Dead of Summer “Barney Rubble Eyes” Review (Season 1 Episode 2)

DOS 12

On the second episode of Free Form’s “Dead of Summer,” we got a better sense of what the show is, as we began to settle in with the characters, met a few new ones and the kids arrived for the start of camp in earnest, in the amusingly-titled “Barney Rubble Eyes.”

That title made me think of the song at the end of another camp-set horror tale, “The Final Girls,” the 80’s classic “Bette Davis Eyes,” by Kim Carnes. Perhaps its inclusion there is why it wasn’t present here- though, to be fair, it was explained, plus the show is set in 1989, not 1981, when that song would have been popular, so there you go. Still, good song, so check it out!

We began with a decidedly unexpected flashback set in the Soviet Union in 1977. As a family prepares to leave for America, they tell their little boy, Alexi, to say goodbye to his grandfather. In a scene that was somewhat reminiscent of the controversial slasher classic, “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” the grizzled blind man grabbed a hold of young Alex and told him, in Russian, how “if you want something, you have to take it” and gives him a pocket knife. Nice values, there, grandpa!

DOS 9

We see in the present that this is none other than Alex (Ronen Rubinstein), aka the seemingly rich kid that steals his clothes from a dry cleaner to look more wealthy than he actually is. In another series of flashbacks, we see that his father used to work for an abusive dry cleaner and that Alex went back years later and got a job there, where he discovered that the man was having an affair with his co-worker, who just so happened to be Russian as well.

This, despite the fact that he has a clear prejudice against Russians, which makes you wonder why he hired Alex’s father in the first place. Whatever the case, Alex uses the security camera to record the two having sex and blackmail his boss into letting him steal clothes from time to time and ensure that Nadia, the co-worker, always has a place there.

He does this because he wants to project an air of success, and he also subtly changes his name to seem more American to boot. Later on, he advises a fellow Russian expatriate, Anton, a kid camping there facing similar prejudices as Alexi’s father did, to do the same, which is to say, change his name to something more American to fit in better, not steal clothes to look rich.

DOS 4

Most of the episode revolves around Alex and Anton (Allan Daniel Fisher), who seems to have an imaginary friend that he sneaks off to talk to, which gets both Alex and his fellow counselor, Blotter (Zachary Gordon, a long way from the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies) in hot water for failing to keep a watchful eye on their charges.

Of course, as we see, his “imaginary friend” isn’t so imaginary- it’s the mysterious “Tall Man” (shades of the classic “Phantasm” series main villain), aka the actor formerly-known-as-“Candyman,” Tony Todd. Of course, the Tall Man isn’t visible to anyone else but Anton, and he indicates this by doing his best imitation of the credits of the “DOS” lead-in, “Pretty Little Liars,” to let Anton know to keep things on the down low. (See pic at top of page.)

However, Deputy Garrett (Alberto Frezza) has other designs on who this “Tall Man” might be, thinking it instead to be local drug dealing long-hair Damon Crowley (Andrew J. West, formerly “Gareth” on “The Walking Dead”). Note the surname, which is almost certainly a reference to the notorious Aleister Crowley, a noted Satanist and author of the likes of “Diary of a Drug Fiend,” so read into that what you will.

RONEN RUBINSTEIN, ZACHARY GORDON

Crowley, of course, denies any wrongdoing, but we see that he sells drugs to Blotter at one point in the episode, so he’s obviously lying. He also sports a pentacle (aka an upside down star in a circle) necklace, which he claims to have picked up at an Iron Maiden concert, but which is commonly associated with devil worship, especially at the time, often referred to as the era of “satanic panic.”

He also makes reference to “The Number of the Beast,” both a famed Maiden song and the number 666, which is associated with the Beast featured in the Book of Revelations in the Bible. We see later that these references may not be made just to mess with Garrett, as he and his friends abscond with a corpse dug up on the campgrounds in order to do some ritual with it. “It has begun,” says Damon, ominously.

Early on in the episode, Alex and Blotter make a bet as to who can hook up with someone first, always a staple of 80’s-era comedies, if not so much horror movies of the period. Alex sets his sights on Amy (Elizabeth Lail), while Blotter has his eye on Cricket, aka Carolina (Amber Coney), a childhood friend he’s long since had a crush on.

