Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cult-TV Blogging: Brimstone: "Repentance" (November 13, 1998)


This week’s episode of Brimstone is titled “Repentance,” and appropriately so. 

The story involves Detective Stone’s (Peter Horton) investigation of a gruesome murder.  Specifically, a homeless man, Harry (David Proval) witnesses a man cutting out the eyes of another man.  

Stone looks into the horrific act, and finds a clue -- a brass pin -- tying the crime to a Dutch S.S. Nazi uniform, and a Hell escapee known in life as “the Angel of Mercy.”

However, Stone soon learns that this Angel of Mercy (Norbert Weisser) has returned from Hell to make restitution for his crimes, and that the real culprit here is another man, an addict who was once also homeless…

For Brimstone to succeed as a believable work of fantastic art, an episode like “Repentance” had to exist, and I’m glad it does.  

The story finds Stone tracking a Hell escapee who isn’t actually the perpetrator or criminal of the week.  That wrinkle is a welcome one, and reminds us that all evil in the world does not originate from the realm below.  

By contrast, I was deeply disappointed by the first season of Grimm (2011 - ) because week-in and week-out, every single crime investigated by the lead character was caused by a fairy tale creature.  This fact did two (bad) things simultaneously.  First, it painted the fairy tale creatures as lawbreakers and violent offenders, all.  Secondly, it suggested that man was not culpable for any criminal activity in this world. Rather, he was just victimized by monsters that happened to be disguised as men.  It’s a terrible dynamic, and feels very two-dimensional.

Brimstone seems to have thought this problem through with “Repentance,” and figured it all out.  We can’t expect that every criminal act in the world is caused by one of the 113 Hell creatures, and that adds an element of verisimilitude to the storytelling.  Sometimes, in his travels, Stone will run up against human evil rather than supernatural evil.  This fact reminds us that man is fallible.

On a thematic level, “Repentance” lives up to its title.  It concerns a man who wants nothing more in life than to make-up, in some way, for the crimes he committed.  He is out to redeem himself, but as the episode points out, he must also be forgiven in the eyes of others. 

To his credit, Stone makes that leap in this episode.  Our culture claims to be a forgiving one, yet on a daily basis we see how this isn’t always so. 

 Once more, I enjoy how Brimstone threads this particular needle.  The show clearly exists in a universe of blacks and whites, and of good and evil, but Stone is constantly asked to make decisions that require him to think in shades of gray, and nuance.  

He determines that the Angel of Mercy is innocent -- that he has paid for his crimes -- but he still must send him back to Hell, regardless. 

Finally, this episode also adds another piece of delightful Brimstone mythology: Stone’s love for the now-defunct 1980s “Reggie” candy bar (after Reggie Jackson).  By episode’s end, he’s got a box of them to enjoy, thanks to a collector…

Next week: “Executioner”

In the meantime, here’s a Reggie Bar commercial:

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