The Twilight Zone and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Warner Bros Television and based on the series created by Rod Serling
Episode directed by Brad Turner
We’re back with another episode of the Old New Twilight Zone! Yes, before Jordan Peele reimagined the series for the modern age, THIS was the most up to date version; and yet it still manages to feel much more dated than the one from the fifties. Go figure. Anyway! We’ve got an odd one today which is certainly saying something considering the last few episodes has been glories bits of sci-fi cheese, but you’ll see what I’m talking about soon enough! Let’s get started!!
The episode begins with a setup we’ve seen in many movies that Dan Olson has a strong fascination with; namely a young kid dealing with a bad situation through childlike whimsy and a severely uneven tone. More specifically, Craig (Rory Culkin) is a young boy who has a comically abusive father (Peter LaCroix) and in order to escape and deal with his trauma, he reads Conan knock offs and paints figurines. Said Conan knock off is the titular Azoth who would be a MUCH better dad than the one Craig is stuck with, but it’s not like he’s gonna leap off of the pages and be his best friend, right!? What do you think, Forest Whitaker?
Yes, we are going full He-Man here; and nearly a decade before Thor thought to do the same! Craig speaks the magic words written on the base of his hand painted Azoth figurine and POOF! Out pops Azoth! Now this show is known for its rather odd cameos by big name actors, so who did they get to play our beefcake hero? Chris Pine? Chris Evans? Christopher Lee? No, it’s not a Chris; rather they got Patrick Warburton! Mother fudging BROCK SAMSON is here to save the day! WOO!! Sadly the kid can’t be bothered to show half that enthusiasm which to me is the first nail in the coffin for this episode. If Patrick Warburton materialized in front of ME with the loincloth of the Beastmaster and the flowing locks of Fabio, I’d probably have more to say than just a muted “whoa”, but hey! Maybe he’s seen ET enough times to know where this is going.
Okay, so now that he’s got Schwarzenegger Lite standing in his bedroom, what wacky adventures does he have lined up? I don’t know, beat people up I guess? I mean he’s got three dorky bullies who keep kicking him off the basketball court (dudes are like fifteen yet are picking on a grade schooler) so why not get some jacked up homeless looking dude to put the fear of god into them! Petty vengeance aside, I actually do like Patrick Warburton’s performance her and the role he’s playing as a rock for Craig to lean on at a point where he could desperately use one. Even his mother (Suzy Joachim) who’s at least trying to be there for him is a victim herself and is stuck having to try to play peacekeeper and assuage the bastard’s constantly wounded ego. Heck, it’s even a solid view on the difference between toxic and positive masculinity with the father constantly telling his son to man up while Azoth actually defends him and tells him stories about his own failures and how he’s overcome them. Whether or not this works all the way through is a bit up for debate, but I’m getting ahead of myself. After the skirmish at the basketball court, Craig and Azoth head back to his house which I THINK is a townhouse with a shared laundry room in the basement which is where Azoth hangs out as Craig gets some food from the kitchen. Azoth talks about how it’s important to face your fears and whatnot (MAYBE not the best lesson to tell an abuse victim, but whatever) but things get a bit heated the next morning. That food Craig took last night? Yeah, don’t think his crappy father didn’t notice and is now yelling at the mother about it. Craig runs upstairs to confess his thievery which his dad takes as an opportunity to get even MORE furious at the world around him, but before he can do anything that would bump this episode up from a TV-PG to a TV-14, Azoth comes up and tells the guy to pick on someone his own size. Well… APROXIMATLEY his own size since dear old dad isn’t ripped like Patrick Warburton, but the first genuine twist of the episode is that… AZOTH loses! Yeah, the bastard throw a cup of coffee in his face which is enough to knock our hero to the ground and proceeds to whip him with a with a weapon of some kind (I think it’s a nightstick) until he can just barely stumble out the front door with his life! WHOA!! I think that one deserves a TWILIGHT SHOCK!!
