Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tales from the Darkside: Lifebomb

"Lifebomb" is an episode of Tales from the Darkside that really could have used a more devilish touch. A CEO working himself to death receives an offer from a mysterious salesman he can't refuse: immortality.

Bill Macy plays the CEO, Ben Martin, and he gives the character more complexity than would be expected from one of these stories. True, he neglects his wife and is rather callous when talking with his assistant about an ongoing lawsuit involving the families of miners killed in an accident (he complains that they knew the risk when they took the job), but he's not a ranting, cackling fiend. He knows his job is killing him, but he has two sons in college, a wife he loves to support, and he notes that the company is going through a difficult financial period (though the latter is never really evidenced and we never meet the sons).

That's why he eventually accepts the offer from salesman Henry Harris. His device, the Lifebomb, will keep him alive through anything, and it won't cost him any money. I fully expected it would cost him his soul, but Harris later explains the insurance companies pay for the device because it's cheaper to pay for this device that will keep him alive rather than pay out millions to his family if he croaks.

That's a neat explanation; it contains a ruthless, business logic, and it's also a nice touch when Harris discusses the other types of clients the Lifebomb has, and Martin notes its' a "who's who" of Fortune 500 CEOs and executives. Yes, you can stay alive and protect your family if you have the clout and money to do so. The downside being, after your wife leaves you and everything around you just starts falling apart and you wish for it all to end, the company and its device will keep you alive indefinitely.

The episode main failing is the Lifebomb itself. Before it activates, it's a bulky plastic box that looks awkwardly duct-taped to Martin's back. When deployed, the episode employs stop-motion animation to show this red cocoon encasing him (one time, all other occurrences happen off screen). Both stages just look lame and cheap.

Also, the ending, in which Martin realizes the device won't let him die, needs a bigger punch. Harris explains the situation, and Martin weeps in his hospital bed, It needs something visceral, a jolting realization of the truth on Martin's part. This is just too low key and static. Maybe Martin finds himself trapped in the device, unable to get out, unable to die, buried alive forever, and his wife, not knowing he's inside it, can have it dumped in the garbage That would have been creepy and ironic.

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