Dead of Summer “The Dharma Burns” Review (Season 1 Episode 6)

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On the latest episode of “Dead of Summer,” it was unexpectedly Deb’s turn for a flashback, which I thought for sure would be one of the last ones we got, given her mysterious ways. But, as we discovered, her motivations weren’t nearly as shady as we thought- or the writers led us to believe- in “The Dharma Burns.”

The episode title- and that is it, I double-checked- is, of course, a play on words of the pseudo-famous novel “The Dharma Bums,” by noted “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac. Nor was the choice incidental, as the book itself deals with a character trying to reconcile his more thoughtful, life on the road, hippie-type ideals with life in the city, just as Deb and her boyfriend Keith (Dylan Neal, “Arrow”) deal with on the show here.

In her case, she fares a bit better, taking then-future boyfriend Fred (Jesse Hutch, who co-starred with Neal on “Cedar Cove”) up on his offer to fight injustice from within and become a lawyer- though she was already headed in that direction, despite her outwardly hippie look.

Unfortunately, Keith doesn’t fare as well, as he tries to keep the party going by non-stop traveling around the globe. Eventually, the lifestyle catches up to him, as a once promising writing career gives way to a nasty heroin addiction that ultimately costs him his life in the end.

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Before that, though, in a last-ditch effort to redeem himself, he reconnects with the by-then successful Deb, in hopes of rekindling their past love, which reached it’s climax, literally and figuratively, at good old Camp Stillwater, likely in the very location that Deb and Joel would revisit and he would hallucinate (or did he?) the two of them “recreating” the moment.

After hooking up on the last day of camp in the woods, as recently graduated seniors about to start their lives as young adults- with her going off to college and his doing the traveling thing, much to her heartbreak- they decided to consummate their feelings for one another by burying mementos of their relationship in a time capsule to be excavated at a later date.

As we already know, that included a copy of the Kerouac novel and a telescope, the latter of which a young Keith used to seduce a young Deb as they gazed up at the stars and he told her tales of the constellations to up the romance ante.

Wanting to return to their roots, the older Keith returns, and beckons Deb to join him on a day trip back to Stillwater, which, at this point and time, has already closed. (The two were initially there in 1970, for the record.)

ELIZABETH MITCHELL

Deb is hesitant, as she’s just been made partner in her law firm and is engaged to the aforementioned Fred, but nostalgia for a love lost compels her to go for it in the end, after all. Alas, she waited a little too long, as when she arrives at Keith’s hotel, she is stunned to find he has OD’d on heroin.

As such, what we see in the bulk of the episode isn’t Keith there to rekindle their past love, but, as ever, the camp messing with yet another of its denizens. Of course, I wasn’t fooled for a minute, having been accustomed by now to the way the show works, but it was still pretty sad to discover that, when Deb and Keith finally did make it to their old-school rendezvous meeting place in the woods as adults, he was already very much deceased.

Thus, we got our reasons behind Deb’s mysterious return to camp, after all these years, and it proved to be actually pretty down to earth, not at all sinister, which is precisely why, I guess, they chose to reveal it now. Rather than milking it till the end, the writers opted to show that Deb really wasn’t evil incarnate who was working for the dark side, perhaps as the “teacher” alluded to on various occasions by Damon and his goons.

Instead, they showed that she was actually not at all unlike the younger counselors, who had come here in hopes of also rekindling their happier days, when they visited the camp as a place to get away from the troubles of their everyday lives.

DYLAN NEAL

Of course, ironically, the very place that gave them such pleasure in the past, is now a place of death and despair, with people starting to drop dead like flies. They say you can’t go home again, but this is ridiculous.

We also found out that the carnage has just begun, with three deaths only the first of five, with at least two more to go, though I expect there will be some casualties on Team Damon as well, eventually. Though there was none tonight, the stage was certainly set for more in the not-so-distant future, and we did at least confirm an until now only suspected one: Blotter’s, whose decapitated head we saw being buried along with a new time capsule, intended to commemorate the late Cricket.

Before we got there, though, the gang opted to do the worst thing they could have done in a horror story: use the Dark Arts to try and communicate with the dead, via a “spirit board,” aka Ouija to most of us. (Guess they couldn’t get the rights to the real deal, as they’re too busy churning out movies based on it.)

This ill-fated attempt by Blair and company to try and contact Cricket on the other side was doomed to fail, and likely only make things worse. Though they did indeed find out for sure that Cricket’s death wasn’t accidental, mostly all that happened was that Amy was possessed by a demon, with a special guest appearance by the Tall Man, Holyoke, who reiterated that they should have tried to kill Amy when they had the chance.

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Holyoke informed them that Amy was “the doorway” and the key to evil overtaking the camp altogether and then tried to force Amy to cut her own throat, though Alex put a stop to that. However, they did get one last clue via Jesse, who was likewise possessed by some spirit or another and forced to write something on a piece of paper against her will.

It turned out to be a drawing of a skull on top of an upside-down pentagram, with each of the five points marked with a number, with a compass-like symbol in the left-hand bottom corner. Later showing it to Garrett, he figured out that it was aligned with the map he had found and that one of the points was where Cricket had died, while another was where Dave, the groundskeeper, had been killed.

