Hulu’s Into the Dark
Season 1, Episode 3: “Pooka”
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Written by Gerald Olson
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Flesh & Blood” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “New Year, New You” – click here
For those who don’t know, a pooka is from Celtic folklore.
It’s Christmastime and a man named Wilson (Nyasha Hatendi) is in a cafe, where a group of friends ask him – the only one there alone – to take a picture for them. Afterwards he heads home and finds he can’t unlock the door to his building, so he has his next door neighbour buzz him in. He hears Mexican music he’s heard previously coming from the neighbour’s apartment. He stops by to see her – Red (Dale Dickey) – and she invites him inside. They talk a little and he says his moving to the city was a “blank slate” kind of thing, he’s looking to start over.
Wilson is also an actor, struggling in the city like so many others. He practises by himself at night reading monologues. He’s currently doing Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol in anticipation of his next audition. At the audition, he barely gets three words out of his mouth before the woman behind the desk is satisfied. Then the woman asks him to raise his arms above his head, among other things – “Now fly like a plane” – while he’s watched by a man in the wings, Finn (Jon Daly). And after Wilson’s made to repeat the motions over and over, he’s given the part. Is it because he’s talented? Or is it because he’s willing to blindly follow orders?
“Are these the shadows of the things that will be?
Or are they the shadows of the things that may be only?”
Finn brings Wilson to his office, where he introduces him to a stuffed animal called Pooka— it listens to people and repeats what they say. Only trick? Pooka decides when to listen and what to repeat. He’s the latest toy to “rip Christmas a new asshole” in the stores. Where does the young actor play into the situation? He’s going to be the mascot. They’ve already got a suit that fits him perfectly, too. Certainly not suspicious at all. Wilson’s put in the Pooka mascot suit, then he’s asked to repeat the motions from earlier. When he does he starts to nearly have a panic attack. Not so much fun, right? The deal’s lubricated with money. But there’s lots of paperwork, and Father Gore’s willing to bet Wilson hasn’t read it all closely enough. Because it’s all too good to be true.
At home, Wilson puts on the Pooka suit and trashes his apartment, like a wholly other person. Except he walks through the front door to find the suit lying on the bed. He’s confused, believing there was a break-in. He asks Red if there’s ever been any robberies in the building. Already the struggling actor’s having a crisis of identity following the first time he wore that suit. Will life become even more surreal? He’s already putting the thing on and not remembering.
As the capitalist company executives expected Pooka is a massive hit. Toys have sold out, shipment after shipment. At a “Pooka pop–up,” Wilson sees a woman, Melanie (Latarsha Rose), who he’s seen around before and is clearly sweet on. Things get a little troublesome when it’s clear he’s becoming two people, like a good Wilson v. a bad Wilson— this keeps in line with the pooka of Celtic folklore, which is said to bring both good and bad fortune, a mischievous creature. Wilson looks Melanie up – she’s a real estate agent – and he wants to get to know her better. That also means the Other Wilson knows more about her, too.
Wilson’s hearing things from his apartment while over chatting with Red. He hears a banging that won’t stop. He goes back to find angry Pooka with glaring red eyes beating on the wall. It chases him briefly, then it’s gone, and he’s left by himself with two hands beaten bloody. Makes for an interesting use of gloves on his first date with Melanie. When he goes home after he beats off with the Pooka head on, though his good and evil sides seem to spill over into one another, momentarily out of control.
The edges of Wilson and that of Pooka begin blurring further. He keeps the Pooka costume on after work, heading into the streets where he’s ignored by adults and looked at with reverence by children. Back at home, Pooka takes over. It goes to Red’s and attacks her brutally. Later, Wilson lies holding himself, reliving the traumatic moments in his head. He hopes what he saw was nothing but a dream. He finds Red at home like nothing ever happened. He feels like he’s going totally insane, despite all the other great things happening in his life.
Wilson and Melanie get deeper in love, only making him worry his head isn’t right out of fear something could happen to her or her boy. One night, he wakes to red and blue lights flashing everywhere, except he can’t find their source outside. He looks around the house and finds two bodies under sheets. They’re actually blank mannequins with cracked faces oozing black liquid, and Pooka stands in flames nearby.
Wilson’s mentally not well. He keeps working hard not to go mad while simultaneously working just as hard to make life for Melanie and her son Ty good. He’s promised Pooka will be at the kid’s birthday party, and sure enough the beloved character turns up to the delight of all the kids. One of the kids ends up terrorised and traumatised by Pooka after pushing the birthday boy around. Ty tells his mom’s man later: “I saw what he did.” The situation between Melanie and Wilson begins breaking down when he gets aggressively jealous and possessive, yelling at her about her ex-husband, so she tosses him out.
“It’s okay for this to be over, man.”
Wilson has another semi-panic attack and he only feels better once he’s got the Pooka head on his shoulders. But things are getting a whole lot worse. Pooka’s become a hated item after they malfunction and a massive recall occurs. Again, Wilson and Pooka’s lives spill over, as his depressed state appears to have affected the toy. He doesn’t want to let go when Finn has to come get the suit from him. “I need to be inside it,” he tells the capitalist toy-pusher. Maybe now instead of two identities he’ll have none— or worse, one that’s entirely warped.
He’s already stalking Melanie, going to one of her real estate showings. Things become terrifyingly surreal after he finds a Christmas tree seeping blood, then moans coming from a room where Evil Pooka’s humping away at the bed sheets. Wilson’s suddenly home. He looks for Red, discovering her with a bloody face, and maybe he did kill her a while ago rather than it having been a nightmare.
What does Wilson do? He breaks in to get the Pooka suit again. He records a message for Melanie, trying to apologise, then sends it in a Pooka to her door. He watches her from the side of the road in the suit, where he gets into a fight with a dad who kicks the shit out of him. One of the kids takes the suit’s head, prompting Wilson to scream: “That‘s me!” Melanie finds him lying on the sidewalk, realising it was him in the suit all along.
The realisation of what’s happened is finally hitting Wilson. He sees it was always him doing what he believed Pooka was doing, such as tossing Red out her window. He goes up to her apartment and Evil Pooka’s there, threatening to take everything good in his life away. It vomits black tar all over him and disappears. Wilson tries to call Ty and warn him, but he’s hung up on naturally.
Wilson manages to track down the Evil Pooka, chopping him in the stomach with an axe. He pulls a string of Christmas lights around its neck, strangling the thing to death. He finally puts to death the malevolent part of his identity. When it’s over, he goes to find Melanie and Ty at their house. Inside he sees two old men. His calls only go to a disconnected number now. He goes to the home Melanie was showing and the house is a home where she and Ty live with a much nastier version of himself. This Other Wilson rages at Melanie, crushing the Christmas tree and tearing it apart while Ty watches. And that’s when they go off to get another tree, like when Wilson called previously. They end up in a car crash after the Other Wilson accidentally drives into traffic— in the opposite car is Red. The only one to survive briefly is Wilson, left in the figurative and literal rubble of his life. All of what he’s seen was a twisted, surreal flash while he lay dying, all the characters coming together.
JESUS! Great episode. Definitely Father Gore’s favourite from Into the Dark. Then again, everything Nacho Vigolando does is brilliant. “New Year, New You” is next time around.