Shining Vale 2×01 “Chapter 9: Homecoming” is the perfect season premiere to remind us of everything we loved about the first season of this series. Picking up four months after we last saw the Phelps family, the episode simultaneously continues the story we’ve come to know and love…and brings us to a place that is, eerily, very similar to where we began this journey. Will Season 2 be a standard horror sequel, brilliantly fitting a formula while also delivering new spooky delights? So far, the answer is a definite yes. And if you came for the compelling commentary about mental health, dysfunctional families, and the special way those things blend into intergenerational family curses, well. There’s plenty of that, too.
Did we mention it’s perfect? Because, really. It’s perfect. Honestly, the only thing we hate is that the actors can’t celebrate and promote it right now because, you know, the studios still refuse to make a fair deal with SAG-AFTRA. Now, that’s what we call horror.
We can hold two thoughts at once: First, Pat’s mental illness (haunting) is not her fault, and her actions as a result of it were not entirely within her control. And second, those actions have terrible consequences for her children. Shining Vale 2×01 does a really great job of showing us, with tons of detail, just what those consequences are. Gaynor has dropped out of school and is solely responsible for taking care of both her younger brother and her father. She can’t handle it all — shouldn’t be expected to, even — so everything is a disaster.
No, really. Look at that house. It’s a disaster. She’s kind of a disaster, even. And Jake…Well, he’s a mascot now. He finally has friends, which is a good thing. But he’s different. Not only that, but his needs aren’t exactly being met with pizza night being pretty much every night and his dad being so different. Plus, he’s not even playing with his VR anymore because of the whole creepy haunting thing.
Even the dog is suffering here. No, seriously. Someone get that poor thing to a groomer.
Pat seems to know her kids need her, and she’s (rightfully) appalled to find out her mom actually didn’t take care of them while she was away. Her reunion with Jake is about as “normal” — for their family, at least — as anything. But the standoff, followed by the emotional hug, then followed by the inevitable argument with Gaynor is so incredibly meaningful. Of course she’s going to be the hardest to face, and of course she’s going to be upset about being left to deal with everything. There’s no wonder she doesn’t want Pat to help with Terry, physically blocks her from touching him at times, even. And the screaming, toward the end of the episode, to protect Jake…It’s both difficult to watch and just fascinating.
For as good as everyone on this series is, this is very much Gus Birney’s episode. She has a lot of heavy lifting to do here, between showing us all of Gaynor’s complicated emotions — not just the ones she has to project to fit a particular line or moment but also those that the character is actively trying to hide — and balancing that with the overall tone of the series. This is Shining Vale. It’s a horror comedy, not a depressing drama. (Even if…well. Look at the subject!) So, yes, we need the emotions, but we also need the fun. And Birney knocks it out of the park.
She brings so much to those in-between moments. Take, for example, when Gaynor is listening to her mom tell her how she’s too young for this. We really start to see the vulnerability leak through there. But then — boom — we’re right back to the defensive mask. Are we killing our horror pun quota here if we say Birney is just scary good, and we’re more than just a little afraid to see how much better she and Courteney Cox can continue to push each other to be?
“I. Am. In. Con-trol.”
Another place where Shining Vale 2×01 really delivers is in the episode’s ability to show just how much of an ongoing process — and struggle — maintaining control truly is. Now, we can look at that in terms of mending the family dynamics and breaking the cycle of bickering that made it easy for Rosemary the ghost to take control of Pat in the first place. Or, we can simply think about this in terms of the idea that mental health has no easy “fix,” and mental illness does not have any kind of cure. Then again, this particular series uses the one to tell the story of the other, thus tangling everything up together — forcing them to, essentially, be one and the same. So, we’ll try to pick apart some highlights — and maybe even some lowlights.
Initially, we’re met with a Pat who is convinced she’s all better and begging for release to be able to take care of her family. The detached doctor is…not convinced. Then again, the insurance company doesn’t care — a damning commentary on healthcare in the United States — and sends Pat home anyway. Once there, when the house tries to start its haunting shit with her, Pat keeps herself together with coping mechanisms she obviously learned at the institution.
Here, Cox does some excellent work in the many ways she repeats that line about being in control. We can actually witness Pat’s slow unraveling, those moments when she’s really calm and in control versus those were she’s afraid, or stressed, or any number of other things through the wide variety of ways she delivers it. Sometimes, it’s a change in her voice. Others, it’s about the length of pause between words or any number of other indescribable, yet very noticeable, choices. Often, we hear about a performance being a master class of sorts. This is one of those times when it’s not just gushing to say someone really ought to study what Cox does here.
