“Women can be trouble in a place like this”
WHAT IS IT?
It stars legendary character actor/Cabin Boy costar Brion James as the maniac lumberjack Steve Dixon. Opposite him are Blame It On Rio’s naked Michelle Johnson and unremarkable pretty boy Billy Wirth. The script is written by Richard Christian Matheson, a TV writer named for his more famous father. And directing is ironic legend Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy has shifted into being a for hire director, mostly doing TV movies and episodic shows (he directed half a dozen for that new Teen Wolf show on MTV), but back in the day, he made Ricochet and Highlander.
HOW IS IT?
Ugly, toxic, wildly misogynistic, and all the better for it. I wouldn’t exactly call Season Three experimental, but there have been more unusual and/or stylistic homage episodes than have been seen in previous seasons. Split Second goes the opposite direction, aiming the ball with pinpoint accuracy right over the Tales from the Crypt sweet spot. It resembles nothing so much as an old EC horror comic brought to exacting life, appealing directly to the basest impulses of your average twelve year old boy, especially in its portrayal of women and its gratuitous, pulpy logic in regards to human behavior and eye for an eye justice. This might well be the Proto-Crypt episode, one that demonstrates the themes and general world view of the entire series.
Despite his top billing and cult cache, Brion James is not the central character here. That would be Michelle Johnson’s Liz, a manipulative hillbilly femme fatale, who narrates the story, kind of like Iago, minus wit or charm. Liz is a selfish slutty waitress, stuck working a roadhouse bar somewhere in the great white north (or northern California, perhaps). When a jilted logger gets a bit rough with her, disgruntled mountain man Steve Dixon (James) steps in, Bowie knife in hand, and saves the day. Thus begins their whirlwind courtship, culminating in an impromptu wedding. Brion James does what he does best here: yell, sweat, grunt, threaten, and make everyone uncomfortable, and while Johnson isn’t the most talented actress, she’s got a unique look and she’s totally game for this ghastly character.
Steve is the boss of a logging crew living out in the hills, and he drags Liz out there to live, where they pass the time rutting (“He made love like a mountain man, which I liked,” coos the voice over). Steve runs a team of colorful blue collar types, many of whom have had previously nailed Liz, which makes the whole situation a terrible fit, especially with Steve’s psychotic jealousy. It’s not long before she’s slutting around in revealing clothes, making Steve’s pea brain pop with sexual insecurity, and he’s beating ass almost immediately. Liz, for her part, delivers voice overs about how easy men are to seduce, how bored fidelity makes her, and how many members of the logging team she’s sucked off.
Into this barely functional cesspool of assholes comes Ted, a hot young logger stud looking for work. He’s hired on, mostly to compete in some wood chopping contest everyone is focused on, and Liz starts scheming to manipulate everyone sexually. Despite a hilarious scene where Ted’s efficient log cutting makes her weak with rapturous orgasms, Liz makes it pretty clear in the voice overs that her main attraction is the chance to fuck everyone’s shit up, and employs a bunch of tawdry boob-flashing antics to nail Ted. Ted does his level best, but it’s only a matter of time before he succumbs to her sireny honeypot trap. This tryst is timed perfectly for Steve to find them, at which point Liz, like any good insanely sexist caricature, screams rape. So Steve beats Ted with the dull side of an axe, leaving him blind.
Thus deprived of their rinky-dink wood chopping ringer, the blue collar logging buddies engage in a bit of, uh, forest justice. They train blind Ted to operate a chainsaw, encase Steve and Liz in tree trunks, and set him loose on them. It’s a strong ending, and the right one for such a sleazy and exploitive episode. What’s more, it’s got one a great Twilight Zone-y trope from the comic that’s been largely underutilized in the series: every single character is a total psychotic freak, just itching to act as a instrument of vengeance. One guy beating another guy over a woman is the sort of thing that happens in real life; a whole crew of dudes hollowing out five feet of freestanding tree trunk, sealing people inside, and tricking a blind guy to rip them to bloody chainsaw shreds while they stand in a tight circle hooting is batshit insane, the sort of thing that happens in Nicolas Cage films. And it’s also awesome.
DOES IT HATE WOMEN?
It hates women more than anything. This one goes way out on a crazy limb, making it abundantly clear that A) Steve was a decent, trustworthy guy before this crazy bitch got her claws in him, that B) Liz had no particular feelings for Ted or grievances with Steve, and was doing everything out of sheer bored malice, and that C) she’s a gigantic cock-loving slut, and probably a literal whore. Weirdly, this makes the whole episode better. By taking such a strong lunatic position, Split Second reminds you who the intended audience was, preteen boys, and as much as they might want to see the hot chick naked, there’s also a subconscious desire to see her punished for having the prohibitive upper hand when it comes to sexual power. In capitulating so completely to this instinct, Split Second demands it be noticed, and reacted to. There’s no way not to have an opinion about this episode.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
*The voice over is really a laugh riot. When Liz isn’t engaged in venomous plotting or anti-male diatribes, she’s throwing out non-sequiturs about America or obsessing over the torments of boredom. It doesn’t help tell the story, but damned if it doesn’t make clear how fucking horrible women are.
*Super-Producer Joel Silver cameos in the Crypt Keeper segment as a producer, tied up and about to be vivisected. Silver is believably panicked!
WORST CRYPT KEEPER JOKE:
“It’s my producer’s birthday. He always wanted final cut, and that’s exactly what he’s getting!”
For me, this episode features two milestones: it’s the most misogynistic episode yet, and Brion James gives the craziest performance we’ve seen yet. Seriously, pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth is accompanied by bursts of flame and steam coming out of his ears. Over-acting doesn’t begin to describe it. Luckily, it’s just the sort of thing this episode needs. If it weren’t so incredibly nasty and exploitative (when Liz finally has sex with Steve, she’s practically raping him) it could have easily come off as dull, more soft-core porn than Crypt. So sure, the pieces don’t necessarily fit, but it’s a very enjoyable episode anyway. And the climax is really fantastic.