Point Pleasant (review)


The Grr in Girl:
Delving into the handbag of devils daughters The Man-Hating-One’s Radical Feminist Sisterhood of Devils Daughters in a Handbag Full of Hate

The writer Keith Topping once described an episode of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ that was written by Marti Noxon as a “handbag full of hate”, apparently identifying radical anti-male feminist propaganda within the storyline. I’ve often wondered what his thoughts on ‘Point Pleasant’ might be.

“The fact of the matter is a woman stands as tall as she makes you think she is. For example, I always thought Marti Noxon was four inches taller than she actually was.”
Joss Whedon: ‘In Focus’ interview 1 August 2005

‘Point Pleasant’ premiered on the Fox network on 19 January 2005. Marti Noxon and John McLaughlin created the show, with Noxon acting as the executive producer. It received generally negative reviews, some of the commentary verging on the savage. Fox cancelled it in March 2005 after eight of the thirteen episodes made had been broadcast.

I hope to concentrate here on the subtext at the heart of the show, the stuff that pushes it beyond straightforward entertainment and turns it into something that is constantly thought provoking. It is, in other words, a show that demands to be watched over and over again.

How much do I like ‘Point Pleasant’? I think it’s bloody brilliant. I will put it in a more forceful way. ‘Point Pleasant’ is every bit as good as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, a show I absolutely adore! This is not in anyway a slight on the Joss Whedon show. It simply expresses how much I like the Marti Noxon show.

At one time I might have been inclined to conclude that ‘The Lonely Hunter’, the fourth ‘Point Pleasant’ episode, was probably the weakest of the thirteen. I absolutely love the opening three episodes, and although I had no problems with this fourth one, it did strike me as being a little flat in some places by comparison, despite several thrilling moments. This might simply have been because it got lost in the middle between my, “Wow, this show is actually really good,” initial impressions, and my subsequent, “Oh my God! This show is fantastic!” exhilaration.

When I first watched ‘The Lonely Hunter’ on television all the stuff that actually might have helped to make sense of the storyline had been removed from it by the TV channel censors. I had to try to fill in the gaps as best as I could.

As an example, and I appreciate that the detail will mean nothing to anyone who has not watched the show, when the hospital physician Dr Forrester is in the confession box he tells the young priest Father Thomas, “I’m seeing signs from God - - - What he wants me to do is unspeakable - - - He keeps telling me that I can serve him… my sickness can be a hammer in his hand. I’ve always thought about hurting girls, but lately it’s different… He’s chosen one.”

Father Thomas: “God would never ask you to do that.”
Dr Forrester: “What kind of a priest are you? I came to you to find strength to do His Will. God… is my council.”

It’s what Forrester says next, something he mumbles immediately before he disappears out of the confession box, that was missing from the edited version shown on television.“God wants mutilation.”

I already thought the confession box scene was creepy and unsettling, but this added a whole new dimension to the creepiness for me.For those who are put off by the concept of belief and the use of any religious imagery in such shows, the only reaction will probably be terror at the thought that the show was delving far too deeply into unconcealed, scary religious concepts. I am not an overtly religious person, but I find the suggestion that “God wants mutilation”, even if it is spoken by an unhinged psychopath, strangely disturbing. It should be remembered that this is a show in which God is a given and deeds are perpetrated at His bidding. The fact that Forrester is a psychopath does not necessarily mean that he is not hearing the actual Word of God.

This, of course, is another reason why I find the show so fascinating – the duality between good and evil represented in very murky and ambiguous terms by God and the Devil.

Moving forward in the episode, Forrester kidnaps a girl, drugging her, trussing her up and holding her captive in the trunk of his car. He confronts Christina (the show’s lead character, the daughter of darkness, played by Elisabeth Harnois) on a dark and lonely back road, where he offers her the girl as a token of his loyalty. He tells her, “I want to make this one hurt… for you.”

This is another line of dialogue that was cut and another decidedly disquieting moment. Talking of which, consider this exchange (that takes place at the beginning of the scene).Forrester: “Up close you look so… lovely.”
Christina: “Stay away from me.”Forrester: “I can’t.”

The creepiness of this moment doesn’t really come across on the page like this, but there is some genuinely dark imagery in the way that Forrester speaks the words, and, indeed, in the episode as a whole.

In a show about the daughter of darkness one would expect moments when it is scary, spooky and evil. What happens in ‘The Lonely Hunter’ is that the whole thing is pervaded by an aura of uneasy, spine-chilling ickiness.

