The Dead Zone: Symmetry
The episode begins with Johnny having a vision of a fight, a struggle. It is not clear who is fighting-- there is a tumble of limbs and confusion. This vision is important, and, as I came to find out, it is significant that the episode begins with this vision. This vision will be repeated throughout the episode, though it will always remain rather cloaked and blurred.
Johnny wakes up on the couch of a strange woman's house. At first, he is disoriented, and he says he didn't know where he was. But he doesn't seem to be in danger or to be leery of the woman (Maia) in the house. She thanks him for coming over in the middle of the night, and John seems to know what she is talking about. She is clearly afraid of her ex-husband, who has been calling her in the middle of the night. Her daughter (Siena) comes into the room, a curly-haired child of about four-years-old, I'd say. (And I blog for Blogging Baby, too, so let's assume that I am right, okay?) She wants to know why John is there and he makes up something about how great Maia's omelettes are. Then Siena shows John a picture she has drawn of buried treasure: She is fixated on buried treasure because her father told her they were going to find some one day. This is important, too. Which I love! I love how even the most throw away things in this episode are important such as: John not knowing where he is, and Maia putting on a scarf to leave the house, and then abandoning it on the table.
John continues to have visions of the fight from the beginning of the episode. Walt calls him in to ask him for help with a case. Walt says that the old friend of a woman says she was afraid of her ex-husband, and that the woman has disappeared. Of course, Walt has Maia's scarf, and when Johnny touches it, he sees Maia falling off a cliff. John tells Walt that he knows the woman and the situation, and begins to wonder about the identity of the man who reported her missing.
John tells Bruce, who comes into and vanishes from this episode at will, until we start to figure out that he is playing the role of John's subconscious in this episode, that Maia claims they were friends in college. However, John can't remember her. He goes out to a pier and touches a pole and has a vision of hanging out with Maia in college and a tender kiss between them, but he can't remember it happening. He doesn't understand why-- and we all know that he and Sarah were together in college, so who is Maia? And why was he kissing her?
John returns to Maia's house, and here is where things really start to get weird. I must admit that I had to let things sort of roll over me, because I could not figure out what the heck was going on-- but it was GOOD! While John is there, a man rings the doorbell and starts accusing John of being the new boyfriend. They quarrel and fight, and John hurts his hand during the fight. The man (Maia's ex-husband Cole) who jumped John leaves, and John shakes off his hand and rings the doorbell. An African-American man answers the door. John recites the words of Cole this time, and the man, Desmond, answers word-for-word how John had answered merely minutes before. John also inserts parenthetical remarks that he doesn't know why he is behaving this way, and that he must be Cole. The two men fight, and Desmond appears later with a wrapped hand...
The thing that was so enjoyable about this episode was that it becomes clear very soon after this that John is trapped in a vision, and he can't get out. And he keeps alternating between four different viewpoints: himself, Cole, Desmond, and Maia. But how is this happening? And why can't he escape the vision? And why is Bruce stuck in the vision with him as some kind of manic alter ego? Bruce has the keys to something John needs to remember: It's John's birthday, or it was the night before. John brushes this off as unimportant, but Bruce insists that it is. There is something John needs to remember, but what is it? Bruce and John drive around, and no matter who John is currently inhabiting in the vision, Bruce is there too, someone for John to bounce ideas off. At one point, they go to the hotel Cole is staying in and walk through the hotel room door, just because it's a vision and it's fun-- John has the room key in his hand, but they decide to take advantage of the fact that they are merely occupying space in John's head.
Apparently, John has hurt himself and is in a hospital. The ever-stoic Sarah is there, talking to him and tells him he was in a car accident, driving up the coast, and has a concussion, which is particularly dangerous given his prior history of brain damage.
So, now John has to figure out why he was driving up the coast, why his birthday is important, and how he can change the recurring vision of Maia dying. He also needs to change the future so that he doesn't actually end up in the hospital.
His visions take him to his birthday party, and his son JJ giving him a present, instructing him to open it later. John pockets it, and forgets about it. Aha! A clue! A clue! John finds out that the gift is a pocket knife. So, this is why the birthday was important.
John ends up on a beach (remember the buried treasure from the beginning of the episode? There is a beach called Treasure Beach and that is where Maia has taken Siena for the day). Now he is Maia, and he tells Siena to hide in a cave, because she hears Cole outside, calling for Siena. Then Maia goes out and confronts Cole (she is Maia now, and not Johnny-As-Maia), and they struggle, and she falls from the rocks. John is right there at the beach at this point, and runs to check on Maia (who has changed into John). Malkovich? Malkovich? Another John appears, this time as Cole, and starts choking John, who is touching Maia. Then, John-as-Desmond appears and jumps on Cole. At this point, the four of them are all touching each other, and John's brain is deprived of oxygen. This is what has caused the vision loop that has kept John jumping from one character to another throughout the episode.
But at this point, John has all of the answers his subconscious (Bruce) has been trying to give him: He now knows that there is a knife in is pocket, so he gets it out, and stabs Cole. It is a small knife; just enough to distract Cole long enough for John to break his hold.
And everybody lives happily ever after. Well, except Cole, who is going to jail. I am not sure why the fall didn't kill Maia when she was dead earlier in the episode, but maybe I missed something?
At any rate, this episode was a lot of fun, because it really was a puzzle as to why John has been having a simultaneous vision loop the entire time, jumping between three different people and sometimes into himself. And the explanation for it was genuinely satisfying: They all end up touching at the end, and John's brain is deprived of oxygen.
The writers and actors obviously had a lot of fun with this episode too: Bruce gets to wear a birthday hat and he gets to be really over the top-- because he isn't Bruce, as he keeps reminding us-- he's John. But really, he is John's ID: He eats birthday cake, he laughs with glee when he and John end up in a mustang, he walks through walls just for fun. Bruce was really the heart of this episode. Sure, there is danger around, and people are in comas, or dying, but hey, let's eat cake and enjoy the mustang too. Beautiful.