Are You Afraid of the Dark? 1.3 — “The Tale of the Lonely Ghost
Troy and Erin are back with another review and recap!
David literally bumps into Kristen on the way to the Midnight Society meeting, then gives her a gift in a way this is super awkward but also pretty sweet. He then tells a story about a love so strong it can survive anything. Even…death!!!
Amanda’s parents ditch her at her flighty aunt’s house for the summer, and she’s forced to share a room with her terrible snot of a cousin, Beth, who happens to have a rather unsettling nanny. Beth tells Amanda that if she wants to hang with her and her super-cool friends for the summer, she needs to be initiated by spending a night in the haunted house next door. Amanda reluctantly agrees, and encounters the ghost of a little girl looking for her mother. Turns out her mom is—you guessed it—Beth’s nanny. Amanda reunites the two of them, saves Beth from being trapped in a ghostly mirror-world, and becomes the new leader of Beth’s posse.
E: David is so…cute? I feel like his interaction with Kristen is one of those things that looks adorable and genuine on TV, especially through the haze of nostalgia, but would probably come off as creepy in real life. But the kid can tell a decent story.
T: It’s total middle school crush material. I’d like to think it comes off as genuine, although when you take a step back, it’s creeper stalker territory. Kristen’s sketched out he knows her b-day is next week, 'cause remember, they don’t know each other outside of this. Way to be a stalker, lonely, quiet David… - oh, and how about don’t touch a girl’s shoulder when she’s not looking? Kristen demonstrates wonderful poise around him. It is fun to dig around his psyche for a week. David is much more confident as a storyteller than he is as a human being, but aren’t we all?
T: At least David’s plan works. He wrote a whole story around a locket he wanted to give Kristen, and then she kisses him on the cheek. David’s the man!
E: In the context of a dated TV show, yes, David’s the man. *slow clap*
T: I love that they’ve kept Eric as a total pitbull, ready to throw down against Frank, who would clearly pulverize him. And is it me, or is Eric always next to Kiki? Are they secret BFFs? Would that be the perfect spin-off show?
E: Grownup Eric and Kiki should totally make a podcast!
T: I’d fangirl over that podcast so hard.
E: My god, isn’t Beth the literal worst? We’ve got a classic mean girl on our hands, complete with poofy bangs and a side ponytail. Though I have to concede two things. One, Amanda’s outfit really is heinous. Like, why is she dressed like a middle-aged accountant? And, two, I love that she calls Amanda a zeeb. It’s a callback to the last episode, right?
T: Yes, Beth is a psycho ageist, and so much more, but the character is supposed to be irritating, so it works. I kind of love her roller skating in a big yellow raincoat. She’s like an annoying ginger Jubilee. Yaaasssss! Zeeb is the first callback to a previous story, and I love that they occasionally include these little bits. It’s not overdone and you have to pay attention to catch them, but I assume zeeb is a reference to Zeebo the clown. Like, in the early '90s, I’m pretty sure Canadian teens weren’t really calling each other zeebs. Bozos are to Bozo the Clown like zeebs are to Zeebo the Clown, right? I was a little iffy about Amanda until she asks, “How does one prove they’re not a zeeb?” Not like that, kid.
T: I will say, as complete as this story feels, David stumbles early on for me. Amanda’s parents are “some kind of scientists.” Um, what? You know who else is some kind of scientist? Dr. Vink! That said, David wins me over by having Amanda move not into, but next to, a haunted house. It’s a classic set-up and just different enough so it doesn’t feel like I’ve seen it a thousand times.
E: Yes, everything relating to the parents and why Amanda is spending the summer with the aunt is weirdly vague. I didn’t make the Dr. Vink connection – so funny!
E: I was getting some serious “Micha Barton in The Sixth Sense” vibes from the child ghost. Totally solid creepy-dead-kid depiction here. But, damn, the ending is pretty messed up, right? Does the nanny actually die so she can go live with her dead kid in the mirror? I don’t know how to feel about that.
