American Gothic (1995) s01e04 – Damned If You Don’t

Even in 1995, “American Gothic” knew not to cast an actual teenager as the fifteen-year-old Brigid Brannagh plays. It just didn’t know not to still ogle early twenties Brannagh as she plays that teenager. While, sure, it’s Southern Gothic, it’s also contorting itself to allow objectifying Brannagh, even though she’s in constant danger of rape from Max Cady-lite ex-con Muse Watson. Watson’s just out of jail and surprised to find Brannagh grown up (though he never would’ve met her before); she’s the daughter of his former employee, Steve Rankin, who’s gone on to buy Watson’s junkyard and, presumably, move into his house.

While the episode shows off its crane multiple times for the junkyard location, it never shows Rankin’s house actually being near the junkyard. So there’s a little bit of a disconnect.

Rankin has to put Watson up a few days as a favor to town sheriff and likely demon Gary Cole. Cole did Rankin a favor in his youth when he was messing around with the boss’s daughter; first, Cole wanted Rankin to let Brannagh work at the sheriff’s station as an intern under Cole’s wing. When Rankin doesn’t go for it, and there’s a mysterious household accident, Cole comes up with the temporary halfway house favor. Now, presumably, someone had an idea why Cole would want Brannagh as a sidekick (he’s not creepy to her), but since Cole’s always an enigma (or limited by the writers), the episode often feels too constrained.

The A-plot with Cole and Rankin is basically just a guided “Twilight Zone” with occasional crossover to the B and C plots. B plot is Lucas Black wanting to make a tornado machine for his science fair; it’s fantastic. He gets different offers of help from Jake Weber and Cole while weighing his new friendship with cousin Paige Turco, as well as disappointing ghost sister Sarah Paulson. Black and his friends start the episode, actually, at the junkyard. The show does a great job sharing plot points and characters, like Turco questioning Rankin about her parents’ death. Of course, Watson knows something about it, but the script seems to forget. It also misplaces Watson’s family, who presumably still exist somewhere.

Turco’s town investigating plot is dawdling, so when it seemed like Watson may pay off, it got some energy back. The stuff with Turco and Black is good, the stuff with Black and Weber is good, Black and Cole—there are no problems with the B or C plots in this episode. Not when the A plot’s got so many different ways to be problematic. In addition to the objectifying, director Lou Antonio also goes for exaggerated angles. This episode has lots of bad video editing and montages; visually, “American Gothic” ages terribly.

Thank goodness for the actors and much of the writing (script credit to Michael R. Perry and Stephen Gaghan).

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