Syfy’s Channel Zero
Season 4, Episode 1: “Ashes On My Pillow”
Directed by E.L. Katz
Written by Nick Antosca
* For a recaps & reviews of other Channel Zero seasons, click here.
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – click here
This season is based on “I Found a Hidden Door in My Cellar, and I Think I’ve Made a Huge Mistake” by Charlotte Bywater from the vast abyss of creepypasta. Also, each episode this season is titled after a song. “Ashes On My Pillow” is a song by Eddie Vinson. Listen here.
A newly married couple, Jillian Hope Hodgson (Maria Sten) and her husband Tom Hodgson (Brandon Scott), move into their first real home together, gifted to them by Tom’s mother. They hear a noise in the basement, so they head down. The place is still full of the family’s old things like Tom’s “second grade report card” and other relics of the past. We see Tom and Jillian have known each other since they were little, too.
Then, the noise again. A tiny dog runs out of the wall. This is not the only strangeness. Something else lurks down there. For now, the couple keep on renovating, painting, and gradually making the place their own. They have friends over for dinner and talk about their shared past. Tom mentions how Jill used to draw stories when they were kids, and in one of them there was a character called “Pretzel Jack” who was like a “contortionist clown.”
At the store, Jill notices her husband have a tense conversation with a woman. They get home and Jill finds a letter addressed to her from a man called Bill Hope. She tears it up – obviously they’ve BOTH got secrets – then asks Tom about the woman, who he claims is Sarah Winters— an unsatisfied customer from his reno business. She keeps pushing, asking if they slept together. This prompts him to bring up issues she has with her father. Oh, dude… not good. Eventually Jill gives up, though it sticks in her mind.
The next morning, Tom asks Jill to come downstairs, asking her to describe the basement’s far wall. He shows her there’s now a blue door. Tom grew up in that house and can’t remember it being there. He wonders if it’s the Mandela Effect at play, like the “Berenstain Bears thing” or the “movie Shazam with Sinbad that everyone swears exists.” He’s reaching to explain the inexplicable. Tom’s buddy Jason (Nicholas Tucci) can’t remember any door, either. He’s more determined than them to open it, using a sledgehammer but getting nowhere. Jason gets his shotgun, firing off shots and after a few the knob comes loose. They find on the other side is a set of stairs heading down.
At the bottom is another blue door with a white handprint on it. Of course this one’s locked, as well. Tom wonders if it leads into the neighbour’s basement, given the slope. They go speak with the guy next door— a dude named Ian (Steven Robertson), subletting the place from an old vacationing couple. He thinks “this kinda feels like the start of a horror movie.” He shows them the basement: no door. He mentions “Jungian psychology” re: doors.
Here’s a taste of Carl Jung’s theory about doors and dreams:
“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”
Perhaps a harder to penetrate door is a comment on the deeper level of psychological horror that awaits? Definitely nothing good behind that door. Like any place people aren’t able to go, somewhere they’re prohibited from entering, it only makes a person want to go there worse.
Jill talks with her therapist Abel Carnacki (Steven Weber) about the door mystery. Abel advises against secrets in marriage after hearing of Tom making late night phone calls and his heated chat with the unknown lady, the letter from Mr. Hope. Also, interesting how when Jill knocks on the door, she walks away before hearing a knock from the other side. What’s on the other side may likewise represent all the hidden secrets between the married couple, lies festering between them. When Tom goes out that night by himself, he’s followed by his wife to a house that’s not Jason’s place where he said he was going.
At home, Jill hears noise from the basement and sees a flash of another blue door— this one’s in a closet with two extra handprints on either side (Father Gore guesses it was Jill’s childhood room). She heads downstairs and opens the first door, walking down the eerie stairs. She puts her hand against the handprint on the second door. It unlocks. She opens it into a wide, dark space. There she finds Pretzel Jack, brought to horrifying life from her childhood imagination. He runs towards her, flying past up the stairs— out into the real world.
Jill calls the police. The next day, Jill finally calls Ms. Winters, whose number is on her husband’s phone bill. Sarah says she doesn’t want to get “a restraining order” against Tom, asking the wife to keep him away from her. That’s ugly. Jill confronts her husband with it later. He denies anything “sinister” and turns things around on her, gaslighting his wife into believing it’s all her fault. Then he leaves for the night, while Pretzel Jack hasn’t left. Tom goes to a house where he’s greeted by Vanessa Moss (Barbara Crampton), surprised to see him “two nights in a row.” Hmm.
Jill goes to see Jason, asking about her husband and Ms. Winters. The old buddy doesn’t know anything. He does more gaslighting, like Tom. They hear a strange noise, similar to the one from the Hodgson home. In the background, Pretzel Jack’s sneaking. The creepy dream entity takes a screwdriver to Jason, murdering him bloodily right in front of Jill. Jack does a few contortionist tricks like a happy clown before disappearing into the dark once more.
Great use of “Superstar” by Sonic Youth over the credits. The original version by the Carpenters is awesome, too.
WHAT A GODDAMN EPISODE! Just wow. Like the other seasons, Channel Zero‘s proving all over again why it’s such an amazing series. Plenty of dread, some dark comedy, blood, and a bunch of heaping doses of high weirdness. Can’t wait for the next episode later this month leading up to the finale on Halloween night.
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is next time.