There’s something freeing in knowing that you won’t have to feel conflicted about reviewing something, in this case Dead of Summer. Sure, I’ll probably find a few enjoyable morsels here and there about this show but overall, these recaps are just going to be one big roast. Episode 2 recap begins below, and it’s a doozy. You can watch along on Hulu or on the official Freeform website, if you’re feeling masochistic.
First, let me just say that this episode title is the kind of pseudo-Stephen King nonsense I was hoping this series wouldn’t devolve into. The unending parade of pop culture references of the first episode should’ve raised red flags all over the place and naming the first episode after a GnR track was precocious enough but THIS is out of hand.
Anyway, the episode starts with a flashback, as usual, dating back just over a decade ago. In the USSR?! Some Russian kid is playing a piano, a not-so-clever callback to the beginning of the first episode. The androgynous look of the kid and the introduction of his uber-creepy grandpa had me thinking this was Drew’s childhood but once Grandpa Whimsy dispenses his hilariously amoral advice, I realize this is actually Alex, the camper who steals and wears other people’s clothes. And the fact that the grew up the son of Russian immigrants actually fills in a lot of odd details about him. Except this thing with Gramps is so clumsily weird it negates that. I mean, cataracts, rocking chair, folding knife AND exposed bald head? He should at least be wearing a cap.
As expected, we cut to modern day and Alex stealing more clothes labeled with other teens’ names. The radio is conveniently going on about communists in Poland and that’s ridiculous because NOBODY CARED. Jason’s actor recalls a memory involving and Poltergeist and bed wetting but the actor playing him seems to have realized mid-sentence that it’s a nearly impossible line to sell. Oh, and Jason apparently is a D&D nerd. Jesus, could Dead of Summer lay it any thicker with the ‘80s nostalgia? Is someone going to do cocaine at some point? Also, Jason implies that because he’s fit, he couldn’t possible still be a D&D nerd, which I will speak from personal experience that there are PLENTY of fit D&D nerds.
It occurs to me that if Dead of Summer had a drinking game where I had to have a drink of beer for every pop culture reference, I’d be a six-pack deep every episode. Thankfully, Tony Todd shows up again, watching a bus full of little kids enter the camp… dude, that is hella creepy and not in the way you want it to be. Seriously though, for a horror TV show, the fact that I still haven’t heard any ‘80s thrash is bullshit. Even X-Men Apocalypse had the minimum of savvy to put Venom in their flick. Boys will be boys, of course, making bets about when hook-ups happen but interestingly it’s portrayed more as insecure posturing than anything else. And it turns out Alex has a relative amongst the kids arriving, witnessing the persecution of his younger brother(?) for his Russian last name. I’m not really sure mocking a kid for having a Slavic last name was something that would really happen that often but it’s obvious he’s more being made fun of for being kind of a sad sack.
FLASHBACK: See, this is ridiculous. No good show needs THIS many flashbacks this early on unless they’re not at all confident in their main storyline and honestly, that doesn’t surprise me. This flashback serves the sole purpose of reminding us why Alex is so skeevy, though honestly I don’t think this scene is a joke, as I find it hard to believe Alex’s dad would’ve even gotten the job he did. But this does solve the mystery of why all of Alex’s clothes are stolen/have someone else’s names on them. Little Alexei rebranding himself in a mirror is ridiculously corny, as this show tends to be within the first ten minutes of any given episode.
Back at camp, Alex flirts too hard with Amy and totally fails to pick up on his little friend Anton’s bizarre behavior of talking to invisible people. The whole imaginary friend thing is one of the most overused cliches in horror and it never works. NEVER. So at least I can give the show credit for being consistent, though not excusable, in it’s lazy writing. Alex gets weird about Anton’s name and idiotically pushes Amy away, then acts like a moron about it. I get that this is his “thing” but he’s gotta be pretty stupid to think he could call her a commie sympathizer and still have a conversation. Also, Jason’s scoring weed from a dirty hippie type and this is, of course, played for intrigue. Sad, since it comes off as jokey instead.
