26.7.10

Tales from the Darkside Episode 108 – Word Processor of the Gods



The episode opens in with the main character (Willard from the movie of the same name) suffering all the indignities of the modern emasculated suburban father. His obese wife scoffs at him bringing boxes into the house, and he can’t convince his layabout son to put down his electric guitar:

Long enough to help with this simple chore. Poor guy.

Willard is left to take car of everything himself, as always. Why, I’ll wager that woman doesn’t even have a job of her own! She does, however, give us some of that delicious exposition the audience needs, as she discusses the circumstances of the boxes’ arrival at their home with a local elderly gent.

It seems that Willard’s brother’s entire family was recently killed in a car accident. Due to a lack of life insurance, Willard was forced to pay for the funeral himself, and now all they have to show for their generosity are a few boxes of personal effects, including a word processor that the son of the family built(!).

Gosh, I wonder if that’s the word processor of the title? We can only assume, especially because the old gent goes out of his way to mention that Jonathan (the dead nephew) had made absolutely clear that the word processor should go to his uncle in the event anything happened to him.

There’s a sad beat between Willard and the old gent, as they reminisces about what a scumbag his brother was, and how terrible that made things for his saintly wife and son. Then it’s time for some more backstory, where we learn that Willard is a professional writer, who’s always wanted one of those expensive, new-fangled ‘word processors’. Which makes the one Jonathan was building such a wonderful gift, I suppose-

In case that photo isn’t immediately clear, no, you’re not seeing things – that’s a keyboard whose faceplate is secured to its wooden base with duct tape. I’m flabbergasted. But according to both men Jonathan was a brilliant electrician, and might well have been able to construct a working computer.

That very night Willard sits in front of his wooden computer, being tortured by the sound of his son’s inept guitar caterwauling. Willard boots up the computer and finds a disc announcing that the computer is a gift for his birthday. This leads to a flashback to the day Jonathan offered to build the thing – in which we discover that it wasn’t just to the old man that the teen was disturbingly morbid, he’d also suggested to Willard that there wasn’t much time left for him to complete the computer.

Finally the source of Willard’s sour mood is well and truly revealed – it seems that his awful brother married the woman he loved, and Jonathan was the son he might have had, rather than the horrible jerk he did!

Now, it seems oddly scape-goaty of Willard to believe that things might have been different had he married Belinda. After all, Jonathan had an awful drunken father and turned out pretty well, while despite the fact that Willard imagines himself to be a good father, his son is a good-for-nothing lout.

Can the show really be saying that it’s the mothers who are solely responsible for their children’s upbringing? That the layabout loser is a scumbag because Willard’s wife is an obese, bingo-playing shrew, while the saintly Belinda was solely responsible for the character of her genius son?

While messing around with the computer, Willard makes a terrifying discover – when he presses the overly large ‘delete’ key after writing a sentence about a a picture, that picture disappears! And then he can make it return by typing a sentence about that and hitting the ‘execute’ key!

Could this computer really be magical? Well, given that this is a sci-fi/horror show, the answer is obviously yes.

Willard does the only logical thing he can think of to test the machine. He magics up a pouch of gold coins!

Which is maybe not the way I would have gone, but hey, theorem confirmed, right? Or at least, it is after he takes them upstairs and… weighs them on a scale?

Okay, I guess I can see how finding out much the gold is worth might be a worthwhile thing to do, but isn’t the fact that of the Word Processor generating things from nothingness the more important part of this equation? While calculating his newfound fortune Willard receives a call from the old gent, which once again suggests that he knows more than he’s letting on. He suggests that Willard put the Word Processor to better use than enrichment, but is maddeningly unclear as to just how much he knows.

Willard heads down to the basement, and immediately decides to cheat himself into a better life, by typing that he has ideas for many best-selling novels. His son causes the power goes out before he can press the ‘execute’ button, though, so once he’s flipped the breaker, Willard decides to retaliate by erasing his son from existence.

Which seems like a bit of a harsh reaction to excessive guitar practice, but hey, what do I know? I don’t have to live with the kid. Maybe he could have just taken away the amp?

Also, isn’t it a great note that, in the revised picture, they’ve become the kind of family who had a dog instead of a child?

