Friday, July 11, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: In the Cards

The best stories about predicting the future, I find, are the ones in which the prophecy occurs in an unexpected manner. MacBeth is told by the Weird Sisters he won't be defeated by one of woman born, so he is stunned to learn that MacDuff was "from his mother's womb untimely ripped." Or for a more recent example, Demi Moore plays a gold digger in a Tales from the Crypt episode in which she marries a morbidly obese man after being told he will inherit a fortune and then die a horribly violent death; however, when she ends up coming into some money and tries to leave him, he jealously kills her, inherits her fortune as a result, and is put down in the electric chair.

"In Cards" also deals with terrible predictions, but unfortunately, the episode itself is terribly predictable. It's one of those tempting fate stories in which a phony purveyor of the supernatural encounters the real thing and ultimately is destroyed by it, which has potential for a fun story, but the execution is rather humdrum. The predictions are all the same (death), so there's no joy or curiosity in seeing how the predictions will pan out, and the characters are boring; no one is deliciously nasty enough to be compelling or sympathetic enough to root for.

Dorothy Lyman plays Catherine, a fraudulent Tarot Card reader who always gives customers happy readings. One day, an old woman, Marlena (Carmen Matthews), arrives for a reading, but after getting it, she switches the deck of cards with an identical set when Catherine isn't looking. The new cards possess a genuine power at foretelling the future; the problem is the prediction is always death. Frightened by the experience, Catherine tries to figure out how to get rid of the cursed deck.

The interesting spin on this story is the notion that Marlena herself is revealed to be a competing psychic who tries to sabotage Catherine with the cursed cards because she doesn't respect the magic and is drawing away her clientele. Psychics as competing business owners might have made for some interesting satire or at least allowed for some variation of conflict, but no, once Catherine learns who Marlena is, she confronts her and learns that the cursed has been passed onto and the only way to get rid of it is to pass the cards onto someone else (which reminds me of Drag Me to Hell).

This is the point where a sympathetic protagonist would have a crisis of conscious: bare this burden or dump it onto someone. The episode doesn't address what would happen if Catherine keeps the cards but doesn't use them; there are attempts by her to get rid of the cards by throwing them away and burning them, but they always turn up just fine, no worse for wear. She might not be able to get rid of them, but that doesn't mean she has to keep giving predictions.

So, without a moment's thought, Catherine dumps the cards on another psychic by pretending to be a customer looking for a reading, but like an idiot, she doesn't wait until a reading is given with the normal deck, so she walks out of the shop and is immediately stabbed by a mugger. The end. Nothing to see here folks.

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