American Gothic (1995) s01e03 – Eye of the Beholder

There’s a slight mea culpa feel to this episode, which is really Pilot: Part III. The show’s finally ready to set up the ground situation, for real this time, and it’s going to be more accessible. There aren’t any big CGI set pieces this episode, but there’s more with crows being sheriff Gary Cole’s evil messengers. The show also remembers there ought to be some Black characters, so Jake Weber’s sidekick Michael Burgess gets the A-plot. Cole wants him to testify against Weber in Lucas Black’s custody hearing, so Cole sends Burgess’s wife, N’Bushe Wright, some kind of cursed mirror.

To get his wife back, Burgess will have to betray a friend.

It’s a nice arc for Burgess, who previously just nodded along to Weber’s medical dialogue, and its not too dreary ending is successful. “Gothic”’s got a problem with its cast, lead, supporting, and guest—they can only take so much before they’ll have to leave town, one way or another. Especially since last episode set up the town as the “Bermuda Triangle of South Carolina,” with the most missing persons in the state.

Because Cole kills them, presumably.

So it could very easily do a loose anthology format for the A-plot, with the Cole versus Weber and Paige Turco for Black’s soul being the continuous season plot. It still may. But from this episode, it appears “Gothic” will keep things entwined and dependent. It’s a well-executed story, which includes Black making a new friend in conveniently introduced boarding house proprietor Tina Lifford (also Black, so the show’s got at least two Black recurring cast members now).

There’s some spectacular acting from Black in this episode, whose performance is a masterclass in good kid acting. Cole’s awesome, though his character’s supernatural powers are starting to raise many questions for characters and viewers alike. There are some bad nineties video editor filter montages to show when Cole’s using the powers, and since he can go into a church and be devilish… they’re racing towards needing some explanation.

Weber’s barely in the episode (Nick Searcy’s not at all), while Turco kind of hangs out with Black, kind of wanders around her long abandoned hometown. It’s a mystery arc. “Gothic” is basically tying four strong protagonists together and hoping Cole’s compelling enough to keep moving in lockstep. So far, so good.

While not entirely absent, Sarah Paulson doesn’t get much this episode. Including a resolution to her and Black’s “fight” last episode, which was the hard cliffhanger and was in the previous episode recap… something else the show apparently decided to tone down.

Judi Ann Mason gets the writing credit based on her story with show creator Shaun Cassidy. Jim Charleston directs. On the one hand, Charleston’s not very good. On the other, he knows to let Black and Cole have their space. However, Thomas R. Moore’s editing is way too impatient.

The end’s a little too neatly tied, going past not too dreary into saccharine. Hopefully, they’ll get the tone settled, as they’ve established the ground situation (again).

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