Stalker: Phobia Review

A stalker uses fear as his weapon as he strikes upon his victim’s greatest phobias in a particularly satisfying episode.

“His MO isn’t to kill. It’s to terrify.”

Stalker is always such a frenetic mix of crazy that it’s particularly exciting when an episode has such a strong approach right from the start. 

As the episode begins we see a run of the mill date that’s gone mild as a disappointed woman, Kristin, returns home. Here she unwinds from her blind date, takes off her heels, and complains to her girlfriend about it. And just when it feels like the cold open is going to tick another item off the cliché bad date checklist, she finds herself without any light in her home. Before she has time to collect her bearings, we see a night vision-sporting stalker, who is sure to snark out, “Lights out!” before he advances on his prey. She barely manages to escape, as she tracks bloody footprints out of her home during her exit.

The concept of a stalker preying on people using their personal fears as his weapon has a lot of potential as the victimizer heightens himself from some run of the mill creep to a Pennywise-esque deranged antagonist. This is actually executed with some precision as well, as Kristin, who’s afraid of the dark, doesn’t just find herself in a darkened home, but the assailant has also rearranged her furniture, further disorienting her and messing with her confidence. Oh, and he films them all too, so he can masturbate to the fear that he’s got on camera. 

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That’s right.

It’s small touches like this that show how messed up this stalker of the week is, and really, every stalker on this show should be at least this insane. Nobody is watching this show for grounded, hum-drum stalkers. Stalk big or stalk home.

By the way, this sort of fear-induced victimizing is referred to as “terror stalking,” which I don’t know if that’s a real thing or not, but I’m immediately accepting it as a commonly done action in this universe.

Meanwhile, gender roles continue to be simplified as we see that Beth teaches self-defense classes because of course she does, just as I’m sure Jack spends his spare time going to porno theaters, him somehow conjuring up a now nearly extinct relic, because males and females are boiled down to the basics in this show. The terror stalker also steals women’s underwear, which doesn’t fit the rest of his MO at all, but is just to underscore the point that he’s by-the-books creepy. 

[Related: All Stalker Season 1 Reviews]

Beth’s stalker also hasn’t let up on watching her, as he leers at her after her self-defense classes. She looks around uneasily, either detecting his presence or just consistently rattled and paranoid that she’s being stalked. Either way, it provides the “women are victims” mission statement that is so often front and center in this show. He (who is apparently some master comic artist as well?) finds out that “Beth Davis didn’t exist twelve years ago” too, so she’s also hiding some secret just so she can be consistent with the rest of the cast. 

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As the case is dug into, Zachary Thomas, the bad date from the cold opening is the initial suspect du jour, and even from the cold open, it seems like it pretty much is him. When he’s suspiciously absent after Kristin’s attack, he looks even more suspicious. Of course though, like we’ve learned by now, the first suspect is never the actual culprit, as Zach shows up unconscious in a trunk.

I’m particularly glad that the Stalker we get this week is the version of Stalker that I love so much, where Dylan McDermott says lines like, “No, you don’t hang out to masturbate after your victim escapes. It’s too risky,” with extreme conviction in his voice as he hammers in a point that seems beyond obvious. We also get a take that lingers beyond comprehension as Jack hears that “The lights are always on” at lady profiler’s house, as the sexual innuendo quota is met for the episode. They’re having sex by the end of the episode, with Jack nearly forgetting to hide his stalker photos as she enters his place. Rookie stalker mistake, Larsen.

Jack and Beth profiling and walking through Kristin’s crime scene is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. Jack gives the play-by-play as he goes over extremely unnecessary beats like “Victim turns on the lights. Victim looks for a flashlight.” I understand the point of these scenes, getting inside these stalkers’ heads is one of the highlights of the show, and each episode has offered one of these scenes up, but this has to be the most mundane version of it yet. They’re going over minutiae and treating it like it’s brain shrapnel and gunpowder residue on the walls. It’s a pretty perfect example of this show steeping such ridiculousness in staunch, stuffy seriousness.

Dots are connected here and we learn that Kristin was a part of the site, NoRulesDating.com, which is basically a casual sex site. It’s a little refreshing when Kristin is ashamed of this admission and Jack consoles her by saying that everyone gets lonely and we all make mistakes. We then get the lecherous Jack that we know and love as we cut to the team literally going through the men on the site who she’s casually fucked (“This guy she had a threesome with…” and “This guy she met at a hotel…”) to find possible suspects, as Jack makes jokes about her screen name, BadTeacher (hey, maybe she was a fan of the movie, or the short-runned TV series based on said movie!). As the rest of the team tries to chastise him for his attitude, he responds with, “It’s called having a sense of humor. Try it sometime.” Then they continue trudging through Kristin’s private sex life. 

Meanwhile we see Beth’s friend, Laura, excited about dating a new guy and even Beth immediately jumps to asking, “How was he in bed?” as Laura insists that Beth should get some good ol’ casual lovin’ herself. Because the world is only this big in Stalker, of course Laura’s infatuation is also a stalker. Probably? Because it certainly more than seems like it. I almost wish that Beth acquiesced to Laura’s wishes of joining a casual sex site so we could see the terror stalker invading her home and striking upon her fear, subjugated women. 

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No, the actual answer, “people actually getting to know who I am” is far more groan inducing.

It soon becomes clear that the terror stalker picks his prey from online dating websites, as he unleashes a bevy of snakes into his next victim’s home, which is of course what she is afraid of. The stalk squad also deduces that all of these victims are also blondes and look reasonably similar as it starts to look like someone is having a hard time getting over someone.

It’s kind of nice that when it comes to the show revealing the identity of the terror stalker, it just comes out and shows you rather than drawing it out and making it a whole process. The idea that the man is such a clean cut, regular looking Stephen Collins-type just makes it all the more unsettling. More is done with this than the element of suspense and mystery. 

Equally upsetting is when Jack and Beth talk to Angela, the genesis victim (who is like “a drug to his psyche”, apparently) of the terror stalker, who talks about being molested as a child, raped by her husband (the terror stalker) when she refused sexual contact with him. Jack and Beth deduce—and take this in now—that the high that he’s getting from enacting these new victim’s greatest fears is to recreate the high he got from raping Angela and taking her virginity. “She’s the genesis victim. His first. She’ll always be special,” is said, as serial stalking is equated to losing your virginity in a particularly distasteful metaphor.

All of this boils down to saving the terror stalker’s final victim, who is afraid of drowning and on a live feed broadcasting her doom. The team tries to find her in time as the stalker spouts ridiculous Hannibal Lecter-esque statements like, “The first stage of drowning is delicious.” It is kind of inspired to use the terror stalker’s own fear (heights, apparently?) to break him in the end, but it’s pretty convenient here, and there’s absolutely no way that Jack could have known that it was his fear, other than just getting lucky on it. It’s a good thing there weren’t any tarantulas nearby so he’d have to make a decision on the matter.

While this wraps up in a reasonably predictable manner, it does as much as it needs to while it simultaneously deeply takes itself seriously/doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Honestly, I would have liked to have seen more victims and fears being exploited here, if anything were to be improved; we get a hint of a fear of drowning victim, but to touch on such a fascinating concept, and then only show three fears is kind of a wasted opportunity, as twisted as that may sound. But it seems kind of a lost cause to complain that there wasn’t enough stalking in your episode of Stalker

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Rating:

4 out of 5