We've all seen Carrie, right? Then, for all intents and purposes, we've all seen this episode. The episode information on my cable menu let me know that ahead of time that Christina would be moved to attack Paula at a dance. The first thing I thought of was the prom scene in Brian De Palma's adaptation of Stephen King's novel. The book was only published after Tabitha King retrieved it from the trash and urged her husband to submit it. Perhaps the creative team of the show should have followed King's original inclination, since this episode didn't stop there in lifting from that particular story or, as we shall see, from another movie, as well. It's one thing to be derivative, it's quite another for a good 50% of an episode to be lifted directly from the novel; as I'll discuss below, it makes matters much worse when most of the remaining 50% turns out to be lifted from yet another film. This episode may have aspired to the status of homage, but managed to achieve only that of blatant rip-off times two (or would that be squared?).
In its defense, however, I have to say that the episode did move me to do some research on the bizarre craze of the 1920s and 1930s known as the dance marathon. Most of the stuff I found on the Internet referred to the movie They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, starring Gig Young and Jane Fonda. While I haven't seen that film, it seems that the marathon in it led up to a "shocking crime" instigated by Young's "manipulative emcee," in the words of Karl Williams of msn.com's All Movie Guide. Sound familiar?
Apparently, dancing had gained popularity as a social pass time not long before the Depression, although most churches still frowned upon it. It didn't take long before "corn and callous carnivals" or "walkathons" were being held around the country, usually arranged by disreputable promoters who migrated with great regularity. Just like the episode depicts, the townspeople would pay to come in and laugh at desperate people degrading themselves for money—often prizes were worth as little as a few hundred dollars. These things lasted for weeks, even months, and were usually won by professional teams who would go from town to town, passing themselves off as amateurs. Before doing the research, I found the plot of this episode absolutely incredulous. I'd heard of dance contests, but only in movies like Grease. [*Pause* for off topic aside: I'm ashamed to admit that Grease was my favorite movie when I was about 10. I wanted to be Sandy, getting friendly "down in the sand" with Danny Zuko. John Travolta was the epitome of manhood in my young eyes. The only fan letter I ever wrote in my life was to Jeff Conaway.*Now back to our regularly scheduled review.*] The film depicted the marathons as fun things for high school kids. Live and learn, I guess. What I learned from my research just makes me feel that the episode is all the more derivative.
There is very little that's new to say about the acting. I still find Elisabeth Harnois, Aubrey Dollar, Dina Meyer and Grant Show quite believable and effective in their roles. I still think very little of Sam Page's acting. Cameron Richardson isn't terribly impressive, either, although I think I find the odd way she holds her mouth to be as disconcerting as her acting skills (or lack thereof). (Yes, I'm shallow that way.) On a positive note, something that I can say has changed is that the performances of a couple other actors were quite good. I was particularly impressed by Brent Weber (as Terry) and Dana Davis (as Lucinda). Davis only had a small scene in the beginning of the episode, but I often find that the true skill of an actor is best shown in scenes that aren't long or involved. If an actor can play the scene for what it's worth—i.e., not try to prove what a great actor she is by overdoing it—it shows that she is comfortable with her skills and understands that different scenes require different levels of intensity. During the conflict between Paula and Lucinda, Davis' facial expressions and reading of the lines were absolutely spot on. Weber was very impressive during the dance marathon scenes. I thought that he and Harnois played off each other quite well. In fact, both Weber and Davis had scenes with Harnois, and they were the only two of the "kids" besides Dollar's Judy who have been able to match Harnois' skill. I believed their conversations and interactions. [*Pausing for an on-topic aside*: What exactly do these "kids" do? I believe they're all supposed to be about 17 or 18, but only Judy seems to do much. I guess the guys are both lifeguards, but is that all? No one goes to school? No one has any ambitions or plans? I guess it's supposed to be summer, but it still seems like someone would at least refer to either high school or college.*Thank you for your time. Now back to that fascinating review by that brilliant writer ;-).*]
