Season 2, Episode 06: Ghost Stories

Writer: Graham Yost
Director: Fred K. Keller
Original air date: November 17, 1989

Before I get started, I’d like to point out that this episode really ought to have aired three weeks earlier. It’s a “scary” episode, perfect for the Halloween season.

19-01-Ernst-water-1 19-02-Ernst-water-2In the cold open, much to Lucy and Danny’s confusion, Mr. Ernst is hanging upside-down and drinking water. He’s had the hiccups all day, and he’d just read an article that this is the “surefire” cure. They help him sit up when he nearly drowns himself. He thinks the hiccups are gone, but they aren’t. That’s about it.

19-03-stormAfter the credits, it’s a dark and stormy night at the Bar None Ranch. Wait, I thought Mr. Ernst said it never rains here. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

19-04-play19-05-drawingIn the boys’ bunk house, the kids are playing “guess the drawing”, because the World Wide Web hasn’t been invented yet. For whatever reason (atmosphere?), they’ve got only one lamp on. Melody finally turns the light on after Ted brings it up.

19-06-girls-winTime’s up. The girls win and become “champions of the known universe”. Ted and Danny get into an argument over what Ted’s drawing is supposed to be: wolverine (Danny) or T-Rex (Ted).

Melody suggests a rematch, but Ted declines. He wonders if it’s bedtime yet, but it’s only 8:00 PM. Jeez, break out a board game or a deck of cards or something. It’s supposed to rain all night. Melody suggests telling ghost stories, which is what she used to do at camp when it rained. Nice little background detail on Melody. Brad hates ghost stories, because she never gets scared; she thinks they’re really stupid.

19-07-Melody-storyMelody starts telling a story, but Brad spoils the ending. Brad went to camp, too, and has “heard them all”.

19-08-captive-audience 19-09-Ted-storyTed tells a supposedly true horror story about his great-grandfather, Jack, working in a saw mill in Massachusetts in 1863. The others are initially skeptical, but they (except Brad) slowly become captivated by the story, which – props to David Lascher – is told quite well. I won’t detail the entire story or spoil the ending for you, but Ted does manage to scare the everloving fuck out of Brad.

19-10-hand 19-11-captive-audience-2 19-12-Brad-scaredAnd she gets upset at him for it. Ted explains what he did. Brad vows to get back at him. Ted says he’s been hearing and telling ghost stories since he was eight years old and can’t be scared. There’s a bit of funny horsing around by Buddy and Danny before the scene ends.

19-13-Ted-coming-inOn another dark and stormy night, Ted comes into the boys’ bunk house, exhausted. Danny’s apparently asleep already, so Ted takes off his hat and raincoat and decides to just lie down and fall asleep in his clothes.

19-14-hand-grabs-TedSuddenly, a hand comes out from under Ted’s bunk and grabs his throat.

19-15-Brad-confusedThen Jason “Leatherface” Krueger bursts through the door.

Ted claims he had Danny and Brad figured out, though, and he points out how Brad confused three horror characters (though he doesn’t mention Leatherface by name, oddly) and used a handsaw instead of a chainsaw.

Oh, and Buddy’s in this scene, too, but his sole purpose is to stand behind Brad and play a shitty “scary sounds” tape on the radio.

Brad leaves in defeat, Buddy follows her, and Danny leaves, too. Um, why? Is he going to plot their next attempt with them?

19-16-Ernst-hiccupsAfter the commercial break (which comes unusually early in this episode), Mr. Ernst passes through the breakfast area. Melody, Brad, and Danny greet him (but Ted and Buddy don’t). He still has the hiccups. Gee, that’s good to know. I’d forgotten about this little thing that apparently is officially a subplot. Ted suggests breathing into a bag.

19-17-Ted-watchedTed notices the others watching him, but Brad tries to dismiss it as Ted being vain.

