Wednesday, August 3, 2016

In Which I Review Dead of Summer (1x6)

There is something inherently meta in an episode that focuses on Elizabeth Mitchell's character and is called "The Dharma Bums." Yes, it's a LOST joke. The meta textural reference to LOST has made me seriously nostalgic for one of my all time favorite shows, which I suppose was rather the point. Not necessarily nostalgia for LOST but nostalgia for the past, the perfect past in all its golden and gilded glory. The past is always seen in such paradise-lite terms, and those feelings are captured in the setting of our show--the childhood camp where you can relive your perfect past. As Nick Carraway intones, "you can't repeat the past." The great tragedy of the Great Gatsby is learning that you can't repeat the past no matter how hard you try to line up all the right pieces; in trying to do so, Jay Gatsby dies and lives are ruined. But what if you had magic? Not metaphorical, gin-smuggling monetary magic but actual cosmic-changing, life altering magic. Then could you repeat the past? Or maybe better yet, if you were capable of repeating the past, should you? Grab your time capsule and let's go!

Deb Carpenter is not a happy woman. This comes as little to no surprise since everyone who arrived at Camp Stillwater is masking a particular pang or pain from the past and, let's be real, a woman who sinks her entire life savings into reopening a children's camp is probably not a ball of sunshine and rainbows. If everyone at Camp Stillwater is metaphorically haunted (and also being literally haunted), Deb's own ghostly specter is the perfect past and the choices she made (or didn't make) that took her further and further away from that glorious yesteryear. I find that I am disturbed, as long time readers of my reviews would suspect, that Deb's entire story revolves around a guy and a romance that did not pan out as expected. Sure, Keith gives some mumbo jumbo about how Deb's mission has never been about him, not really, but instead about Deb finding and becoming who she is truly meant to be. But, if that's the case then, one, why did it take a dead former lover who represents Deb's version of the perfect past to make that clear and, two, who exactly is Deb suppose to become because even after an entire centric about her, I have no idea. Is the show saying that Deb needed to reopen Camp Stillwater, a move that has resulted in several deaths and nothing resembling normal, happy camp past times? Is the show hinting that Deb is somehow imbued with magic that may help stem the tide of whatever is coming our way; maybe she's the one who can rid Amy of her possession (called that one!), a move that would be remarkable given that thus far Deb has been shown to have absolutely no magical powers, abilities or inclinations other than talking to her dead boyfriend after "summoning" him through the power of her sadness and self doubt (and yes, I am bothered by that). Deb's story could have been fairly interesting; maybe she lately discovered that she does have some sort of magical power that summons all manner of dead folk and she could help the campers (and us, the audience who is still stumbling around in the woods avoiding bear traps) understand what Holyoake wanted and how Camp Stillwater came to be the center of a demonic entity, energy, or what have you. But, instead, Deb's story doesn't get me any closer to understanding anything about Camp Stillwater and really not even to Deb. Her destiny is opaque and confusing and even if she ends up as some sacrificial lamb to save Amy or another camper, the act will fall on deaf ears (so to speak) since Deb's relationship to all her campers in tenuous at best and totally nonexistent at worse.

Centrics like this are supposed to help me care about a character and get inside their head space--and yes, oh woe is Deb, the Harvard graduate lawyer who got fast tracked to a partnership and married a handsome, supposedly caring and intelligent man, when she could have been gallivanting across Europe with her beatnik poet ex. And for the record, that kind of lifestyle is perfectly fine; go forth and be Sal Paradise, but Deb also made her choices and furthermore also chose not to leave her situation. Deb's choices might have been hard and resulted in some self reflection and melancholy, but at least she made them. Everything post finding Keith, dead on the hotel floor, reeks of her decisions being made for the sake of another, no matter what Ghost Man tries to say before vanishing into a cloud of smoke. Does it make me care about her? No not really. I'm empathetic to feeling the weight of your decisions crushing you under, and that seems to be a running motif for all our characters, but Deb's decisions did not result in her being bullied (Drew) or used (Cricket). In other words, Deb is coming across as a bit of a privileged woman who is lamenting that she can't go have sex in the woods every night like when she was a teenager. This is to say nothing of the fact that apparently Deb can conjure up her former flame for a tryst and some hand holding any time she's moved emotionally enough. The more I write about this, the angrier I get because the writers could have really done something more interesting with Deb (again, another theme that abounds, with the exception of Drew who really gave us something to sink our teeth into). We have four episodes to go and while I accept that this is a summer show and was never going to be must-see TV or anything beside a teen drama and all that genre carries, Dead of Summer needs to buckle down, get to work, and try for a plot that doesn't feel like filler, totally underwhelming and largely unnecessary in its flashbacks.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Dharma Bums

--Possessed Amy is 100% more interesting than Normal Amy.

--Why is Amy the Doorway? Why is she so important? Again, we've got  4 episodes to go and still need to see episodes centered on Blair and Jessie and perhaps Garret so I suspect answers might not be forthcoming anytime soon.

--The Ouija Board scene was actually well shot, if slightly cheesy in that quaint 1980s way.

--To contact spirits on the other side, you need ginger and chicken blood. Check!

--Who is in the mask helping out the bad guys? It's obviously a camper but which one? My guess in on Possessed Amy. We've already seem that she has a connection to the Lake Demon and loses time while under its influence.

--Keith really did walk backwards into a massive cloud of smoke/smog. There are quaint 1980s visuals and then there are cringe worthy ones.

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