“I can’t deny a darker impulse -- which has something to do with the fact that women have been historically victimised by men only because our physical differences permit it. That Buffy can level the playing field -- or Evil Willow, or Faith -- is, to me, inherently satisfying and erotic. But in a “call my shrink” kind of way.”
Marti Noxon: ‘Break-up Girl’ interview 24 February 2000

This quote could, I think, be related to ‘Point Pleasant’. There are a number of occasions in the show when men are seen to ‘victimise’ women, whether it be in a physically abusive way (for example, Lucas Boyd, the emissary of Satan, choking his girlfriend Holly to death after she has been raped, or nearly choking his business associate Amber Hargrove to death as a “warning” to her) or in a psychological way.

I would identify the pathological jealousy of the local sheriff, Parker Logan, when he sees his wife Sarah talking to another man and the way that the doctor Ben Kramer controls his wife Meg through the use of a cocktail of medication as examples of this.Within this scenario, Christina becomes the Buffy figure, the female who can “level the playing field”, except of course that it isn’t quite as easy as all that.

Episode eight, ‘Swimming with Boyd’, is a good example of what I mean. Christina and Judy Kramer, the younger daughter of Ben and Meg, drug Boyd and hold him captive to interrogate him. It all goes horribly wrong when he breaks free, battering Christina and then grabbing Judy and pushing a knife up under her chin. Turning to Christina, he cruelly taunts her by asking, “Shall I gut her, boss? Should I wear her?”

In one of the shows most disturbing scenes, he forces a panic-stricken, terrified and hysterical Christina to beg him to spare Judy’s life, telling her, “You’re just a teenage girl. You’re scared and you’re weak. You disappoint me.”

Christina Nickson: “Don’t hurt her.”
Lucas Boyd: “Beg me.”
Christina Nickson: “Please… PLEASE!”
Lucas Boyd: “Damn Antichrist begging to save the organ grinder’s monkey. Tell me she’s the one you want. You only get one… Tell me this is the one you want.”
Christina Nickson: “Yes… YES…”
Lucas Boyd: “SAY IT!”
Christina Nickson: “SHE’S THE ONE I WANT!”
Lucas Boyd: “That’s going to be an expensive lesson.”

It is hardly anything new to have a drama exploring violence perpetrated by men against women, but ‘Point Pleasant’ has taken a lead from ‘Buffy’, within a genre that isn’t necessarily the most obvious medium for such things, and is exploring some very important themes (going beyond the simple concept of the ability of the strong to bully the weak). For example, Christina has the power to bring about the apocalypse but chooses to fight against it. She is constantly trying to understand and control a ferociously destructive power (which, I guess, is similar to the storyline involving Willow in the final two seasons of ‘Buffy’).

Everything in ‘Point Pleasant’ points to the power and strength of the female experience in the face of on-going oppression within the strictures of society. It’s apparent in all of the characters and the way in which we as viewers are able to judge them against each other – whether it is Meg and Ben, or Sarah and Parker, or Holly and Boyd. There are lots of little variations on this theme and to make it absolutely clear – there is no hidden man-hating agenda that I can identify, and the female characters do not come away from the show unblemished.

Quite clearly, I am very biased when I watch the show. The first and most important reason why I like ‘Point Pleasant’ so much should be obvious. It’s Marti Noxon. This is the reason I knew about the show in the first place and the reason why I decided to watch it. Let’s assume it was a show created by a person I had never heard of. The premise would still have interested me, but realistically it is much less likely that I would have tuned in.

Is this very subjective reasoning on my part? Well, of course it is. I came to the show wanting to like it and expecting to like it and I wasn’t disappointed. My approach to the show and the way I reacted and responded to what I saw has obviously been influenced beforehand. Having said that, had the show been as appalling as some would have us believe I think I might have noticed and been unbiased enough to admit it.

“You know the darkness is coming; we will turn her towards it! DRAMATIC MUSIC. It just needed a Mwhahahahaha at the end.”
Comment on a posting board: 29 July 2005

I have quoted this sarcastic posting board comment about the show because it is useful to illustrate a point I particularly want to make. The criticism is probably not entirely unjustified. I have to be able to accept that not everyone is going to feel the same way as I do. In fact, I have to accept that very few people feel the same way as I do on this occasion!

The specific comment I have quoted here is really all about interpretation. I would actually agree that this did happen in the show. However, the remark seems to suggest that it was an all-too-frequent feature of the episodes: that this rather simple-minded, clichéd dramatic device is all that ever happened and there was nothing else to back it up or make anything more substantial out of the format.

