Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Damned If You Don't"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

In this fourth episode (with a fatalistic title pointing to the no-win situations that Sheriff Buck presents to the townspeople of Trinity), American Gothic once again proves that is well aware of its literary heritage.  The episode introduces "Wash Sutpen," whose first and last names hearken back to the characters of Wash Jones and Thomas Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom!.  The echoing of Faulkner's novel continues with the revelation that Wash Sutpen murdered the "fellow who was taking liberties" with his teenage daughter--recalling Wash Jones's scything of Thomas Sutpen after the latter insults the honor of Jones's daughter Milly.  Actually, though, Wash Sutpen has gunned down the wrong man; the real culprit was his employee Carter Bowen, who takes over Sutpen's junkyard business when the latter is sent to jail (how's that for small-town intrigue?).  At the time of Wash Sutpen's violent outburst, Sheriff Buck helped cover up Carter's lechery; now he expects a favor in return (he wants to hire Carter's sexy 15-year-old daughter as a personal assistant).  When Carter refuses, the Machiavellian Buck reintroduces (the allegedly paroled) Wash Sutpen to Carter's family.

The Bowen junkyard is like an automotive graveyard, with rusted hulks (including, fittingly, a hearse) littering the grounds.  While visiting the place, Gail Emory stumbles upon the Gothic ruin once driven by her late parents.  Ever since returning to Trinity, Gail--a reporter by trade--has been determined to look into the circumstances surrounding her folks' deaths years earlier, and when she proceeds here to search the abandoned vehicle, she discovers a mysterious key inside a magnetized box adhered beneath the glove compartment.

The battle between good and evil is one of the show's most overt themes, but American Gothic also makes its points in more subtle ways.  In the cleverly-arranged closing scene of "Damned If You Don't," Sheriff Buck stands in the junkyard orchestrating his latest devilish deal.  A derelict bus looms over his shoulder in the background, and the one-word sign above the back window makes clear the type of service this vehicle once provided.  This was once a "CHURCH" bus, but its days of transporting the faithful throughout Trinity have long since passed. 

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