A Real-Time Houdini Viewing Experience, Part 2

(Ed. note: This is Part 2 of Heather’s two-night, no-DVR viewing extravaganza of the History Channel’s Houdini. If you missed Part 1 yesterday, you can read it here. -KL)

Neat fact: The first installment of Houdini attracted 3.7 million viewers on Monday night, which is better than any other miniseries on any station this year, thus far. Not bad for the History Channel, no? Thanks, Entertainment Weekly.

Shot of the bridge. Oh god, it’s the same scene again. They got a lot of use out of this footage. Houdini’s drowning. But then—what’s this? His mommy is there to save him, like always. She is young. He reaches for her, like he would reach for Bess. No judgment. (I am judging.)

Also, when Houdini is under the water, I can’t breathe either.

1914. He told the press his mother saved him. Houdini is pleased with the publicity. His brother taunted him about escaping from a barrel going over Niagara Falls. Bess reminds him sternly: no more bridges.

Houdini admits in a voiceover that he likes to prove he can’t die. Here is the straightjacket trick. He explains he must keep going further, but he doesn’t know why. Jimmy looks pleased again. He’s so creepy when he’s pleased.

Flashback, Houdini learning to dislocate his shoulder to get out of a straightjacket. Nasty. When Bess is mad that he is taking such risks instead of pretending to take risks, he shrugs it off. “This is how I make my living. That’s what people pay to see.”

When Houdini is in the straightjacket, he looks like a flopping fish. Bess looks like she thinks so, too. Houdini tells her he believes he carries people’s fears, like some kind of saint. Bess says he may not fear death, but he is afraid of life. She’s also a little pissed his mom is there all the time. Bess thinks he just married her because she fit in a trunk. He’s pissed she wants him to be all SAFE and BORING. Oh my god, she played the race card. I can’t even. Neither can Harry. They show the footage of him being punched in the stomach for metaphor.

Ooh, a sex scene. Did they make up? Oh. THAT’S NOT BESS.

Next scene: Houdini looks so alone in his great big room. Montage of his courtship of Bess, but now in blue for sadness. Bess can’t sing, but she’s trying. Maybe that’s why everything is sad.

Bess comes home, says she was at church. She makes an ultimatum – they are either in this in together, or she’s out. He swears on his mother’s life, making a lot of promises about not risking his own life anymore. She says that’s not what she is talking about. He knows, and apologizes.

So he stops trying to die and starts having a show with an elephant. For safety. Because it wasn’t a good idea before, but it is now. Because of safety.

The elephant’s name is Jenny. Her purpose is to disappear. Here comes the curtain, in slow motion, enveloping man and beast while all look on in wonder, including Bess. THEN THE ELEPHANT IS GONE. Everyone is very pleased, and there is a standing ovation. Houdini blows a kiss at Bess, or maybe at his mom, who is beside her. Always there.

Houdini is asked to be a spy again. He isn’t so pleased. But they convincingly tell him he would disappoint his fans in Europe, which is actually a threat, so he goes. But first, he visits Mom. She thinks she’s dying, so she kisses him a little too much and cries and he kind of rolls his eyes but is still worried anyway and so he asks his brother to take care of her. Bess says Mom will be fine, like she cares.

Commercials for the upcoming Sons of Liberty movie. I wasn’t really paying attention beyond looking idly at the eye candy, but I think it could be about the Revolutionary War, but set to rock music, like this show. They are making history hardcore… That might just work.

So far, no magic themes on night two. I still find the amount of magic commercials last night disconcerting. Did they make them all, just for this show? That would be extreme. But if not, did the History Channel google “magic ads” and make some calls? I bet the commercial directors were thrilled. The commercials sucked otherwise, and now somebody actually would show them because of THEME.

Houdini is in some faerie forest with his British handler, talking about the unrestricted warfare the Germans were babbling about around him when they thought he couldn’t understand their language. Houdini is hoping World War I isn’t happening, but the Archduke has already been shot and so, unfortunately, it is.

Now Houdini is on stage and there is a brick house and trees and suddenly he appears on the other side of a brick wall and people are amazed but I don’t think it’s real or impressive. Now he is crawling under the wall to get to the other side secretly. Seems obvious. Instead, people look thrilled.

Backstage, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visits, all modest, saying he has no idea at all how Houdini did anything and therefore Houdini must be spiritually gifted. Houdini is all, “crackpot!” Sir Conan-Doyle is a little creepy and pushy, to be honest. A sleazy medium pipes up and says she’s important too. Not yet, ma’am. Houdini scoffs. Oh, wait, that’s Lady Doyle. Still, no one cares.

Houdini: “What am I, the Wizard of Oz?”

Oh no, his mother passed away. More metaphorical punches to the gut, which, by the way, are always shown from the inside. I guess Mom was right and Bess was wrong. He collapses when he reads the telegraph from his brother Dash. Bess runs to his side and is sincerely sympathetic, even though you always knew she was aware her mother- in-law was a little intense and her husband a little too Oedipal.

