Night Visions – The Maze (09/19/02)

Best episode of the series.  That is just based on the presence of Thora Birch, so your mileage may vary. Really, she could have just walked around the titular maze for 22 minutes and I would have been happy; so the bar is pretty low on this one.

The lovely Thora is jogging around the track at school when Wes merges into her lane.  There is some cute dialogue involving him asking her out.  She declines so Gail, her only friend at school, tells her she needs to get out and make friends.  Although it is a scientific fact [1] that smoking hot girls are the loneliest, she needs to make an effort.

Professor Amanda Plummer walks by the table for one of the worst character introductions I’ve ever seen.

Professor: “Hello Gail”.

Gail: “Hello Professor”.

That’s it — even in a 22-minute episode, there must be more than that.  Making it worse, there are a couple of performance queues that just go nowhere. Amanda approaches the table awkwardly, almost like she is going to ask Gail on a date.  Gail’s response is a little giddy as if she is enamored with the professor.  Further complicating the scene is the mere presence of Amanda Plummer.  She is a great character actress, but you know she’s going to end up nuts.

Gail advises Thora to start being more sociable or she will end up old, miserable and alone. When she heads back to the dorm to schedule some sleepovers and pillow fights — in my mind, anyway — she sees Wes.  Not quite ready to practice what Gail preaches, Thora ducks into the campus hedge-maze.  Wait, what?  Is this a metaphor for negotiating the complex college years?  The labyrinthine legal ordeal awaiting a college guy who looks at her the wrong way?  Forming mature relationships? No, I think it’s just a hedge-maze, and it works.

Thora walks through the maze.  The path is snowy even though there is no snow on the hedges.  She loses her way in the maze and walks for a while, getting a little concerned.  And maybe rightfully so.  Some of the shots show chain-link fences in the hedges — they really didn’t want anyone taking a short-cut out. Finally, she sees an EXIT sign.  She pulls out the world’s worst Kindle — some giant heavy thing about 2 inches thick and begins reading as she walks.

She is so entranced by her reading that she doesn’t realize that she is completely alone. She passed no one on the campus, and the dining hall is empty.  She goes back outside and sees absolutely no one.  She searches the campus, but can find no one.  Then she hears music coming from a classroom.  She rushes there expecting to find some football players in Music Appreciation 101.  She does find the aforementioned nutty professor still alive and a few dead students propped up in their seats.  To the surprise of no one, she is insane.

nvmaze11Thora runs out, and even her run, unlike some people’s, is cute.  She goes back to the dining hall for some reason.  Searching the kitchen, she finds the cook dead with his head in the oven.  She grabs a big-ass knife and heads out to keep looking.  She sees a menu dated March 2, 2003 — two years in the future.

She heads to the library to look for people.  She hears a phone ring. She answers and a voice says, “What are you going to do with the  knife?”  Turns out it is Wes.  He shows her newspapers describing how an asteroid is going to destroy the earth.  Headlines say an effort to destroy the asteroid have failed.  And that the “UN Convenes Special Session”, most likely to apologize to the asteroid.

Most everyone has gone to the mountains, or underground or killed themselves.  Wes didn’t want to die that way.  There were so many books he wanted to read, so he came to the library.  Thora realizes that the maze somehow transported her, so she starts back there.  Crazy Amanda Plummer shows up out of nowhere like Karl in Die Hard and stabs Wes.  In another non-written scene, basically Thora just shows her the newspaper. Plummer hands over the knife and walks out.  That’s it.

Thora tries to drag Wes back to the maze, but he dies.  Which is actually a good thing, or else there would have been two Wes’s in our timeline. As the sirens blast and the sky turns red, Thora manages to get back through the maze and back to her own timeline.  That night at 2 am, she goes to Wes’s room.  The final shot shows them walking across the campus at 2 am —  there is no one else out, but they are not alone.

Having learned the importance of friends, Thora and Wes will live happily ever after . . . for two years until that asteroid kills them and everyone else on earth.

As I said, this episode started with a huge credit.  It still managed to build on that, though.  The last person on earth scenario is certainly not original, but it is always fun. Thora was perfect, and Wes was OK.  The only weakness was the writing and casting of the Professor — not a deal-breaker, just kind of jarring.