RONEN RUBINSTEIN, ZACHARY GORDON

Alas, Cricket has designs on Alex, who she’s had her own crush on for just as long. Sensing a way to kill two birds with one stone, Jessie (Paulina Singer) offers to help her out and schemes to tank the relationship, as she has a thing for Garrett, who Amy also has a love connection with. She warns Amy that Alex has a bad reputation and she should watch herself.

Alex doesn’t exactly endear himself to her when he insults Russians after observing the bullying going on with Anton, which is interesting, as he is one- perhaps a bit of self-loathing to go along with that obsession with fitting in and seeming like a rich American? However, he seemingly redeems himself later on by helping out a scared kid who’s feeling homesick- but which turns out to be staged, as Alex paid him to do it!

Nonetheless, this earns him a date with Amy later, where he takes her to a cabin in the woods he found and plays piano for her. The two also do a little bit of “Heart and Soul” together, likely a nod to the classic movie “Big,” which would have been relatively current at the time. Things are going well until a frantic Blotter appears, saying that Anton is gone.

ZACHARY GORDON, RONEN RUBINSTEIN

As we saw earlier, Anton has been seeing the “Tall Man” everywhere and even dreaming about him, sleepwalking to the art room and drawing pictures of him, complete with weird symbols. The “Tall Man” keeps beckoning Anton to find him, so at one point, during a “raid” on another cabin’s room, he sneaks off to do just that.

Eventually, after Deb (Elizabeth Mitchell) gets wind of it, the cops are called and a search party is formed to find Anton. Alex finds him in the woods, near a series of concrete blocks in the shapes of circles surrounding a lone square, just like the ones in his drawing from earlier in the episode. The “Tall Man” is nowhere to be found, though.

Sensing that one of them is about to be fired, Alex, who knows that Blotter scored some acid from Damon earlier, doses Blotter’s brink with it, which is, I suppose, what you get if you go around drinking from a baby bottle all the time! Needless to say, Blotter freaks out and sees his face melting, blood and a clawed monster hand come out of Alex’s mouth and runs screaming out of the cabin.

DOS 7

Alex goes and tells Deb and everyone bands together to find Blotter, who goes to the woods and digs up a corpse- the one that Damon’s boys will find and take off with, making Blotter look even crazier than he is when he shows up ranting and raving that there’s a body in the woods. Naturally, when he comes back, it’s gone.

This gets Blotter fired, coupled with the fact that it was him who lost Anton in the first place, though Deb isn’t too thrilled with Alex at the moment, either, as it was his cabin as well that he and Blotter were assigned to watch over the kids in. Saying his goodbyes, he outs Alex as the one who dosed him with acid and tells Amy about their bet, which screws up their burgeoning relationship in the process.

Jessie points this out to Cricket, mentioning the role she played in planting doubt in Amy’s mind about Alex in the first place, and says that now she needs help getting Amy away from Garrett as well, which Cricket agrees to. Amy storms off while Alex does his best to explain what really happened, but she’s not having it.

DOS 13

On his way out of the campgrounds, Blotter is approaching a tunnel when he himself finally sees the “Tall Man,” who points to something off-screen behind Blotter. Blotter looks in that direction and screams “Oh my God” and that’s all she wrote for this episode. We never see what he was screaming at, but obviously, it wasn’t good.

Other stuff: Jessie found out that Garrett told Amy about his past with her, aka when she was “Braces” and he was “Townie” and they kissed; Deborah caught Joel (Eli Goree) in her office, right before he was about to open that box she dug up in the previous episode and Joel confessed to his friends that he had a thing for her; Alex hallucinated his grandfather at several points in the episode; and Anton tells Alex that the “Tall Man” told him “It’s only just begun” and he and Alex plotted to frame the kids bullying him as bed-wetters.

Beyond that, we had a few more 80’s-era references to “Poltergeist,” “Rambo” and one could make a case for “The Evil Dead” as well, what with the cabin in the woods and freaky demons coming out of Alex’s mouth, albeit drug-induced. Song selections included the excellent “She Sells Sanctuary” by The Cult, “Trouble Me” by 10,000 Maniacs and the awesome “Within Your Reach” by The Replacements.