:::Commercials::: Oh, here’s some magic again. Thanks, Capital One.

1914. His mother’s funeral. He is broken. He laugh-cries at her graveside, wondering who will believe in him now. Maybe your wife? Bess watches from a distance. Jimmy asks if Houdini can somehow supernaturally bring mommy dearest back, and Houdini is obviously wondering if Jimmy is smoking some of Bess’s Mexican tobacco.

Flash forward. Houdini is on stage, being a smarmy spiritualist. Apparently, Jimmy has all the best ideas. Bess is on stage being covered in a veil because of vibrations(?). When next she speaks, Bess will be Elsie, a local woman who was murdered a few years before. Bess whispers that she’s Elsie. Not convincing, Bess. Well, not to me, but the audience is enthralled. She croaks she was murdered, stabbed 16 times in a garden, with a butcher’s knife. She growls that she knew her killer, a tall, dark man with a moustache and goatee. A man and a woman get up to leave, but why? On stage, Bess goes mad, unable to answer, and faints.

Backstage: everyone is obviously fine and never possessed at all. Then Elsie’s family shows up, and they are not pleased. They were on a date night, and it was supposed to be romantic, and instead they have to relive their loved one’s murder, and it was done poorly. That is kind of annoying. Houdini looks like he might grow a conscience someday. Not quite yet.

Back to his mother’s funeral. The scene is shaded blue again to signify the past. Houdini admits he totally wishes he could magic his mom back, and that he’d do anything.

:::Commercial Break::: I think Liam Neeson’s new movie A Walk Among the Tombstones is secretly subtitled Taken 3.

The commercials feel like they last for years, by the way. My husband and I reason they have four hours to fill and they can only show the bridge scene so many times. Right?

:::Back::: Hollywood, 1922. Harry is watching his own movie, because he makes movies now, which he hates because it’s fake. As he sulks, he sees a young woman who suddenly looks at him with his mother’s face. He ogles, and Bess scolds him because it looks like he is being inappropriate. And I kind of agree, no matter what he is actually looking at.

Houdini decides he does need to try to contact his mother. But the mediums piss him off because they are all lying. Seriously. He says, “It was starting to tick me off,” so you know he means it. He exposes the frauds for fun and vengeance because he has a thing against people who pretend to do something impossible for profit. OH WAIT.

Houdini sees the irony, and claims he’s totally different because he’s an entertainer who isn’t lying about being a supernatural snowflake. When one fraud is annoyed about being exposed, Houdini taunts that in order to shut him up, they’d have to shoot him. It echoes. I bet that’s significant.

But maybe it’s not foreshadowing, as expected, but a transition to our guy being tied to a cannon about to go off, trying to escape. It does not look good. The whole plan comes across like this was his idea, but I think it has Jimmy written all over it. For suspense, we follow the flame into the cannon – like the glowing core that sets the whole thing off. I’m guessing he escapes, but there’s another commercial, so I just don’t know yet.

Fortunately, after the commercial break, he’s fine. Sir Doyle is there again and he is very impressed. Houdini presses him to explain his crazy religious ideas, but Doyle insists this is science. SCIENCE. They go to a restaurant. Then a gypsy woman wanders by (where the hell did she come from?) and Houdini lets her read his palm. She takes one look and says, “Not today.” That’s not good, Harry. When he and his companions are all, “Wait, seriously?” she relents and admits, “You’re going to die.” “So are you,” says Houdini. Rubber, glue.

Doyle offers up his wife as a medium, and knowing this show, maybe more, but they innocently cut to a séance using automatic writing and the surprisingly happy-sounding moans of possession. Shockingly, his mother comes through. Everything she is saying is pretty standard mom-stuff. Houdini’s eyes are showing such heartbreaking hope. I wonder what Lady Doyle is actually writing, since she’s speaking as well. (Why write at all? She’s not reading what it says. This is very confusing and not very efficient.)

Houdini is crying. Guess he bought it.

Fooled me! The medium spoke English and his mother never did. Those were fake tears. ‘Cause also it was his birthday and she didn’t even mention it. So now, it’s the next day; he’s had time to think about how to respond and this is it. He’s hopping in anger in their doorway like an agitated Chihuahua. That’s not good enough, so then he publicly condemns them on the radio, calling Lady Doyle deluded and Sir Conan Doyle a bad influence. He declares war on everything he deems fake and bad.

The press surrounds Lady Doyle and her husband at the train station. Lady Doyle decides to tell them Houdini is doomed. Doooooomed. She doesn’t really scare me either, Harry.

