blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

American Gothic (1995) s01e10 – The Beast Within

The Beast Within starts with guest star Jeff Perry looking at his watch, and the date is very clearly 9/25, but it’s episode ten (in the ostensibly official—enough—post-cancellation viewing order), and there’s no way episode ten is airing the last week of September. It only matters because last episode ended with at-one-time protagonist Jake Weber seemingly leaving the show. Or not leaving the show. Or leaving the show.

Weber’s here this episode, but it’s a very “Must See TV” type of “American Gothic.” Show creator Shaun Cassidy gets the writing credit, which has AWOL Marine Perry taking Gary Cole hostage along with Weber, Paige Turco, and Lucas Black in the hospital. So, basically, “American Gothic” Die Hard for deputy Nick Searcy (who’s got the added family drama as Perry’s his brother). But for Cole, Weber, Turco, and Black, it’s “American Gothic” Speed because a bomb will go off if Perry loses consciousness.

It’s half a Searcy character development episode and half successful “Sweeps Week” television. Not quite real-time, but there are constant references to the clock because there’s a countdown too. Cassidy’s script has it all done somewhat stagily without ever coming off stagy, just incredibly precise and controlled. It’s the most successful “Gothic” just in terms of execution, especially since Cassidy still manages to frame it as a (slight) mythology episode—Black starts the episode having a dream about Cole and Perry, which later proves relevant. But only for Black’s overall character development, which is an outstanding choice. And it gives Black some great material.

The best performance in the episode’s Searcy, though Perry’s a close second, and it’s also a good episode for Turco. The hostage situation and potentially relying on Cole shakes her up. Cole and Black are great, of course, and Weber’s got a little. Not a lot, certainly not what’d you expect after he just decided to come back to work after not wandering literal purgatory. But a little. Maybe Within is in the right place in viewing order.

Director Michael Lange does better staging the community theater Die Hard (I mean it in a nice way) than with the pseudo-real-time countdowns. He knows how to focus on the actors and their performances, not so much the connective tissue. Like, whoever convinced them to go with booming clock ticks to amp up the tension very obviously should’ve been ignored. Or they should’ve called it For Whom the Bells Toll.

But other than the mid-nineties style choices, it’s a phenomenal episode. Cassidy and company take it as accessible and potent as possible… and the network aired it in the post-cancellation summer burn-off.

Thanks, CBS.

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