Post-Post:

  • [1] By “fact” I mean “bullshit”.
  • As Thora wandered around the deserted campus, it reminded me how scenes of some tyrannical or dystopian future frequently seem to be shot at colleges . . . Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, a couple of Night Gallerys, etc.
  • And how can dystopian not be in spell-check?  Did we learn nothing from The Hunger Games?
  • Thora Birch was last seen in The Choice.
  • Amanda Plummer was in the awful Lover Come Hack to Me and excellent Stitch in Time.

Night Visions – Darkness (09/06/01)

nvdarkness14Our introduction to Lucius Winton is quick and to the point.  His house-keeper comes into his estate and sees that the vast lighting system he has installed is out.  She turns the lights back on and we see only Winton’s withered, radiated arm drooped from a chair streaming blood to the floor.  The end.

We get a great overhead tracking shot of the cubicle farm where Harlow Winton (Michael Rapaport) is toiling away in a soul-crushing job.  Kudos for the name of his company being F-Mart. [1]  He gets a Jif-Ex overnight package containing a letter informing him of the death of his great-uncle [2] Lucius.  He must attend the will reading to collect his inheritance.  On the plus side, an airline ticket is provided; on the downside, it literally says Oceanic Air.

Lucius’s attorney Matson informs Harlow he is the last of the line, the lone heir, the sole survivor.  He has inherited the 23-room estate with a monthly stipend of $25,000 . . . as long as he lives in the house.  Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

nvdarkness17

Why would Ticket Prepared By = Winton?

Thumbhead told us in the intro that the estate has 12 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms.  Assuming one kitchen, that leaves only one slot for a Living Room, Dining Room, Den and such rich-guy niceties as a Library, Art Gallery, Solarium, Butler’s Pantry, Billiard Room, Etc.  That must be one great-ass room.

Matson tells him that the old man had a pathological fear of the dark, hence the collective 5 billion watts of bulbs around every nook and cranny of the house. Harlow looks at pictures of the industries his uncle owned. Matson says that at one time, the family employed almost everyone in this town.  “Old time capitalists,” the episode’s writer — er, I mean — Harlow sneers.  “So they exploited the workers, huh?”  Being an idiot, he naturally assumes, “I guess the Wintons weren’t well-loved by the locals, huh?”  Because capitalist.

The attorney suggests that if he donated the house to the town, he would get a significant tax windfall.  I am neither H nor R Block, but I don’t see how this works if you have no income to off-set the taxes.  Yeah, he is getting the $25k/month stipend, but that ends if he unloads the house.  Must be one of those evil rich-guy tax scams that I don’t understand.  Winton is more interested in party-planning than tax-planning, anyway.

nvdarkness13As he settles in for his first night, he begins putting away his clothes. There are even bright lights in each drawer Winton opens.  One of them brightly illuminates a dead radiated rat.  When he turns off the light, he hears creepy sounds so sleeps with the lights on like a child.  Imagine if he had actually seen the menacing shadows that crept along the walls — he might have made a wittle pillow-fort.

Harlow calls in electricians to rewire the lights.  After just one night in the evil house constructed on the backs of the poor, down-trodden towns-people, he berates the workers, tells them they better call him “mister” and “you treat me with respect!” Because that’s how all rich people are.  Geez, is this a long-lost Rod Serling script?

As Harlow leafs through a scrapbook full of evil headlines like WINTON MAKES FINANCIAL HISTORY, BIGGEST STEEL SALE EVER, RAILWAY COMING TO ST ALBERT, WINTON MINES BOOST OUTPUT and WINTON BACKS CANAL, the menacing shadows advance on him in the now not-sufficiently well-lit room. How did that greedy son-of-a-bitch live with himself bringing cash, a rail line, more jobs and seaport to this little town? Oh, the humanity!

nvdarkness12Sadly Matson rings the doorbell before the creeping shadows reach Winton. He again stresses how Lucius Winton exploited the townspeople. He suggests that Winton is profiting from this and might like to donate the house to the city to ease his conscience. Winton quite appropriately tells him to buzz off. The idea might not seem so crazy when a few minutes later Winton actually sees the creepy shadows fry a rat.

Matson tries again, this time bringing a $70,000 offer for the $2,000,000 estate.  He again stresses how many people suffered to create Lucius Winton’s fortune.  He says over 700 were killed in the family’s coalmine, scores more died in the tenements where he was a slumlord.  Well OK, now I understand the hatred of the old man.  He was a liar, treated co-workers like crap, employed thousands in dangerous dehumanizing conditions.  I guess all would have been forgiven if he had created the iPhone.

