Sunday, 29 October 2017

October Nightmares III #29: Brimstone (1998 - 1999) - The Devil You Barely Knew

"I was a cop, and good at my job. I was married; I had a good life. Then my wife was raped. We caught the guy who did it, but he got off. So I tracked him down and I killed him."

I'm still away and enjoying myself (thank you for asking), so here's another review I quickly spurted out like a 4am piss. 

One thing which I've noticed throughout this marathon is how many great shows were short-lived. That makes sense, in so far that a show which lasts for a single season has less opportunity to annoy its audience. There's nothing worse than a great concept which drags itself out for nine seasons, ruining any goodwill you may have had for the show. It's like a house guest who overextends their stay, and suddenly it's two weeks after Christmas and they're still there eating your mince pies; at which point the only option which remains is to take the bread knife to their throats whilst they sleep.

Perhaps it may be best for a thing to end before it becomes insufferable (a philosophy made popular by George Joseph Smith), but this also leaves a lot of 'what ifs?'. One such instance is a show called Brimstone which ran for a single 13 episode half-season back in '98/'99. A show with a killer premise - i.e. a cop, Ezekiel Stone (Peter Horton), kills the man who raped his wife, is sent to Hell, and set free as some hard-as-nails bounty hunter when he's tasked by Satan to recapture 113 escaped souls (murderous priests, vengeful rape victims, SS officers, etc)- but one which never found its audience. Like the Pol Pot workers' variety hour.

Stone - whose combination of turn-of-the-century angst and ruthless efficiency places him somewhere between Jesse Lacey, of Brand New, and Max Payne - is assisted in his quest by Satan himself (John Glover). Glover's pretty good in this bringing in mischief, wit, sarcasm, and just the right amount of sleaze. Satan needs Stone's help - the whole the Devil has no direct influence on Earth shtick - but that doesn't mean he isn't going to be a massive prick about it: he's like my Dad whenever I help with him DIY.

The intro for this show really set the tone, playing out Stone's confessional from the first episode which portrays him as a tragic figure turned badass. The muted tone of the show, both visually and narratively, established Brimstone as a moody cop show, though it wasn't afraid to have Satan pull off pranks and showcase Stone - who died in the 1980's - as a fish-out-of-water type trying to use the internet. 

Brimstone mixed police procedural with (mild) religious horror and even noir elements. Stone's a long coat wearing broody bitch who walks the mean streets and lives in a sleazy motel. He wakes up in his motel each morning, service pistol, badge, and $36.27 in his pocket - part of his magic deal with Satan. I get the badge and gun, but Stone waking up in a dirty motel bed with money stuffed into his pocket seems a bit weird - as though someone's paying to bum him in his sleep.

If anything the writers went too far with the angst-ridden cop trope. Stone can't do anything without it being filled with pathos. Glover gets the flashier role of the two leads, but Horton navigates the tortured Stone with workman efficiency. But as I say, it's all a bit wanky. Stone is covered in these tattoos - the names of the escapees written in a Hellish script, 'natch - which make him look a royal twat from the Nineties with tribal tattoos. Not only that, but when he kills one of the escapees a tattoo burns off painfully - because he feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeels pain, you see. 

The whole 113 escaped souls from Hell concept lent itself well to a villain-of-the-week format, offering a conceptual endpoint for the show to work towards. And the series ends on something of a high note, just as it's beginning to unfurl its larger mythology: the hot cop who has been aiding Stone, Detective Ash (Teri Polo), is revealed to Canaanite priestess who organised the rebellion in Hell, and the very final episode deals with Stone's former life. This suggests that had the series been allowed to go on - instead of Fox suddenly killing it like how a phone call would suddenly kill an internet connection in the 90's - the show would have developed some meat on its bones and evolved into something truly special.

As it stands, Brimstone is a fairly standard villain-of-the-week show pushed above average by its premise and execution. Until Reaper came along in 2007 there was nothing quite like Brimstone. A show about a cop fighting evil-doers with supernatural powers who could only be killed through a bullet to the eyes - because the "eyes are the window to the soul", etc, etc. With the kind of mischievous Satan who is less about destroying the world and more about childish pranks, like making deals which cause rock stars to die when they turn 27. It's a shame that it was gunned down in its prime; which is ironic as that's usually the work of the cops.

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