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I also thought I heard some Maiden there, though it was pitched so low it was hard to tell. Still, it was metal for sure, and played just after Damon referenced the band, so I’m guessing that’s who it was. Feel free to correct me if you have keener hearing than I do, as I wasn’t able to identify the song, regardless. Whatever the case, this show is killing it on the soundtrack.

One minor quibble, however: I don’t claim to be an expert on acid, but I’m pretty sure that a dose like the one Alex gave Blotter would have lasted a lot longer than it did and rendered Blotter incoherent for a much longer amount of time. Given that it was the middle of the night when he took it, chances are, it would have lasted all night and he still would have been a bit out of it the morning after.

Instead, he was just over it all at once after what couldn’t have been more than a few hours. I get that there’s a come down after a certain point, but it seems like his was awfully abrupt. Yes, he had a scare with the corpse he dug up, but would that really have rendered him cold stone sober, which is what he seemed shortly thereafter? I don’t think so. So, all I’m saying is, do your research, writers, if you’re going to go there.

DOS 10

All in all, a decent enough episode, with some creepy moments, especially all the hallucinations and nightmares. As the show progresses, it does seem that the creators are going in more of a supernatural direction than a slasher one, despite all the slasher movie trappings. We’re also starting to see the former “Lost” producers’ influence, as this makes two episodes in a row in which flashbacks of a particular character figure prominently in the proceedings.

If this keeps up, I assume that we’ll eventually get flashbacks for all the main characters, with each of them being the main focus of the given episode for the most part, as we saw here with Alex and in the premiere with Amy. This could be interesting, or it could be an issue, depending on how they handle it. Either way, I’ll bet the whole experience is giving erstwhile Juliet, Elizabeth Mitchell, some flashbacks of her own.

For now, though, I didn’t mind it, as it is a neat way to let us into the mindset of a given character, making for much more complex back-stories than we typically get in a horror movie. Once again, this show proves that it can make the long-term format work in ways that “Scream” and “Scream Queens” haven’t quite pulled off yet, by giving us extended looks at what makes each character tick and having much more going on that a straight-forward slasher type tale.

ZACHARY GORDON, AMBER CONEY, ELI GOREE

Yes, “Scream Queens” features flashbacks as well, and “Scream” features a host of characters that we get to know over an extended period of time, which in some ways also makes them better than a typical slasher film, which can only do so much, but that doesn’t make any of them necessarily as much fun in spite of it.

As I mentioned in my last review of “DOS,” none of this matters if you don’t have characters you care about, and I’m still on the fence about most of the ones here, much less on those other shows. At least “Scream Queens” intentionally made their characters cartoonish on purpose, which let us know that we weren’t supposed to necessarily like them by making fun of them all, thus letting us in on the joke.

Here, as in “Scream,” the characters are awfully earnest and somewhat humorlessly portrayed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but doesn’t make them that interesting, either. Just because you play it straight doesn’t automatically make it better. I will give props to Noah on “Scream,” though, who is the resident wise-cracker of that series, which “DOS” could certainly use a similar version of. So far, no one comes off as being “in on the joke,” as it were.

ELI GOREE, ELIZABETH MITCHELL

Granted, that may not be what they’re going for here- this is a “Free Form” show, after all, and it’s rare for shows on the network, nor the one that proceeded it, ABC Family, to be winking at the audience in a certain way, a la “Scream” or “Scream Queens,” though “Pretty Little Liars” occasionally comes close.

That said, though, it doesn’t mean the show couldn’t lighten things up a bit with a little humor here and there, and it doesn’t have to be at the expense of taking things seriously more often than not, which is fine. You can have both, you know? I’m not saying it has to go full-on pop culture reference with it, just feature the occasional light-hearted moment here and there, just to mix things up a bit.

What did you think of the latest episode of “Dead of Summer”? Did you like it better than the premiere? Are you happy with the way the show seems to be structured, with the whole “Lost”-style flashbacks framing one character throughout the episode, as it tells their back-story, while allowing the others to have their moments here and there? Or would you prefer the flashbacks were briefer and less involved?

Dead of Summer

How about the gist of the story overall? Is it too all over the place and scattershot for you? Could it stand a little more focus, or are you confident the show knows where it’s headed with things? What are some ways the show could improve? Sound off on this and more down below, and see you next week!