“Tarzan and Jesus” – a Parable from Tom Robbins’ “Another Roadside Attraction” (1971)

Another Roadside Attraction

Jesus was sitting on a rock in the desert, meditating and reading the Law, when Tarzan came riding up on a goat. Tarzan was munching nutmeg seeds and playing the harmonica. “Hi, Jesus,” he yelled.

Jesus jumped like he was stung by a scorpion. “You startled me,” he stammered. “I thought at first you were Pan.”

Tarzan chuckled. “I can understand why that put you uptight. When you were born, the cry went through the wor1d, ‘Great Pan is dead.’ But as you can plainly see, I’m hairy all over like an ape. Pan was a shaggy beast from the waist down. Above his belly button he was a lot like you.”

A shudder vibrated Jesus’ emaciated frame. “Like me?” he asked. “No, you must be mistaken. Say, what’s that you’re eating?”

“Nutmeg seeds,” said Tarzan, grinning. “Here, I’ll lay some on you.”

“Oh, no thanks,” said Jesus. “I’m fasting.” Saliva welled up in his mouth. He pressed his lips together forcefully, but one solitary trickle broke over the flaky pink dam and dripped in an artless pattern into his beard. “Besides, nutmeg seeds; aren’t they a narcotic?”

“Well, they’ll make you high, if that’s what you mean. Why else do think I’m gumming them when I’ve got dates, doves and a crock of lamb stew in my saddle bag? If you ask me, you could use a little something to get you off.”

At the mention of lamb stew, Jesus had lost control of his lake of spittle. Now he wiped his chin with a dusty sleeve, embarrassment coloring his dark cheeks as the rosy-fingered dawn colors so many passages of Homer. “No, no,” he said emphatically. “John the Baptist turned me on with mandrake root once. It was a rewarding experience, but never again.” He shielded his eyes against the radiant memory of his visions. “Now, I’m what you might call naturally stoned.”

Tarzan, who had climbed off his goat, smiled and said, “Good for you.” He sat down beside Jesus and mouthed his harmonica. A jungle blues. “You gotta blow a C-vamp to get a G sound on one of these,” he said. He did it.

Obviously distracted, Jesus interrupted. “What did you mean when you said that Pan was a lot like me?”

“Only from the waist up,” corrected Tarzan. “Above the waist Pan was a highly spiritual dude. He sang and played sweeter than the larks; and his face was as full of joy as a sunny meadow in spring. There was a lot of love in that crazy rascal, just as there’s a lot in you. Of course, he had horns, you know. And cloven hooves. Good golly, Miss Molly, how those woolly legs of his could dance! But he stunk, Pan did. In rutting season you could smell him a mile away. And he’d take on anything. He would’ve screwed this nanny goat if he couldn’t find a nymph.” Tarzan laughed and ran the scale on his harmonica.

Jesus didn’t appreciate the references to carnal knowledge. He made an attempt to get his mind back on the Law. But whenever his formidable intellect voyaged on the roiling sea of Hebrew instruction, it drew the image of Pan like a dory behind it.

Finally, he shoved Moses aside and asked, “But you say he was a lot like me.”

“I said that, didn’t I, man? I said he was like you, but different, too. Pan was the god of woodlands and pastures, the deity of flocks and shepherds. He was into a Wilderness thing but he was also into a music thing. He was half man and half animal. Always laughing at his own shaggy tail. Pan represented the union between nature and culture, between flesh and spirit. Union, man. That’s why we old-timers hated to see him go.”

The newsboys of paranoia hawked their guilty papers in Jesus’ eyes. They were the same shrill urchins who would be hawking when Jesus would predict his disciples’ betrayal and denial; when, in his next-to-last words, he would accuse God of forsaking him. “Are you blaming me?” he asked. His stare was as cold and nervous as a mousetrap.

By this time, Tarzan was pretty loaded. He didn’t want any unpleasantness. “All I know is what I read in the papers,” he said. He waved his harmonica to and fro so that it twinkled in the sunlight. “Do you have a favorite tune?”

“I like anything with soul in it,” Jesus replied. “But not now. Tell me, Tarzan, what did my birth have to do with Pan’s demise?”

“Jesus, old buddy, I’m not any Jewish intellectual and I can’t engage you in no fancy theological arguments such as you’re used to in the temples. But if you promise, Scout’s honor, not to come on to me with a thick discussion, I’ll tell you what I know.”

