Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Revisiting The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Death Masks

"The Night of the Death Masks" 
Written by  Ken Pettus
Directed by Mike Moder
Synopsis: West and Gordon are caught up in deadly mind games, part of an elaborate revenge plot by an escaped criminal they put away.

Jim: Conrad spends a lot of time walking around with his mouth open in this episode. Is that going to be some new affectation that I can't stop noticing now? Or has he always done that, and I'm just now noticing it?

Trey: That's where you're going to start? But anyway, I think it's new.

Jim: Well, how's this? The opening scene with West fighting the three soldiers was sort of funny. West is over at the piano plinking away a few notes as he calls out the soldier's behavior. He doesn't bother trying to diffuse the situation. He knows how it's going to go down. He's all out of fucks, as the kids say.

Trey: I agree, though ironically, I feel like this is (for much of the episode) a bit darker than the usual WWW fare.

Jim: Yeah. It definitely goes in that direction. I get the feeling that West wandering the empty town is supposed to be a big gimmick in the episode. However, a lot of the creepy tension of Paradox is undercut by our knowledge that West was shanghaied and taken there by Stark's cronies. 

I feel like if you are going to go with a gaslighting plot like this one, then there's some value to holding out information from the viewer. The mystery should be drawn out more. When Artemis gets the news that Stark has broken out of prison that should be our first reveal as to what's going on.

As it is, there isn't a lot of narrative tension in the empty town. Even when Betsy Cole is supposedly killed and vanishes, and it's pretty obviously part of the game. Cole, by the way, is played by Patty McCormack who alarmed audiences ten years earlier as the murderous little girl in The Bad Seed.

Trey: Your point is well  taken, but I wasn't bothered as much as you by what was going on being obvious to the viewer and not to West. Indeed, I think this episode plays that sort of  The Prisoner-esque plot better than the season 1 Loveless episode that dips its toe into the same thing. 

Jim: The back story of Emmet Stark and the robbery at the mint, even though it's apocryphal, makes me wish we saw more old adversaries return to the series. In some ways, it's a hallmark of the series that's not capitalized on enough.

Trey: Seems like we've gotten a couple of those, but yeah, it's not common. Stark is one of the weaknesses in the episode to me, though. Ultimately, Emmett Stark is just a name. Beyond this plot he's  a cypher. I think a better actor with more lines could have made him seem a worthy foe. Also, I think it's too bad we don't see all the conspirators brought to justice. I know they were minor, but still!

Jim: Totally agree on the vacuum created by Stark's absence for most of the episode. The problem is, how do you work him into more of the episode, but keep the mystery going? What we really could have used was a scene with Stark addressing his cronies, which could have served the dual purpose of explaining why they were helping him.

Trey: Though expected, the one part that works really well is the unknowing gunfight between West and Gordon. 

Jim: It definitely seems the intended set piece of this episode, but it feels like we got to it in a bit of a roundabout fashion. Once it's in full swing though, it makes for a rousing action scene. My only complaint is the resolution depended on Gordon flat out missing West when shooting at him. 

Trey: Does he practice his marksmanship more after that, I wonder?

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