At the tennis court (the ONLY time this area of the camp will be used in the show) Blair taunts Joey over his Deborah-starring videos and Joey gets flustered which is ridiculous since it’s just as likely Joey filmed her as a prank. Anton goes missing, Alex finds him talking to Tony Todd except Alex can’t see him of course, because he’s not receptive or some nonsense. Tony Todd returns in the middle of the night, grabs Anton, his bed catches fire and the words “Find Me” are left burned on his arm. In the dream.
Now we’re just straight up doing Friday the 13th meets Poltergeist meets Nightmare On Elm Street. Without, of course, any of the actual suspense or intensity that made those films so effective. Tony Todd can only do so much, seriously. He’s not a miracle worker.
Deputy is watching a TV showing a documentary about Satanists because OF COURSE. None of the TVs in this world ever show anything other than news. All the characters seem to talk about is horror films yet nobody’s ever watching any. As I suspected, a conversation between him and his mom/bartender (that’s not weird) reveals that his father’s death is connected to the camp somehow. We FINALLY get some heavy metal in the scene at the bar and it’s an early, but awesome, cut from Grim Reaper. Except it’s being played by the weed dealer from earlier and we’re not supposed to like him, or his music probably. He’s a Bad DudeTM who the Deputy thinks is a Satanist, except that’s idiotic because what kind of jackass assumes a dude who clearly listens to heavy metal is an actual devil worshipper? Also, Deputy is pretty concerned about drugs. I guess cops never change.
And here marks one of the most incredibly implausible moments in the entire series. Apparently, drug dealer hooks up Jason with a vial of liquid acid. A WHOLE VIAL OF LIQUID ACID. Look, that’s goddamn ridiculous. “Oh this kid just bought a dub, I’ll throw in 200 dollars worth of acid, just for kicks.” Alex accuses Jason of being a fake stoner and it’s further established that Anton’s presence is really kicking up his anxieties, honestly way too quickly, it hasn’t even been twelve hours and already Alex is being a dick to two peers that, don’t forget, also encountered a dead body. I just want to add that if the dead body thing was the other reason Alex is being a dick, they certainly wouldn’t be as restrained about it as they are. They don’t deserve this and he’s turned on them for seemingly no reason.
Cricket shoots down Jason and his pot while she and Blair continue to rather cruelly discuss Drew like he’s an archery target. The deeper we get with these characters, the harder they are to like. And then it gets worse, girls plotting against girls in the most horrendously cliche manner possible. And Alex makes up his earlier rudeness to Amy in the most horrendously cliche manner possible, though Dead of Summer subverts that somewhat cleverly, leaning into black comedy for a minute.
FLASHBACK PT II: Back at Alex’s dad’s old place of employment, an adolescence later, he gets the same gig. Uh, okay? That’s… it? WHAT THE FUCK.
Anton is being creepy again, as Alex discovers. Dead of Summer is doing a terrible job of trying to convince the audience that Tony Todd is evil because he’s clearly not. Deborah rips the counselors a new one for Anton’s stunt which is ridiculous because DEAD BODY. Honestly the person I’m most terrified of in this Dead of Summer right now is Deborah. Joey and his camcorder visit Deb’s place and just kind of starts looking around her cabin while she’s not there, thus continuing to establish that this guy is a bonafide moron. There’s more teen drama with Jason discussing with Alex his plans for getting with Cricket, reminding us that yes, the boys are still disgusting creeps. Jason wants a raid but Alex claims he’s taking Amy to a cabin elsewhere. Yes, someone died in the lake under mysterious circumstances but no, go hang out in a cabin alone. Again, none of these characters seem to remember Friday the 13th when it matters most.
FLASHBACK PT III: Seriously. JUST. PUT. THEM. ALL. TOGETHER. This shit is so aggravating. I don’t care about Alex’s backstory. Unless it has something directly to do with the main plot, this is a case of show don’t tell. Alex finds out his boss is an adulterer and a remarkably stupid one at that.