T: It’s so ambiguous in a great way! Is the mirror a gateway to the afterlife or its own dimension? How true is the ghost story the girl gang tells Amanda? There’s a lot left open to the viewer’s interpretation and some of the possibilities are pretty damn dark.
T: You have to give Amanda props for figuring out EM PLEH immediately. It takes the Torrences months to look at REDRUM in the mirror. Also, it plays as a plot device – forcing the girls to return to the house to scrub off the writing.
E: Fair point, but in defense of the Torrences, REDRUM sounds like it could be a drink. Like, “Hey, would you like to try our new REDRUM martini?”
T: I love the break with the Midnight Society because the kids are so invested, and Eric tries to mansplain the plot to Frank, who later carries him away in a headlock, offering to buy him a soda. It’s super random but endearing.
QUEER OR NOT?
E: I didn’t catch anything blatantly queer, but there’s always something inherently queer about girl gangs, right? Like, don’t they fall somewhere on Adrienne Rich’s lesbian continuum?
T: I think so. There are nine characters seen on screen in the story itself. Barring the one shot of a dude helping Nanny into her taxi, they’re all female. It’s rare to find an all-girl story and they told this one well. Typically, you’d expect something where Amanda moves in with her cousin and they fight over the cute boy next door or something, but instead it’s for dominance in their girl gang. Also, let’s not discount the fact that Beth is literally trapped in a closet.
E: LOLOL. For about two seconds I was tempted to make an R. Kelley reference but yeeesh. Nope.
T: Also, David’s whole thang feels a little queer. There’s not much time to spend on the Midnight Society storylines, so they have to be painted in broad strokes, and David is the archetypal shy, quiet, romantic boy. Obviously he’s engaging in in a heterosexual crush, but that non-threatening (unless you count stalking) archetype usually veers into queer territory, especially how he uses the pageantry of his story to give a present to his crush. I can all too easily picture “sensitive” boys in the early '90s identifying with him.
E: Pageantry for the win!
MODERNIZE ’90s CANADIAN KIDS
E: All this cousin-inflicted bullying and perpetuation of local legends would undoubtedly have some sort of online component if the story were updated. I also think Aunt Dottie is just too weird for modern TV. She’s so flighty that it seems like something is legitimately wrong with her, but that aspect of the story is never fully explored, beyond the fact that her daughter is a next-level bitch.
T: I ADORE Aunt Dottie. She’s kind of a bitch in her own right (“I wish she [Nanny] had a place to go!”) and of course the name feels flighty. She reminds me a bit of Aunt Martha from Sleepaway Camp. Having her be the realtor is a brilliant housekeeping decision – we get all the creepy house information early on and it makes sense the cousins are forced to clean up.
T: Speaking of Canadians, is it me or does Nathaniel Moreau (David) have the thickest Canadian accent of the group? His “sorry” is great.
E: People always make a big fuss over “aboot,” but the truth is the Canuck accent shines most brightly in the words “sorry” and “tomorrow.”
TRIVIA, USELESS TRIVIA
E: This is the first episode in which Gary uses his catchphrase—“I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed.”
T: And he’s a total boss with it. It gives weight to the idea that this is a real organization with a history. I’m pretty sure this story is based off an old urban legend about spending a night in a haunted house. This was written for posterity in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. A fraternity sends freshmen into a haunted house to spend the night as a hazing ritual. They genderswapped the group to a girl gang, but the basic premise holds true.
JUST GIVE IT A NUMERICAL RATING ALREADY
E: This one’s got both classic girl-on-girl bullying and horror tropes with a fresh spin. Plus a happy(ish?) ending and a totes adorbs Midnight Society meet-cute. 8 OUT OF 10CAMPFIRES.
T: This one is harder for me, and I agree with your points, but it doesn’t quite hit the horror beats I’d prefer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with David’s inaugural story, but there are too few memorable moments. I feel like 6 is way too low and 7 is a touch too high. I fully acknowledge that I may regret this later, but I’ll give this 6.8 OUT OF 10 CAMPFIRES. I regret it already.