Tales From the Darkside 120: It All Comes Out in the Wash

A businessman wanders into a Chinese laundry managed by James Hong. The businessman asks Hong for the 'special service' the laundry offers which, despite what you may have heard, is not whores. No, Hong's cleaning is of a moral nature. For hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars, when Hong cleans your clothes, the sins come out as well, removing the client's guilt, leaving him with the ability to do whatever he wants without emotional consequence.

See, now that's a good premise - a businessman paying a fee to turn himself into a sociopath so that he'll be more effective at his job! I knew if I watched enough of these I'd find something original! (Although the Stainless Steel Rat did something similar once, but whatever.)

Agreeing not to tell anyone about their 'arrangement', the businessman leaves, eager to get started with all the evil he'll now be free to engage in!

Back at the office, the businessman tries to call the friend who referred him to Hong, but the friend has no interest in being thanked - in fact, he was so drunk when he gave the recommendation that he has no memory of it! The friend quickly hangs up, but before businessman can get too concerned he discovers that his 10-year-old son has called from home with a problem. It seems that another little boy at school had been teasing him about the fact that businessman's fur company loves murdering baby seals. There's some backstory - the other child is the son of a business rival who businessman had recently crushed in a deal.

There's also a message from Hong - he's doubling the prices on the cleaning for the second time. This suggests that this scene is taking place some significant amount of time after the first, although that wasn't made clear at all in the businessman's grooming or any previous conversation.

Assuming that the rival put his child up to insulting the businessman's son, businessman calls up his lawyer and puts a hit out on the rival. Also he wants his wife served with divorce papers, although not until the next day. Today's her birthday, you see - so it's flowers one day, divorce the next. He may not have a conscience any more, but at least he's got style!

Businessman then calls to arrange an assignation with his mistress (coincidentally his best friend's wife!), and we get a bit of a window into how the laundry works - after each group of sins businessman changes his shirt, suggesting that the sins are literally being carried with them to the laundry - meaning he's only got this power of sociopathy so long as he's actually wearing the shirts!

Note that he has a pang of conscience and self-doubt while the shirt is off, and then it goes away the second he starts buttoning the next one up. That's the kind of neat little detail that I don't normally associate with this show - like the void in the carpet fog, way back in the first episode.

Looking at his bag of laundry, businessman becomes concerned that Hong's men aren't picking up his sins frequently enough. Violating their agreement, businessman calls Hong's laundry to demand service - a decision he immediately recognizes as a terrible mistake.

In the next scene it's weeks later, and bags of unwashed shirts fill the office while businessman talks to the police about the recent murder of his rival. It seems that Hong has recently stopped all pick ups from all of his clients, presumably because businessman contacted him. Businessman reassures his friend, and tells him not to worry, that Hong will doubtless see the error of his ways at some point and start collecting laundry once more. The friend isn't so sure, given that Hong is some kind of a magical Sin-Eater, while they're just run-of-the-mill corrupt businessmen.

Fixating on the supernatural aspects of the arrangement, businessman believes that he's figured out what Hong is really after... his immortal soul! Quickly dialing the laundry once more, businessman offers that soul in exchange for a resumption of laundry services. But will his gambit pay off? It didn't for his friend, who committed suicide just after getting off the phone with businessman!

Businessman's reaction? To have his broker buy up as much of friend's company as possible, while denying same to the man's wife (who, in case you've forgotten, is businessman's mistress)!

Hong finally calls businessman back to explain the lack of service. It seems that he has no interest in collecting souls - now that he's won the lottery he's retiring to Florida and shutting the laundry down! Left with no one to forgive his myriad sins (the church has stopped selling indulgences, remember), businessman has but one option left to him:

Jumping out the window to his death.

You know, I've been pretty hard on a lot of these episodes, with their shoddy production values, obvious plotting and muddled themes, but this was a legitimately good episode about how rich people use their money to insulate themselves from the effects of the evil that they do. Hopefully this is a sign that subsequent episodes are also going to hop over the bar that was just raised.

I know there's at least one genuinely terrifying episode coming up at some point in the future - maybe there's more high quality ones than I would have thought!


James said...

Wait... you've read the Stainless Steel Rat? One more reason to love this site.

soggybottom said...

It's about how rich people use their money to insulate themselves from the effects of the evil that they do.

Well, that might have been cool if that was what it was about (or even close), but it's actually just about a con-artist in the form of a laundry service.

Chow Ting convinced his clients that he can remove their guilt when he does their laundry, but since guilt isn't even a tangible thing, it's not remotely possible.

He talks at the beginning about how excited he was for the big winner of Wheel of Fate, and then again at the end about how he won the lottery.

So how did he win the lottery? By playing people for chumps with his crazy scheme of course, and just when he thought that he had taken it as far as he dared to go, he left town with all of the loot!

The opening scene shows us that Chow Ting is looking to make a quick buck any way that he can, and apparently he figured out a way to do it.

I like this episode for what it is (although I admit that it's a bit of a leap to think that these guys would be dumb enough to fall for such a thing), but I'd like to see the one that you had in mind someday. That does sound interesting.

Anonymous said...

"if Im not supposed to call,why is chow tings number on the ticket?" Businessman would be great at cinemasins

Anonymous said...

He also proves he's a con man when he raises the prices after he already gave the main guy a ticket with the prices so he would remember

Jacob Fox said...

Most people posting here do not seem to understand this episode. They think there is evidence that Chow is a con man, which I also thought the very first time I watched it. However, this completely misunderstands the message.

When Gropper goes into the laundry, he has a small bag of laundry with him. He shows Chow his financial statement and the laundry. Chow gives Gropper a price list AFTER he looks at the laundry.

Now, if you watch, when Chow first looks at the laundry, he seems a little put off. Obviously he can see the sins that Gropper committed. He then gives him a price list that washes away those particular sins.

Then, you are in Gropper's office. Without guilt, he has no conscience anymore. He eveb mentions that his sins are bigger but it doesn't matter because Chow Ting will continue to do the laundry and wash them out. However, if you recall, the price list Gropper got was for the sins he had committed before. Now, he is encouraging his son to hurt people, he threatens to kill his son's bird, he leaves his wife, he treats his secretary like crap (and she remarks that he is not like that).He has an affair with the wife of the man who gave him the laundry service.

The reason Chow's prices are raised, and the secretary mentions this, it's for increased labor. Gropper is not only committing worse sins, he is committing MORE. He keeps changing his shirts with every sin. He believes "murder builds character."

So yeah, Chow is not a con man. This episode shows us the importance of conscience and Gropper screws himself over.