There’s also a frustrating sort of truth to how quickly Pat goes from refusing to cuss anymore, right back to her old habits. Or how she tempts herself with visiting a part of the house she knows is trouble — only to get the fuck out as quickly as she can. And, of course, there’s the brutal honesty when she goes to visit Joan.
“Why is everything so terrible?”
“What’d you think would happen, darling? You’d go away, get your brain scrambled, come back better, and life would be perfect?”
“Yeah. That’s exactly what I thought would happen. Once I was cured, everything would be better.”
“No, no. Honey. There’s no such thing as cured. You can’t ever get rid of mental illness. That shit is like glitter.”
Sure, “that shit is like glitter” brings some humor to the situation. And absolutely, Judith Light’s delivery is so good as to almost make us forget we’re not talking about something very true and very serious here. But…yeah. That’s it. Right there. These types of things don’t just magically get better just because you’re in in-patient care for a few months. It is a lifetime process. You can’t get rid of it — all you can do is just keep trying. (Or, you know, sharks.)
More on Shining Vale 2×01
- Absolutely gorgeous, if rough, shot of Pat in the hospital at the very beginning.
- Great song about your mom hitting your dad with an axe there, Gaynor. And you’re just in time for the emo revival
(which I am unironically excited about).
- …and the whole open mic thing is giving Phoebe Buffay. Same on the “somebody put gum in here” bit.
- Greg Kinnear does a lovely job with Terry’s traumatized reaction to the “mother” card, as well as the character’s very…lost, yet weirdly optimistic, demeanor in the first part of the episode.
- I, too, am “what the fuck” on poor Roxy.
- The son/dad exchange. Golden.
- Obligatory “keep the gray patch, Courteney” comment.
- “Three years?! My dog will be dead!” (Priorities.) “I said ideally. Unfortunately, I can only keep you here until your insurance runs out.” (I hate it here.)
- “How did you get out after only four months? I was locked away for four years, and I only tried to kill myself.” “I guess you had better insurance than I did.” AND THE UPBEAT GRIN.
- …I continue to hate it here.
- The jump scare with Jake in the mascot costume is an instant favorite.
- …that spooky shit isn’t one of Jake’s mascot pals…right?
- “Ok. To be fair, I never tried to chop up Jake or Roxy.” The comedic timing.
- “I don’t curse anymore. They zapped it out of me.” “Oh, wow. Well, I guess there goes your whole fucking personality.” If they ever zap my fucks out of me…
- “Was I a good husband?” “Oh, Terry. You were the best husband.” “Were you a good wife?” “I was…ok. But I’m going to be better. I’m going to be the best wife and mother. I promise. I’m going to start by cleaning this place up, and I’m going to make a big family dinner.” Should not be this emotional watching the goofy spooky show with the relatable writer but ok.
- Speaking of relatable: “Ok! maybe just for one minute…” …780 minutes later.
- “Jeepers! You have to go back!” “Well, gosh gee-whiz, Mom! How do I know you’re not going to go batshit again?” It’s giving “what the eff, motherfucker,” which is a thing my bff once said.
- “That’s. Not. Helping. Me.”
- Cracked TF up with the bad driving.
- “I can be safe.” …and then nearly he gets Regina Georged.
- Did not need the shots from inside that disgusting water or the gross hair but ok.
- Genius use of the camera to get Pat’s perspective as she’s alone in the house and (foolishly) going to investigate. Same with the choice to really extend that bit and have her movement be as slow as possible…until it’s suddenly very urgent.
- “You can’t do this without my permission” “You’re a writer. We can do whatever we want. We paid you.” Just…yeah. The commentary is on point. Especially with the WGA’s recent fight.
- “It’s just a pulpy slasher.” That’s what they thought about Scream, too. Look at us now!
- “I don’t want to be some mental patient on display.”
- “Is this a typo?” THE SARCASM.
- “You’re looking at the straightjacket. I am looking at how incredible your skin looks.” Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s.
- “Mommy. I hate my family.” “I know. Me too.” !!!!
- “Here we fucking go again.” (Exactly, kiddo.)
- “It took me a long time to forgive her. I was just waiting for the right time to tell you.” “Grandma told me last year.” “I hate her so much.”
- “Stop saying normal! Because we’re not normal! We have never been normal!” Again, this is Gus Birney’s episode.
- The way everyone just…so fragile, waiting to see if Terry can remember “we are Phelps.” And then, the celebration!
- Even the house joined in.
- Oh, hi! Hello, Rosema—…”fuck!” indeed.
Thoughts on Shining Vale 2×01 “Chapter 9: Homecoming”? Leave us a comment!
New episodes of Shining Vale release Fridays on Starz.