I was very happy to get some backstory for Lucas Boyd. Unfortunately, his backstory was lifted almost directly from They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The marathon is the brainchild of Boyd, who volunteers to plan and run the fund raising effort for the replacement of the church's stained glass window—after it mysteriously breaks for a second time. As the marathon is competed, Boyd flashes back intermittently to the times of the Great Depression. Apparently, he was not the bad-ass, varsity-level evil s.o.b. at that time. He and his girl are desperately trying to dance themselves into a bit of cash so they can hit the road for California. Her comments to him let us know that he's a dreamer who does odd jobs to make ends meet the best he can, but who has big plans in his head. When she struggles to stay on her feet, he desperately tries to keep her upright. Just as she falls, time-out is called by the emcee. Exhausted by it all, Boyd's lady decides to get him the money to follow his dreams for them by being, well, a lady of the evening (or of 5 minutes in a stair well, anyway). When Body sees her with one of the rich men from the audience, he's enraged. This part was kind of silly. He starts his assault by violently spinning, twirling and throwing her around the dance floor. I really didn't see the point of that little sequence. Maybe it was supposed to be foreboding or something, but I just found it ridiculous. I think it would have been far better to just cut to the chase—Boyd strangling his lady outside the dance hall. The episode begins with Boyd throwing the body into the ocean, and repeats the scene at the end with an added dimension—the emcee from the marathon wants to take him in. The most interesting part of all of this is learning that Boyd was not always unrepentantly evil. He had to be led to his current state by the old emcee; now, he wants to serve the same purpose for Christina.
While Boyd's character was stuck in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" Christina's was equally as entrenched in Carrie. I had no idea just how right I would be when I thought the description sounded a bit King-like. Not only do we have Christina psychically attacking Paula at a dance, but we even get a blood bath and a shower scene thrown in. Maybe Zach Estrin, who wrote this episode, thought we wouldn't notice as long as he combined the two into one scene. When Christina emerges from the shower, she discovers her dress missing and Paula nearby. As Paula taunts her, she becomes angrier and angrier. As her rage builds, she causes a blood-like substance to flow from the showers, covering Paula just like Nancy Allen's character did to Sissy Spacek's in the prom scene of the movie. At the same time, I could almost hear the high school girls from the movie's shower scene screaming, "Period!" Just a terribly unoriginal scene. The only thing I liked about the scene was Christina's reactions. When she gets angry, she lashes out. As soon as her anger dissipates, her human self comes back and the guilt sets in. She has the same reaction later when she causes the disco ball to fall. Harnois does a nice job of portraying the conflict within the character.
In fact, Harnois is the bright spot of the entire series. I can't say enough about how well she handles the role. I believe the conflict, and I believe her tendencies towards paranoia. I like the struggle that her character deals with on a moment-by-moment basis. When Boyd tells Christina that he found his soul to be a trap, she seems almost hopeful for a moment that maybe he can free her. The good in her seems to win out in the end, even though her behavior is causing Judy to become suspicious of her. I'm very looking forward to next week's episode, as the story looked very interesting, and I'm sure Harnois will be her usual wonderful self. I hope to see her again if this series does end up being canceled. (FOX has not indicated that it will to my knowledge, but the show finished behind WWE Smackdown! again, and has been preempted on the 24th, which is never a good sign.)
On a final note, if you want to find out more about the dance marathon craze, try visiting HistoryLink.org. The relevant page is located at http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5534. The link will take you to
the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, but this particular entry is about dance marathons, in general. The first paragraph informs us, "Dance Marathons (also called Walkathons), an American phenomenon of the 1920s and 1930s, were human endurance contests in which couples danced almost non-stop for hundreds of hours (as long as a month or two), competing for prize money." It also relates how the "bunion derbies" provided the townspeople who came to watch the marathons with cheap entertainment—usually a mere quarter—and the opportunity to experience the "Depression-era novelty of feeling superior (and feeling pity) toward someone else". Eventually, many cities and towns passed laws banning the marathons within their jurisdiction. In Seattle, this was done in 1928 after a woman who had competed in a marathon for 19 days only to end up in fifth place, killed herself. The subject really is fascinating and sickening, and Estrin, did a very good job of portraying it as accurately as he could within the confines of the borrowed stories.