Wednesday, August 17, 2016

In Which I Review Dead of Summer (1x8)

Oh I get it. The writers assumed they'd subvert everyone's expectations by having the purported bad guy really be the good guy. Gosh, the wool sure was pulled over my eyes in this week's episode "The Devil Inside." Sarcasm! I won't deny that there was some shock value to Holyoake being a white hat instead of a black one, but it's marginal at best. If you know that the writers are setting out to shock the audience by way of overturning their expectations--and the show has been screaming that sort of thrust since the get go with Russian Alex, transgender Drew and death by bear trap Cricket--then the only way to subvert the dichotomy of good and evil is to make the ghostly specter into a helpful being. In other words, by subverting expectations you still fell into an expected mold. But hey, nice try; really, A for effort. I mentioned some reviews ago that the writing on this show feels as though it's a junior level screenwriting class where the authors are trying so hard to be innovative that they end up being perfectly, horribly cliche. That sounds like this show is a lose-lose however we slice it, and maybe it is, but either way my expectations were met and I remain unsubverted. Grab a friendly ghost and let's go!

Jessie has been the worst counselor from the start. Everything she has said or done has invoked a great dislike--from her jealousy over Garrett and Amy, to lying about her grandmother dying, to her initial treatment and blackmail of Drew, to Jessie's less than stellar advice to Cricket about boys, Jessie is the former ugly duckling turned beautiful swan who was about as deep and interesting as a shallow puddle of muddy water. I have no time for people who believe their intense outer beauty somehow makes them more worthy of my attention, but it was hinted at from the start that Jessie's "hotness" is sudden and shocking. In other words, our expectations (hot counselor, shallow personality, no trouble in life ever) were about to be subverted--or were they fulfilled by way of subverting? Hmm, ponder that. Like everyone else, Jessie is haunted by her past, specifically by her horrible mother, whose own fear of abandonment leads her to abandon her only child. It's not actually that uncommon; people who constantly fear being left tend to, in turn, abandon those they love. What Jessie's mother fails to realize is that emotional abandonment hurts just as much and does as much damage as literal abandonment. Instead of encouraging her daughter to follower her college dreams, Jessie's mom drunkenly admits that she never fully believed in her daughter and hoped Jessie would never make it into Northwestern. If Jessie never goes to college, then she never leaves home and she become as much a failure as her mother. It's a terrible reality, but that's what it is: reality. Sometimes parents are upheld in a saint-like light and we forget they are human. Jessie's mom is despicable, her dirtiest deed being between her drunken confession and forcing Jessie to switch seats with her after their intoxicated car accident, but she's also grounded in a realism that serves as a counterbalance to the bonkers magical shenanigans going on at Camp Stillwater. That balancing act between the mundane/real and the fantastical/otherworldly is usually a hit or a miss on this show; one aspect taking center stage while the other falls to the wayside, but Jessie's story about trusting herself and believing in herself, even when others doubt her, is nicely played out in both the past (she was smart and good enough for college) and in the present (she was right that Holyoake was not playing a trick on her).

What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not the magical nature of the show can reach anything other than absurd cringe worthy moments. We still don't know why anyone is doing what they are doing--why exactly do the men in masks worship the demon Malphas? Why are they under the impression that their lives will be different or better with him around? How did they even learn about the demon in the first place? With Holyoake being a good guy, we now need to question why exactly he set up a church/place of worship in the exact space where a demon was living and why he allowed his followers to bathe and purify themselves in the demon's abode. I mean, honestly, that just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Amy's possession, which I've been calling since about episode two or three, makes her a far more interesting character--or at least one with a measure of personality--but it still doesn't answer any of the big mythology questions in regards to the demon, the motivations of the masked men or Holyoake's less than candid and upfront manner. Nor does it answer any of the smaller questions like why it could only be Jessie to dump Holyoake's bones into the river or whether or not Blair and Drew have any sort of storyline outside of being "otherized" and being markers for a supposed progressive story. The show, as a whole, needs better balance. The entire supernatural and slasher feel of the show could have been left by the wayside and just been an exploration of character and what a childhood utopia can do to a haunted spirit. Sure, it means no horribly tragic CGI demons rising from a lake, but I think it'd be a far better (not great, but better) show.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Devil Inside

--So no one ever taught the counselors and kids of Camp Stillwater to not stare into an eclipse?

--The eclipse apparently made Deb remember a bunch of stuff from her time at Camp Stillwater in the 1970s. Anyone wanna place some money on Deb being a member of the masked group but better at hiding it?

--"What they know for sure is..." "...that Stillwater sucks at vetting cops?" Drew needs more to do.

--Seriously, where was Blair this entire episode? And why did Cricket choose to appear to Jessie of all people?

--Sympathy for Jessie doesn't erase the fact that she was a stuck up bitch for the first 7 episodes or so.

--Malphas is an actual figure in demonology. The writers did research (or at least looked at Wikipedia!)

--So is Joel really dead? The show was pretty explicit when Cricket died. Also, should we talk about how out of the three counselors to have died thus far, two were people of color?

--"But I don't want to be saved" Sorry, Amy. But that's not how this narrative works.

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