Matson tells Harlow the shadows are the dark deeds and dark thoughts and dark hearts — the greed and evil of generations of his family manifested itself in the shadows like the oil slick that killed Tasha Yar.  BTW, what happened to all those generations that resulted in Harlow being the only survivor?

Yada Yada, Harlow builds a Rube Goldberg device to kill the shadows.  He ends up being blinded.  Instead of living in in perpetual lightness, he will live in perpetual darkness.  The big question is why he bothered to hire a cute nurse.

This is a perfectly adequate story brought down by the casting.  Michael Rapaport is an actor of Bill Paxtonian awfulness.  Like Paxton, he seems to be capable of portraying only one character convincingly — a grating obnoxious dick which I assume must be his true self.  I would like to think that is is why Rapaport’s annoying character on Prison Break was named Don Self — kudos to the producers for the in-joke.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Presumably not a play on S-Mart, but funny on its own.
  • [2] Uncle = brother of a parent.  Great Uncle = brother of a grandparent.  Great Great Uncle = put you in his will.
  • Complete non-sequitur — a Chevy Avalanche just pulled into the Panera parking lot.  WTH kind of name is that for car?  Is an avalanche ever a source of anything but destruction and misery?  I’ll hand it to Japan, they’re not going to produce the Toyota A-Bomb.  Although the Porsche 911 is cutting it pretty close.
  • BTW, this aired 5 days before 9/11.

Night Visions – Hate Puppet (09/06/01)

nvhatepuppetAndy Harris (Chad Lowe) is walking and talking, but sadly this was not written by Aaron Sorkin, so he walks right into a wall of a Russian and falls to the ground.  The Russki has splashed cappuccino foam all over his face; or maybe, judging from the howl he lets out, he is rabid.[1]

Harris is a stand-up guy after he stands up, so apologizes.  He gets no response from the comrade other than the aforementioned howl.  He thinks maybe Ivan put a curse on him as people immediately begin treating him like shit.  His brother chews him out, a waitress is surly, and his boss reams him for being late to a meeting for the 3rd time in 2 years.  In an action that I would absolutely welcome, his boss ejects Harris from the meeting. Unfortunately, he also ejects him from the firm.

Walking home with an ex-bankers box under his arm, he inadvertently walks through a construction site.  One of the city workers blasts him for ignoring the cones, then shockingly takes a shovel to him; then a pipe grinder [2], making it his most productive morning in 10 years.  Harris barely manages to escape and find a cop.  The cop seems to already know the details of what happened.  He tells Harris that it is a scene from a book he read last week.

Harris goes into some sort of archaic bricks & mortar shop that sells books made of dead trees — the late-great Borders if I know my fonts (this was back when this country had two kinds of borders, heyooooo!).  He sees a video of author William Price reading from his book Hate Puppet — he is performing the scene with the commie.  He even uses Andy’s name and says that the man’s howl meant “You have filled me with hate, and so hate shall fill those around you.”

He finally makes it home and his wife Linda seems nice and normal . . . at first.  Amazingly, she saw the same book and purchased it because she noted the similar name and likeness to her husband.  He tries to grab it to see his fate (SPOILER), but she refuses to hand it over, and suddenly also turns against him.  I mean, really against him — pointing a gun at his melon.

He tries to explain that her anger and irrationality is being caused by the curse . . . no, the one issued by the Russian.  As she is about to fire, he wrestles her to the ground and she ends up being killed in the struggle.

Distraught, Harris takes the gun to William Price’s home and points it at him.  He goes all Annie Wilkes on him and demands that Price write a sequel that reverses everything that has happened today.  At gunpoint, Price begins typing as Harris dictates.  In the sequel, as per Harris, it was all a bad dream and his wife is still alive. Before he can get to the part about her having bigger boobs, the cops arrive, and Harris kills himself. Relating the tale to a bartender, Price says that Harris was just a crazy fan.

There is a switcheroo that is well-intentioned, but so so botched that I don’t even want to recap it.  OK, briefly:  the idea is that Harris’s plight has now descended on Price.  You would expect that the beats would be repeated, but tightened up.

