If there’s only one takeaway from Shining Vale 2×03 “Chapter 11: The Goat,” it’s that we should never forget this series is a horror comedy. Emphasis on horror. Certainly, the nightmare that kicks off the episode features plenty of the grotesque. But the way everything comes together in those final moments, with each new reveal more F-ed up than the last — that really drives the point home.
When we’re not purely in the realm of the darkest dreams imaginable, the Phelps family drama continues to unfold in ways that manage to be both hilarious and touching. “Chapter 11” features some great emotional moments as Pat and Terry try to rebuild (on a false foundation) and Gaynor tries to decide whether or not she should take advantage of her perfect test scores. And as they try, desperately, to force themselves back to something resembling “normal” — all while ignoring everything from birds of prey to the literal monster under the bed — all we can say is we hope they stay as strange as ever. The same goes for this series as a whole. Because normal’s always been overrated anyway.
Oh. And before we discuss some highlights: This series would not exist without actors. A fair deal for SAG-AFTRA is long overdue.
May cause severe side effects
Shining Vale 2×03 has some really interesting things to say about aging and the bizarre things people are willing to do to avoid it. And the episode isn’t even at all subtle about that either. At one point, we’re even asked, outright, “what won’t women do to turn back the hands of time, right?” Also of note: Throughout the episode, everyone’s just obsessed with how great Pat looks — how her skin’s “glowing,” among other compliments — and even after hearing about the side effects of Ruth’s herbs, the main reaction from everyone else seems to be “good for you!” The main outlier there is Gaynor, but even she seems to see this latest development as more cause for mockery and irritation than anything approaching concern.
After all, society has long since normalized surgeries, injected botulinum toxin, and whatever the hell Goop might be selling this week for “solutions” to aging. What’s a little post-menopausal period and some nightmares compared to all that? If Pat suddenly looks better and feels up to the task — meaning able to manage everything from a book reading, to helping her youngest out of a tummy ache, to renewed intimacy with her husband — those are certainly “normal” and “fair” prices to pay. Of course, no one ever stops to question why there’s so much value placed on desperately grasping onto false youth. (Or, if they do, they’re dumped into the “definitely crazy” category.)
But that’s where “Chapter 11: The Goat” stops being all fun and games and starts to say something particularly damning. To remain useful, Pat has to find a way to remain unnaturally young — at least outwardly. But to do that, she has to make a deal with the devil. Somehow, a totally normal biological process is part of the horror; it even goes hand-in-hand with her nightmares, having come literally at the same time as the very first vivid dream. It seems to be punishment, commentary on how scary all this reproductive health stuff is no matter what stage you’re at in life, and maybe even a little bit of a warning.
Be careful what you wish for, whether it may be not having to deal with periods anymore or simply wanting to go back in time to when you were younger. Either way, you just might get it — terrors and all.
In the teen horror genre, there’s nothing quite like that long shot of an abandoned, far-too-quiet high school hallway — obligatory row of lockers included. It’s such a recognizable image, whether from so many great moments in the original Prom Night or even (to name-drop an all-time favorite scary movie) the jump scare when Billy shows up at Sidney’s locker in the original Scream — or countless others — and Jake’s showdown with The Goat in Shining Vale 2×03 lives up to all those iconic moments. In a way that totally fits with this series, of course.
So, let’s take a quick step back. We know, before Jake goes to school for the big game, that he’s dreading it. Not only does he say his “belly hurts,” which his mom helps him with in a weirdly sweet moment that reminds us how, when we’re not feeling well, we just want our mommies and those moments of comfort that we’ve otherwise outgrown, but he’s also just terrified. Sure, some of that terror comes from the goat harassing him in his VR — which, of course, Pat just kind of…rolls with that statement. The bigger deal, though, is the pressure to win. Chuckles over how the mascot would be the one facing that particular pressure aside, Jake simply has a lot on his plate.
