Our Sponsors

Monday, November 6, 2017

CHANNEL ZERO: "No End House" and the Disease of Memory


Note: this involves spoilery discussion of No End House. I highly recommend you watch it before reading on -- this can be done via the Channel Zero website or YouTube. Knowledge of the previous season isn't essential, but you might as well give it a shot anyway because it's rad. If you've already watched, or don't mind spoilers, read on.


The strength of Channel Zero for the past two seasons has been its ability to take a short-form story and, rather than adapting it, use it as a springboard for a message-bearing tale that spans beyond the scope of the original work. Candle Cove started as a short piece in messageboard format that protracted our memories of children's shows that were Just A Bit Too Creepy. But in televised form, it became a story of the power struggle with childish, primal desires.

No End House started as a story of inescapable horror, of nightmarish scenarios placed one after the other, with the House of the title finally showing that it will let you go when it damn well feels like it. As with the previous series, the original story informs only the first of the six episodes. From there, it's all up in the air.

And there were a lot of directions No End House could take. But we're shown fairly early on what our "lesson" will be this season. We open with two friends uniting as one is still grieving the loss of her father. And as time goes on, we see just how much of both their lives is affected by this moment.

No End House is, among other things, a story of the mourning process: the toll it takes, the trap it can set, and the effect that the actions of friends and family have in these times.


The Traveling Shadow



In a modern medium that leans heavily on promises of payoffs, one thing surprised me: we never get an answer for what the No End House is. We never meet its creator, we never find out why it exists, and the point of the story isn't to "defeat" it (although that is discussed at one point). We get some vague discussion of what it is (or more what it's "like"), and we do learn its rule set over time. But the point of the series isn't to unmask the true purpose behind it.

But on a symbolic level, it does seem dressed for the occasion: a solid black gable-front house that looks like five country churches in a traffic jam. It's simple, austere, and oddly plain. At a glance, it almost evokes an old-fashioned funeral parlor. And that can hardly be an accident. Because within this house, at least for Margot, the more bloodthirsty aspects of grief play out.


Devouring Memories

If you have never lost someone close to you, you are very fortunate. It's something we all hope no one will ever have to go through, but it does come eventually. As someone who's suffered that sort of loss, I can speak firsthand about a lot of what happens in the process. Regardless of how strong you are emotionally, there genuinely is a feeling of being eaten alive inside. Grief unattended is a slow-spreading poison, and it does eventually begin to eat up everything inside of us.

The House eats memories -- this would explain its rather artsy claims that "you" are an element of its creation. In particular, the residents of the house's alternate dimension spring from memories and desires. Missing relatives, loves that never were, alternate versions of loved ones or ourselves. And as tempting as it may be to stay, living with those fictions comes at a price.

When a doppelganger eats your memories in the No End House, it's disgusting and visceral, with every horrible mouth-sound you want to hear the absolute least. And once that memory is gone, it's gone, leaving Black Mirror-esque gaps in your vision and memory.

Some learn to cope. Some "strike deals." Others give up, or don't know they've given up. For the few who attempt escape, it isn't easy. And it isn't always pretty.


Lacey and Dylan: The Brutality of "Tough Love"


The globe-trotting Dylan and his wife Lacey -- on whom the show opens as she attempts to flee a smiling doppelganger of her husband -- have so much more story than we'll ever see onscreen. Our first glimpse of her is her wanting to escape. But when Dylan finds her, she wants to stay where she is -- with a "House" iteration of Dylan -- and is willing to fight him to stay there.

We see very little of this Dylan. He's well dressed and always smiling, but unpleasantly aggressive when the situation calls for it. Then again, so is "our" Dylan, the more we see of him. His rescue of Lacey from the House involves zip ties, weapons, and eventually death threats. A soft-hearted viewer might even find themselves preferring that she stay with the House's Dylan instead of being dragged home.

What's especially interesting is that the SyFy summary itself touches on the husband she's with being Lacey's "fantasy" version of Dylan. Fantasy... as opposed to what?

The more we see of Dylan, the more we make sense. The smiling, suited version is an uncanny photocopy, but Dylan's version of love borders on the caveman. Tying her up, dragging her bodily, forcing others to keep an eye on her, and eventually losing her (and himself) to the house even so, it's an all-or-nothing sort of "tough love" that starts out as heroic and becomes... uncomfortable.

Put in the context of the House being a place of grief, this still rings true. Those friends and family who want to help, knowing only to drag the mourner kicking and screaming into daylight, could potentially be doing more harm than good. While there are times to "get tough," to stage interventions, this storyline shows the collapse of a relationship where the rescue party pushed far too hard.