There is, I have to say, a classic moment in ‘Missing’, the eleventh episode of ‘Point Pleasant’, immediately prior to the opening credits, that almost exactly conforms to what is describes. It’s all about the way a scene has been cut and the use of some stirring music by Robert Duncan (composer of the music for the final season of ‘Buffy’). The point is, in general terms, what some identify as being hackneyed and clichéd, I think is great fun and exactly what the show needs at that particular moment. The difference is that I like the show and they don’t. Therefore, I interpret and respond to specific aspects of it quite differently.

Was ‘Point Pleasant’ consistently hackneyed and did it relentlessly employ join-the-dots clichés? Yes, it does have its clichéd moments and yes it does conform to tried and tested formulas. All TV shows could be accused of this. I will happily accept and ignore the flaws in it. There are standard formats that are employed, even in something as (at the time) groundbreaking as ‘Twin Peaks’ or ‘The X Files’. Joss Whedon employs standard formulas and formats in all of his work. These are the basis of good writing, film and TV making. Without them, everything else falls apart. That’s why Joss Whedon spent four years at Wesleyan studying for a degree in Film Studies. By odd coincidence, Elisabeth Harnois also attended Wesleyan, where she also studied Films Studies. It’s also why Marti Noxon took a degree in Film Studies at UC Santa Cruz.

I appreciate that it’s what you do with the ‘formula’ that’s important. The question becomes whether or not ‘Point Pleasant’ ever managed to rise above the mediocre and clichéd. Many people think it didn’t. In fact, it would seem that they don’t even think it reached the level of mediocrity! This is where I am something of a lonely voice and quite clearly my relentless defence of the show must be viewed with a certain amount of suspicion.

‘Point Pleasant’ does have its occasional by-the-numbers moments. There are imperfections. There are holes in the plot. It sometimes has the feel of a show that is still finding its feet, or a show that is throwing endless ideas into the pot in an effort to stave off the inevitable! I love the show so much that I don’t care about any of this. I came to it wanting to like it and expecting to do so, even after reading the damning criticism it had received, and I was not in any way disappointed. Quite the contrary, actually, because the show turned out to be much better than even I had hoped for.

I am 100% biased and I freely admit that. However, as I have already mentioned, if it really was the appalling catastrophe that has sometimes been claimed, I would like to think that I might have noticed. I don’t think it’s as hackneyed as some have suggested, although I most certainly accept that it isn’t breaking any new ground - unless one counts the introduction of feminist ideology in the subtext as being something worthwhile and still quite unusual, even in these post-‘Buffy’ times.

Maybe it is crap, in which case it’s crap that I really like. I am prepared to accept that. My opinion is undoubtedly prejudiced by my admiration of Marti Noxon, but I still believe the show was never given a fair chance. It’s a pity.

“Where Sarah Michelle Gellar was capable of bottomless reserves of wit, spunk and emotion, her demonic surrogate had nothing beyond a peachy complexion.”
Jonathan Bernstein: Aerial View From America (The Guardian) 16 July 2005

Elisabeth Harnois came in for quite a lot of stick. I guess that is to be expected. As the star of the show, she was always going to be the focus of attention.I had not previously seen Elisabeth Harnois in anything apart from ‘Point Pleasant’, so I could only judge her acting based on that one role. I actually have absolutely no idea if her acting is any good or not. I can understand why some people didn’t like her performance. All I can say is that, having watched the various episodes of ‘Point Pleasant’ several times, her acting works perfectly well for me in capturing what happens to Christina, her growing realisation of what she is and the changes this brings about in her. I have also subsequently seen her in the film ‘Pretty Persuasion’ and she is excellent in that.

When she is in ‘moo–eyes’ mode in the early episodes she is so cutesy-sweet that too much exposure to her would probably to rot your teeth. I have no problems with this, but I can understand how it might irritate some viewers. When the darkness inside her starts to manifest she is superb. She’s very good at projecting Christina’s growing awareness of (and subsequent ability – and occasional inability - to control) this power, as well as the increasing danger and likelihood that it will consume her. She is also tremendous at portraying overwrought emotion. This is where she is at her very best.

By way of an example, there is a scene in ‘Who’s Your Daddy’, the show’s third episode, in which Christina is cast adrift by the man she always believed was her father. She is all gangly and awkward and she is devastated because of the hopelessness and betrayal and utter despair she feels. I defy anyone to watch the scene and then tell me that Harnois can’t act.