Enter the high school horror and its always-apt metaphor. So, there’s the nasty, creepy Goat — bright, yet somehow still scary spotlight in that dark and creepy hallway and all. And Jake tries to play tough, tackle the thing after it’s passed him…but then, he sees a girl. A girl who’s the mascot of the other team…and a girl who completely kicks his ass. Faced with something that’s not straight out of a horror movie but is, instead, just a normal human being, Jake’s reduced back to the shy, quiet kid we’ve always known — one who can barely get a word out, not the newly-popular one we saw in the season premiere. And then, of course, The Goat kicks his ass.
Dylan Gage brings everything to this scene it needs to make it work, even with so many others to compare it to. Everything lands, from the sense of discomfort when Jake’s left alone at the lockers, to that forced toughness when he calls out to the Goat and tackles it, to the quiet bewilderment at finding out the thing from his nightmares…isn’t actually here.
But this is Shining Vale, so there has to be a little bit of melodrama for comedic effect, and Gage gets that absolutely right, too. Jake’s earlier moaning and groaning over what turned out to be just a little gas is nothing compared to what we see here — just a fun warmup for what we get out of the character after the opposing mascot kicks him in the balls. And while over-acting is a delicate art, one can’t help but wonder if he studied the late, great Paul Reubens’ extended death in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
…or maybe that’s just this viewer’s horror-rotted brain making connections where it wants to. Either way, we’re always, always, always here for this kind of content.
More on Shining Vale 2×03
- Good Morning Shining Vale is better than The Morning Show, Harvey Two-Face ghoul anchor and all.
- “I don’t have any drugs. If that’s what you’re looking for.” Gus Birney’s delivery just makes this entrance.
- “It’s not a Netflix password. You don’t share it.” Aged poorly before it had a chance to air. Damn.
- “What did women do in olden times when they got their period?” “They thanked God that they weren’t pregnant.” So, not much has changed then.
- Pat’s reaction to this shitty doctor calling a period mention “gross jokes” is everything.
- “They make you more youthful everywhere.” If this turns into another one of those stories with a woman who shouldn’t be able to get pregnant suddenly having it happen to her…
- …just kidding. That only happens to Gillian Anderson’s characters. Shoutout to both The X-Files and Sex Education!
- “Feeling younger is worth a monthly visit from Aunt Rosie.” Mmmm, hard pass.
- Nice throwback to season 1 with the “suck a hot dick, death” poster. 10/10.
- …didn’t need the flirting with Kathryn to resume, though.
- Weird hearing Monica Geller narrating something so dirty. Here for it, though.
- “Fuck you, bird!”
- The “holy fuck” when that bird splatted into the window was excellent.
- “You’re so lucky. I…I hate my boss.” Laird’s so real for this. “I thought you worked for yourself.” “I do.” Laird, still the realest.
- Really fun back and forth with Pat, Terry, and Gaynor over her test scores and opening the mail. Birney makes those dynamic changes so seamlessly.
- And of course Pat was right that all she had to do was blame Terry and Gaynor would be fine about them opening her mail.
- Gaynor to Pat: “I’m not you.” Pat to Joan: “I’m not you.” Uh…huh.
- “Will you sell your soul to the Dark One?” Sure, for dessert.
- “Men are like sharks. They stick around for two things: feeding and fucking.” Joan is correct and has never done anything wrong in her life.
- “It used to be something super racist. They changed it.” As they should.
- Pat and Terry’s date is strangely sweet…after the awkward bit with him being unable to change the direction he’s facing.
- Mousse: Good. Chocolate mouse: Pass.
- Once again demanding that this show stop unexpectedly giving me feelings in the middle of nightmares, giant goats, weird periods, parents loudly banging it out…and whatever else.
- That entire nightmare sequence. The music, the colors, the intensity! No words other than “holy shit” and “wow, it’s fucked up.”
- Oh! Also on the nightmare: So well done. In Courteney Cox we trust.
- …still don’t trust Ruth. You can’t make me.
Thoughts on Shining Vale 2×03? Leave us a comment!
New episodes of Shining Vale release weekly on Starz.