Alex and Amy’s date goes so wrong it’s not even funny (well it actually is very funny but unintentionally so): they end up in Tony Todd’s old cabin, totally untouched by the ravages of time, natch. Meanwhile, Anton and Tony Todd ruin Jason’s raid which is fine because Jason is a stone moron for not anticipating the kid acting up again, like, he’s literally the ONLY problem camper they counselor’s have. I guess Jason did end up getting baked ‘cuz only that could explain such a monumentally stupid move. Post-raid, Drew expresses another quirk, enthusiastic desire for marijuana, but then we get an incredibly nauseating scene where Cricket both compliments Jason’s dungeonmastering but simultaneously insults the game itself. So, what I’ve decided is that is The Big Bang Theory of summer camp horror. It goes through the motions of appealing to fans of its chosen genre but never once actually embraces or acknowledges that genre. Jason tries to get to first base but it’s a fly out.
Alex knows how to play the piano! Also, another flashback, not even bothering to talk about it, so pointless is it. Alex thinks he sees his grandpa in an old rocking chair, not actually a bad moment, not a jump scare but potent nonetheless, except then they just ruin it by hammering it in. Jason, again probably still baked out of his gourd, realizes (duh) that Anton’s missing, interrupts Amy getting to first base and calls Anton “the Russian kid” like he’s gotten so progressively stupid he can’t even remember the boy’s name. We discover Joey’s motto is “camera never lies” and that’s sad and I hate to say it but I think the only reason he hasn’t got much character development is ‘cuz he’s black. Deborah is about to make a connection with Joey until they see Alex and Jason searching for Anton, so they call Sheriff Gruff to make things worse.
Alex finds Anton and Tony Todd’s resting place, Deborah gets mad, Cricket makes the situation worse (again, they found a dead body like, A COUPLE DAYS AGO), we find out the drug dealer is literally named DAMON FUCKING CROWLEY. Really, scriptwriters? FUCKING REALLY?
FLASHBACK PT IV: Turns out Alex’s parents forgot to instill some basic moral fiber in his son so he decides that two wrongs make a right, we get to find out where his clothes came from and just how manipulative he can really be. So, yeah, I guess everyone misjudged him, but this does absolutely nothing to justify the insane bullshit he gets up to next. But because Dead of Summer is an absolute joke, we have to suffer through Deputy’s anti-climactic confrontation with Damon. A surprisingly effective mirror sequence follows involving Jason and Alex, homaging but also riffing on a classic Poltergeist scene.
Admittedly, it’s actually really funny when Jason tries to deny doing acid by admitting he still plays D&D. Nice try dude, but a real D&D player would’ve dropped Cricket like a hot turd as soon as she dissed it. Alex, now officially joining Deborah as one of the antagonists, lets Jason take the fall. The lesson here, kids; Don’t Do DrugsTM.
Back at camp, Blair’s reading a book and sporting a The Clash shirt. Drew confuses Blair by putting his headphone’s on Blair’s head. It’s The Replacements which, okay, good choice but I’d have gone for something really cool and appropriate, like Suicide’s “Surrender” or Coil’s unreleased Hellraiser theme. Still, it’s an interesting moment that proves that Dead of Summer does have a beating heart somewhere. And actually, having Jason out Alex for the creep he is, that’s surprisingly cathartic and very well executed; it’s a shame Jason’s character is leaving, as Zachary Gordon is definitely one of the better performers, despite the botched line earlier in the episode (which methinks is the actor resenting the corniness of the D&D connection with Cricket).
Because Alex is a manchild he decides to get revenge on the campers bullying Anton while also dispensing some stupid advice to Anton, sorry, Tony. As an episode focusing on Alex, this is actually a pretty solid way to cap it off, showing how bullying doesn’t ever just impact one person. The very last scene of the episode is kind of satisfying because FINALLY somebody actually dies but it’s not only a cop out but, well, let’s just hope it’s a Final Destination riff on purpose.
This episode is certainly better than the first and shows that there’s actually a decent thriller lurking in here amongst the paralyzingly torturous teen drama. But this is not a recommendation, but to dismiss Dead of Summer as a complete failure would be a sign of a bad critic. No, it’s actually what it could be that is truly frustrating. The concept is a good one but by A) making it PG-13 and B) having an incredibly overcomplicated storyline, it is totally undermined, assisted by some lazy character writing.