Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cult-TV Blogging: Brimstone: "Faces" (January 29, 1999)

“Faces” finds Brimstone (1998 – 1999) back on more formulaic ground.  Here, another Hell Convict is on the loose in Los Angeles, wreaking havoc, and it’s up to Det. Stone (Peter Horton) to send him back to the Devil. 

But, as we have come to see with Brimstone, even a more formulaic installment boasts a twist or two, and manages to make the “criminal of the week” story one about Stone himself, and his life and decisions.

In “Faces,” the Devil (John Glover) mysteriously directs Stone to 153 Green Street, a suburban street address where a man named Karl has just been murdered by a Hell escapee who suffers from multiple personalities. 

Stone befriends one of those personalities -- a helpless teenage boy named Brian -- and questions him about the others, including the violent Vic, and the protective Tammy.  Stone soon uncovers the fact that Brian was the subject of a 1957 book called Beaten Down, and that he went to Hell for murder.  But he’s back now to finish off his abusive step dad.

The problem, however, is that if Stone sends Vic back to Hell, the innocent Brian goes to Hell with him.  And Stone has begun thinking of Brian as the son he never had…

“Faces” opens at a batting cage in Los Angeles as Stone watches a loving father (Jerry Hardin) and a child bond together over baseball.  This sight gets Stone in a contemplative mood, especially since Rosalyn (Stacy Haiduk) and Zeke were trying to have children at the time of his death in 1983.  Stone begins to take advice from Hardin’s character, and wonders what his life might have been like if his own father hadn’t been such a “brutal bastard.” 

Stone as a prospective father -- and Stone as the wounded son -- are the characters that dominate “Faces,” and make for an engaging, emotionally-affecting hour.  As has been the case for a while now, the actual investigation of the crimes is far less interesting than the focus on Stone and the issues he tackles.  This episode is filled with wisdom about fathers and sons and despite the formulaic investigation, manages to be a strong hour. That is especially true when Stone must send Brian back to Hell for eternity.

Since Brian is an innocent, this predicament raises a question of justice.  Though Vic is a guilty bastard, why should Brian – essentially an independent personality-- be punished for his sins?  This is one more notch in Brimstone’s obsession with moral shadings within the confines of a good/evil, black/white universe.

There are a number of powerful observations and jokes in this episode.  At one point, the Devil points out that he is a father…and points to members of Congress (then bent on impeaching President Clinton…) as his “sons.” 

Another moment suggests that some men become parents to “fill the empty space” where a “father’s love should have been.”  In another moment, the Devil suggests to Stone that men want sons so as to satisfy “the insatiable narcissism” of the male of the human species.  These are all caustic and powerful notes in a story about fatherhood.

Watching “Faces” today one can detect how the writers on Brimstone were virtually longing to escape the criminal of the week formula and venture into more character-based shows. The final episode of the series, “Mourning After” reveals just how well that approach could work.  It’s a shame that the series didn’t last beyond a dozen or so programs.

Next time, we finish off Brimstone with “Mourning After.”

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