'Stalker' premiere react: Pouring fuel on desire
Though Kevin Williamson is the Scream King, the debut of his new series Stalker was more of a whimper. And I'm not just talking about the sounds coming from the victims of the show's eponymous creeps.
There was something literally and viscerally bloodless about the premiere, which was touted by CBS as "the scariest drama to ever air" on TV and which I have to admit was one of my most anticipated series of the 2014–2015 season. The pilot didn't have quite the lingering chill it could or should have… nor did it have the narrative fire its multiple gasoline-drenched set pieces hoped to convey. There is certainly plenty of unsettling material to mine, but Stalker has yet to come close to the pulse-pounding promise of its initial trailer.
For those who didn't catch the premiere, here are the basics (along with some spoilers):
Kate Edwards (Torrey DeVitto): The Drew Barrymore of Stalker, right down to the ominous first-minute phone call and her predilection for snacking—except Kate craves guacamole where Casey Becker hankered for Jiffy Pop; burns alive when her car is doused with gasoline, rolls downhill into a tree (during Kate's escape attempt), and explodes.
Lori Carter (Melanie Liburd): Workaholic lawyer; cornered in a parking garage elevator, soaked in gasoline, survives, only to be abducted while under very effective police protection; covered in gasoline (so much gasoline!) for a second time while duct-taped to a stationary bicycle, yet survives again and watches as her stalker is shot to death. Single ladies, amirite?
Eric Bates (Daren Kagasoff): The long-game stalkee; undergraduate who should really be smarter about having sex in the same college dorm room as his weirdo roommate's webcam.
Lieutenant Beth Davis (Maggie Q, doing her very best): "Sporadically rude" LAPD Threat Assessment Unit head; spouter of stalk-tistics and Fatal Attraction plots, who looks damn good in a workplace-inappropriate silk blouse; makes thinly veiled, even inviting statements regarding her own experience with stalking, then later tells her partner, "Be patient. I don't put it out there in the first five minutes. That would be creepy." (Ed. note: But it would be an effective device for creating a compelling pilot!)
Requisite Red Herring
Troy Gunn (Alano Miller): Failed actor–turned–realtor with connections to both victims and perps, no thanks to his membership at L.A.'s most stalker-friendly gym.
Larry Meyers (Eric Lange): Banker and inhabiter of crawl spaces, whom Kate dumped after finding out about his wife and kids.
Kurt Wild, né Buford Posey (Michael Grant Terry):
Soul Cycle Urban Burn instructor, former softcore performer, and Larry's stalking sherpa; does not take Lori's rejection lying down… that is, until he shimmies under her throw rug; luckily for Lori, not super-creative as to where he takes his hostages and not quite quick enough to light a match when a gun is pointed at him.
Perry Whitley (Erik Stocklin): Rich kid former roommate of Eric; potential beer poisoner, amateur pornographer, but not a "vengeful little bitch"; creepiest of the stalkers by a country mile; inspires Beth to whip out her best knuckle-crunching, bad-cop shtick, which I'm pretty sure will do nothing to curb his compulsion to lurk (see below) and will also probably get Beth fired or suspended in the not-so-distant future.
Detective Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott, who needs to put back on the rubber suit, pronto): Because who knows how to solve stalking cases better than a lascivious a-hole who moved across the country to crouch behind bushes, surveilling his ex and son? NYPD homicide dick with freakishly keen eye for detail (all the better to leer at you with, my dear…); openly admits to enjoying Swimfan (don't pretend that was really a joke, Jack!); sample sleazeball line: "Why do you wear sexy things if you don't want men to notice?" Beth will almost certainly sleep with him.
The episode ends with Michelle Branch's cover of Radiohead's "Creep" (hey there, 1992 via 2002!). Larsen caresses one of several pictures of his son and ex Amanda (Elisabeth Rohm) while Branch yowls about "Runnin' from the dark." After Beth goes about her nightly stalker-proofing routine at home to the words "Whatever makes you happy, whatever you want, you're so very special," the camera settles on a spooky shot of Perry in her yard, the "creep… a weirdo" who's visible through a slit of curtain Beth didn't fully close. Branch sings the final refrain over his menacing face, just as she did over Larsen's: "I don't belong here."
I have to wonder if Stalker's procedural set-up might actually be working against it. As Beth's expository opening monologue (and the show's hauntingly minimal key art) made clear, one of the most chilling, paranoia-inducing realities of being stalked is that your stalker could be anyone, anywhere. By giving a face to its villains—both serialized and weekly—Stalker eliminates much of that spine-tingling uncertainty. Unlike Williamson's other series The Following, to which Stalker has been compared, the aggressors here aren't an amorphous, ever-present, all-knowing mass of nameless faces. They are one or two pitiful individuals. And, whereas these schlubby, sad stalkers happen to care very much (in an undeniably twisted way) about their victims, Stalker's debut couldn't make us feel the same.