Friday, April 16, 2010

The 'M' Word

Script review of unpublished Darin Morgan script for The Night Stalker – "The ‘M’ Word"



The seminal early 70s series, The Night Stalker, which had a profound impact on Chris Carter during his development of The X-Files, was a show that involved Carl Kolchak’s pursuits into the unknown, usually this involved a Monster of the week, To anyone who is unaware, Frank Spotnitz developed a new retooling of the series for ABC in 2005, that lasted only a half season unfortunately. The obligatory Monster was a major component of both versions of this series, and so it was inevitable that someone would tackle this conceit head on. That person would be none other than Darin Morgan.

One of the greatest misfortunes within the cancellation of Frank Spotnitz's take on the classic series that originally starred Darin McGavin, The Night Stalker, was the missed opportunity of seeing another Morgan script get produced. That script, "The 'M' Word", examines elements behind the mythology of the Monster. One of the more insightful comments that Robert Shearman offered in his interview was the following:

"I think that Darin Morgan is a brilliant iconoclast. I think that what Darin Morgan liked doing was sort of destroying stuff. He does it very, very well in Millennium actually. There's that great episode, Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense, but that's wonderful because actually, what it really does, it looks at Millennium: The series, and it holds up to the light and Darin Morgan points out everything that he thinks is wrong with it."

With this script, Darin took the same approach with The Night Stalker, held it up to the light and pointed out it's absurdities, as well as the absurdities in life. Yet, Morgan was not just riffing, out of disrespect, on the genres he satires, he has pointed out in past interviews that he is not intending to write satire, but like Mark Twain, he points out the ironies and tragedies found in many people’s lives.

The script begins with a full moon, a pair of stoned kids, on a mountain trail, are talking about Werewolves, when upon hearing a scream, they find a Park Ranger being attacked by something that can’t be described. After the creature escapes, the kids and the ranger discover a body that’s half devoured. Reed inquires to the ranger about what happened, who explains he was warning the victim about wandering the trails at night, before they are both attacked. Reed assumes it was a mountain Lion, but the pair of stoner kids insists that wasn’t the case. Enter in Carl Kolchak, who takes them at face value that something other than a mountain lion was responsible.

This begins one of the brilliant themes in the first couple of acts in the script, differing points of view about what was perceived, everyone describes the creature differently, again this Rashomon theme has played out before with The X-Files, “Bad Blood”, for example. Reed and Kolchak have an incredulous exchange before the stoners arrive at a description that what they saw was reptilian. While Reed is questioning the grieving mother, an older man observes Reed and Kolchak, while, muttering "Why?"

Already the script seems to be making a reference towards a phrase from Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ – "This is not happening!" Even the Sherriff is annoyed with Kolchak until they stumble on a lair in a secluded area that is piled with half eaten human remains. At the Beacon, Kolchak asks illustrator Whitley to sketch a description of the creature. Reed manages the assistance of a Beacon staffer with a contact for an animal expert, while Kolchak uses the same staffer to identify the creature sketch as something resembling a horny toad. The staffer further explains that these reptiles shoot blood out of their eye sockets as a form of defense. Then, Kolchak is dismissed by his editor, Vincenzo, about the monster story.

After the Monster has terrorized a hooker named Babycat, whom has escaped, Kolchak interviews her, Babycat adds that the Monster was wearing underwear. After another encounter with Vincenzo, Reed reveals evidence that personal effects were found with another victim, and that the monster is quite human after-all. Kolchak follows McManus to the result of another attack, here is where there is another example of Darin’s brilliant abilities as a writer in destroying the very structure of a show he is writing. During Kolchak’s monologue, there’s a montage of Kolchak and McManus walking through alley way’s, they stop at a hot dog stand, and the monologue stops as they eat, then continues when they walk, thus poking fun at the monologue technique of the series. McManus and Kolchak debate over if they can call this creature a monster, or if that work was already taken in Frankenstein, another post modern reexamining of pop culture. McManus suggests "Lizardo", which again harkens back to the circus freak / Barnum theme of "Humbug", or could be a nod to Chris Carter’s own “Mutato” from "The Post-Modern Prometheus" episode.

