Flashbacks gave Alex depth
Creepy/ campy face melting
Fun, focused storytelling
Numerous supporting characters still lack depth
Logic gaps throughout
Blackmailing a dry cleaner? Really?
Dead of Summer Steps Up Its Game By Highlighting A Cold War Kid That Takes What He Wants
In its sophomore outing, Dead of Summer shifted its focus to the immigrant story of Alex (Alexei) Powell. As we flashed back to his troubled past, Amy and Blotter discovered in the present how that history has shaped him into someone who will do anything to get what he wants. Meanwhile, the campers finally arrive at Stillwater. Among them, Anton, a young Russian boy that Alex takes under his wing of self-preservation/ hatred in a world full of commie bashers. Oh, and you know… Anton also receives a few visions of “The Tall Man” telling him people will die. Just another day at camp!
Anton’s visions lead him to wander off in search of The Tall Man’s remains, and no one can decide whether he has an imaginary friend or if he’s been taken by drug dealer Damon, the local Satanist. Turns out there may be more to Damon than meets the eye… or not, depending on whether you bought that he was just a drug dealer.
Amid all the Russian woes and ghostly high jinks, romance is brewing. Will Joel discover the secret to Deb’s heart or something far more deadly? Will Jason be able to shed his D&D image in favor of bad boy Blotter? Well yes, in Deb’s eyes, but that’s just going to get him fired, not win over Cricket. What will happen if Drew lets Blair listen to more than 10 seconds of music? Most importantly, the show asks: Is Alex taking Amy to an abandoned cabin for piano lessons creepy or totes adorbs? Okay, enough teasing. Let’s dive deeper into my thoughts on the episode!
The American Dream: Blackmailing Dry Cleaners
Alex’s flashbacks were at once great and pretty ridiculous, much like this show overall! Throughout episode one Alex seemed like a weak link. A simple, annoying, rich dude who won’t leave Amy alone. The revelation that he might not be as rich as he seemed piqued my curiosity but these flashbacks got my attention. His immigration, the belittling of his father, and Alex’s preservational rejection of his heritage, quickly made him one of the most interesting characters on the show. Telling the story of a Russian-American during the Cold War feels fresh and it’s a great use of the period piece setting. Throughout the episode, Alex manipulates Amy and betrays Blotter but remains likable because we now understand why he feels he must put himself first. The world has taught him: eat or be eaten.
“This is extortion.” ~ Tommy Delasotta
“No, it’s my American Dream.” ~ Alex Powell.
Let’s move to the sillier side of these flashbacks, shall we? There’s something unavoidably ridiculous about blackmailing a dry cleaner so that you can have nice clothes for summer camp. Now, I know that Alex was also trying to get back at the guy for bullying his father and that he sees this as the first step toward his American Dream, but who even looks successful at a summer camp? Get a haircut and wear the camp t-shirt. I’m pretty sure successful people don’t need a camp counselor job. This kind of undercuts the badassery of his epic blackmail moment despite Ronen Rubinstein’s solid performance. Also, I’m still confused as to why Nadia agreed to this in the first place. Soviet camaraderie? The way Alex’s character was being built up I could have seen him doing something far darker. It felt as if they didn’t want to risk him being seen as actually villainous. While I think these flashbacks were overall much stronger than Amy’s and Alex was solidly fleshed out, I still hope future installments have a little more bite to them.
Camp Love: The Age of Rejection
This was a bad week for romance over at Camp Stillwater. Blotter failed to woo Cricket. Amy saw the “true” Alex. Cricket’s crush on Alex seems destined to fail despite Jessie’s help. Deb appears ready to murder Joel (or maybe she likes him, who could tell). Blair (who is seriously in need of development) at least got a moment of connection with Drew but we all know the other shoe will be dropping on Blair any ep now as far as Drew goes.
