Vic Tayback, (who I remember from a childhood love of the show ‘Alice’), stars as a real estate salesman who’s extremely sensitive about the fact that he used to be an alcoholic, but has recently kicked the habit. One day, after setting up a particularly important sale, Vic’s young son turns up at the office. Of course, Vic’s sure he just has the one (13 year old) son, so this precocious little lad of six is a complete stranger to him. He does the only logical thing and drops the kid off at the police station, only to return home and find his wife furious at him – according to her, the little one is, in fact, their second child.
It’s an interesting enough premise, and Tayback plays his character’s utter incredulity well, given the absurd situation he’s put in. At points it seems like a little reason would go a long way, but his anger and frustration is completely understandable. After all, no matter what anyone else says, he’s completely sure he’s never seen this child before, so why should he go along with the rest of the world?
The great drama comes from the fact that his wife’s position is completely understandable as well – she’s put up with his drinking in the past, and now he’s crossed the line by forgetting his own son! Things get even worse for Vic when he shows up the next day at work haggard and sleep-deprived, only to discover that it’s not the next day at all. He’s had something of a lost mid-week, apparently off drinking and sleeping in a cheap motel.
Vic rushes home, only to discover that his wife has already left him, taking the children with her to her sister’s place in another town. Shattered by his failure, Vic finally gives in, finds a bottle in the abandoned house, and starts drinking again.
Or does he? The reason this episode works so well is that it raises the possibility that Vic has been drinking all along, and the fractured, unreal narrative is due to the fact that the story is being to told from the perspective of an alcoholic who suffers from blackouts and memory lapses. Right up until the last scene there’s a wonderful ambiguity about the whole piece, where the viewer is never really sure whether Vic is being bedevilled by an evil imp, or if this is what it’s like relapsing and then sprialling into self-destruction.
Then, naturally, the episode ruins it entirely by adding on a little coda set a few weeks later at the same real-estate office. The man who replaced Vic is sitting at his desk, working away and living the good life, when the exact same little boy shows up, claiming to be his son.
So not only did the production team not realize that this ‘twist-tag’ killed the one thing their episode had going for it, but actually that it raised more questions that it answered? Such as, what is the nature of the evil little boy? How many people are affected by his mind- (or reality-) warping powers? After leaving Vic, do the mother and son forget about the other child, or not? The biggest question, though, is just why is this evil gremlin so obsessed with destroying the lives of the people who work at that particular real-estate office?
I hope this whole ‘twist at the end ruins the episode’ thing doesn’t become a theme. I mean, sure, the first two episodes did it, but what are the odds of that continuing? Pretty good, I suppose. Well, fingers crossed, right?