Eat your heart out, M. Night Shyamalan.
After a few blah weeks, I know many of you were hoping that John Landis, director of American Werewolf In London (as well as comedies like The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and um, Beverly Hills Cop III), would give this series a much-needed shot in the arm. To that end, “In Sickness And In Health” certainly didn’t disappoint: It was a very entertaining hour of television. Entertainingly silly, that is.
In all honesty, I’ll guiltily admit to having a lot of affection for this episode, because it fits so squarely into the tradition of anthology series like The Twilight Zone, which often ended in big, clanging twists. (Given that Landis directed the infamous Vic Morrow segment of The Twilight Zone: The Movie, he obviously has some affection for it, too.) But man oh man was this twist ever was a clanger, both for being telegraphed (why keep mentioning the brother if he didn’t figure into the plot in some way?) and for being totally nonsensical (I’ll get to those questions in a bit). And the fact that it was nonsensical actually helped cover up the fact that it was telegraphed, because we never could have guessed what was really going on based on the evidence on the screen. Landis and screenwriter Victor Salva (who himself directed Powder and Jeepers Creepers) cheat the viewer so shamelessly that I couldn’t help but laugh.
Here’s the irresistible premise: Blushing bride Samantha (Maggie Lawson), in the moments before marrying a mysterious guy named Carlos (James Roday), receives a note that a woman in a red headscarf had given to the priest. The note reads, “The person you are marrying is a serial killer.” Naturally, the note freaks her out a bit, especially since the general buzz around the wedding is that bride and groom have jumped into matrimony too quickly. Samantha doesn’t even know what happened to Carlos’ parents, who just up and disappeared without a trace when he was a teenager—not that there’s any reason to be concerned about that. So Samantha goes through with the ceremony anyway, but the reception turns out to be a bit rocky, with Carlos suddenly transforming from dashing charmer to a short-tempered, scene-causing, and possibly murderous mate.
Between Carlos’ mysterioso glowers and his tendency to act erratically without cause, I couldn’t help but think of that sequence in the classic “Cape Feare” episode of The Simpsons when Homer keeps bursting into nerve-frazzled Bart’s room with various scary implements in hand. (“Bart, do you want to see my new chainsaw and hockey mask?!”) Considering what we find out in the final minute, Carlos’ behavior seems absurdly temperamental, from screaming at Samantha (“start acting like you’re now my wife and you’re happy about it!”) and her bridesmaids (“you two jealous bitches couldn’t mind your own business!) to hiding away in the darkened church and trapping her into the confessional booth.
Then there are other questions that the big twist raises: Who was knocking so hard on Samantha’s door after the ceremony? Why does she look so frightened if she’s the one who’s in control? (That may be a necessary cheat, but still.) Why does she leave the answering machine message for her cross-dressing, Norman Bates-wannabe brother? And what leverage does she have to gain by pretending like she’s terrified of her new husband? (Again a cheat, but maybe not a necessary one.)
Still, I watched the episode with the impression that Landis directed it with a big, goofy grin on his face. There are a few moments of real visual wit here, my favorite being the shot of a little girl screaming across the frame as Samantha reads the note. And he doesn’t seem that concerned that the story is revealed to be nothing but red herrings once all is said and done. Lastly, he doesn’t try to be all that scary, save for pressing the mood a bit by darkening the church and repeatedly cutting away to violent religious icons. He wants only to screw around with the viewer and have a little fun, and after the loaded shock effects of other Fear Itself episodes to date, there’s something refreshing about that impulse.
So chalk it up as “so bad it’s good” if you like. But for the first time, Fear Itself turned into a series that I’d want to watch every week.
Grade: B (or maybe a D, I can’t decide)
• Thanks for Chris Dahlen for ably taking over TV blogging duties in my absence. Hope last week’s mediocrity didn’t scare you off, Chris. You should be suffering alongside the rest of us helpless anthology junkies.
• Another fun joke: Having the priest cut out any “’til death do you part” language, only to replace it with “for so long as you both shall live.” Not much more comforting, Father.
• Speaking of the priest, how absurdly clumsy was his bit of exposition about Carlos’ parents? “Apropos of nothing, Sammy, I remember the day I married his parents. Oh you don’t forget a day like that. So tragic, so horrible. Well, I’ll just be on my way then.”
• And yet another sublimely silly moment: When Carlos lets fly with one of those evil, maniacal laughs in the church and Samantha starts giggling along with him for no reason. Maybe that should have been our first clue about her.