“You have my word,” said Jesus. He squinted in the agreed direction of Paradise, whereupon he noticed for the first time that an angel was hovering over them, executing lazy white loop-the-loops against the raw desert sky. “That angel will report everything it hears,” thought Jesus. “I’d better mind my P’s and Q’s.”

Tarzan spotted the angel, too, but paid it little attention. The last time he bad eaten nutmeg seeds he had seen a whole dovecote of them. One had landed on his head and pissed down his back.

“In the old days,” Tarzan began, “folks were more concrete. I mean they didn’t have much truck with abstractions and spiritualism. They knew that when a body decomposed, it made the crops grow. They could see with their own eyes that manure helped the plants along, too. And they didn’t need Adelle Davis to figure out that eating plants helped them grow and sustained their own lives. So they picked up that there were connective links between blood and shit and vegetation. Between animal and vegetable and man. When they sacrificed an animal to the corn crop, it was a concession to the obvious relation between death and fertility. What could be less mystical? Sure, it was hoked up with ceremony, but a little show biz is good for anyone’s morale. We were linked to vegetation. Nothing in the vegetable world succumbs. It simply drops away and then returns. Energy is never destroyed. We planted our dead the way we planted our seeds. After a period of rest, the energy of corpse or seed returned in one form or another. From death came more life. We loved the earth because of the joy and good times and peace of mind to be had in loving it. We didn’t have to be ‘saved’ from it. We never plotted escapes to Heaven. We weren’t afraid of death because we adhered to nature and its cycles. In nature we observed that death is an inseparable part of life. It was only when some men – the original tribes of Judah – quit tilling the soil and became alienated from vegetation cycles that they lost faith in the material resurrection of the body. They planted their dead bull or their dead ewe and they didn’t notice anything sprout from the grave; no new bull, no new sheep. So they became alarmed, forgot, the lesson of vegetation, and in desperation developed the concept of spiritual rebirth.

“The idea of a spiritual – invisible – being was the result of the new and unnatural fear of death. And, the idea of a Supreme Spiritual Being is the result of becoming alienated from the workings of nature; when man could no longer observe the solid, material processes of life, and identify with them; he had to invent God in order to explain how life happened and why death happened.

“Now just a minute,” snapped Jesus.

“Maybe I should run along,” said Tarzan, sticking his harmonica into the myrrh-stained Arab silk that girded his loins.

“No,” said Jesus. “If you have more to say, then out with it. Where does Pan fit into this blasphemy? And I?”

“If you’re sure you want to hear it. Confidentially, you look a bit under the weather to me, pal. You could use a pound of steak and some fries.”

“Do continue,” sputtered Jesus through his drool.

“The point is, J.C., we had a unified outlook on life. We even figured out, in our funky way, how the sun and moon and stars fit into the process. We didn’t draw distinctions between the generative activity of seeds and the procreative cycles of animals. We observed that growth and change were essential to everything in life, and since we dug life, when it came time to satisfy our inner needs we naturally enough based our religion on the transformations of nature. We were direct about it. Went right to the source. The power to grow and transform was not attributed to abstract spirits–to a magnified ego extension in the sky–but was present in the fecundity of nature. We worshiped the reproductive organs of plants and animals. ‘Cause that’s where the life force lies.”

Jesus kicked a pebble with the worn toe of his sandal. “I’ve heard of the phallic and vegetation cults,” he said. “Not very sophisticated. My father expects more of man than a primitive adoration of his carnal natures. He must rise above…”

“Rise to what, Jesus? To abstractions? And alienation? Your scroll there, your book of Genesis, says that in the beginning was the Word. The simplest savage could see that in the beginning was the orgasm. Life is reproduced from life, while resurrection–the regeneration of seeds, the return in the spring of the leaves that fell in the autumn–is of matter, not of spirit. Unsophisticated? Maybe it’s unsophisticated to venerate mountains and regard rivers as sacred, but as long as man thinks of his natural environment as holy, then he’s gonna respect it and not sell it out or foul it up. Unsophisticated? Hell, it’s going to take science a couple of thousand more years to determine that life originated when a cupful of seawater containing molecules of ammonia was trapped in a pocket in a shore rock where it was abnormally heated by ultraviolet light from the sun. But we pagans have always sensed that man’s roots were inorganic. That’s why we had respect even for stones.”

Jesus looked up sheepishly from the pebbles he’d been kicking. “But you hadn’t been saved,” he protested.

“Didn’t need to be,” said Tarzan. “Wasn’t of any use to us.”