Willard takes this opportunity to go immediately mad with power, not feeling in the least bit guilty about the eradication from all reality (except his memories) of his son. Things get very literal a moment later, when Willard has a hallucination of his wife arriving home and accusing him of murdering their son. She flat out says the subtext that was handled so subtly earlier, yelling about the fact that he loved Belinda, so that love extended to her son, while he hated his own son because of antipathy towards his wife. His defense? It wasn’t really ‘murder’ – since the son now never existed, he can’t actually have been killed.

Kind of a thin defense, so it’s good that it doesn’t come up when the wife arrives home and, as the family portrait suggests, has no memory of ever having a son. She won a turkey at Bingo, though, so that’s something. Willard feels her out about the ‘dead child’ situation, and seems downright gleeful when he discovers that her personality has been rejiggered by the machine into someone who never even wanted children!

Drunk on the power of a god, as well as some beer, Willard heads downstairs to edit his life a little further. He knows he has to be quick, though – the word processor has started to smoke, and likely won’t last much longer!

His wife is rapidly erased (although it’s not clear whether she’s been removed from existence, or if in this new reality they were just never married), then it’s just a matter of putting together his perfect existence as husband to Belinda and father to Jonathan. The machine bursts into flame and explodes in a manner that wasn’t dangerous to Willard on set-

Leaving the audience to wonder if he was successful in his endeavour...

He was! Yay! He successfully murdered people he was supposed to love and brought some others whose affections he jealously coveted back to life! You know, for a show called ‘Tales from the Darkside’, this episode really didn’t get into the, um, Dark Side of a guy playing god in the most petty and selfish way imaginable. His wife and child are presented as the most awful people possible, and check out the final shot in which Belinda is, at long last, revealed:

She might as well be an angel.

Oh, and it turns out that this was all based on a story by Steven King! Which makes the gender and parenting issues all completely make sense, now that I think about it.

Also, checking back to the first post in this series, this is obviously the episode I was thinking of, and it did not, sadly, star Harry Anderson. Nothing against Willard, just saying I’d like to see Harry Stone soon.

3 comments:

zybahn said...

A fantastic re-telling. I watched this recently & was bothered by the skewed morality presented here, and just posted my own analysis. If nothing else it allowed me to Google & discover your post, which was a treat. Thanks.

zybahn said...

Oh, and the Harry Anderson episode dealt with another oversized wonder of 1980s technology, the answering machine, titled "All a Clone by the Telephone."

soggybottom said...

Can the show really be saying that it’s the mothers who are solely responsible for their children’s upbringing? That the layabout loser is a scumbag because Willard’s wife is an obese, bingo-playing shrew, while the saintly Belinda was solely responsible for the character of her genius son?

Of course not. Everybody knows that it's the responsibility of both parents to raise their children.

BUT since we're seeing the episode through the eyes of RICHARD (not Willard), it might well be saying that's what he is thinking.

Willard feels her out about the ‘dead child’ situation, and seems downright gleeful when he discovers that her personality has been rejiggered by the machine into someone who never even wanted children!

I wouldn't conclude that the machine rejiggered her personality. You don't even know for sure that the she wanted a kid in the first place. Or maybe (like a lot of adults) she wanted kids when she was younger and then changed her mind later on in life.

He successfully murdered people he was supposed to love and brought some others whose affections he jealously coveted back to life! You know, for a show called ‘Tales from the Darkside’, this episode really didn’t get into the, um, Dark Side of a guy playing god in the most petty and selfish way imaginable.

Are you kidding? What you just described sounds EXTREMELY dark to me. What did you want to see happen?

His wife and child are presented as the most awful people possible

Not even close! All we know about them is that his wife constantly nags him to make money (and maybe she has a good reason to do so), and that the son just wants to practice his guitar all of the time. How is that the most awful people possible? You can find people like that anywhere. It's not all that awful--It's just normal.

And check out the final shot in which Belinda is, at long last, revealed: She might as well be an angel.

This episode is simply one man's fantasy--It's a "The grass is always greener on the other side" type of a tale. His life isn't going the way he wanted, and he wishes to turn back time and do things differently...And he gets his wish.

So of course she's going to be presented as a perfect angel--That's how he sees her. In reality, she has flaws like everybody else. He might even be remembering her when she was younger and prettier--She might not look anything like that now.

It really amazes me how someone can do such a lengthy post on a simple 20-minute TFTD-episode and still get so much wrong.