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24 April 2016 @ 08:36 pm
Rewatch: S1E10 "Dead Air" (September 22, 1992) by Alison Bingeman  
"Dead Air" is often remembered more for its guest stars than its content. But the episode showcases certain elements of investigative technology of the day. It has first-season's wry humor. And it is rich in thematic reflections on attachment and betrayal, fidelity and independence, guilt and forgiveness, and the ability to start over.

Recap: This is the episode in which an escapee from a psychiatric hospital twice, while on the air with a radio call-in show, murders women because of unresolved issues with his mother. In flashbacks, Lacroix tortures and murders a man, with dialogue implying unresolved issues with his father. Schanke discovers the perpetrator in the hospital's files; Nick saves the radio host. In the end, the radio host leaves what she sees as degrading entertainment and returns to clinical practice.

Guest stars

  • Diane Cary:
    • played Dr. Christina Noble in "Dead Air"
    • wrote "Be My Valentine" (S2E23, but aired 14th)
    • wrote "Let No Man Tear Asunder" (S309)
    • played Laura Stone in "Avenging Angel" (S3E17)
    • is married to James Parriot, creator of Forever Knight
  • David Hewlett:
    Yes, the actor playing Matthew Reed in "Dead Air" went on to play Dr. Rodney McKay on Stargate: Atlantis (2004-2009).

Title


"Dead air" is an unintended silence on the radio from the broadcaster's side. The phrase is often used figuratively of any silenced or unreturned communication. Test patterns on television stations, and dial tones on landline phones, are closely related to, but not the same as, dead air on the radio.

Dr. Noble's radio show is never literally silenced in the episode; there is no actual "dead air." When she's away, they air highlights from previous shows. But, metaphorically, the murderer puts deaths on the air, Nick is briefly on the air (and he's "dead"), and of course Dr. Noble walks away from this profession and turns over her microphone to someone else in the end, terminating her broadcast communication to her listeners.

Oedipus et al.


The Matthew Reed character murders his mother, murders people who resemble his mother-figure, Dr. Noble, and tries to murder Dr. Noble herself. This is not the classic Oedipus complex (Wikipedia) of Freudian psychology, but it's near enough to the vicinity to plug into the flashback reference more deeply than the surface "because she's nothing"/"because he's nothing" dialogue parallel trigger for Nick's memory.

When "Dead Air" first broadcast, it must have seemed plausible, even likely, that the Lacroix character might indeed incarnate the classical character Oedipus (Wikipedia) in some manner! Either via Lacroix's relationship with his mortal father, or that with the unknown vampire who had converted him.

While the relationship with Lacroix's mortal father remains canonically open to question, "A More Permanent Hell" (S2E25, aired 20th) and "Ashes to Ashes" (S3E20, aired 21st) blocked a literal interpretation on the male side for Lacroix's vampire maker, while keeping alive many of the same disturbing psychological echoes, transferred to Divia's Electra complex (Wikipedia).

(In first season, Lacroix is the symbol of utmost evil. By third, having made him a presence in the everyday, modern world, the show seemed to feel a need to mitigate him, to set up Divia as the new symbol of utmost evil, drawing Lacroix back from that extreme and pushing Divia forward to retrench his position.)

The later episodes can be left as irrelevant to the textual reading of this episode unto itself. We know at this point in canon that Nick, after eight centuries of abuse, killed his controlling vampire "father," Lacroix. We meet Matthew Reed, who killed his controlling mother, and then went right on murdering women who reminded him of her. And we see Lacroix torturing and murdering a man who, apparently, reminds him of... someone.

Dr. Noble speculates that the murderer sees himself as other than human, less than human, and therefore not bound by human rules. This is clearly intended structurally to reflect on Lacroix as well as on Matthew, and echoes Lacroix's lines about "because we are nothing." Similarly, she speculates that the murderer continues killing and killing, because the one killed isn't the actual enemy the murderer wishes to kill. Lacroix is of course the ultimate serial killer in FK (until Divia supplants him).