“Well, in the old days the female archetype was the central religious figure. Man had the power of creation, but it was in women that we observed the unfolding of the life cycle: reproduction, death and rebirth. So we celebrated the sensuality of God the Mother. Agriculture is umbilically tied to the Great Belly. Whereas the domestication of animals, a later pursuit, is more of a phallic activity–it was a step away from God the Mother and a step toward God the Father. But a harmonious balance was maintained. And Pan personified that balance. He kept things unified, him with his beautiful music and his long red erection.

“But when you came along, well, the way I hear it is your coming represented the triumph of God the Father over God the Mother, victory of the Judaic God of spirit over the old God in flesh. Your birth-cry signaled the end of paganism, and the final separation of man from nature. From now on, culture will dominate nature, the phallus will dominate the womb, permanence will dominate change, and the fear of death will dominate everything.

“Pardon me, Jesus, ’cause I know you’re a courageous and loving soul. You mean well. But from where I swing, it looks like two thousand miles of bad road.”

Jesus looked to the heavens for guidance, but he saw only the angel, hangin in front of their parley the way a sign hangs in front of a TV repair shop. “Then that explains why you have withdrawn into your private nirvana,” he said at last.

“You might say that,” said Tarzan, standing up to stretch. “Why beat my head against a penis abstraction? And you, what are you doing out here in this snaky wilderness, frying your butt on a hot rock?”

“I’m preparing myself for my mission.”

“Which is…?”

“To change the world.”

Tarzan slapped his side so hard he bent his harmonica. “The world is perpetually changing,” he roared. “It doesn’t do much else but change. It changes from season to season, from night to day, from ice to tropics. It changes from a pocketful of cosmic dust to the complicated ball of goof and glory it is today. It’s changing every celestial second with no help whatsoever. Why do you want to stick your nose into it?”

“The peoples of the world have become wicked and evil,” Jesus said gravely. “I believe, in all modesty, that I can eradicate their evil.”

“Evil is what makes good possible,” said Tarzan, hoping that he didn’t sound too trite. “Good and evil have to coexist in order for the world to survive. The peoples haven’t become evil, they’ve lost their balance and become confused about what they really are.”

He jumped on the back of his goat and gave it a smack. “I’m afraid, Jesus baby, that you’re gonna confuse them all the more.”

The jungle yogi started to ride off, but Jesus leaped up and grabbed the goat by its tail. “Whoa, no, whoa,” he called in his rich olive-green baritone. The animal stopped and Tarzan looked Jesus in the eye, but Jesus had difficulty articulating the activity in his brain. “If you think carnally then you are carnal, but if you think spiritually then you are spirit.” He just blurted it out, but it didn’t sound too bad, and the odor of the goat obscured any desire he might have had to develop his idea more comprehensively.

Tarzan rattled the nanny’s rib cage with his heels and she bolted out of the prophet’s grasp. “Any law against thinking both ways?” he asked. He began to ride toward the south.

“You’re either for me or against me,” yelled Jesus.

“Well, adios then. I’ve got to beat it on back to the Congo. Jane promised to lay out a luau when I returned. Been gone two weeks now, a-riding over the good earth and a-playing for anybody who’d listen. Bet Jane’s as horny as a box of rabbits. Git along, nanny!”

The goat galloped off in comic-strip puffs of dust. Jesus returned to his rock and shooed an entwined pair of butterflies off the Law. His heart felt like the stage on which some Greeks had acted a messy tragedy. So occupied was he with swabbing the boards that several minutes passed before he thought to look after the angel. When his eyes found it, it was flapping erratically in the high, dry air, first soaring after the disappearing strains of Tarzan’s harmonica and then returning to hover over Jesus, back and forth, again and again, as if it did not wish the two to part–as if it did not know whom to follow.

Jekyll and Hyde, Episodes 6 and 7- a Spring Heeled Jack-Oriented Review

ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde series (2015) somewhat updates and definitely expands upon the themes of the classic story, being set in London and Ceylon during the 1930s.  Tom Bateman plays Dr. Robert Jekyll, a grandson of Dr. Henry Jekyll.  Robert has inherited his grandfather’s dark, superhuman alter-ego and, a la Bruce Banner, is inclined to transform into Hyde during times of great stress.

The series embroils Jekyll/Hyde in an ongoing “secret war” between two rival forces; the MIO (Military Intelligence: Other), a branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service dedicated to hunting supernatural menaces, and Tenebrae, an order of occultists with a sinister agenda.

