krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
It all comes down to this. If I'd started rewatching and commenting on the episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 with a clear awareness there would have to be a "last episode" (even if I got around to considering it sooner than I did the first time through), I might have picked a different last one, perhaps even tried racking my brain to make a decision and "save the best for last"; in that case, "Mitchell" might have been more likely to make the short list. In the end, though, I decided to end with Mike's first episode because of the sense that it represents not an "end" but a "beginning." Of course, I do have the feeling the "Best Brains" were trying their best to make the transition an entertaining one...

After some general introduction in the new opening credits, Mike has been in training with Tom and Crow (who mention "The Beast of Yucca Flats" before the show itself got to it); they then get around to an "Invention Exchange" with Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank (now sporting a new "Deep 13" logo, Joel having taken the "Gizmonics Institute" name with him) as they would for a few episodes before conclusively moving away from Joel's "prop comedy." With that, it's on to the movie.

After an operation goes bad ("Well, you're right. The liver isn't in the skull." "Wow, it's not colour-coded like the book was."), Dr. Cortner is about to give up when his surgeon son Bill takes over and applies an (apparently) untested procedure. Despite the cheap "surgery" makeup ("He's got a canvas skull! A heavy rain would kill him!"), Bill succeeds, and warned by his father anyway about "playing God." ("Tag, you're God.") After some intimations of amputated limbs disappearing ("Come on, give me the keys to the morgue, dad!"), the nurse Jan Compton, Bill's fiancee, shows up just in time for Bill to get an urgent call from his country family estate. He offers Jan the chance to see what he's been working on, and she lets him drive her car at high speed into the countryside. ("Is he chasing James Dean?" "What's this? Our fanatical physician and his fickle fiancee, speeding to their country cottage?") As might almost be expected, Bill manages to drive off the side of the road. He's thrown clear of the (unseen) wreck, but returns to the flames to scoop up something in his suit jacket ("Uh, the rest of it's pretty crispy!") and rush off through the woods... ("He's either going to win the Nobel Prize or the Heisman Trophy.")

Mike tries his best to gain control of the Satellite of Love (telling Crow and Tom he's not going to abandon them; in any case, there are no more boxes marked Hamdingers) only to cut what he thinks is the "cheese compressor tube"; with that, it's back to the movie. Once at the estate, Bill meets up with his reclusive assistant Kurt and, still moving at top speed ("How's my day? Oh, it's not important."), gets his fiancee's severed head into a pan with lots of hoses and flasks surrounding it. ("His methods are unusual but his coffee's great!" "Boss, you've broken the goofy meter again.") Jan's first whispered words are "Let me die" ("Doesn't she need lungs?" "No, she's got neck juice!"), but Bill remains resolute he can find a body to sew the head on to. Kurt, stuck with a withered arm as a result of Bill's transplantation experiments, finally manages to warn him about the unseen horror bolted in the closet ("Oh, so that's why you had me kill my girlfriend, so I could see your closet?"), and recoiling from that Bill heads out to the local girlie bars and beauty pageants (even as Mike and the bots create a series of offbeat hats to try and cheer up "Jan in the pan"), apparently enjoying himself in a sleazy sort of way. However, someone always seems to get in the way to keep him from just spiriting his body choices off, at least until he hears about his old acquaintance Doris Powell, stuck modelling for creepy photographers and hating all men thanks to a scar at the back of her jawbone.

In the meantime, Jan and Kurt have been discussing who's worse off through some ridiculously pretentious dialogue, and it seems that whatever Bill is keeping Jan alive with is also giving her psychic powers to communicate with the thing in the closet. Right about when Bill gains Doris's confidence (and Crow and Tom have wheedled Mike into confiding an embarrassing moment to them), Kurt finally gets goaded to check on the thing, only for it to rip his good arm from the socket. He staggers around the house smearing blood on everything ("Ironically he collapses into an armchair.") before at last collapsing back in the lab, just in time for Bill to show up ("Kurt, remind me again. Why did I hire you?") and offer Doris a drugged drink. ("While she's passing out, he could be downstairs mopping up blood or something.")

Just as Bill is about to cut off Doris's head in front of a horrified Jan, the somewhat rough-looking monster smashes out of the closet ("Look at that! The mask's just tied in the back!" "Ah, it's nothing we haven't seen before."), bites a chunk out of Bill's neck as the lab catches on fire, and carries the unconscious Doris away as Jan exults among the flames. With the movie over, Mike is depressed (reading letters won't cheer him up as Tom has promised, because none of them are for him), but a special "Hexfield Viewscreen" guest appearance by a much more cheerful "Jan in the pan" does. Back down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester is intrigued by the idea of a severed head, and fires up a "Deep Hurting" chainsaw. "Oh, well. Here we go again," Frank says.

The shoddiness, creepiness, and pretentious dialogue of the movie does manage to make for a good experience for me. I'm at least aware of comments that Mike "sort of felt his way into his role," but that doesn't seem to matter quite as much with me. In any case, I wasn't really thinking about this being the conclusion of one thing itself until the end credits were rolling. (As a last anecdote, the very first time I saw the episode back as a videotape rented from a well-stocked store, I must have misinterpreted Joel's "created by" credit to have the impression he'd stuck around helping to write for a few episodes of the transition.)

May 2017

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