Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cult-TV Blogging: Brimstone: "Slayer" (December 11, 1998)

The 1998-1999 Fox horror series Brimstone conjures up another strong installment with “Slayer,” an action-packed tale which pits hang-dog, world-weary Detective Stone (Peter Horton) against a merciless Carthaginian warrior from the Punic Wars, Hasdrubel Skaras (Richard Brooks).  

This unusual nemesis can actually “blend into in the landscape,” and he revels in “the slaughter of innocent bystanders.”

The episode commences with a bang when Hastrubel Skaras unexpectedly challenges Stone at a city diner.  The “slayer” punctures one of Stone’s eyes (the windows to the soul, remember...), and nearly sends our protagonist straight back to Hell.  

Naturally, the Devil (John Glover) isn’t too happy about this one-sided confrontation, and suggests to Stone that perhaps he ought to be employing Hanstrubel Skaras to recover the escaped convicts, not the detective.

Using a deadly Hittite blade, the ancient slayer sets out to murder the widows of several police officers in Los Angeles, a violent ploy to make Stone stop hunting him, and even join up as an ally.  The threat is clear: by killing police widows, Hastrubel reminds Stone that his wife, Rosalyn (Stacy Haiduk) is also a police widow, and therefore also one of his targets.  

Out-matched, Stone finds himself in something of a tactical conundrum.  If he warns Rosalyn of the threat, he may be leading the (nearly) invisible Skaras right to her.

Given these strategic problems, "Slayer" is the first episode of Brimstone in which we feel Stone is truly up against an enemy he really may not be capable of defeating, and that fact makes for a compelling hour.  

Brooks is great here, too, just as he is in Firefly’s “Objects in Space.”  Brooks brilliantly portrays a loquacious, physically-intimidating villain, one who projects a cunning intelligence.  “Slayer’s” opening scene in the diner is something of a masterpiece as Skaras talks and talks and talks, almost hypnotically.  Watching this scene, I realized that Brooks could sell me anything.  His delivery is mesmerizing, and I love the way he relishes each threat, each insinuation.

The good vs. evil conflict is resolved imaginatively in “Slayer” when Stone determines his enemy’s only weakness.  Hastrubel may be able to blend in with the landscape, but when he moves about, he still creates movement; he still displaces air.  Accordingly, for the final battle Stone sets up candles throughout a Catholic cathedral and then traces Hastrubel’s movement by their flickering.

Amusingly, you may find yourself thinking of James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), while watching “Slayer.”  

Much like Arnie’s Terminator, the Slayer here goes after the mother of one target, and then kills that matriarch so as to learn the target’s location.  And, when saving one widow, Stone -- wearing a Kyle Reese-like trench coat  --remarks: “Come with me if you want to live,” echoing Reese’s first words to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).

Despite such similarities (or perhaps tributes…), “Slayer” makes for a very tense confrontation between a warrior of the past, and a warrior of our age, and in the process allows the audience to ponder how much things have changed in a millennium. 

A thousand years ago, harming the innocent was apparently no big deal. Life was cheap.  In fact, it was a joke to men like Skaras.  But today, soldiers and police go out of their way to avoid hurting non-combatants, at some risk to themselves. A thousand years ago, such mercy was considered a sign of weakness.  On Brimstone, however, it is a sign of Stone’s character and strength.  

Also, a thousand years ago, this monstrous soldier, Skaras, could rely on his dark magic to deceive his opponents. But today, Stone has science on his side, so maybe it's a fair fight.  It’s a great and involving dynamic, regardless.  “Slayer” is such a fun episode because we get to measure Stone against Skaras, and consider who remains the greatest of all warriors.  Not incidentally, we get to ponder the fact that both warriors ended up in the same place: Hell.

Next week: “Repentance.”


  1. John,

    This was a standout episode from the series. Probably my favorite next to It's A Helluva Life (which is one amazing hour of television). Richard Brooks it outstanding in this episode and the scenes with him and Peter Horton are priceless.

    It's the first time in the series that Stone really sees that he too can be sent back to hell just as quickly as the souls he has sent to hell already.

    Great hour, great writing, the look of the episode, hell the series, fits nicely.

    Fantastic stuff! So glad you are doing these blogs about this show. You know how I feel about the show and I hope people who read this blog search it out!

    1. Hi Troy,

      Thanks for the comment, my friend. I agree that Slayer is a stand-out show. Just a really great conflict, between Stone and Skaras. (I also feel as you do about It's A Helluva Life...can't wait to get to that one...).

      Like you, I hope my reviews are reaching some prospective viewers out there, who are curious what this great show was all about. I want an official dvd release.