This review, however, concentrates on Jekyll and Hyde‘s Spring Heeled Jack storyline, which is spread across Episodes 6 and 7.  This is of special interest because it represents the first time this storied figure of folklore has been prominently featured in a television series.

Having admitted that bias:

Episode 6 begins promisingly as Spring Heeled Jack appears, in all his hissing, steampunk/plague doctor glory, on the shadowy rooftops of London:

Jekyll and Hyde Spring Heeled Jack

Jekyll and Hyde Spring Heeled Jack 2

… before plunging down into the dark, only to re-appear a moment later, off in the distance, bounding or even flying along the roofscape by means of some sort of jet-propulsion.  This is the image of Spring Heeled Jack that long-term fans have been waiting to see on series TV and it’s very satisfying.

’30s Londoners, of course, are shocked to learn that this Victorian ghost/demon has returned to haunt them, and are thrown into an actual panic when bodies begin showing up in the back alleys, seemingly eaten from the inside and missing vital organs.  Jekyll/Hyde are both on the case for their own reasons, Robert Jekyll bringing his measured temperament and medical expertise to bear while Hyde employs more primitive means.

T(he)y do, in fact, track down the mysterious Spring Heeled Jack, and here the storyline, unfortunately, starts to disappoint SHJ fans.  After being easily defeated and embarrasingly put on display by Hyde, SHJ is unmasked as a young engineer’s apprentice named Burton.  The lad’s motivations are honourable; he is the grandson of the original Spring Heeled Jack, who was also an altruistic “monster hunter”, and Burton has been moved to bring grand-dad’s pseudonym and flying suit out of moth-balls to investigate the recent rash of organ-stealing.

Burton proposes to team up with Hyde in catching whatever monster is really to blame, but the characters have no chemistry and Burton proves to be of mediocre actual use in a crisis; he’s just a well-meaning, rather hapless young chap in a cool suit.  The real villain, as it turns out, is Kephri, a supernatural insectoid parasite able to inject humans with centipede-like larvae that can control the victim’s behaviour.

No sooner do the heroes realise this fact than poor Burton is jabbed by Kephri and flies off, now under the demon’s spell; roll credits.

Episode 7 picks up some short time later, as a cheeky young newsboy who has just assured everyone that “there are no monsters” is instantly yanked into the sky by (we assume) Spring Heeled Jack doing Kephri’s bidding.  Robert Jekyll and his brother Ravi investigate the scene and discover the victim’s dessicated husk on a nearby rooftop, along with the unconscious Burton, still wearing his Spring Heeled Jack outfit but now shrouded in a coccoon-like mass of silken threads.

Returning Burton to his laboratory, Robert swears to try to get rid of the monster within him, but before he can really help, Spring Heeled Jack re-awakens and escapes back to the rooftop, only to be shot dead by MIO agents moments later.

So; we’re just over ten minutes into Episode 7, and they’ve killed off Spring Heeled Jack, whose entire contribution to the storyline has been one cool rooftop appearance, losing a short “fight” with Hyde, being humiliated and exposed as a callow youth in grand-dad’s superhero suit and then falling under the control of a demonic grasshopper.  It’s as if the writer realised he disliked the character, or was worried that he’d steal Jekyll/Hyde’s thunder; SHJ’s arc certainly suffers badly in comparison, plummeting from mysterioso rooftop badass to hapless sidekick to pawn to corpse.

Now, obviously there may well be practical reasons for this treatment – it must be difficult to do justice to Spring Heeled Jack on a relatively low budget, especially if your version of the character can actually fly, given the expense of elaborate stunt sequences and special effects.  It’s entirely possible that the writer did the best he could with what he had to work with.  Still, for those who have been waiting a long time to see Jack featured on screen, this outing was a let-down.

Nice suit, though.


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for Spring Heeled Jack fans

Only four ibangs out of ten for what comes across as a missed opportunity.

To be fair, the other elements of the show are passably entertaining, so if you’re not a Spring Heeled Jack fan, you may well enjoy it more than we did:

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for fans of ’30s-set fantasy/action/drama

The Secret Origins of the “Masked Avenger” Trope

The Day is Yours

The history of shadowy pop-fiction vigilantes is … well … shadowy, and answering the question “who was first?” requires some careful caveats.