19-18-eye-cerealYep, it’s “the old glass-eye-in-the-cereal gag”. I’ll take your word for it, Ted. Anyway, how does this work? First of all, Ted was already sitting with the girls at the beginning of the scene. Second, Danny and Buddy joined them at the table, so the chances of them being in on it are slim. Third, the eyeball was already visible in Ted’s cereal bowl long before he “finds” it. Fourth, when was it placed in his bowl? Did one of the girls pour his cereal and milk for him? I like to think he saw this right away and was just humoring them. Oh, right before Mr. Ernst hiccups, Brad does some kind of weird hand signal to Melody in front of Ted (it goes unexplained), but the eyeball is already in Ted’s cereal. Gah, whatever, moving on…

Brad says she knew this wouldn’t work to Melody, suggesting it was Melody’s idea. Ted points out the weakness of gags and merely startling someone. Ted suggests, to really scare somebody, create an atmosphere, make it real, and put in a little twist at the end. After Ted leaves, the girls and Danny discuss it. Melody is resigned to defeat, but Brad wants to BRING IT!

19-19-Ted-postDuring the fade to the next scene (which features a nice moment of Ted jumping over a post), a “horror” version of the theme music plays, which is a nice touch.

19-20-Melody-appleMelody had sent Ted a note (ah, the days before texting), so Ted shows up at the girls’ bunk house, where Melody is peeling an apple with a knife.

19-21-Melody-TedMelody is very secretive and brings up a story of a headless cowboy. Melody brings up the time “last year” when Ted fell off a horse and was laid up for a week. We never saw this incident.

Okay, I’m going to discuss something that I was going to wait on, but this seems like a good time. The timeline of this series is wonky. At face value, you could interpret Melody’s comment as an unseen event that happened last season or (back when we were watching it before we knew about seasons) as something that happened “last summer” (before the series started airing). It’s never made clear that there’s any significant passage of time, story-wise, between seasons. There certainly could be divisions into different summers later on – but not yet, but I’ll save that reason for the review of the episode where it becomes relevant. Suffice it to say, this is a really long, drawn-out summer (considering a single episode covers multiple days, and the second episode occurred in July, even though school lets out in late May or early June).

In the first scene in the boys’ bunk house, there is a calendar visible on the wall. You can most clearly see it when Melody leans forward briefly after Ted first brings up a real horror story. You have to watch it on DVD, though; a screencap won’t be as clear (and “clear” is relative, mind you). It’s turned to August, but the year is blacked out (probably to try to keep the time frame of the series vague). I know I’m going off a background detail in a scene on a standard-definition, shot-on-tape series, but I compared the numbering on that calendar to an online source, and it seems to be a 1990 calendar. I’m guessing those were probably already available at the time that this episode was taped (maybe), but why go through so much trouble, only to try to conceal the year? They might as well have not put a calendar up at all. All that this serves to do is muddy the timeline. By the way, in the first episode of this season, I thought I saw a calendar turned to August in the boys’ bunk house as well, but I wasn’t sure.

19-22-Melody-knife-TedAnyway, Melody mentions they had a cookout (you can tell a southerner wrote this script), they told stories, and someone told one about a headless cowboy, which she relates to Ted. Ted almost immediately picks up on what’s going on. Melody uses some loose math in calculating how long ago that the Civil War ended, and she raises her voice to signal Danny and Buddy to play the sound effects outside. Soon after she chops the apple in half with the knife, Christine Taylor stumbles over a line but keeps going. Again, I like it when stuff like this is left in, because it makes the dialogue some more realistic and less polished.

Ted tells Melody that the story is no more true than the one that he told her yesterday. Wait, what? Wasn’t that the night before last? Because we saw the first attempt to scare Ted on what seemed to be the night after the story. Granted, that’s not stated to be the case, and it would certainly seem weird to skip over an entire day and go from one stormy night to another stormy night, but then what was up with Ted coming into the boys’ bunk house in a raincoat (and different shirt) and saying he was exhausted? Did he go out to do something during the rain? I think they fucked up.

Anyway, Melody reveals the “payoff” of this story:

19-23-Melody-reveals 19-24-Brad-head19-25-Melody-stabs-Ted Despite the performance being pretty shitty, Ted applauds and praises it.