Jules: The Pain of the Untouched



In a time of pain and loss, we often seize up when it comes time to talk about the caretakers, the friends of the affected who haven't necessarily been directly affected themselves. It's natural to hesitate to bring their feelings into it. After all, they aren't the directly affected in the equation. And, worse still, some personality types will attempt to turn guilt and blame onto the grieving party for being distant or difficult to talk to.

That aside, the role of the untouched friend or family member in the grief process is still an important one, and the feeling of disconnect is a valid one that deserves addressing. Because, as Margot needed Jules, friends need each other in times of loss.

Jules's "memory sink" in the No End House isn't a friend or a family member or a longed-for individual. It's a giant tumor with human figures moving inside it. In her case, the House doesn't give her something she's wishing for -- it's giving her something she's helplessly drawn to. The bulk of her guilt, drawn up into a single entity, pulling her mind apart.

Both Margot and Jules know how far Jules's absence exacerbated the situation. It isn't until she can confront that guilt, dive into it and be immersed into it and slice her way out, that she's ready to help Margot in any useful way. Being the friend to a grieving person is extremely difficult. Belated realization that you didn't do all you could for them is painful. But hardest of all is finding the happy medium.

At the end of No End House, Jules quite appropriately cuts a figure extremely similar to Dylan's -- visually, thematically, but the similarities end there. Where Dylan was aggressive and forceful in his rescue mission, Jules is compassionate. Forceful, yes -- but in a very different way. She's found the emotional center in herself she needs, and thus succeeds where Dylan fails.


Seth: The Comfort of Surrender


At some future point, I'd love to do a once-over of No End House focused solely on the House-created individuals. There's a whole other world to crack open there for them, formed incompletely from memories and uncertain of their own humanity. It would take more than a section in this post to really piece apart what they are and what they mean as individuals. But I do want to take time to look at a House resident who is not a product of the House itself: someone who gave up.

To be fair, we do see a few who "give up" at one point or another. Margot and Lacey (arguably, though we're still missing context), of course, are the ones who spring directly to mind. Others are scattered or implied here and there. But it's Seth, our "orchid mantis" who lures others into his situation, who takes an actual degree of pride in his position in the House. Lacey and Margot and others we may see are resigned, hollowed out, but Seth instead builds a literal fence around his trauma and revels in the fact that he's beat the system -- he doesn't have to escape because he's learned to "cope" his way.

There are two major problems with choosing the House as your home, though, and they are the same two problems you're likely to find in people who fence in their issues rather than coping. For one thing, these people can't help but bring others down with them -- his cul de sac of Hollow Girls is his alternate coping method, recruiting one partner after another to deal with his shit and casting each aside when they're no longer useful.

The second, the biggest downfall, is even grimmer: grief denied long enough will eat you alive all in one go, leaving nothing behind.


Margot: The Return


In the end, though, this is Margot's story: a girl trying to understand death and all its trappings. Why has it invaded their home? Why have her friends seemingly abandoned her? Why, even when faced with what appears to be her real living father, does she still have no answers for any of her questions?

Grief is strange and quiet. It isn't falling down in the middle of the street and sobbing -- it would be easier if it were, because then there would be a relatively quick catharsis. But it's invasive. A pillar of our lives has just been swiftly and silently removed. More often than not, it's no one's fault, and that then leaves us with no one to blame for unhappiness.

The House lures you with what you want, and it's easy to believe that what Margot wanted was to have her father back. But the House knew -- what she wanted was an answer. A chance to make sense of things. If all she'd wanted was her father back, the trap would have snapped shut in a moment. But when it became clear that a version of him created from her memories could never give her what she needed, she achieved greater clarity than she might have otherwise.

Even so, the recovery was long -- because the embodiment of her grief was strong. It took bargaining and stripping bits of herself away, but finally (with the help of Jules) she ended it herself. It's an active choice to say good-bye and to move forward. It doesn't close the wound forever, but to leave the valley of grief and rejoin the world is a very personal move.

We'll never know what happens to Margot and Jules back in the real world -- whether their personal defeats of their House counterparts meant the return of their memories, or if their lives will continue with blank spots scattered throughout because of what they were forced to lose. Neither is particularly inappropriate.


As good as Candle Cove was, No End House was a marked improvement. We're seeing more and deeper stories told on the foundations of these stories, with more risks being taken to expand thematically and explore outside the immediate rigidity of the story's plot. And the handling of it was excellent -- we never saw the protagonist of the story's original version, but there's no reason to think he couldn't exist within the universe of the series. An earlier victim, perhaps?

I can't wait to see what 2018 will bring. The third season will be Butcher's Block, based on the eight-part creepypasta "Search and Rescue Woods." The teaser looks wild. I'm definitely in, and I hope you are, too.