This article is specifically an attempt to trace the lineage of those quasi/proto-superheroes who are literally masked and who assume a supernaturally-themed alternate identity to “strike fear into the hearts of evildoers”. Many of them are also aristocrats in their “everyday” lives. Therefore, I’m discounting the very long tradition of culture heroes (Gilgamesh, Hercules, Beowulf, et al), super-powered or otherwise, who don’t bother with actual secret identities in the comic book sense.

Robin Hood comes very close to being the trope originator, but I’d argue that he didn’t maintain a dual identity so much as simply adopt a new name (and, obviously, lifestyle); likewise, his motif was more “altruistic outlaw” than “supernatural avenger”.

It’s commonly accepted that the masked avenger trope popularized in comic books during the 1940s was directly inspired by ’30s pulp fiction “mystery men” such as the Lone Ranger, the Shadow and the Phantom, with occasional glances further back to Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel (circa 1904) – who is discounted here because, although an expert in disguise, he did not have a distinctive, masked alter ego. Johnston McCulley’s Zorro, who premiered in The Curse of Capistrano (1919), certainly does qualify, and he is often justly cited as a direct precursor of the masked, shadowy vigilante pulp heroes of the ’30s.

The Secret Origins of the Masked Avenger (trope)

However, Zorro himself had at least two predecessors, relatively little-known today, who had also manifested the “supernatural avenger” mystique.

1915 saw the first appearance of British author Russell Thorndike’s character, Dr. Christopher Syn, alias the Scarecrow. Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh was set in the coastal English village of Dymchurch during the 18th century, at a time when the villagers could only sustain themselves through smuggling. Dr. Syn – who was formerly and secretly a feared pirate known as Captain Clegg, and currently the apparently meek and mild village parson – assumes a third identity, that of the masked, demonic Scarecrow, to protect his parishioners from the King’s Revenue Men.

The Scarecrow was an expert strategist, rider, fencer and marksman, whose intimidating mask, costume and shrieking laugh instilled fear into his enemies. His sidekick, Mr. Mipps, also assumed a secret identity (as the skull-masked Hellspite) and they were headquartered in a hidden barn on the outskirts of Dymchurch.

Thorndike wrote a series of subsequent novels – actually prequels to Doctor Syn – and the series was later adapted into several movies, including three classic Disney tele-films starring Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Syn/the Scarecrow:

Appearing decades even before the Scarecrow, however, the mysterious Spring Heeled Jack may very well be the actual originator of many “masked avenger” tropes.

Stories of Spring Heeled Jack had first emerged during the 1830s.  Confused London newspaper reports melded with rumor and gossip to conjure something approaching mass hysteria concerning this very strange figure, who was said to possess supernatural agility, to be able to spit blue and white flames and to be armed with steel claws. This early, folkloric rendition of Jack was an amorphous figure, sometimes said to be the devil in more-or-less human form; an acrobatic boogeyman who seemed to delight in leaping out from the shadows and molesting young women.

There is no doubt that Spring Heeled Jack became the most famous exemplar of the curious 19th century “playing the ghost” or “ghost act” craze, which was widely reported upon in newspapers at the time.  “Ghost actors”, according to these reports, would dress in outlandish costumes and, thus disguised, would startle or even assault passers-by before vanishing back into the night (or, occasionally, being shot or beaten by their would-be victims).

Over a number of decades, though, actual (fearful) belief in Spring Heeled Jack gave way to nostalgia and whimsy. By the mid-19th century he was being featured as a villain in novels and plays, including a famous production mounted by the acrobat/actor/impresario George Conquest.

By the 1880s Jack was beginning to be portrayed as an anti-hero – though often drawn and described as resembling a monstrous man/bat/lion hybrid, springing about the streets and rooftops of London. It then required only a short leap (!) of the imagination to transform him into an outright hero.

The Secret Origins of the Masked Avenger (trope)

Several circa 1900 “penny dreadful” iterations of Spring Heeled Jack, including many stories written by Alfred Burrage under the pseudonym “Charlton Lea”, portrayed Jack as a nobleman who had been cheated out of his inheritance and who took up a devilish disguise to punish those responsible. Along the way, Spring Heeled Jack also rescued damsels in distress and generally stood up for the innocent and downtrodden while terrifying evildoers. He wore a distinctive costume and was capable of performing incredible leaps thanks to a special pair of boots, credited in one tale to a secret mechanism invented by Indian street magicians.

Anticipating Zorro, Spring Heeled Jack was fond of marking both enemies and territory by carving his initial “S” with the point of his rapier. He also maintained a secret underground lair (in a converted crypt) and frightened his adversaries with his ringing laugh and catch-phrase, “The day is yours – leave the night to me!”.

