Syfy’s Channel Zero
Season 3, Episode 5: “The Red Door”
Directed by Arkasha Stevenson
Written by Mallory Westfall, Justin Boyd, & Nick Antosca
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Alice in Slaughterland” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 3 finale, “Sacrifice Zone” – click here
Now that Chief Vanczyk (Tyrone Benskin) has cut his own boy’s throat, he has other “music” to face. It struck me recently that the Chief is a figure in a long line of outsiders to a family or group of psychopaths doing terrible things, from the man at the gas station in The Hills Have Eyes + its remake to all the other various horror characters who’ve been in on the death we the viewer witness; rather than do anything, these characters, more often than not, play into the death of the victims. Such is the case with the Chief, who didn’t just play into it, he manipulated law and order to let the Peach family do what they wanted.
We see Joseph Peach (Rutger Hauer) doing another one his procedures – the one he did on Zoe Woods (Holland Roden). He extracts a wriggling centipede-like insect from her throat and puts it in a gold-lined box.
While Alice (Olivia Luccardi) sleeps, her sister Zoe looks around the large plantation palace belonging to the Peach family. Speaking of, the family are worrying about their landlord. They’ve “marked” and “promised the little girl,” as, y’know, rent. Is the Pestilent God their landlord? Eventually, Zoe finds a red door. It calls her, in a terrifying way. She sees vision of someone wearing an antlered skull, the bony mouth opening at her.
Note: The shot of Smart Mouth (Linden Porco) standing over Alice while she sleeps is supremely upsetting, just as much as it is a fantastic homage to Henry Fuseli’s 1781 oil painting, The Nightmare. You’ll notice that, while old Joey plays chess later with the meaty creature, the painting actually hangs over the table where they sit. The painting was, in some academic circles, related to the unconscious, which ties in nicely with many of the mental illness-related themes swirling around amongst this season’s plots.
The Chief’s bringing Aldous Peach (Bradley Sawatzky) out to tell Aldous what happened to his brother Bob. When they get there, only one body remains in the grave. Louise Lispector (Krisha Fairchild) was able to save Luke (Brandon Scott) after all. But that means there’s still big issues for Chief Vanczyk and the Peach family tree. Those creepy Peach kids are just as eerie and unsettling as David Cronenberg’s kids in The Brood.
Back at her place, Louise sews Luke up at the throat. A really nasty job to have to do, but she’s one tough old broad. She relays an unconscious Luke the story of her brother, including how she lost the tip of that finger. I wonder if her brother was being indoctrinated into cannibalism, too.
Zoe goes to Alice and tells her about the red door, as well as warns her of the horrors at that plantation. “You will be very, very hungry,” the older sister tells the younger. However, Alice feels as if she’s “catching on fire in slow motion,” and because of that she’d almost prefer being a cannibal to schizophrenia. Their story – and moreover, this entire season of Channel Zero – is (partly) an elaborate allegory about mental illness, in that many people would prefer giving up their life (suicide) to living daily with a brutalising, often dehumanising, and spirit crushing depression. Zoe’s not sold, though. We’ll see where this divide between the sisters leads them, and us.
In the garden, Zoe checks out the writhing flesh plants growing in the earth. There, she runs into the gardener (Julian Richings). He’s a bit of an existentialist: is gardener his job title, or his identity? Well, Zoe plays the gardener’s game, and pops him an impromptu riddle to try figuring out how she’s able to get through the red door.
Inside the house, Alice sees little Izzy (Annelise Pollmann) pop out of the wall to ask if she can go home. But is Alice actually going to go home? Has she realised yet the terrible mistake she’s making spending so much time with the Peachs? Not so sure.
Later Izzy’s brought by Edie (Diana Bentley) to the red door, where the fleshless meat creature waits to take the little girl’s hand. Then, the three of them head on through to the other side.
At her place, Louise is laid siege upon by Aldous and his creepy kids. Doesn’t help that Luke is barely able to walk. So, Louise hides, only to find the Chief show up with his gun, seemingly to protect them. It’s really awkward and antagonistic to have the Chief back there. Now, he wants to “set right” what he’s done. Only Ms. Lispector is not willing to accept that, nor is Luke willing to accept an apology from his father after getting his throat cut. What they WILL accept is help decapitating Aldous and the kids, to make sure they’ll never return.
Up at the plantation, the meaty creature – is he the Pestilent God? – leads Alice in towards a chapel where everyone sits waiting, and Joseph stands at an altar; just like the altar we saw earlier where Zoe was laid for her procedure. And thus begins Alice’s bathing in blood, followed by the extraction. Once it’s over, she is left with a smiling face, grateful for having been so-called cured. Her sister doesn’t see it as a blessing like everybody else. The after-effects of this procedure are similar to suicide, in that Zoe’s basically just dead, it didn’t cure her; it figuratively killed her.
This all prompts Zoe to go looking past the red door. It’s there she sees that star circle, where Izzy has been placed. She also sees the antlered skull peek from out the darkness. Is the antlered entity our Pestilent God? Well, Zoe picks Izzy up and tries to make a run for it. She realises she can’t leave her sister, and sends Izzy off to escape on her own.
Zoe is having trouble convincing Alice they need to leave, and that Joseph is lying to her. What does the older sister do to reverse things? She decides it’s better to be how she was before, even if that means eating the insect that was pulled from her younger sister’s brain. Lord, that’s hideous.
When Luke gets sick of his father’s bullshit, he shoots him. And about damn time. I would’ve been unimpressed if he just let his dad slide. Particularly after hearing so many patronising stories about his own youth through dad’s pessimistic eyes. Fuck him. Live, Luke; live!
The Peach family toasts Alice, as they all sit together for a beautiful dinner of human flesh. Alice, unlike her sister, chows down happily enjoying the homegrown cooking at the plantation. But what about Zoe? She’s not well after swallowing that sickness out of the gold box. She’s fled back to the world down in Butcher’s Block. When Joey hears of this, and Zoe’s worries about Izzy, he sets off through the red door. Further on inside he comes to a shadowy place where he speaks to the Pestilent God. And the God, he is unhappy. He pulls Smart Mouth away into the dark. He wants the rent he’s owed: little Izzy. What’s most unsettling is that Mr. Peach is genuinely afraid of this God, despite all his own obvious powers of influence, and that is significant.
Fantastic penultimate episode for Butcher’s Block. I like, as opposed to the first season, how we’re not being fed too much exposition. Some of this is better left unexplained, while, yes, other parts need explanation. But Season 3 is really treading water in the right places and swimming forward with heavy strokes in others. Can’t commend the writing enough this season.
“Sacrifice Zone” – that term referenced in the first episode – is our finale next time.
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