Janette's line that this man "looks like [Lacroix's] father" originally suggested the possibility that she would have seen the person to whom she's comparing this man. Some people wrote fanfic setting Janette's mortality in the classical world, contemporaneous with or not long after Lacroix's. Then came "A Fate Worse Than Death" (S2E02). Since then, retroactive interpretation demands that she's either merely role-playing in whatever scenario Lacroix has dreamed up, or that she's seen this other person through Lacroix's memories in his blood. (I go with role-playing as the explanation, myself, not only because the later canon on blood knowledge is that it's fleeting, but because this episode refers many times to people acting out fantasies: it fits better and contributes more to the episode.)

Ridiculous stock footage interpolation


The Region 2 version of "Dead Air" has what may be the most ludicrous extra footage placement ever.

Right after Schanke tells Nick who the likely killer is, right before Nick drives to the radio station to protect Dr. Noble, Nick changes into his pajamas for an extended rendition of the stock footage in which he throws tarot cards up toward the ceiling, followed by the long cut of the stock footage in which he plays chess against himself in a lightning storm. (The voice-over snippets from earlier in the episode are appropriate and applicable to his reflections, layered over the song, "The Night Calls My Name.") Finally, after wasting way too much time laying on his floor in his robe wincing away from lightning flashes and showing as much of his chest as he ever does, Nick changes back into the clothes he was wearing before, and leaves for the radio station.

Good grief.

Miscellaneous

  • Always lock your computer when you go to the restroom, or Schanke or Nick may sit down at your keyboard! :-)

  • That's CTOK 92.3, home of Kinky Talk, successor to The Christina Noble Show.

  • Structurally, Dr. Noble is a lot like Rebecca in "Dying for Fame." Both characters strongly parallel Nick, and this is my personal favorite element of this episode! They're each trapped in ways that parallel Nick's situation (by guilt in Dr. Noble's case, by the "immortalization" of fame in Rebecca's). Both walk free in the end; we can only hope that Nick will always also eventually walk free in our imaginations, and not get sucked down into third season... except when doing so makes an awesome story, of course. ~smile~

  • We saw Lacroix as a radio host briefly in DK1&2, and we know he'll be back at CERK in seasons two and three. But when this episode originally aired, it demonstrated the show's ongoing interest in the audio medium rather than a direct Lacroix call-out. (Note that the famous TV series Frasier, in which Kelsey Grammar plays a radio host of a show not entirely unlike Dr. Noble's, wouldn't premiere until September 1993, a year after "Dead Air.")

  • Speaking of recurring elements in FK, the trope of an escapee from a psychiatric hospital committing murders will recur in "Crazy Love" (S2E13, aired 26th). The trope of smoking addiction has already been seen with Schanke in DK1&2, and will memorably recur in "Feeding the Beast" (S1E18).

  • First-season humor tidbits:
    • "This stuff makes vampires look like cute little schoolboys."
    • "How come he gets the live ones?" / "They like him."
    • "It happened when I was a rookie..." (Anybody ever written what happened when Schanke was a rookie? ~grin~)


What do you think?

Next: S1E11 "Hunters" (one of the few episodes with no standard abbreviation on ForKni-L)

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waltdwaltd on April 30th, 2016 02:58 am (UTC)
Dead Air
Diane Cary

For whatever reason, this is one of my favorite FK episodes. I enjoyed Cary’s performance. I thought her constant cigarette smoking was a nice touch indicative of Dr. Noble’s character.
Probably no one would get away with this much cigarette smoking on screen today. I love Stonetree’s quiet reaction of just emptying the ashtray after she’s left.

The Extra Footage

The footage of Nick’s lying on his back tossing playing cards towards the ceiling also appears in another episode (although I don’t recall which one at the moment). I remember thinking it was odd that they would use some of the very same footage over again.

Walt D