Thus, it may be that, by fully transforming Spring Heeled Jack from an urban ghost story to a heroic “dark avenger”, penny dreadful author Alfred Burrage originated a number of narrative motifs and tropes that influenced subsequent generations of masked, supernaturally-themed vigilantes. By the time comic book heroes such as Batman were created, those motifs had already been further elaborated in pulp novels – most famously by Johnston McCulley’s Zorro character and by Russell Thorndike’s Scarecrow stories – and also in movie serials, to the point that they were part of the pop-literature zeitgeist.

If you can think of an earlier example of this trope, please let us know in the comments!

Note – an earlier version of the above article originally appeared on the Past Tense blog during October of 2014.  It is re-used here by permission.

Houdini and Doyle, Episode 3: In Manus Dei (reviewed)

Edwardian-social-issue-of-the-week: faith healing

“Supernatural” crime: faith … killing (?)

We open inside a traveling tent-show where faith healer Elias Downey is explaining the origin of his miraculous powers to an enraptured audience. God, we are told, used Elias as a conduit in healing his desperately ill younger sister, Jane, when the Downeys were both children.  A skeptic scoffingly interrupts and, shortly thereafter, falls to the floor, coughing blood and insensible.  His wife desperately pleads with Elias to save him, but it’s too late – the man is dead.

Houdini, Doyle and Stratton attend the dead man’s funeral, hoping to gather enough evidence to prove that a crime has actually been committed, in order to be able to order an autopsy.  Elias Downey arrives to pay his respects and Houdini (sacrificing all decorum for expedience) baits him into a loud science vs. faith confrontation, distracting the mourners while his colleagues examine the corpse.  Doyle deduces that the man may have been suffering from dengue fever, and may therefore have died of natural causes after all.

Constable Stratton, however, discovers that several other people have died shortly after disparaging Reverend Downey and the team then attends another of his faith healing services.  Houdini performs an impromptu demonstration of “psychic surgery” on a member of Downey’s audience, to illustrate the power of the placebo effect; the man is deceived by the trick and believes himself to be cured, and so he feels better.  Ironically, Houdini himself then falls violently ill; meanwhile, Doyle is convinced of Reverend Downey’s powers and asks him to try to heal his comatose wife, Touie, who does, in fact, rally shortly after Downey prays over her.

Doyle, doubting his earlier diagnosis of dengue fever, conducts an illicit autopsy on the dead skeptic and is overcome by a toxic miasma rising from the man’s incised abdomen; coming to, he realises that the man was poisoned, suggesting foul play in the other deaths that have befallen people who scoffed at Downey.  While Doyle and Stratton interview the wife of the dead skeptic, Houdini performs his matinee magic show, but is again overcome by illness and fails to escape the Water Torture Cell, requiring a dramatic glass-smashing rescue.

Eventually it transpires that the Reverend’s sister, Jane, has been bumping off “disbelievers” in order to bolster her innocent brother’s reputation, and thus his ability to do some actual good, even if only via the placebo effect.

The main emotional through-line in this episode lies in Arthur’s relationship with his newly-revived wife Touie.  As the story began, he was losing hope that she would recover and was packing her clothes away in storage.  After she regains consciousness (as it turns out, she was actually healed by an experimental medical treatment rather than by the Reverend’s prayers), the two of them share some tender moments … but tragically, by episode’s end she has relapsed into the coma.  The distraught Doyle is comforted by his young daughter, and then, together, they unpack Touie’s clothing and re-hang it in her closet.


  • We’re asked to accept a lot of coincidences in this episode, especially regarding the timing of various illnesses and recoveries, which fit so neatly and dramatically into the storyline as to severely strain credibility.
  • Episode 3 is basically an examination of both the limited and erratic benefits and significant dangers of faith healing – here identified as nothing, more nor less, then the placebo effect, bolstered by the above-mentioned heavy dose of dramatic license.  The ever-skeptical Houdini offers some trenchant and accurate observations along these lines, and while the more credulous Doyle is always ready to accept a supernatural explanation, his practical skills as a physician are crucial to solving the case.
  • Constable Stratton doesn’t have a great deal to do this time, other than to glance sternly at the two “boys” while they banter; hopefully she’ll have more of an active role in the rest of the season, aside from being Houdini’s burgeoning love interest.


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Only six ibangs this week, but we’re looking forward to Episode 4, when Houdini and Doyle take on the legendary “leaping ghost”, Spring Heeled Jack!