American Gothic e06: Meet the Beetles

A popular woman…

Behind its deliberately flat, punning title, and its cheerful descent into the gross-out aspect of horror, this episode of American Gothic nevertheless displayed enough subtlety to keep us from taking its path too much for granted. There isn’t necessarily going to be a complete reset at the end of any given story: the characters are too well-rounded to be entirely predictable.

This week’s story focused around the person of Selena Coombs, schoolteacher and southern bad girl. With her slow-moving ways, her dry, breathy tones and that accent, you would be looking at Brenda Bakke a long time before you started thinking of vanilla sex. Certainly that doesn’t appear to have been in the mind of Heck Waller, who has gone missing before things start, or Coach Bender, who has provided Selena with a private key to the school pool so she can don a backless black swimsuit and slowly do the breast stroke at night.

Both Heck and Coach are middle-aged, married men, bored with wives who aren’t as young as Selena, both under the delusion that they can get off with her, even though her contempt for them is as pretty naked as it gets. Maybe they’ll get lucky if she feels bored enough to play vicious games,  and they’ll put it down to their irresistability. But in reality, it gets them dead.

Heck turns up as a skeleton, under the old Temple place (now the new Buck place, Lucas having foreclosed on his loan and planning to set up a mansion), found by accident by Caleb and Boone. A skeleton, stripped to the bone. Even though Coronoer Webb only played gold with him last Friday. Thanks to my reading of Alfred Bester, I was aware of carpet beetles, and how they’re used to clean the flesh off corpses donated to medical school, and my mind went leaping, accurately, ahead.

Heck’s transformation brings State Police Lieutenant Drey to Trinity, a smooth guest performance from Bruce Campbell, openly suspicious of Sheriff Buck (Selena’s his girlfriend, two guys sniffing round her go missing, wind-up dead, equals four in Drey’s book). Because the same thing happens to Coach after he tries a little late-night swimming practice with our lady schoolteacher and has to be choked off by the ubiquitous Sheriff.

All’s not entirely well between Buck and Selena either. She’s in Drey’s protective custody, and in his faux-honest manner, Buck’s dropping hints that she might be everything Drey clearly hopes she is. And Gail’s investigating in the hope of finding the Sheriff’s finger in some kind of pie. She even visits the Trinity Museum of Natural history, where the not-in-the-least-creepy Mrs Constantine shows the the Bug Chamber, the colloquial name for the Flensing Room, you know, where the local collected beetles strip the flesh from bodies…

And there’s all these creepy shots of beetles, everywhere, which might not gross everybody out but was doing it for me.

But what of the show’s main topic? Caleb is disturbed by discovering Heck’s skeleton, but he’s even more disturbed by discovering a lop-sided gravestone in a corner of the graveyard, with his name on it. Dreams about digging it up plague him, dreams of his own leech-covered face, but when he does dig it up, who should appear but Sheriff Lucas Buck, and what should the coffin contain but cash? $30,000 worth in fact, for Caleb, a down payment for someone with the strength of mind to seize an opportunity, not to live in a boardinghouse forever.

Caleb’s tempted, and Merly’s disappointed. Her ghost fades out. Caleb comes to a decision.

Gail, snooping round Selena’s home in her absence, until disturbed by Drey, discovers hordes of flowers and heartfelt cards from Ossie. Drey goes to the museum. My sphincter muscles tighten. Gail goes to the museum. MrsConstantine sends her to the Flensing Room, where there’s the distinct sound of beetles munching. Inside the chamber, they’re munching on Drey, who’s chained inside. Still alive, mind you.

But Gail isn’t allowed to get him out. The lid is closed again by the Director of the Flensing Room. Whose name is Ossie. No, it wasn’t Lucas Buck, who arrives to save the day.

So all’s well that ends well, by implication at least in the case of Lieutenant Drey. Buck’s still trying to push his way with Gail, talking about the illusion of free will: whether she stays in Trinity or returns to Charleston, she’ll think it’s her decision. But it won’t be.

And then a reasonably pretty middle-aged woman enters, Heck’s widow. She hugs Buck, is so grateful, though he doesn’t know why. It’s the money, see. The Sheriff has given her and Coach Bender’s widow a substantial sum of money each, to tide them over is such times. $15,000 each. Isn’t that generous?

I’d barely finished laughing at that before the show demonstrated its superiority with its double ending. First, Selena in the pool again, Lucas come to talk. The charade is over, she’s had her sport, played up to Drey, who never quite suspected her enough of being the killer. Selena pouts that just because she is free, sometimes, with Lucas, don’t mean she’s easy. Still, it’s over, and he leans towards her… and she turns and swims away.

And Caleb, kneeling by his bed, saying his prayers. He’s been good, he’s resisted temptation (again), he’s sorry for lashing out at Merly. He expects her back, expects her forgiveness, her presence. All he gets is darkness, and his own tears.

Let’s leave it at that,eh?