For all its flaws, one thing Stalker has always excelled at is scares: from the start, its strength has been in frightening both the characters and the audience, sometimes violently, sometimes more psychologically, but never less than viciously. Plot, dialogue, characterisation – all these things are perfunctory, often risible vehicles used simply to carry us from one terror to another, and it’s in the pursuit and portrayal of that terror that the show is really comfortable. Which is a sad, slightly disturbing thing but the decades-long popularity of the horror movie genre suggests the show and its writers are not alone in that.
It’s not surprising then that this episode, abandoning as it does any other real attempt at story in favour of Ray the Lunatic careering across California in a violent rampage of killing and kidnapping, is, while wholly unpleasant, undeniably effective.
We begin with a nightmare, both figurative and literal, as Lt Beth – who is doing well getting any sleep at all, in the circumstances – has a horrible dream about Ray and Perry, to her distress and Desk Cop Ben’s alarm. I thought, for a moment, she might be awoken by the tender, muscle-bound ministrations of Stalker Jack, having finally graduated from couch sentry to bed-mate, but no, Jack is still hedging his bets, babysitting son Ethan to the doe-eyed admiration and gratitude of the hospitalised (but alive!) Deputy DA Amanda Taylor, all that restraining order unpleasantness completely forgotten.
DDAAT can’t identify the man who attacked her, but Beth knows it’s Ray the Lunatic, and knows it’s only the first step of his campaign to destroy her new life, friend by friend. She doesn’t have to wait long for step two: poor Gemma from Ringer (who picked a terrible time to come back into town) once again finds herself tied up and drugged in the trunk of a car, while her friend “Carl Stevens” (who?) finds himself on the receiving end of a frying pan to the face.
Ray the Lunatic seems particularly keen on the infliction of injuries to the skull; as well as “Carl Stevens,” Perry’s dad’s unfortunate PI gets a hotel room wall to the head (amongst other things) and Perry’s unhappy expression – now he’s finally decided “This has gone too far” and tried, firstly, to escape, and, secondly, to save poor Gemma from Ringer – is on the receiving end of fists, feet and a gun.
While Ray runs amok, Beth is worrying her friends and colleagues by “getting a little intense.” So the natural thing to do is take her off the case (which she shouldn’t have been on in the first place because – HELLO – her friend’s been kidnapped and Beth’s clearly the next victim in line) and replace her with “Vicky Gregg” who is: a) an FBI agent (on some kind of level transfer deal?); b) a best-selling author(!) and c) played by Oscar-winning actress – OSCAR-WINNING ACTRESS – Mira Sorvino. WTF?!
There is very little about that last paragraph that makes any sort of sense, so let’s just move on. On any other show, Vicky Gregg would either turn out to be evil or using this as a backdoor pilot for her own spin-off. Stalker bucks the trend, however by a) making her seem pretty genuine, competent and kind to Beth, even if sending her home seems somewhat risky – surely she’s safer surrounded by cops at HQ? – and b) getting itself officially cancelled this week, making the prospect of a “Stalker She Wrote” spin-off somewhat pie-in-the-sky.
To Janice’s visible irritation, every sentence out of the preternaturally well-informed Vicky Gregg’s mouth is exposition of some sort – be it a potted history of each of her new team-mates or helpful insights into the psychological profile the Lunatic they’re hunting – which means Janice is both out-ranked in terms of grade and out-flanked in terms of jansplaining opportunities. This attack on the very essence of her being bewilders Janice to such an extent that, when the action shifts to a junkyard where cars go to die, she temporarily loses her mind and asks if “there’s a map or a blueprint of this place somewhere?” It’s a JUNKYARD, Janice. Get a hold of yourself.
Luckily, Jack’s Stalker spidey-sense kicks in just in time and they find Gemma from Ringer, only to also find that…. DUN DUN DUN! Ray the Lunatic is in the most obvious place he could be, Desk Cop Ben is REDACTED and Lt Beth is… the second woman in 40ish minutes to be drugged and trussed up in a car boot so she can be terrorised by a Lunatic in the name of entertainment. Which I guess means that Stalker really hasn’t changed that much after all.