Television Review – Fear Itself: “In Sickness and in Health”

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When I first started this blog, a show was just beginning to air on NBC. Like Masters of Horror, it was an anthology series for television with stories done by the best horror directors in the business. But since Fear Itself was airing on a major TV network like NBC, it meant that the show couldn’t do any of the disturbing or violent ideas that Masters of Horror could. And so Fear Itself kind of felt like horror-lite.

Now that it’s on Netflix and I can watch it at my leisure, I’ve decided to return to that show. It got cancelled early, of course, and at only one season there’s not much to continue on with, but at least there are some great names attached to the episodes. Take “In Sickness and in Health” for example: John Landis directs, with Victor Salva as writer. That’s a pretty good combo, and it might seem like this episode could give the scares without needing the violence that a primetime show can’t provide. Not the case, unfortunately.

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The episode begins right before the wedding ceremony of Sam (Maggie Lawson) and Carlos (James Roday), a couple who we find out have only been dating for a short time and have decided to jump right into marriage. Everyone is concerned, particularly for Sam, and her friends let her know that she might be rushing things. Her brother, too, won’t come to the wedding because of his objections.

If you thought weddings were boring when you were involved with them, wait until you check out “In Sickness and in Health”. Landis attempts to infuse his darker sense of humor into the script, but there’s really not much to work with. The lead-up to the wedding is simply dull, and Salva’s dialogue comes off as hokey and cheesy. Perhaps it’s just the actresses who play Sam’s bridesmaids – they’re awful. But the whole thing lacks tension, not because of any one error but because setting the scene during the wedding means a whole lot of exposition needs to happen for anything terrifying can.

After we finally get through the opening dramatics about weddings and cold feet, we’re introduced to the major conflict – Sam gets a letter from a mysterious woman reading “The person you are about to marry is a serial killer.” She freaks out, which is somewhat strange from a woman who should know everything about her groom – I know if I were getting married to my girlfriend, I would laugh off something as ridiculous as that note. And then the plot continues on without much substance; they get married, Sam sees the weirdness about Carlos everyone else has seen, and she second-guesses her decision. All of this, without a lick of excitement.

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Finally, in the closing minutes of the episode, we get some sense of dread – Sam is trapped in a closet while Carlos attempts to break in, and the conceit is revealed – the note was intended for Carlos all along, sent to him by Sam’s brother! And that means… Sam is a serial killer!

For anybody watching with half a brain, this twist can been seen a mile away. Because nothing else happens in this episode, we’re left to wonder what the point of watching “In Sickness and in Health” could be – and the only thing that makes sense is that Fear Itself will throw a curveball at us at the end. But the problem lies in the conceit itself. The episode works so hard to trick the viewer that the elusive means it uses unravel. If we take a look at the letter, the strange wording belies its trickery – “the person you’re marrying” is a phrase meant to eliminate a reference to gender. And the massive amount of scenes showing random weird glances are obviously supposed to make us suspicious of Carlos.

So we think the opposite, and that’s exactly the outcome. “In Sickness and in Health” is not Salvo’s or Landis’ best work, and it’s not because of the primetime censorship. It’s just a boring, drawn-out concept, and there’s nothing to wed the viewer to the plot.

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