This is… actually pretty genius! At least… I think it is? The whole scene is tough to watch because it’s not a straight up fist fight or a battle between good and evil; it’s a reflection of the abuse that Craig and his mother presumably go through every day of their lives. It pulls the rug out from under you as the episode has never once shown Azoth to have a weakness or to be anything other than a source of inspiration and strength, and then this happen which just shatters that sense of security that Craig found in him. Now whether or not it’s APPROPRIATE to transplant this kind of subject matter onto a goofy sci-fi show with Joe from Family Guy is a can of worms unto itself, but it’s probably the boldest move that this series has made so far so it gets points for that if nothing else. The other thing I like about this episode is Peter LaCroix who plays the abusive dad in an interestingly… well “nuanced” probably isn’t the right word, but there’s a certain depth to his portrayal that makes him feel a bit more real without garnering any sympathy because of it. Take the next scene for example where he confronts Craig about the weirdo he just threw out of his house. Now it would have been way too easy to just have him scream and yell or even hit the kid over this, but his word choice is a lot more measured without being any less threatening which is kind of scarier. I mean it’s not like what just transpired WASN’T at least a little bit concerning as the kid basically sicced a grown ass man wielding a broad sword on his father, but even when he’s making a point he’s still wrong and approaches everything from an abusive mindset. Craig manages to spin a tale about meeting Azoth at a comic book store and that he’s a professional cosplayer which seems to be enough to satisfy his parents as to the dude’s identity, but not enough to keep Craig out of trouble as Daddy takes his comic books and goes back to verbally attacking his wife. Craig sneaks back into the basement and finds Azoth there in a bloodied heap and his mother isn’t far behind with a first aid kit. Again, being the peacekeeper she has to try and do the right thing when her husband isn’t looking, but at least this gets the two to start talking where Azoth reveals that he lost the fight on purpose because beating the snot of out her husband wouldn’t have really fixed anything; nor would it have helped Craig overcome his fears. Um… let’s put a pin that for now. Craig comes back just as his dad starts SCREAMING for his mother to return and Azoth has more or less the same idea. It’s time for him to return to the realm from which he came as Craig has everything he needs to face this battle like the strong warrior he is. Um… let’s put a pin in that as well. I’ll give Craig credit that he seems to have grown since the beginning of the episode and not only respects Azoth’s wishes to go back to his own home (discarding the fantasy he’s using as a refuge from his real life) but also goes upstairs to stop his dad from hurting his mother any more. Now this is the big finale of the episode and it’s… well it’s kind of a mess tonally as these things tend to be. First, I want to go back to praising Peter LaCroix who takes his performance up a notch here as he becomes more hysterical and downright pathetic as the scene goes along; letting the mask slip and exposing the insecurities that are at least in part the reason he’s become the monster we see before us. Where things get a bit awkward though is what Craig does to stand up to his father which is… point Azoth’s sword at him.
Yeah… PROBABLY not the best move for anyone. Not the kid who can’t possibly hop to use that, and definitely not for the mother who could get caught in the middle of whatever altercation is about to ensue. Heck, even if Craig runs the bastard through the chest, I’m pretty sure that’s not gonna be good for his long term psychological health! As you can expect, the introduction of a deadly weapon escalates things rather quickly and the dad is about to smack the kid in the face with the nightstick but the mother jumps on his back and tells him not to lay a finger on Craig. In the midst of the shouting and swinging, Craig starts to say the magic words again and POOF! Looks like dear old dad isn’t gonna be an issue any more!
Hey, I’d just roll with it. Let’s hope he had a life insurance policy on his drunken butt! We cut to some-time later where things have quieted down and both Craig and his mother seem to be doing better. We see that Craig is painting a figurine of his father which either implies that he has turned INTO the figurine when he used the magic spell or he made it himself so that is Azoth figurine can kick the crap out of him even if it’s just in plastic form. Well Forest Whitaker, what do you have to say to all that?
“Sometimes we pray for a hero to deliver us from evil. Armed with nothing more than his newfound courage and a powerful imagination, Craig Hanson discovered that hero was none other than himself. Chalk one up for the good guys… in The Twilight Zone.”
Remember when this show did an episode with blackface which was supposed to be a well-meaning examination on the nuances of race relations in the US and ended up being a total joke instead? This episode kind of falls into that same category but I think it succeeds a lot more even if it still feels a bit… miscalculated. I mean look, we’ve only got twenty-two minutes to tell this story so going down the fantasy road and indulging in wish fulfillment isn’t necessarily a bad way to keep things short; but I’m still a bit skeptical as to how well it understands the problem it’s talking about. I don’t know, there’s just something wrong in telling someone (ESPECIALLY A CHILD) that all they need to do to escape their abuser is to get the courage to face them. Abusive relationships aren’t that simple, and there’s a lot of systemic barriers as well which this movie doesn’t address because everything is solved with magic, and while I guess it would be somewhat absurd to suggest that this episode is in some way supposed to inspire kids to literally follow its example (I don’t think there was a rise in broadsword stabbings after this episode came out), it still feels a bit on the wrong side of tacky either way. Still, the performances are SO much better than I would have expected even if Rory Culkin is rather flat here (it works for the quieter moments but I feel he could have put a bit more into the more dramatic moments), and Patrick Warburton is always fun to watch especially with how much depth he can put into seemingly straightforward roles like this one. I certainly liked it and it’s certainly one of the more ambitious ones so far, but it’s probably not gonna be for everyone given the heavy subject matter it deals with. We can all agree that it’s better than Book of Henry though, right? That movie would have been SO much better if Patrick Warburton was wielding a sword in it!
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