  • In the bar, Price sees a commercial for a movie called Breakdown Lane which will be the theme of his ordeal.  Harris had no such harbinger.
  • He accidentally runs into another hulk of a man.  In his case the man does not lay a curse on him, but just walks away.
  • He has knocked out of the man’s hands a manuscript entitled Breakdown Lane. Nothing similar in Harris’s case.  Price reacts as if this is very ominous, instead of laughing and saying, “Dude, I just saw an ad for your movie!”
  • Driving home, his car stalls in front of poster for Breakdown Lane.  Getting even more meta than Harris.  More meta than a man from St. Ives.
  • He opens the hood of his car and stuffed into the battery is a page from the screenplay for Breakdown Lane.  What the hell?.

Price reads aloud, “If Price had heeded the radio he night not have made the acquaint-ance of the axe-wielding maniac standing behind him.”  OK, that’s pretty cool, but the idea of the parallel story just has crazy random differences.  Harris seemed to have free will, it just so happened that the book predicted his actions. Price seems to actually be stalked by Breakdown Lane; the forth wall is breached as it inserts itself into his reality. That could have been a good episode, it just isn’t a good fit here

So Breakdown Lane is a movie about a writer who is a character in that same movie who has written a book about a character that thinks he is a character in that same book.

Post-Post:

  • [1] He also rent his garment, but I can’t compete with this guy.
  • [2] Well they called it a pipe grinder, but I had no idea what it was.  It didn’t look like any pipe grinder that Google found.
  • Only one picture in this post.  The visuals didn’t really grab me and the YouTube quality was awful.  Too bad . . . cuz them Lowe boys sure is purty.
  • There actually is a movie called Breakdown Lane, but I suspect you’d spend your time more wisely watching Breakdown.
  • Not relevant, but this aired 5 days before 9/11.

Night Visions – Still Life (08/30/01)

nvstillife3Kate Morris’s alarm goes off at the crack of seven.  Her husband David shuts it off, opting to awaken her by lightly squeezing her nostrils shut. This is the creepiest affectionate gesture since John Travolta — no, the one in Face/Off[1]

Kate seems to like it, though.  Or is at least happy he didn’t murder her. She fixes a fabulous bacon and eggs breakfast for David and their daughter Wendy.  Kate takes a Polaroid of David eating and has a strange reaction to the photo.  Dang if I can figure out why, but then this is another low-quality You Tube video, so maybe I’m missing something.  It is a keeper, though, so she puts it in the world smallest photo album.

After putting Wendy on a respectably-lengthed bus, she turns back to her house and runs into a wall of a man.  He roughs her up, even dragging her by a purse strap around her neck.  When it breaks, he runs off.  The police come, but Kate refuses to go to the hospital.

nvstillife2

I hope this lettering is not foreshadowing anything.

The next day at the grocery store, a man is following her, buying each item that she buys.  And from this selection, both of them ought to weigh 300 pounds — a box of crackers, those tasteless crunchy orange Styrofoam sandwich thingies, cookies, and a carb-fest for breakfast. This man also begins roughing her up, saying, “You’re coming with me, Kate.”

She arrives home to find her purse on the lawn.  The first thug has rifled though her it and taken her photos.  Although he did take the time to remove them from the wee album.

Her husband suggests that she go get her hair done to feel better.  Seems like a 1950s thing to say, but is it really wrong?  At the salon, she is able to forget about being attacked by men — this time she is assaulted by a woman.

nvstillife4Her husband suggests that going to a doctor might not be a bad idea. Kate disagrees and begins chopping bell peppers with a ferocity that I think is supposed to have some meaning other than that they’re having stir-fry tonight.  If there is some significance to this, please let me know.

David takes Wendy to a friend’s house for a sleepover more timely than Dana’s in Poltergeist.  Kate gets a call from a man, then a woman who also says “We’re coming to get you Kate, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”  Kate tears out in her car and finds the Emergency Broadcast System on every channel.  This drives her mad; also, into a light-pole.

She awakens in an ambulance and sees the men and woman who had attacked her are now the EMTs.  She escapes back to her house, but opening a door, she sees herself in a medical ward with tubes up her noise.  She then occupies her body in the bed.

David and the people who attacked her are all doctors.  She has been in a coma, which is “not the way the warden wants a convicted murderer serving her time.”  She murdered her abusive husband and lost the baby girl she was carrying.  She then hung herself which I guess ties into the purse-strap strangulation.  She begs the doctor who is her husband in the coma to be sent back into the coma where she was happy.

nvstillife6When they refuse, she jabs herself with a syringe, going back to coma-world and her happy family.