19-26-overhead-trunkAfter Ted leaves, Melody wants to admit defeat, and Danny agrees, but Brad wants to press on. Melody says they wasted time and ruined Brad’s trunk (yeah, they’re dumbasses). By the way, nice, unexpected camera angle.

19-27-Brad-trunkMelody, Danny, and Buddy abandon Brad in her quest – and also leave her trapped in her trunk.

19-28-Ernst-bagThe next day (I guess), Ted is having Mr. Ernst breathe into a paper bag, which doesn’t work, so Ted bursts the bag to scare him, which seems to do the trick. Lucy brings up how Ted’s “been doing a lot of scaring lately”, which is an exaggeration. There’s some cute banter between them.

19-29-Ernst-insaneMr. Ernst continues the “scare” theme by relating a humorous horror story involving pruning shears, which is basically his way of saying “Get back to work, slacker.”

19-30-Lucy-storyLucy relates a “true” story about the ranch. About a hundred years ago, after a dark and stormy night, everyone on the ranch was found dead in their beds. All of the doors and windows were latched from the inside. The mystery was never solved. I wonder if these were the “brutal murders” that Mr. Ernst referred to back in “Perfect Father” (season 1, episode 07), but he seems to be surprised about this story. Anyway, the mood is ruined when Mr. Ernst hiccups again. He has Lucy come with him to make sure that he doesn’t drown while he hangs upside-down and drinks some more water. He also tells Ted to try to remember to put all of the tools away this time (in case of rain), so they don’t get rusty like last time. Ted agrees but is distracted by Lucy’s story.

19-31-sign-lightningThat night (or whenever, since Ted’s wearing different clothes, but maybe he uses different work clothes and sleeping clothes) is another dark and stormy night. The screen door on the boys’ bunk house opens and slams shut in the wind (a problem that Mr. Ernst mentioned on the phone to a guest two episodes ago), and it’s keeping Ted awake. He also hears moaning.

19-32-Danny-missingTed asks Danny about it, but Danny isn’t on his bunk. Ted gets nervous, checking outside and then hearing a scraping noise, which makes him think the gang is trying to scare him again. However, Danny isn’t under the bed, and Brad isn’t in the trunk. Ted starts to get nervous and remembers Lucy’s story. He hears a noise under the floor and goes to lock the door. When he does this, a hat falls off the coat rack. It’s probably unintentional, but it does add to the uneasiness of the scene. Ted remembers more of the story, hears more of the sounds, and figures out that the killers came from under the floor. He finally can’t take it anymore and feels the need to escape.

19-33-killer-ErnstTed freaks the fuck out.

19-34-Lucy-ErnstLucy comes in, and she and Mr. Ernst explain the noises: the moaning was the wind in the roof tiles, the scratching at the window was the rake that Ted left there this afternoon, and the sound under the floor was Lucy putting the hose away. Mr. Ernst had a feeling that the tools would be left outside, and Ted apologizes. Ted doesn’t exactly admit he was scared. Lucy says Danny and Brad are out putting tarps over the hay. Ted wants them to not tell the others kids about what happened.

19-35-Danny-BradBut Brad and Danny come in at that moment and learn the truth. After teasing Ted for a bit, Brad admits Ted was right: they couldn’t scare him; the only one who could scare Ted was Ted himself.

Mr. Ernst suddenly calls for quiet. The rain is stopping, and he know longer has the hiccups. I’m so happy that this crucial subplot was given resolution. The scene ends with more “horror” theme music.

19-36-Ted-scaresThe pre-credits scene at the end, on the next day, has Lucy giving Mr. Ernst (and the teen staff and Buddy) a tour of the damage from the storm (which wasn’t much), and then Ted comes up out of the water trough in an attempt to scare them. Mr. Ernst, Danny, and Melody are dismissive of it, and Brad tells Ted that he confused the Mummy with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, which shows she does know horror films (at least, the classic Universal horror films).

So ends another day at the Bar None.

This episode was fun and “spooky” (in a kid-friendly way), even if some things didn’t add up. If you don’t want to do anything too scary, it’d be a good addition to a light-hearted “horror” marathon on Halloween.

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