Monday, January 9, 2012

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Rebirth"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

Initially, the premise of this episode makes it seem like something from The Ghost Whisperer rather than the grim fare the audience has come to expect from American Gothic.  Tired of her angelic afterlife--of her inability to touch or feel anything when she makes her visitations to her brother Caleb--Merlyn works to take on corporeal form once again.  She manages to reincarnate, assumes a new identity ("Halle Monroe"), revels in the joys of earthly existence, and even experiences love for the first time.

But all is not as saccharine as this synopsis might make seem.  Early in the episode, Caleb is shown to be a lonesome object of derision, as a group of teens taunt him about his ignominious family history.  Caleb has been tainted by the scandal surrounding the Temples, and observing his mistreatment, Marlyn appears to him lamenting that "It's the sins of the Father, and it ain't right."  This notion of generational plague is a recurrent theme in Gothic narratives.

Other Gothic trappings are also evident in "Rebirth"--literally, Ray (the motorcycle-riding local with whom Merlyn falls in love) is entrapped in a police cruiser when Sheriff Buck uses his powers to lock the innocent young man inside the vehicle on a suffocatingly hot afternoon.  The episode also offers a bit of Poe-esque grotesquerie when Buck forces Ray to dig up Merlyn's grave and discover that his dearly beloved girl has already departed.  We are only given brief glimpse of Merlyn in decomposing repose, but it is no doubt a haunting image.

Buck, seeing through the "Halle" disguise," eventually confronts Merlyn.  He doesn't seek to banish her, though.  Instead, he encourages her to continue on frolicking in fleshly form.  But Merlyn knows enough about Buck to recognize devilish temptation: she has returned to life by borrowing the spirit of a pregnant woman's child, and if she doesn't return that vital force to its rightful owner, the child will die before it has a chance to be born (perhaps killing the mother in the process).  Rather than committing "the ultimate sin," and losing Caleb's faith in her in the process, Merlyn chooses to take a suicide dive off the side of a bridge.  And so for the second time in the first half-season of the series, Merlyn suffers a shocking death.

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