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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Candle Cove" Episode 2: From Creep to Creepier


Turning a one-sitting story told in messageboard form into a six-hour television event seems like a hellish undertaking. Speaking as a writer, I'm not sure it's one I'd want to undertake. The potential pitfalls are relatively clear from the get-go, and when it's something as known in the Internet zeitgeist as "Candle Cove," there will be some for whom just attempting the adaptation already puts you in the wrong.

I was optimistic about Channel Zero, since SyFy has been upping their game recently, and so far that optimism hasn't been misplaced. Not every decision is completely clear to me, and there's a lot of twisty-turny-ness still being set up. But so far, the expected pitfalls have been (as far as I can see) dodged.

The main potential pitfall? Making the story the story. By which I mean, making the adaptation stray no further than the story itself, with the big reveal -- that "Candle Cove" was apparently some sort of mass hallucination -- for episode six. Instead, it's the cliffhanger of the first episode. And rather than attempting to sew the beginning and the end down and then stuff the middle full of filler, they've created a new story around the original. Rather than being an adaptation, it's a prequel and sequel rolled into one.

The other potential pitfall was one I began to see manifesting in the first episode, but the second episode makes it clear that that won't be an issue: fearing the creepy. The initial clips we get of "Candle Cove" are weird and a bit unsettling, but not that liminal otherwordly weirdness that gives creepypasta its bite. By episode 2, though, it begins to sink in, and I can see now that it's a matter of pacing. Where the story was short and the creepiness could build line-by-line, it has to build more slowly to knock you off your feet at the right speed in a six-episode show.

It's becoming apparent rather quickly that Mike Painter is more than just a curious netizen trying to track down the source of a childhood memory. The puppets speak to him. They call him back to his home. And images of his past haunt him at odd times. In the first episode, I resented the locals' automatic distrust of him. But the more we find about his past, his twin brother, and his motivations, the less I'm trusting him.

A throwaway line in the back of a cop car -- a comment that his brother wanted to be mayor someday and the two could swap out without anyone noticing -- has not stopped weighing on me. It could be a red herring. But the events of this episode, as well as the revelation that caused even Mike's mom to bust out a kitchen knife, means our audience association character might not be as trustworthy as we thought.

He's not the only one, though... this town is a veritable Twin Peaks of weird characters with weird motivations. A lot of world-building has gone into this.

In other words... so far, so good. I do think the story will be sustainable for the remaining four episodes, and it's just a question of how far they're going to go and how much they're willing to freak us out in the process. I'm praying that they have no qualms about giving us some series nightmares.

As an aside before I close out until the next episode, which airs tonight at 9 on SyFy -- I loved the little tip of the hat to fan-created "Candle Cove" episodes on YouTube. It was a short scene, and it did move the plot along, but it was quite clearly an affectionate nod to all the "real" clips people have been uploading over time. And that on its own made me happy: seeing the fandom represented in a single character, even as a one-off.

I'm looking forward to the rest. And if it keeps up like this, I plan to continue blogging on each episode through to the end.