Christina Nickson: “You have to help me! I need you to tell me what I am. I need you to be my father!”
Kingston Nickson: “I can’t. I can’t be that for you. That’s what I came to tell you… You need to grow up now… Chris, don’t fight it. You’ll get hurt. Lots of people will if you try to stop it.”
Christina Nickson: “No! You can’t just kick me out of your life.”
Kingston Nickson: “You’ll never want for money. I’ve taken care of that.”
Christina Nickson: “I don’t want your money!”
Kingston Nickson: “It’s the only thing I can give you.”
Christina Nickson: “Daddy, please!”
Kingston Nickson: “I’m sorry.”

The show is so bloody brilliant and it really does mystify me why so few people could see that. Oh well.

The show has very definite feminist leanings, even if these are not necessarily always apparent on the surface. The conversations between Lucas Boyd and Kingston Nickson, Christina’s surrogate father, in the first two episodes make it fairly obvious where the show is headed.

Lucas Boyd: “She’s the child of darkness, and she’s under His protection now. She’s His daughter.”
Kingston Nickson: “She’s also the daughter of a woman. That means she has a choice. And she takes after her mother… always has. She’ll never be what you want her to be, not as long as she has that good heart.”
Lucas Boyd: “Which is precisely why you have to let her go… see how long that good heart survives. Let the world have its way with her. Once it does I can guarantee you she will bring it to its knees.”

Lucas Boyd: “Do you have any idea how many signs and texts name that sleepy town as the greatest coming of evil since the Angels fell from Heaven? No, that place is her training ground. And then… we’ll unleash her on the rest of the world.”
Kingston Nickson: “You never told me that.”
Lucas Boyd: “Because her real father calls the shots… and I answer to him.”
Kingston Nickson: “These signs… did they say anything about Christina’s mother?”
Lucas Boyd: “Her mother was an innocent God-fearing… whatever. It’s unimportant. She’ll take after her father, I guarantee it.”
Kingston Nickson: “How has Christina shut out the darkness in her life all these years? There is something pure in her. If she finds Anne… really finds faith…”
Lucas Boyd: “Then we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Clearly, we can take it that Nickson is suggesting that if Christina (the daughter of the Devil) follows in the footsteps of her mother and finds faith in God it will give her the strength she needs to fight against her destiny and the evil contained within her. In the episodes that follow, Father Thomas says much the same thing. He tells her, “Talk to God. Don’t shut him out.” He also claims to have felt the presence of God inside Christina. This works perfectly well as it is and makes a lot of sense. What I have been struggling to try to reconcile is how Marti Noxon was dealing with the theme of belief in God (and the religious overtones this generates in the show) in relation to the clear feminist message.

It has occurred to me that the two things are running in parallel and don’t necessarily need to be (strictly) equated together to make them work. In fact, when reference is made to “faith” this could actually be interpreted as meaning “feminism” or “the strength of the female experience”. In other words, when Kingston Nickson says, “If she finds Anne… really finds faith…” we might take this to mean if Christina is able to locate her mother and draw on the strength of (the female) community and experience, it will allow her to break free of the shackles of the patriarchal authority she has known all of her life.

To lend some support to this, consider what Boyd says in the episode ‘Swimming With Boyd’:

Lucas Boyd: “You may not have had a mother to love you, but you had plenty of fathers – and we wanted the world for you.”
Christina Nickson: “Then you must know where she is.”
Lucas Boyd: “No. We used her and then we walked away. Sad, I know. You girls and your babbling mothers!”

I tend to concentrate on Christina when trying to explain my interpretation of the subtext, but as way of a change of pace, I’ll take a look at Meg and Ben, and the ‘Stepford Wives’ storyline.The Kramer family, Dr Ben Kramer, his wife Meg and daughter Judy, live in a big house next to the beach. When Jesse Logan, the son of Sarah and Parker, pulls Christina out of the sea during the freak storm the roads are flooded and treacherous, preventing him from getting her to the hospital. Therefore, he takes her to Dr Kramer. Christina ends up staying with the Kramer family.

The family suffered a tragedy two years earlier when the eldest sister Isobel died in a “surfing accident”. Since then they have become trapped in a state of ennui. Meg has shut down completely. Having suffered from severe hallucinations immediately following the death, she is now kept stable by a constant diet of medication. This maintains her emotions in a very passive, but also largely inoperative, state. Judy is something of a loner who dreams of getting out of Point Pleasant when she graduates. One of the Alpha Girls describes her as a “loser”. Christina quickly becomes Judy’s best friend. She also becomes a focus for Meg, who stops taking her medication, pouring her various pills down the garbage disposal, much to Ben’s concern.

