blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

American Gothic (1995) s01e08 – Strong Arm of the Law

It’s all hands on deck for this episode (except for Brenda Bakke), like everyone wanted a chance to work with guest stars Matt Craven and Richard Edson. Craven and Edson are in town to shake down the local business owners. They’ve got a couple more in their gang, doofus Jim Gloster and rapist Joseph Granda. Initially, they give off big ex-con carpetbagger vibes as they’re from Michigan, but once we find out their actual backstory….

Well, “Gothic”’s got its sense of humor, after all.

They don’t show up in the first scene, though. Instead, the cold open is Lucas Black and Christopher Fennell snooping around a house, hoping to see a girl taking a bath. When he goes to peek, however, Black witnesses a murder. By pig men.

Post-credits, the boarding house (now apparently run by a white lady instead of the Black woman from before) has four new guests who take a suspicious interest in Black, which Jake Weber doesn’t seem to notice.

The episode ends up being a Gary Cole one, as he has to deal with the interlopers, but for the first act, it seems like it’ll be more balanced between the cast. Deputy Nick Searcy and reporter Paige Turco, not to mention the townsfolk, think Cole brought in the out-of-town muscle to remind folks they need to be more appreciative of their demonic sheriff. Weber’s got an autopsy of their murder victim, which seems like it ought to tie him in, especially since Black starts snooping on his fellow boarding house guests.

At one point, he’s got to use anti-demonic powers (no Sarah Paulson this episode, either), and it’s a tepid power, even given “Gothic”’s capabilities as a mid-nineties TV show. But Black versus the gang is toothless; even though we’ve established they’re vicious killers, they’re mostly just bullies and within limits.

As Cole starts facing off with them and manipulating them, the rest of the cast and their potential subplots fade away one by one.

There’s some good acting from the regular cast—Cole, Searcy, Black, Weber; Turco gets a really shitty part this episode, and then they whiff on its execution. I’m not sure director Mike Binder is a good fit for network television. And then Craven and Edson are fantastic, though differently. Edson’s just a hoot, but Craven’s phenomenal. The whole episode seems like it’s setting up a showdown for Craven and Cole.

Then it doesn’t, which just makes the ending way too pat.

It’s a good forty-five minutes of television but a middling “Gothic.”

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