The camera pulls back into a nice proscenium shot which again seems to signify nothing.  Then there is a camera shutter click and it turns into a photo.  I guess this ties back to the Polaroid in some way but damn if I can see how.

Like the first segment in this episode, there seem to be many things set up to be significant which never pay off.  I could sit here and try to figure it out, but other people are waiting for the table.

Post-Post:

  • [1] There is plenty to mock about Face/Off.  But just looking at the cover, shouldn’t they have at least made the eye colors the same for Cage & Travolta?
  • From the writer of Rest Stop and After Life.  Then a Farscape episode, and she was done.
  • Wendy was just a kid here, but in 10 years, yowza!

Night Visions – The Doghouse (08/30/01)

nvdoghouse4Stephen Baldwin is getting the crap beat out of him.  Shockingly, it is not by his brother Alec.  He owes money to some bad eggs who think nothing of taking a Louisville Slugger to his gut and standing on his guitar hand. He is able to brain the guy with a liquor bottle and make a run for it.

Brief aside: Next time you get your hands on a liquor bottle — i.e. now, for me — note how thick they are.  It is really possible to break one over a person’s head and not kill them?  The windows at the White House are not as thick as a bottle of Gentleman Jack.

He carjacks Amanda who is driving though an insanely dangerous part of town.  She is a veterinarian, but still agrees to stitch up Baldwin’s wounds.  Did they learn nothing from Tea-Bag?  No, the one in Prisonbreak — wow, there’s a word you don’t want to Google too deeply [1].  Naturally, she takes the beaten, bloody stranger back to her house; then invites him to spend the night on the sofa.  The next morning, before he wakes up, she has gone to the pawn shop and rescued his guitar with the ticket she found in his pocket.  I don’t get treated this nice at family reunions.

That night, the guy with the bat comes up in rotation again.  When he lets himself in Amanda’s window, Baldwin sics her two dobermans on him.  Amanda comes downstairs to see what the racket is and Baldwin tells her the dogs killed the man. “Good dogs,” she says.

nvdoghouse6Amanda takes charge, burying the man.  Even Baldwin thinks this is a little extreme.  He goes upstairs to get his guitar.  When he is at the top of the stairs, one of the dogs goes up on his hind legs and shoves Baldwin down the stairs.  He wakes up in Amanda’s bed with a broken ankle.  She has set the break using her mad vet skillz.  She must also have some mad weight-lifting skillz as he is, for some reason, now upstairs again.

He limps downstairs and tries to use the phone, but one of the dogs is guarding it. When he finds another phone, the other dog yanks the cord out of the wall.  The dogs then block him from the exits.  He cleverly drugs the dogs with the pills Amanda had given him, but passes out.  When he awakens, the dogs are gone.  He begin walking out and slips on some brown chunky material which, thankfully, he identifies as dog food.  They trap him in the bathroom, even turning the knob to come in after him.

Amanda shows up and literally calls off the dogs.  On the other hand, she does plunge a syringe into him.  He awakens in the basement chained to the wall.  Blah, blah, blah . . . she is treating him like a dog.

All this is fine as far as it went, but it seems to be missing a final act or twist. There are a couple of red herrings that seem more like sloppiness than misdirection.

Amanda’s dogs seem to be far more intelligent than normal dogs; they seem more intelligent than the dog in Watchers.  They shove Baldwin down the stairs, yank phone lines from the wall, and open doors as if they had once been human, but are now stuck in the bodies of dogs.  Hmmmmm, but that goes nowhere.

Amanda asks Baldwin to play her a tune on his guitar which she got out of hock for him. He refuses in a way that sounds suspiciously like he doesn’t know how to play.  This also goes nowhere.

Finally, Baldwin ends up chained to the basement wall.  I guess that is OK, I was just expecting something more — maybe she would use her vet skillz to transform him into a dog, like the walrus in Tusk.[2]  Amanda tells him he will have to learn to behave, unlike her previous victim.  OK, what then?  What is the end game here?  What happened to the previous victim?

Post-Post:

  • [1]  Although, it seemed to work out for Mike Ehrmentraut who got a bullet wound sewn up, a job offer and a snausage.
  • [2] Or the snake in Sssssss.
  • The only TV episode directed by JoBeth Williams.
  • The last of many TV episodes written by Earl Hamner, Jr.
  • In no way relevant, but this episode aired 12 days before 9/11.