It also could have worked as a parody of wrestling tropes — with faces and heels — but it doesn’t really make that obvious either.  The pacing and performances are fairly good, but while the ending fits the story overall is a bit underwhelming.  So it’s a perfect ending to the series, basically an interesting idea whose overall execution of the story disappoints.

I’ll make one more post summarizing the whole thing, and then I’ll be able to move on from this.

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