Ray Bradbury Theater – The Emissary (S2E3)

cover02Well, the good news is that there are only 12 episodes in the season — an unusual mini-season for a 1980s series.  Did they foresee the fatigue that it would inflict upon future viewers?  More likely it was a result of the show’s weird provenance, changing networks, going almost 2 years between seasons 1 and 2.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of demand for this show, and maybe for good reason.

In another gauzy  episode scored with electronic tinklings, we meet Martin, a boy with an unnamed disease that renders him completely healthy as far as we can tell.  Sure, he sticks pretty close to that bedroom, but he’s moving around, leaning out the window, going downstairs to eat.  I’m not seeing a bedpan, an IV, wheelchair, casts or bruises.  If you’re going to get a disease, this is the one to get; just don’t expect many callers at your telethon.  His only friend is his dog, Dog.

There is some fun early in the episode as we get a Dog’s-eye POV of him running through the town collecting  artifacts to keep Martin in touch with the outside world.  Sadly, Martin has made a tag for Dog to take out into the world to recruit some friends. emissarytag01

Not so sadly, this tactic reels in 80s babe Helen Shaver, last seen in The Sandkings.  She sees that the dog belongs to her missing student, and marches straight into his bedroom.  This being pre-Letourneau, Martin’s mother leaves them alone.

Almost immediately, Martin crushes on Ms. Haight despite the horrible job the make-up, hair and costume people have done on her.  She brings flowers, reads to him, teaches him about Jules Verne, Jack London, Robin Hood, the Pyramids; frequently laying on his bed.  This inspires Martin to write his own book from which she reads aloud a passage he has written about her.  Awkward.

That night, Martin’s mother receives a call telling her that Ms Haight has been killed in a crash.  Martin watches the funeral procession from his window.  Dog, being the faithful psychic pal, knows what he must bring back to Martin to make him happy.

So we have a reverse Pet Semetary (which came out 5 years earlier) in which a pet resurrects a human.  And it works out just about as well, as we see the filthy Dog come into Martin’s room, and a gray decaying hand grips the door.  Sometimes, dead is better.

Once again, the ending is botched.  Leaving the episode open to interpretation and deliberately muddying the story are two different things.  Is this a happy ending or a horror ending?

Case for horror ending: The music and the wind suggest an evil presence returning to the house. Martin’s lamp goes out when Miss Haight enters his room.  She has been invisible up to this point — and I mean invisible, not simply out of the frame.  It could have been the POV in some shots, but when the front door slammed, where was she?  The only thing we finally see of her is a decaying hand on the bedroom door.

Case for happy ending: This has been a sugary sweet episode up until now with warm relationships between Martin, his mother, Miss Haight, and Dog.  Dog has always had a preternatural instinct to bring just the right thing back to his master.  Surely he wouldn’t bring evil, or fleas, into the house.  The gray hand does not seem to disturb Martin.  When his lamp goes out, it is replaced by a heavenly light.  He smiles as he is bathed in this light that washes out the screen.

The last line is said by Miss Haight and could be taken 2 ways, “Come to me.”  The words alone, coming from a corpse, are ominous.  However, they are said in a strange sing-song voice.  But even if said positively, this is a) a corpse beckoning a live child to join her, and 2) a 40-year old corpse beckoning a live child to join her.  No good can come from this.

I have to go with the horror ending, and the short story seems to suggest that.  But how did Dog go so wrong, and why is Martin so happy?

Would it have killed Bradbury to have the kid scream in terror?  Or maybe Martin could have embraced death if his disease had actually caused him to suffer.  It’s all just too nice; maybe that is the pitfall of a Canadian series.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • Although Pet Semetary was published 5 years before The Emissary aired, Bradbury’s original short story was published in 1947 — coincidentally, the year Stephen King was born.
  • Dad gets one scene and is kind of a dick.  He has nothing to do with the story, why is he even there?  Oh, yeah: Men Bad.
  • For some reason, it amuses me that one of the ChiPs guys was a producer on a few RBT episodes.  No, the other one.
  • Why was the teacher named Miss Haight?  Surely not because it sounds like hate.  A Haight Ashbury reference?  Not sure it was anything significant in 1947.
  • Nice economy of set dressing below, as the leaves start just at the property line.  Or did all the other homes have healthy boys whose fathers made them take care of their yards?  Maybe that explains this fishy symptomless disease.


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