American Gothic (1995) s01e07 – Meet the Beetles

I’m not sure what iteration of “Make Bruce Campbell Happen” his guest appearance on “Gothic” fits in, but I was expecting more of a showcase. Campbell’s a state cop come to town at the behest of his sister (Derin Altay); her husband’s missing, and she’s convinced he’s been running around with Brenda Bakke. When sheriff Gary Cole doesn’t take Altay seriously, she calls in Campbell. Campbell immediately suspects Cole of being jealous over sort of girlfriend Bakke having other male attention and starts investigating him.

The episode opens with Lucas Black and his best friend, Christopher Fennell, traipsing around Black’s old, now burned-down house. They find a skeleton (and Sarah Paulson’s old doll), with the skeleton turning out to be Altay’s missing husband. Except he’s only been gone a couple days, nowhere near enough time for the decomposition.

Pretty quickly, both Turco and Cole realize the skeletal status of the deceased has to do with Beetles. The local, exceptionally creepy natural history museum is basically an excuse for boss Selene Smith and her staff to feed carcasses to the beetles and get shiny bones in return. Smith’s fascination comes off as obsessive, whereas Turco and Campbell both think bugs are gross. Cole doesn’t seem to mind them, though we also don’t get any scenes of him controlling them or anything demonic.

We do more of a look into Cole and Bakke’s relationship. He’s nowhere near as in control of her as previous episodes have suggested; Bakke’s character arc is the show’s second most impressive at this point. Black gets the number one spot (his arc this episode weaves through the police procedural), then Bakke, then probably Nick Searcy (who’s not around this episode at all), then Sarah Paulson (who’s got very little here, but it’s all vital) then incompletes for everyone else so far. While there is an exposition dump between Jake Weber and Turco before the opening titles, Weber disappears at that point. What with a special guest star and an actual mystery, no reason to keep doctor Weber around. Wait, maybe Weber’s there for the autopsy, then disappears. He’s definitely gone once the bugs take off.

Oddly, the episode calls back to that opening conversation between Weber and Turco at the end—she’d had an offer to cover a major story in Charleston, meaning she’d have to leave the show—when it turns out the offer’s somehow a Cole machination. Only there’s no explanation of how or why. Victor Bumbalo and David Chisholm get the writing credit for this episode, and there’s a big swing in quality. Not to mention the icky way dudes talk about Turco and Bakke, which is even worse when you think about how it’s probably sanitized what women would’ve gone through in the nineties South.

Despite the terrible video montages, the episode’s fairly good-looking. Director Michael Nankin does a little better with Bakke’s falsely accused femme fatale arc than Turco’s amateur investigation. Black’s arc fits somewhere in the middle; despite the excellent acting, Black’s treading water this episode.

It’s a real good episode. Probably Turco’s best performance so far, with great work from Cole, Bakke, and Black. And the forty seconds of Paulson.

Real good.

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