Tales From the Darkside 222: The Unhappy Medium

The episode opens with a family gathered around a giant old time-y television. You know the kind I mean, where images were actually projected onto a plastic screen? Ugly as sin, weren't they?

On the television is a televangelist, a popular figure for fictional commentary in the 80s. No one really cares about them now though, since all religion in America has gotten so political they're basically interchangeable with every other right wing commentator. But hey, we're not here to talk about the erosion of American discourse, we're here to watch an episode of Tales from the Dark Side!

This one is about those closest to that televangelist: his sister, niece, and assistant, who are all gathered to watch the man's video will. The niece is none too happy about the prospect – she wasn't fond of her uncle's brand of for-profit Christianity, which ensured that they lived in a mansion while most people starved. The sister is more accepting of their lifestyle, after all, she's the Tammy Faye Baker of the piece, acting as the sidekick in his broadcasts.

They put in the video will, in which the televangelist uses the freedom of knowing that he'll be dead by the time people watch this to do all the telling off he didn't have the guts to life. He was sickened by his sister's greed, his assistant's opportunism, and his niece's liberal purity. Rather than waste time with the legal niceties of who actually gets control of his assets, the televangelist simply uses his video will to announce that he plans to contact them… From beyond the grave! This would seem like a hollow threat, except that all of the electricity in the room goes nuts right after he says it.

Desperate to find a copy of the will – I guess the lawyer doesn't have one – sister starts tearing the office apart. Meanwhile the niece and assistant debate their failed relationship as well as which of their organizations does a better job of helping people – his church or her charity. The show sketches out their history clearly enough: she grew up rich, he grew up poor, so while she tossed money aside he was determined to earn it so he could deserve her. All pretty standard stuff, but at least they're putting in an effort.

The sister grows increasingly frustrated at her inability to find a will – she's unwilling to just wait around for a sign, as the others say the video instructed. Well, I saw the video, and he didn't really say he was going to be giving a sign right then and there. It was all phrased fairly hypothetically. I'm kind of coming in on the sister's side this time.

A sign does eventually come, of course, when the niece is possessed by the televangelist's evil spirit. He was such an amoral soul, he claims, that neither heaven nor hell want anything to do with him. The show actually does something very interesting to demonstrate this. First they give the niece a two colored suit:

And then midway through the scene, they flip it around on us to create a sense of unease.

Not a bad job, if I do say so myself.

The televangelist lays out his plan: he's going to stick around Earth and make his speeches using the niece as a vessel. Obviously the niece is really, really unhappy about this, but the sister really doesn't care what her daughter thinks – since there is no will and spiritual possession isn't recognized by court, as the televangelist's next of kin, she and the daughter will get all the money – which suits her just fine. Then she tries to leave the office, and finds that the exit door now opens into hell.

The opposite door exits into heaven, but she doesn't seem too excited to go there either. Possibly because when she opens the heaven door there's the sound of laughter, as if the idea of her being allowed inside was ridiculous to literally every Angel. It seems that the office is been moved into some sort of metaphysical un-space, providing an anchor for the televangelist to latch on to. Obviously none of the living people are too happy about the prospect of being trapped there forever, so niece and assistant each try one of the doors simultaneously, hoping to short-circuit the effect.

It doesn't work. This leaves them with one option, as far as the sister is concerned: let the televangelist take over niece, so that he can show the rest of them the way out. The assistant thinks this is a terrible plan, and the appearance of doors to heaven and hell overpower the earthly concerns such as riches that so consume the sister's attentions. Yeah, he's completely right about this one. Once you've actually, physically, looked into heaven, hell, or both, it's time to switch around those priorities little.

While the two of them argue the re-possession does take place, and the televangelist has a few choice words to offer – he feels that since his niece betrayed the church, he's entitled to use her body as a mouthpiece forever. Also, he's sickened by his sister's obvious greed. Proving his point rather effectively, his sister's only response to this indictment is to ask where the will is. The televangelist announces that he hid it in the one place she would never think to look: the Bible!

The will satisfies no one. The sister only continues getting her current pittance, the assistant is supposed to take over the broadcasts, but given his recent experiences with the hereafter, he's not so interested in them anymore, and the niece gets everything else. Which would be great for her, if she weren't possessed by the televangelist she's got a plan though. Next the televangelist swoops in, she'll use all of her energies to throw herself through the hell door, making sure the televangelist gets where he belongs.

The niece topples into hell, and the assistant rushes after, desperate to save her – for her part, the sister tosses the will inside, so there'll be no proof that she doesn't get all the money. She is, as ever, a classy broad. The fires of hell consume the televangelist soul:

Leaving the sister alone in the office to scheme all by herself. Now that she's in charge, she'll run the evil church as she sees fit – and keep all the money! Fate has something else in store, however: the next morning, when the sun comes up, the niece and assistant are returned from the underworld – will in hand. They don't explain exactly how they escaped from the clutches of Satan, but I've got to say, you'd think they would be a little worse for wear.

Frankly, is a little soot on your face such a high price to pay?

The happy couple leaves the office, finally able to escape, while the sister sits, stunned and self pitying. This proves to be a poor choice since moments later, the televangelist bursts out of hell ready to drag her down with him.


Well, the streak had to end sometime. Not that this was a terrible episode, just not up to the level of the last two. Better luck next week, we hope.

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