Watching all these romances interweaving was a mixed bag for me. Mileage will obviously vary on which of these couples work for each viewer so forgive me for saying that none of them have really popped yet. Most of the characters aren’t fully fleshed out on their own enough for me to fully sympathize with their plights of unrequited lust. Then, of course, there are the odd logic gaps. Amy for instance, clearly connected with Deputy Sykes last week on a personal level and yet Alex wins a date with her simply by being nice to a kid? Alex opening up about his past strengthened the legitimacy of their connection but if I were Amy I would have had enough of abandoned cabins by now.
“You know, usually, when someone says they’re private, it means they have a secret.” ~ Joel Goodson
Meanwhile, we have Joel’s nauseating quest to bag Deb. Joel needs a flashback episode stat because right now he’s my least liked character despite my affection for Eli Goree (loved him as Wells on The 100.) The kid is just a bland creep who films people. Why should I care about anything he wants or does? Deb tries to tell him she cares about her privacy and he responds with an invasive question… At least Elizabeth Mitchell kicks butt as always and I really can’t wait to learn more about Deb.
Enough with all the talk of character and romance. This show is about face melting! The scares were fewer and farther between this episode but that may have worked in the show’s favor. It felt more streamlined and less focused on the gimmicky gotcha horror moments. It’s good to have a few of those but last week threw in so much that it stretched believability that people wouldn’t just run from camp on day one. The horror this week can understandably be explained away by most Stillwater residents as acid trips, child nightmares, and drug dealers.
He said I have to find him, or someone is going to die.” ~ Anton Melnikov
Most of the horror this week was relegated to Anton’s encounters with The Tall Man. Personally, these didn’t do much for me. It felt highly repetitive and even Anton’s fiery nightmare just felt a tad too “been there done that” for my taste. On the plus side, the show has a fantastic score that keeps me engaged in the horror even when it’s not super eye-catching. The standout moment was definitely Blotter’s acid trip (courtesy of Alex)/ ghostly possession. The face melting and… demon arm mouth thing… while not necessarily original were very fun to watch. I found them to be the right mix of cheesy and legitimately gross-out scary. The CGI wasn’t exactly top notch but right now I think that’s part of the show’s charm. Time will tell if that feeling lasts.
The episode ended with Blotter’s (over) dramatic departure from camp following Alex’s betrayal (it’s not that big a deal Blot, get another job). This led to one final “scare.” The Tall Man appeared and Blotter saw something scary… lame. I mean I assume Blotter died ( a wise move, trim the fat) but actually seeing that (or else whatever he saw) would have been a much stronger cliff hanger. This just cut right before the cool part.
Conclusion: A Step In the Right Direction
This episode was a step up from the pilot. It narrowed its focus and proved that Dead of Summer has solid potential to be a thoroughly enjoyable horror show. The flashbacks provided much-needed complexity to one of the weaker characters and gave me hope that future flashbacks can do the same for some of the other lackluster players. The show still feels hampered by the size of its cast. Numerous side players are given enough screen-time that I’m clearly supposed to care about them but not enough to give them any depth. Hopefully, this will become less and less of an issue as each character is highlighted in their own episode. Although I wish we’d seen more in the cliffhanger, it still has me excited for what’s to come. I have hope that this show can grow into something more than these first two episodes have delivered but even if it doesn’t, it’s still a ton of fun!
- Cricket seriously still wants Alex even after he got Blotter fired? I know she didn’t like, like Blotter but they seemed like they were friends.
- I like how the episode seeded things early. Crowley gave Blotter the acid (in hopes he’d find the bones) and Blotter brought up bed-wetting early which returned during Alex’s talk with Anton.
- In their “Behind the Screams” featurette, the showrunners said that The Tall Man wanted Blotter to find his remains before Damon. Does this imply that The Tall Man might not be so bad?
- Is Deb evil? I want her to be super duper evil!
- I can’t decide if it’s hilarious or annoying that everyone in this show acts like working at camp is the greatest thing a person could ever do, ever.
Dead of Summer Review 1×02 “Barney Rubble Eyes”