In a voiceover, Houdini admits he was really just looking for a real medium and exposing frauds was just a hobby. He goes to a wealthy home and meets a woman named Marjorie, but for some reason, she insists she isn’t Marjorie yet. At first she’s dressed as a shiny flapper (looking fabulous) and later emerges in a red kimono (still fabulous, but now her hair is down, and she looks a tiny bit evil). She might be Marjorie now. She might even be Zuul. It’s hard to say. She makes one of the men kiss her and I am still not sure why. Maybe to prove she’s sultry.

So far “Marjorie” has all the supplies of the others, including the tambourine, which is totally a sign of ghosts, according to mediums. The room goes dark. More delighted moans of possession and this time her legs are parting and… this is getting explicit. The voice that emerges this time IS convincing and terrifying. Apparently its name is Walter. Walter knows facts about Houdini, and mentions his mother does not speak English, so maybe there’s hope. But mean Walter will not let Houdini speak to his mother. Mean Walter curses him instead.

Houdini goes back to his hotel. He is not impressed with Marjorie’s act or her reputation of seducing non-believers, and he tells his wife so, earnestly, over the phone. But, oh dear, Marjorie is at his hotel room door wearing black feathers and smothered in femme fatale.

Harry tells Marjorie he mostly hates her because she lied, and lying’s wrong. She thinks sex will help. She also thinks punching his rock hard abs is foreplay. So he’s like, 2 seconds ago I was totally not into you but that was hot. Then his conscience starts winning and he kicks her out as she starts to undress. She reminds him he’s cursed—CURSED—and that someday, when he dies, she can make him say whatever she wants because she’s the medium and he’s the dead guy. She wins. He knows.

Houdini’s next show. His hair looks white. It looks like something is going wrong with his act, but his voiceover insists he does not believe in curses and the act finishes, though he discreetly breaks his leg in the process. I should mention there was some guy in the audience who looked suspiciously contented when the trick misfired and potentially disappointed when it was okay, but maybe I am making things up again for the sheer drama, because at first I thought it was Jimmy.

The Houdini Manse: Houdini is now super pleased because the radio reports that pesky medium Marjorie who cursed him has been exposed as a fraud. All Bess hears is “curse.” She’s not upset, she’s angry. But when she steps away, her face changes and I haven’t decided what it said then. Not anger anymore, that’s for sure. Defeated?

A young guy, the one from the audience that was clearly wishing ill will for Houdini, comes to convert Houdini to his spiritualist religion that is really science, he swears, and demonstrates his fervor by punching Houdini repeatedly in those rock hard abs he’s been so proud of since we met him, without Houdini’s permission. Rude. “That’s for calling Lady Doyle a fake!” Houdini decides he doesn’t need a doctor, but we got to see his insides again and we can see something rupture and it’s gross. Regardless, the show must go on. This is a bad idea, Harry. Step away from the water torture device. Fortunately, he collapses on stage before he can kill himself.

In the operating room, the doctors discover his guts are full of green slime that reminds me of ectoplasm. The doctor’s “Oh God” hints that ooze is a bad sign. Then, the press descends on Bess, who had been sitting quietly next to Jimmy in the hospital hallway, likely assessing how much she cares whether or not Houdini makes it through. Not really, she looks horrible. She is not pleased to see press, and Jimmy tries to shield her and get rid of them.

The doctor comes out to escort Bess and Jimmy away from the mob to his office. There, he tells her Harry’s appendix ruptured and the ooze is gangrene. That is bad. There is nothing more to do, the doctor continues sadly. I’m captivated by two things—both Bess and Jimmy finally look older, and Bess is wearing Jimmy’s toy-soldier jacket. Just saying.

Houdini, in his hospital bed, muses to the doctor that he wishes he had been useful, too, like a doctor, because he wasn’t. The doctor is inspiring and uplifting, saying Houdini isn’t fake, he’s real, really real, the really realest man he has ever met. (He actually does say “realest man”.) Houdini says,”“I think I am about to make my last escape,” which we think will be his last words, but instead the scene changes to a bit later, and he speaks to Bess, asking her to sing. She sings their song. (I’m sorry, hon, it’s still terrible.) He says, “Bessie. It was never about the trunk. It was always about you.” She forgives him, weepy. “Don’t cry. Even if I am dead, there is no getting rid of me.” He tells her not to cry some more, but she does, of course.

Later, when Harry is alone, a nurse shows up with a cat mask because dying men aren’t already hallucinating. Apparently it’s Halloween. Trick or treat? The nurse’s arrival causes him to picture his mother again, the young version, who kisses him… like, kisses-kisses, and smiles fondly as he dies.

News footage of his funeral, then quick flashes of the gravesite. I think there was some hideous flower arrangement that read Mother Love. Did it? I think it did. I WISH I HAD DVR. Jimmy is devastated. Guess he wasn’t evil. Sorry about judging you based on your face, Jimmy.

Last scene: Bess is trying to do a séance. However, the screen fades to black and we are told Houdini died at the age of 51 and Bess lived on for 17 more years, but, swear to god it displays this, “They never made contact again.” Because we wondered. The end.