Tales From the Darkside 207: The Devil`s Advocate

A satanic piano last week, and a devil's advocate this time? Am I detecting a theme, or a lack of creativity? Anyhoo, this week's episode looks like it's going to be a Talk Radio kind of deal, with Jerry stiller playing it as a basically one-man show where he, Mandrake, talks to a series of spookier and spookier people on the radio until there's a scary twist at the end. Or so I've come to expect, anyhow. The first thing Jerry does when arriving at the studio is complain that he was almost late because someone died in the front seat of his car, which is profoundly odd. Who would break into a stranger's car to (presumably, he doesn't give a lot of details) OD on some manner of drug?

In a telling point about Jerry's personality, the dead body is less of a tragedy and more of an inconvenience - the only point which he complains about is the fact that the police delayed him for a whole hour! Jerry then starts up his talk radio show, inviting people to call in and complain about insensitive, incompetent cops like the ones he tussled with that night.

His callers don't comply, however, instead calling to complain about their own life problems, giving Jerry a chance to heap abuse on them. Which leads me to wonder: who would ever call this man, and why?

When we return from commercial, we get a little glimpse into Jerry's backstory while he yells at some farmers, Alan Partridge-style. Apparently he's a fifty-something year old man and he doesn't have a family! Peculiar, no? Then one of his callers talks back to him, pointing out that while they might be losers for listening to him all night, he might well be the real valueless person, since he's got nothing better to do with his time but spew hatred into a microphone for the people of America to listen to.

It's during this exchange that I noticed how Jerry's appearance had slightly changed. Here he is at the beginning of the episode-

Now take a look at him near the halfway point-

Is all the hatred literally turning him into a devil? Is that the ironic message?

We get a little more explanation for his condition in the monologuing - his entire life has been a chain of tragedies, parents killed in crimes, wife in a coma, child killed by drunk drivers! Is there any part of the man's life that hasn't been touched by awfulness?

At the end of one particular call he notices that his engineer has disappeared, and he tries to take a call himself. Then something bizarre happens: he gets a call from someone claiming not to have a phone - and she's 'calling' from the year 1922!

Also, Jerry is now a werewolf.

Okay, I think I cracked it - he's in hell, and the dead guy in the car was him, finally killing himself at the end of a life of misery! Prediction... locked!

Jerry grows increasingly disconcerted by all the calls he's getting from back in time - although not as disconcerted as he is by the fact that the broadcasting room's exit has been walled over!

Now that he's trapped, once and for all, it's time for the big reveal. Jerry gets one last call - this one from Satan himself, who congratulates Jerry on filling the world with hatred, fear, and prejudice. All of this time he's been bringing souls to Satan by merely hating on the radio! Who could have guessed?

Also, I guess we now have a good sense of what George Romero (who wrote the episode) feels about the American culture of right-wing talk radio.

In the end, Jerry finally accepts his new role as hell's full-time radio host, taking calls from the damned in his new demonic guise.

So... no happy ending this week, huh?


Offramp said...

I didn't understand the reason for the chicken soup on the volume meter....

Freya said...

Devil's advocate meaning

Allegorically, one who takes an opposite position for testing a contention, or just to be perverse.


The term 'Devil's advocate' was brought into English in the eighteenth century from the medieval Latin expression 'advocatus diaboli'. To describe someone as a Devil's advocate now is to suggest that they are mischievous and opposing, being opposite for it. In medieval Europe, Devil's advocate wasn't seen so contrarily; it was, similar to "chamberlain" or 'cordwainer', a vocation title.

There are various mentions in Vatican records dating from the mid 1500s of a casual part called 'Diaboli Advocatus'. In 1587, the administration of Pope Sixtus V (disappointingly, there hasn't yet been a Sixtus the Sixth) established the formal post of Promoter of the Confidence, referred to informally as the 'Advocatus Diaboli', which surely must have been the same part as 'Diaboli Advocatus'. The set of working responsibilities wasn't especially onerous, until the point when someone was assigned for either beatification and canonization, and soon thereafter the 'Devil's Advocate' was required to draw up a list of arguments against the chosen one getting to be plainly blessed or consecrated.

The first occasion when that the present type of the expression was used in print appears to be in the 1760 humorous content Impostors Identified:

By rising up and having the genuine impact of the Devil's advocate.