At first, everything seems to be okay. Meg begins to involve herself in social activities and there is a marked improvement in her general state of mind. However, she also begins to have the “hallucinations” again. Eventually, of course, Meg realises what Christina is and she also realises that the hallucinations are real. They are warnings from Isobel about what is going to happen. Judy also discovers the truth about Christina. Ben is the only person who is unable to see what is happening around him, and he clings onto the notion that Meg is sick. At first he simply persuades her to go back on the medication. However, at the end of the eleventh episode, ‘Missing’, just when Christina really needs her, Ben has Meg forcibly dragged out of the house, to be taken to the psychiatric ward at the local hospital. It’s a fairly harrowing scene, with Judy screaming and trying to pull her mom away from Ben and the doctor who has come to the house to assist him. It’s not exactly a happy family moment.

This all sounds fairly straightforward. However, there are complications to take into account and the main thing to bear in mind is that Ben is acting out of genuine concern, not through some perverse desire to control his wife, although clearly this is what the subtext is suggesting he is doing.Everything goes back to the death of Isobel. She did not die in a surfing accident. She committed suicide. She also left a suicide note, in the form of a video.

“Hi, daddy… mom… Jude. I’m making you this tape because… I’m going to die today. Please know that this is what I want. I’ve seen what’s coming… for all of us. I know what’s going to happen and… I can’t be here. I’m not strong enough. I won’t feel any pain, so… I hope that brings you some comfort… Please don’t be mad at me… I love you.”

It isn’t, as such, important to the point I am trying to make here to mention that the video cannot be destroyed. The point is; Ben keeps the video a secret. He has also kept the truth about Isobel’s death a secret. He blames himself for not seeing the symptoms of Isobel’s “mental illness” soon enough to save her. Subsequently, he has observed the same behaviour in Meg (the hallucinations, for example) and he is determined not to make the same mistake again. He does this out of love, but he is actually causing Meg serious harm through his actions.

Meg comes into possession of the video and she realises what Ben has done. He tries to explain his motivation for his actions.

Meg Kramer: “Ben, Isobel made that tape for you. She was trying to show you what I can already see.”
Ben Kramer: “Isobel was sick! Like you are sick!”
Meg Kramer: “Stop it!”
Ben Kramer: “That’s what you should be getting from the tape. That’s why she killed herself. We didn’t know in time. I didn’t see it. I didn’t get her the treatment that could have helped. I’m not going to let that happen to you.”

This is what I love about the show. It is not just a case of showing us a one-dimensional depiction of a husband controlling his wife in some psychological manner. Consider what is happening to Ben and how he is being eaten away inside by his conviction that he should have been able to save his daughter. In a genre show of this type it is quite unusual to do something like this. That’s why I think ‘Point Pleasant’ is comparable to ‘Buffy’, because it has learned lessons from that show.

Ben makes his decision to take action to have Meg committed when he becomes concerned that she is starting to convince Judy to believe her delusions. He tries to explain to Judy that he is worried.

Ben Kramer: “Judy, can I talk to you a second?”
Judy Kramer: “Sure.”
Ben Kramer: “Sweetie… your mom’s getting worse. She needs some help.”
Judy Kramer: “Actually, I think she’s doing a lot better.”
Ben Kramer: “I know how tough this must be on you. She’s your mom… and it must be really hard to let yourself believe that something’s really wrong.”
Judy Kramer: “Maybe you should listen to her for a change, instead of just shutting her down.”
Ben Kramer: “Judy… what she’s saying…”
Judy Kramer: “MOM’S NOT CRAZY! OKAY?”

It’s a great storyline that fits in perfectly with the supernatural theme of the show and the way the narrative is being developed. It also allows for some interesting sub-textual interpretations that fit in nicely with other apparent clues in the storyline.



lince said...

It is curious how many parallels can be found between "Point Pleasant" and von Trier's movie "Dogville". In "Dogville", young girl arrives to a small town, trying to hide from her father, a mafia boss. When the information about her origins and the situation she is in leaks, despite all her efforts people's attitude towards her starts slowly changing for worse, ultimately bringing the worst of human nature out of them. Finally, she is reunited with her father and the town suffers, with her full approval.

alienlanes said...

I’ve not seen ‘Dogville’, but now I am intrigued and have added it to my DVD list.