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In "The Devil's Platform," Kolchak (Darren McGavin) follows with great interest a senatorial election in Illinois.
A candidate named Robert Palmer (Tom Skerritt), has risen from obscurity to challenge the incumbent, Senator Talbot. On the day of Kolchak's interview with the rising star, one of his campaign officials dies in a freak elevator accident. A fierce canine is spotted at the scene.
That's not the end of the election season body count, either. Soon, Talbot dies in a car crash, and the canine is also witnessed there. Talbot's death makes Palmer's rise to the senate all-but-guaranteed.
Kolchak soon learns why these deaths have occurred: Senator Palmer, with his wife's (Ellen Weston) knowledge, has made a blood pact with Satan, the Prince of Darkness. The Devil has gifted him with the power to turn into a canine (hell hound?) to help him rise to power.
Palmer attempts to tempt Kolchak into a similar pact with the Devil, promising him a Pulitzer, and cushy job in New York.
"Politics makes strange bedfellows," Kolchak reports (in a line probably adapted from Shakespeare's The Tempest) at the start of "The Devil's Platform."
That observation (and warning...) makes for a wicked and fun episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker that connects contemporary partisan politics to pure evil.
Again, one must remember that the series aired at the time of the Watergate Scandal in American politics, so it is likely no coincidence that this episode ties the supernatural to political scandal. Even in the mainstream press, journalists were likening Nixon's White House to a horror film, suggesting that the first family's domicile needed an exorcism to rid it of the evil inhabiting it. This episode treads more deeply into the politics/supernatural evil conceit popular at the time.
Tom Skerritt, later a star of Alien (1979) and Picket Fences (1992 - 1996) is the face of evil in this tale, a man who has sacrificed his immortal soul for power on this mortal coil. One of the most fascinating scenes in the episode finds Palmer and his wife debating about whether he can undo the deal, since it doesn't seem to be going well for him.
Alas, deals with the devil don't typically feature an escape clause.
The droll nature of this episode makes "The Devil's Platform" feel a bit smarter and mature than some other episodes of this nearly forty-five year old series. All the jokes take on a deeper meaning if one possesses any cynicism whatsoever about American politics. When some extreme candidates win their races, the only rational explanation seems, even today, that the politician in question has made a deal with the Devil.
The episode also seems aware of the pitfalls of populism. Kolchak calls Palmer the "great white hope of the blue collar" voter, and in real life we know too well especially today, the pitfalls of that kind of populism.
This episode also succeeds because of its brief but powerful insights into Kolchak's "insatiable desires." It seems that our beloved Kolchak dreams of winning a Pulitzer Prize, and getting a job in New York with a big, well-established paper (likely The New York Times). He doesn't want wealth, or power. He wants a bigger audience. This is perfect. Kolchak wants respectability and to tell his stories, with less impediments.
Of course, in the end, Kolchak is not tempted to make a deal with the Devil to see his dreams come true.
Next week: "Bad Medicine."