McManus and Kolchak find another body, and while taking pictures, give chase to the "Lizardo" suspect, they lose the creature, but it reaches McManus and sprays him with blood, after McManus collects himself they continue the chase to find a man in a port-a-potty, the same man who was mumbling "Why?", and he reveals himself to be Guy Mann. Back at the Beacon, they can’t identify anything in the roll of pictures they have taken, but the sequence deftly illustrates an aspect of what happens with people who read into anything concerning with photo evidence of the paranormal, seeing something that isn't there. Kolchak suggests to McManus to not wash the blood off of his soiled shirt, so that it can be analised for evidence. After an exchange of catch-up with Reed, they re-visit the Ranger with further questions, as well as to identify the character known as Guy Mann, at this point, normally this should be the red-herring to the reader of something amiss regarding the Ranger. Kolchak manages to "borrow" the Ranger's bloody shirt from the first attack.

After another police report, they visit the manager of a seedy hotel, with facial cuts and a destroyed room from the suspect they have been pursuing. The man is clearly upset about something, and there’s an exchange that has Darin’s typical ironic humor.

KOLCHAK:
There was mention of a “Monster”?

MANAGER:
He had the nerve to call me that, right before he
conks me on the head with a chair. I only asked
him to pay his bill. That makes me a monster?

KOLCHAK:
Of course not.

MANAGER:
Obviously. Now, please – go away, or I’ll kill you.

Kolchak heads to his car, but after finding a hotel room open, investigates, finds a pill bottle on a night table prescribed to “Guy Mann” from a Dr. Rumanovich. It’s hard to say if this is a word play on Rumination, but this character does just that, as he explains to Kolchak, one of countless Dragon slaying mythologies, and points out to Kolchak that it is easier to believe in monsters, then to believe monsters are within us, in a later scene. Kolchak finds a crawlspace in the hotel that leads him back to the manager’s office, Kolchak manipulates the manager into telling his story, of finding this lizard like creature residing in one of his rooms, who sees the thing transform into Guy Mann.

Reed finds “Lizardo”, Guy at a Monster Donut, which Kolchak races to, only to find Guy has escaped again, after trashing the shop. She also reveals that the police have just arrested the murderer. Kolchak finds Guy Mann at a cemetery, studying a sculpture of Saint George slaying the Dragon. Guy asks Kolchak “Why?” in a touching scene.

KOLCHAK:
Why?

GUY:
Because I don’t understand, We go through all
of the drudgery and heartbreak in life…just to
end up here?

KOLCHAK:
It doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?

GUY:
It doesn’t make any sense, nothing will ever make
sense to me again.

Guy reveals he learned a few days earlier that everyone dies. This is where the story takes a brilliant 90 degree turn, and twists the monster mythology, as well as a reverse of the Werewolf origin. After a failed attempt by Guy to try and have Kolchak kill him, in the fabled manner of Saint George, Guy explains that his natural state is as a giant horned lizard, but he was attacked by a human, and bitten several days earlier, he was attacked by the Park Ranger, who has been responsible for the, what could only be described as psychotic cannibal attacks, terrible murders. That these transformations are not only physical but mental as well, Guy becomes self-aware and Guy has been appalled at the state of being human.

The character is baffled by clothing, or having a job, which he manages to secure a job through B.S., or feelings of lust, or infatuation, in this case the hooker, Babycat, who in actuality is a Transvestite, as well as Guy explaining his version on the assault of the hotel manager.

Daily, mundane things we take for granted, Guy looks at with horror.

Guy even wants to take revenge on the person who did this to him, which he realizes isn’t healthy, and which is why he went to Dr. Rumanovich, but the doctor offered no solutions. When Guy does find the Park ranger, it is to his horror that he sees another attack. Noting that the attack by a human was far more savage than anything he’s witnessed by his fellow animal companions.

The Script offers several clever twists, and while I won’t elaborate on the final, it manages to have us reexamine our assumptions. While I can’t say “The ‘M’ Word” is completely on par with Darin’s other X-Files and Millennium opus’s, it does have countless moments of brilliance. You can download a PDF file of the script from the interactive material on The Night Stalker: Complete Series DVD.

To close, from the reoccurring gag line: "Did it have one eye, or three?"