Monday, June 30, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: The Word Processor of the Gods

At one point during "The Word Processor of the Gods," after our main character, struggling writer Richard Hagstrom (Bruce Davison), discovers that the word processor his late nephew made for him has the power to make real whatever he types, he punches into it that he has ideas for ten best-selling books. Then, he says what the hell and makes it twenty.

Considering this episode of Tales from the Darkside is based on a story by Stephen King, I wonder if that is the secret of King's success. He's been writing best-sellers for decades now, his works has inspired and continues to be the basis of countless films and television shows (Den of Geek lists more than twenty movies and TV shows in various stages of development, including new version of It, Pet Sematary, and The Stand), and he shows no sign of slowing down, even after a few announcements of retirement some years back. After all, once he uses up those twenty ideas, he could just as easily type that he has ideas for twenty more.

"The Word Processor of the Gods" plays like the first act of a feature-length movie; it's fun while it lasts, but it ends before it really gets a chance to explore its premise. When the episode begins, we meet Richard and learn quickly all the facts we need to know: he wants to be a successful writer, his son is lazy and disruptive, his wife makes Peg Bundy look like a model homemaker, and his brother, sister-in-law Belinda, and nephew Jonathan have just died in a car accident. Significantly, Richard was in love with Belinda and considered Jonathan more of a son than his actual son while his brother was a violent drunk who got them all killed in a car accident.

Through this word processor, Richard is able to alter reality to his wishes and delete what he considers negative. Out goes the son who's guitar playing blows out the fuse box; out goes the nagging wife who drinks wine and eats bon bons at the kitchen table and declares she's the breadwinner in the family because she plays Bingo on Thursdays. So it's understandable that he would at least be tempted to write a new reality in which Belinda is his wife and Jonathan is his son.

Unfortunately, once Richard actually does this, racing to do so before his word processor completely breaks down, the episode ends. It's one of the few in the run of the show to end on a seemingly happy note, but does it actually? Sure, Richard's original son and wife were annoying, selfish, and domineering, but they were his family. What right does Richard have to erase them from ever existing? That could be considered murder.

There are other questions or at least story possibilities the episode does not explore. With this kind of power, wouldn't it eventually drive anyone just a little bit crazy? Should anyone be trusted with the ability to control and alter reality? I can complications arising if an evil person got a hold of it or hell even Richard's wife. And what are the larger ramifications of the changes? Sure, people disappear from photographs when they're deleted, but what about the world at large? Take Richard's son. Wouldn't preventing him from ever existing radically alter the course of Richard's life; Richard probably spent a good deal of his time raising the boy, taking him to school, dealing with his problems, etc. That would leave blank spaces in his own life. "The Word Processor of the Gods" ends before it addresses any of the hard questions.

Still, Davison is pretty good, convincingly meek and good-hearted, even though his actions are rather questionable. I haven't read King's original story, so I don't if this is a faithful adaptation, a condensation, or what other changes might have been made. I enjoyed the episode while it lasted but wanted more. I would love to see new version that expands on the idea here.

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