Night Visions – Patterns (09/24/02)

nvpatterns03Psychiatrist Dr. Critchley (Miguel Ferrer) arrives at his office to find a police officer waiting with a prisoner.  He tells the prisoner Martin (Michael McDowell) he is being held for observation to see if he is a danger to himself or anyone else. Martin smirks and says his being there is a danger to everyone.

Martin was busted for harassing a man that he claimed was sitting on the wrong bench in the park.  Again, he says that posed a risk to everyone.  Critchley asks him about the obsessive folding and unfolding he is doing with a piece of paper, kind of an OCD [1] ritual.

Martin tells a story from his childhood.  If a bird flew on to a telegraph wire and stayed there for more than 10 seconds, nothing bad would happen to his family — other than living in the last neighborhood in America to have telegraph wires.  He did this every day.  He also flipped light switches on and off, spaced books on his shelves perfectly, avoided sidewalk cracks, any kind of ritual to keep his family and the world safe.

The story is utterly predictable as it moves from point A to point A- in a perfectly straight line.  And yet, surprisingly, it has little padding.  Somehow, this simple episode accomplishes what I could not in elementary school — it uses its time wisely.[2]

nvpatterns04Of course Martin’s OCD tics are going to be the glue that keeps the world together.  Of course Critchley is going to be skeptical.  Of course Martin is going to be found to be telling the truth.  And of course Critchley will inherit the burden that he was skeptical of.

However, without watching the episode again — which ain’t gonna happen — I can’t remember a single place it went wrong.

A big chunk of the second half is just Critchley walking round seeing the fabric of society, the laws of physics, and just plain common sense break down.  Some of it is pretty dark — his chirpy nurse becomes crabby and eventually hangs herself.

In the opening scene Critchley walks past a woman sitting in her car seat sideways, with her feet on the ground.  It is completely panned by without comment.  Kudos to the show for having the same woman in the same position later hitting herself in the head repeatedly with a shoe.  Just fun stuff!

The men are not immune.  The security guard is naked and another doctor is urinating in the hallway.

nvpatterns22Some of the effects are just goofy fun.  Signs are spelled backwards, fish fall from the sky.  Firemen show up with flamethrowers instead of waterhoses.  This lacks the added dimension to make it a Fahrenheit 451 homage, but it is pretty amusing that they are streaming fire at a Ford Pinto.  They could have waited 20 minutes and it probably would have gone up by itself.[3]

The episode is aided by the presence of McDowell and Ferrer who are always great.  And by some clever ideas and fun visuals.  Simple, but it gets to its destination without blowing up.  Unlike a Pinto.


  • [1] Origami Compulsive Disorder.
  • Alternatively, Orange Clockwork Disorder in honor of McDowell.
  • [2] This still bugs me.  What the hell was I not doing?  I even took my own books to class to read during down-time.  OK, maybe it was Mad Magazine, but still.
  • [3] A comic version of the Pinto clip.

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