Wednesday, August 31, 2016

In Which I Review Dead of Summer (1x10)

"You can be whoever you want at camp. Or...pretend to be," says evil, pathological, sadistic and sociopathic ax-wielding Amy in this season (series?) finale episode, "She Talks to Angels." Everyone came to Camp Stillwater pretending to be someone they really were not. These masks could be obvious (Jessie, Blair and Cricket) while some were opaque, needing to be exposed slowly through character exploration and flashbacks (Drew, Alex, and Amy). Whatever the case, Camp Stillwater was not just about the hot dogs and marshmallows; a summer at this camp, in reality, is about shedding those masks, showing the world your true face and letting those around you decide whether or not to stick around. We've got a long and dark run through the woods and while, hopefully, there's no homicidal maniac following, it's a dangerous trek. Grab a friend and let's go! 

The season finale goes about how one would expect; there's a decent amount of bloodshed, an unfortunate amount of running hither and tither and one final look back in time to see how far all our various campers have come. The finale doesn't quite live up to last week's shocker of an episode, but it doesn't make any seriously egregious mistakes that erase some good will the show built up. The most grievous error the writers made is that the mythology was never fully fleshed out so that this world--this Camp Stillwater--and its dangers felt real and lived in. I need to be immersed in the world, to be drawn into it to the point of almost total erasure of my surroundings. That's what good narrative does--it takes you out of your present and launches you into the fictional, blurring those pesky lines. The demon, his followers, the magical powers of the lake and general region are left unclear and talked about in very loose, broad strokes. Trying to explain the ins and outs of what exactly happened this summer and why it happened causes tongue trips and knots, so it's better left in the shadows, though the intangible nature of the mythos of this show does speak volumes about its overall quality and the ability of the writers. This show was, at its root, a character show. During the course of a character-based show, the audience should see natural evolution, a change--either for good or for bad--from one stage to the next. These stages can be archetypical (from a Boy to a Man; from a Girl to a Woman; from a Nobody to a Hero; from a White Hat to a Black Hat) but the progress must be a reflection of the inner psyche and the outer environment, working in tandem to move the character. With that in mind, our real question is whether or not Dead of Summer achieved a character driven goal.

I know I've been harsh on the show this summer, and not undeservedly so. My criticisms have been warranted, but, at the same time, the character progression hasn't been as dreadful as I might have imagined once upon a time (like what I did there?) Amy went from the good girl to the evil monster, though this was less through character work and more through a surprise about-face; the monster was always there, hiding behind the gentle Amy-mask. Alex went from an uber selfish pseudo-American playboy to selfless, proud Russian willing to die instead of go off and live his so-called American dream. While Cricket's character was killed too soon to fully develop or progress, her one flashback episode did help illuminate why she acted the way she did, creating myths around her own selfhood. Drew and Blair are....oddities. The show (and I) struggled with what to do with them. They were clearly brought in to emphasize diversity and appease the LGBT community (which is fairly repugnant, though Drew's episode was incredibly solid) but beyond their "otherness" they contributed nothing to the plot line. Blair never even got a flashback outside of his friendship with Cricket and neither of them played any significant role in the finale events. With that said, though, Drew's character shines as unique, interesting, well-played and one that moved into a new space by series end--from a scared loner to a proud man, ready to take on the world (and rock out to David Bowie). The biggest surprise here is honestly Jessie, a character I loathed--and, to be perfectly honest, still don't like. She's the actual heroine of the series; her vapid and deplorable nature finally illuminated as a way to anger her equally vapid and deplorable mother. The real Jessie is selfless, kind, smart, and willing to stand up for the Light against the Darkness. I may not like her at the end of all this but there's no denying that her development was brought about because of her own psyche (which, in reality, lacked all the "mean girl" qualities she presented initially) and enduring her torturous environment.  Joel was just plain useless as evidenced by his lack of dialogue and lack of flashback in this finale (no, really. Did he serve a point?). All of this taken together signifies that there were good elements of Dead of Summer. It had some interesting takes on friendship and nostalgia and at least a handful of worthwhile character development moments. Where it fell flat was in the mythology. But, honestly, my dear readers, are you surprised by this? I won't snark at OUAT just quite yet (3.5 weeks and counting...) but is it any wonder that the characters on this show are more solid and rewarding than any kind of mythology or story? No. I didn't think so.

Miscellaneous Notes on She Talks to Angels

--Drew and Blair probably got back to the camp via bus but how did they figure out that Amy was actually a murderer and not just possessed by a demon?

--So all the parents came and picked up their children but didn't bother to ask why their children were dropped off in a blood soaked van by two campers instead of licensed driver? Or, you know, why camp ended early?

--All the child acting in this show was pretty bad but nothing beats Anton turning around and telling Drew and Blair in a flat, monotone voice, "Go back..."

--"It's going to be me and you forever." Cricket and Blair really did have a special friendship. I'm sorry we didn't see more of it.

--Blotter's head swinging from a tether pole. That was a sight.

--So much for any kind of answers about Deb! I've heard rumors that should there be a second season, the show will become more of an anthology and move back to the 70s to visit Deb's stay at Camp Stillwater.

--RIP Garret and Alex. Oh, and Amy, I guess.

--Well, barring any movie reviews, that's it for the summer! The next time we talk, dear readers, we'll be staring down another 22 episodes of Once Upon a Time. See you then.

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