Reasonably assuming they should check out the other points, the two dug up one location and found the skull and heart buried there by Damon and his crew, but by the time they checked out another location, someone else- but not Damon and company- had moved in and dug up the body of what was later revealed to be none other than Blotter.

The masked figure ended up burying Blotter’s head in the same location as the time capsule, which was used as an ad-hoc memorial for Cricket, in which the counselors contributed various things which reminded them of Carolina, like a flower, a bracelet, and, somewhat amusingly, a copy of an old Rolling Stone with “Batman”-era Michael Keaton on the cover. Quite a leap from Kerouac, to be sure, but okay.

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That was about it, save a few expected nods to “Lost,” including the appearance of an Apollo peanut butter cup, and some 70’s era appropriate tunage. Is that “Dharma Lady”? Well, turn it up!

Lest we forget this show is primarily set in the late 80’s, a choice Depeche Mode tune also made an appearance as well, “Blasphemous Rumors,” as did the heartfelt Elton John tribute to John Lennon, “Empty Garden.” One thing this show cannot be faulted for is knocking it out of the park, music-wise, that’s for sure.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that Blair’s grandmother was revealed to have been involved in the occult as well, which was how Blair knew his incantations and how to use the “spirit board.” I imagine that will factor in heavily in his flashback episode, which, if I had to guess, will be the one after the next, entitled, “The Devil Inside.” (The next one, “Townie” is almost certainly Garrett’s, given that is what Jesse calls him.)

ALBERTO FREZZA

It’s also only fair, after praising the show’s strengths last week, notably the acting and characterization, with a special shout-out to the fantastic work being done by Zelda Williams (the daughter of the late, great Robin, BTW) and the two Elizabeths- Mitchell and Vail- that I point out some of its admitted weaknesses as well, starting with the fact that, frankly, it’s just not all that scary.

One thing I’ve noticed as the show has proceeded, is its propensity for aping certain past horror classics, only not as effectively as the original sources of inspiration. I suppose that much is to be expected, but you can almost draw a line from each episode to a specific movie or movies, with this week drawing heavily on “Evil Dead,” with a side order of “Witchboard,” while Joel’s was inspired by “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Drew’s by “IT” and “Sleepaway Camp,” Cricket’s by “The Wicker Man,” with a nod to “Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives” and so on.

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Needless to say, this is all intentional, to say nothing of the casting of the “Candyman” himself, Tony Todd, as the main antagonist, or so it would seem. But it’s also a bit derivative, ensuring that nothing here is entirely unfamiliar to die-hard horror fans, if perhaps less so to younger viewers not as well-schooled in their horror tropes and history. That’s a problem because it makes the show a little too predictable once you get the gist of things.

I could almost predict now what’s going to happen, and have in the last few reviews, actually. I saw the whole “Keith is already dead” thing coming a mile away on this episode, and though it might be impossible to predict what source of horror inspiration the show is going to use next, it seems pretty obvious that it’s going to happen, which is its own sort of predictability.

Sure, there’s nothing new under the sun, but the thing is, the show has enough going for it to not go down that road. Just the fact that it opted to forgo the expected slasher movie thing, for the most part, is a good thing. I just wish they would concentrate on doing something original with it that goes beyond just having interesting flashbacks, especially since not all of them are that interesting.

Witness, for instance, Alex’s, in which his big baller blackmail move was to…get free clothes? Kind of low-rent, really. Meanwhile, Amy, our lead, simply witnessed a party foul gone horribly awry- traumatic, to be sure, but you’d think it would have been a lot more hardcore, given her state of mind early on.

RONEN RUBINSTEIN

On the plus side, the show has gotten infinitely better as it’s gone along, with the one-two punch of Drew and Joel’s stories landing hard and better yet, with twists I didn’t see coming, such as Drew being abandoned by her mother and Joel and his brother’s previous run-in with the Tall Man and his hallucinating major events on the show. We definitely need more of this sort of thing moving forward.

Tonight’s episode, sadly, was a bit of a step in the opposite direction, what with Deb proving to be not only not a villain, but merely the victim of a fairly mundane love-gone-awry story. True, we all probably thought she was up to something up until this episode, so it was unpredictable for the episode to prove us wrong this relatively early on, but Deb’s overall story was a bit on the meh side, and Mitchell deserves better, though she did her best to sell it here.

Hopefully, the show will regain some of that lost momentum moving forward, especially since we now no longer have a prime suspect for the “Teacher,” though I still maintain that the Sheriff and the other town elders are likely involved and the former might even be said teacher.

That sense of not knowing quite where the show is going next is a good thing, though, and one I hope they capitalize on, having now successfully hoodwinked at least some of us viewers in the short term. But will they in the long run? We shall see.

ELIZABETH LAIL

What did you think of the latest episode of “Dead of Summer”? Were you disappointed that Deb turned out to be one of the good guys, or relieved? Or even pleasantly surprised? What did you think of Deb’s overall back-story? Any predictions on where this is all going or who the “teacher” is? Sound off down below and see you next week!