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Fear Itself: Family Man

by Jason Hughes, posted Jun 20th 2008 1:08AM
Fear Itself: Family Man
Nope, this isn't Eureka, and that isn't the friendly Sheriff Carter up there. But it is Eureka's Colin Ferguson, and with Clifton Collins Jr. he has created a truly chilling installment in NBC's increasingly "must see" horror anthology Fear Itself. Well, much of the credit to the success of this episode belongs at the feet of Dan Knauf, who proved himself an absolute master of the macabre with his darkly brilliant HBO series Carnivále. He's also been a writer for Supernatural, so this stuff is clearly old hat for him.

And I'm pleased to say that the "old pro" really came through with "Family Man." Easily the best episode of the young season so far and one of the best stand-alone hours of any anthology series I think I've ever seen. Ferguson, who we've come to know and love for playing the nice guy really shines here. And due to the complexity of the story, both he and Collins get a real chance to flex their acting muscles to brilliant effect. From the chilling scenes at home to the overwhelming drama in the prison, each moment propelled the story forward. The only thing that blows me away is that director Ronny Yu, who does wonderfully here, has Freddy vs. Jason and Bride of Chucky as his horror directing pedigree.

I'll admit there have been times in my life that I've wondered what it must be like to be falsely accused of something you had nothing to do with and wind up in prison or worse. Let's face it, it really does happen to people. And as a family man myself, the thought of being ripped away from my wife and son and forced to face the unimaginable is a real, if highly unlikely, fear. Knauf takes this notion and mixes it with a healthy dose of Freaky Friday minus the Lohan and Curtis (or Foster and Harris if you'd rather). The result is a tour de force of not supernatural horror, though it was the catalyst, but an internal and psychological terror.

Knauf proved himself a veritable genius when it comes to complex relationships and emotional turmoil with the expanded cast of Carnivale. (Note to HBO: I still haven't forgiven you for cutting Knauf's vision short there.) (Note to Knauf: Go back to your idea of finishing the story in comic book format. Tons of other shows are doing it (*cough*Buffy/Angel*cough*) and your story deserves proper closure!). And here he is with one hour, minus commercials, fleshing out these two mix-n-matched guys so completely that you feel the frustration of Dennis Mahoney (Ferguson), and the horror he feels when he realizes that the serial killer whose body he inhabits, Richard Brautigan (Collins) is alive, free and well and living his life with his family in his body.

What I didn't expect was the struggle that Knauf would build into the character of Richard Brautigan. After he inhabits Dennis Mahoney's body and starts to try and live his life, he finds it difficult to give up his homicidal compulsions. It would have been so easy to just have him be a psychopath through and through, but it seemed as if he was genuinely thinking that maybe this was a new chance for him to stop being a murderer. To get away scot-free with all his killings and move on to a new chapter in his life. But it just wasn't as easy as all of that.

His unraveling of concern about his new family, when he unloaded on his "wife" about how easily the kids could be taken from them showed that he really wanted to make this new life work. He was struggling mightily with his internal demons. Ferguson masterfully plays his slow unraveling, and the scenes between him and Collins throughout so beautifully show his slow deterioration. And you can tell in Collins portrayal that he can see the inevitable looming.

I can't really say enough about the strength of the acting on the part of both actors. They completely sold their various characters and helped creating the escalating terror throughout the hour. And even though, we may have seen the ultimate ending coming, I'll admit that I hadn't fully thought through the ultimate result of what could happen to Mahoney even after he does reclaim his own body and life. That was a classic horror ending.

  • The show opened with a disclaimer that the following program contains scenes of an intense nature, followed immediately by a shot of a church with the congregation singing "Amazing Grace." Religion is intense, man!
  • I loved seeing Chris Burke (Corky from Life Goes On) but man did he have no real part at all.
  • I kept expecting to see Melinda Gordon from Ghost Whisperer during the hospital sequence at the beginning when both Brautigan and Mahoney were wandering around as displaced spirits.
  • Are prisoners really as abused as Brautigan was by the guards in prison? I get that he was a murderer of innocent women and children, which doesn't go over well, but I'm sure such abuses are technically against prisoner policy. It makes sense, for those reasons, why he appeared to be completely isolated from the other inmates.
  • Wouldn't there be a conflict of interest with the officer who's fiance Brautigan murdered. Surely he wouldn't really be assigned to guard him. That'd be like hiring a prosecuting attorney who's daughter he murdered to try his case. Or worse, defend him.
  • Do they sing "Amazing Grace" every week at church? There are a lot of songs in most hymnals they could sample from.
  • I love the parking lot scene for showing Brautigan that he can't control everything the way he wants to, and the dinner sequence for showing the climax of his ultimate collapse with such subtlety and tension.
Which actor's performance did you like best?
Colin Ferguson63 (69.2%)
Clifton Collins Jr.28 (30.8%)

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I hated, hated, hated this episode. This sort of script is what you get when you want to achieve a particular tone, but can't think of anything interesting to say, or any reason why the things in your story are happening. Tone is not enough for me, if I want an aimless ominous tone I'll just listen to a David Lynch CD.

June 27 2008 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did they ever explain why Brautigan didn't feel any pain when the guard hit him for the first time? That seemed a little unusual. Also I was disappointed that the ice cream in the pancakes never came back up.

June 21 2008 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cody's comment

Me too! I do like however how the "good" guy doesn't win in these episodes.

June 27 2008 at 2:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fantastic episode from a SUPERB writer! i haven't watched any other episode of this series, but i had to watch this one for mr. knauf's great style and the guy from one of my favorite shows, colin ferguson from eureka. great episode w/ a great ending!

June 20 2008 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That was great. It seems to be hitting it's stride. I hope it continues.

June 20 2008 at 11:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Vincent J. Murphy

The preview for next week also has some interesting casting, with actors from Psych playing a couple. :)

June 20 2008 at 10:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hollywood Ron

If you haven't seen Fearless or The Bride with White Hair, you really ought to check it out. This has been the best episode so far for me, and it was the one I was most looking forward to, because Ronny Yu's HK work is brilliant.

June 20 2008 at 2:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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