I watch Scandal (I watch a lot of TV), and lately I've found myself pining for better times. The show in the beginning was completely different than it is now, and I feel almost betrayed that the premise in Season 1 now seems to have been mere exposition to the sappy craptacular that Scandal has become. It's still an enjoyable show to watch, but I miss the good old days of the case-of-the-week and when I didn't have to see Fitz sucking face so much. Olivia used to be a strong woman with soldiers who'd follow her into the dark, but now she's more often a mess who glides between weeping into her popcorn bowl at home and being at the beck and call of the most childish man in Washington.
I bring up Scandal only because Psych has done something similar with its premise, though it's desperately clinging to its case-of-the-week roots. As the series winds down, the gimmick episodes are coming fast and often, from the homages to Twin Peaks and Clue to the obligatory musical. Eight seasons is a long time for a show to be on the air, and to keep telling interesting stories is admirable, even they're wrapped in pop-culture worship. Sure, Psych may've often let the references blur together to consume an entire episode, but at least the show has stayed true to what makes it interesting: finding clues, being awkward, and solving cases.
That being said, it's fitting that the penultimate episode of the series deviated the further from the premise than ever before. The case was secondary to the surreal adventures of Burton Guster's troubled and beautiful mind. We've watched Gus develop over the years from consummate adult foil (boring) to something just as cartoonish as Shawn (funny) and that was certainly on display as he wandered into horror trope after horror trope, running and Gus-shrieking from no fewer than three different kinds of zombie hordes.
There was a case—a fairly basic one, particularly by Psych standards—but Gus's narcoleptic nightmares were the focus, so "A Nightmare on State Street" turned out to be more about Gus than trying to find out who killed William "Don't Call Him Billy" Zabka. Even though the adventures in genre were goofy, the episode explored a complex issue at the very heart of the series: namely, Shawn's unwillingness to grow up and how that's affected Gus's trajectory.
In the beginning, Gus was determined to go places. He was going to rise through the ranks at his pharmaceutical company, wear suits, and be a responsible and cultured human. Now that we know Gus and Shawn a little better, Gus's ambition was almost a complete refutation of the stronger personality in his life, as Shawn was basically a nomad who constantly wound up in hijinks that eventually led to employers showing him the door or encouraging him to move on. Creating the Psych detective agency derailed both of their paths. Shawn is now more prone to settling down and has held a job for eight years, not to mention everything relating to Juliet. Gus, meanwhile, has been encouraged to ditch his job to help out with the detective agency, sacrifice personal relationships, and basically stagnate. They've both plateaued, even though their arrows were heading in opposite directions before.
Now Juliet is up north and Shawn is almost certainly going to find his way up there, even if it means Psych ends in some Good Will Hunting homage. Gus quit his job and is still suffering the same setbacks in the romantic department. The SBPD is even collaring its own criminals (whaaaaaat). He does't have any stability. So it's coming out in nightmares of dystopia and monsters. Because Shawn ruined Gus's life.
Shawn moving on means that Gus has to consider doing the same. It was nice in their little bubble, where they only had to think about their childhood and revel in the culture that inspired them in those days. But life can't be ALL Tears for Fears and professional wrestling. They're in their mid-30s now, and they have to actually think about what they want their lives to be. As much as Shawn has needed Gus to be his better judgement, Gus is losing his safety net.
Series star James Roday wrote and directed this episode, and as he is wont to do, framed its emotional core with an encyclopedic knowledge of a film genre. Much like the Hitchcock references in the Yin adventure, there were so many horror allusions in "A Nightmare on State Street" that I don't even think I could catch them all, being only a casual horror enthusiast. There was your general zombie dystopia a la The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later (bye, Curt Smith), then a visit to the house from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (though I would've hoped for a Leatherface that was closer to the original), Children of the Corn, the new spate of jerk-movement spectres inspired by Japanese horror, Night of the Living Dead, and I feel like there were more zombies/ghouls. There were a lot of zombies.
I'm still on the fence as to whether Roday's forays into film homage are unique and creative voyages or just pretentious projects from a stifled artist. But at least this one had a kernel of emotional truth and a reason for Bruce Campbell to stop by this show before it finished. We are truly blessed.
How Bruce Campbell has missed the boat until now is beyond me. Psych and Burn Notice were network partners so you'd think, with synergy and Psych's worship of all things cult, that Campbell would've been a recurring character like Cary Elwes. Regardless, Campbell nailed his part, however disappointingly action-less as it was. The fly-swatter gag was great, the plugs for the book were amazing, and the fact that he was the thirteenth-best sleep therapist in Santa Barbara was perfect. Honestly, Campbell was made for this show. It's disappointing that he didn't show up until the very end (literally—this episode was shot last, even after the series finale, to accommodate everyone's schedules).
But I digress.
"A Nightmare on State Street" wasn't the case-of-the-week variety that I fell in love with, but that was an unrealistic expectation. Psych has become event television in that every episode is another installment with a grander vision than its original premise. This was a decent last hurrah for that kind of storytelling as we head into the series finale that we hope will tie up the loose ends as well as it can. Getting a glimpse into Gus's psyche—a dark corner of the universe that's been bred with abandonment issues and instability—was a fine way to spend the penultimate episode, plus it achieved some decent table-setting for what should be an emotional moment for Shawn and Gus and everyone watching. At the end of "A Nightmare on State Street," Gus woke up from a nightmare and called Shawn. He didn't even have to say anything before Shawn showed up at his house, wrapped under blankets with milkshakes in hand to console his friend, telling Gus he'll always be around. We're about to see if that's the literal truth, or if Gus really will have to strike out on his own.
– Billy Zabka and Bruce Campbell weren't the only guest-stars in this episode. Mira Sorvino was around as Juliet's replacement (though I really think Psych should've brought back Cuthroat Bitch). The Bella Twins were meh, basically reduced to eye candy. Curt Smith's line of "That's so Rob Thomas of me" was priceless. And Sutton Foster. I miss Michelle from Bunheads. Someone please give Amy Sherman-Palladino another show so that Sutton Foster can show up again and say her words.
– Phylicia Rashad gets her own bullet point. Because Phylicia Rashad.
– Zombie Shawn was a decent bit (particularly when making fun of his psychic abilities). I got the feeling that the "Thriller" thing at the end was the real reason the show did this whole episode. I'm actually really, really surprised that it was limited to just the spin-around-with-monster-contacts and that there wasn't a choreographed dance number.
– No, really, is there going to be a Good Will Hunting homage? It's not your fault, Shawn. It's not your fault.
– Curt Smith plug = great. #TearsForFears
– You need one more Bruce Campbell picture:
– Feel free to mention in the comments any of the horror allusions I left out. I know there were many and I only scratched the surface. Was the milk a Clockwork Orange reference?
– And now, put your finger to your temple and predict what's coming in the finale!
AIRED ON 3/26/2014
Season 8 : Episode 10