“Over 6 million people are stalked every year in the United States.”
Here is what you’re getting with Stalker. The cold open, which could be right out of Scream (in fact, I’d love to see a Scream crossover somehow take place in this show just to add to the nutso factor) sees a woman being doused in gasoline and lit on fire in a locked car by a Vanilla Sky-esque masked assailant sporting a drawn on smiley face. And just when you think she’s maybe okay, the car viciously bursts into flames.
That’s your intro.
Later, we see him do the same thing to a lady in an elevator (doors open—he covers her in gasoline—doors close—doors open—he lights a match…there’s a definite sense of humor in all of this), showing that gasoline is obviously the weapon of the stalker, just like a chainsaw is the weapon of a Texas massacre-facilitator. Almost from the jump you realize the sort of strung out show you’re getting here and that it must mean that Kevin Williamson is back on TV! And that this is going to be something crazy. And also that Dylan McDermott is back on TV! And, plus, this is going to be even crazier, as both of them seem to be lightning rods for insane pieces of television.
A monologue at the beginning of the episode tells us about what stalking is, in case we’ve forgotten, as we see it going on in everyday society, almost as if we are all stalkers at heart, just as we’re told that anyone can be a stalker. Or a victim. As we’re repeatedly told how social media has invaded our lives and gotten rid of any shred of privacy.
Our show chronicles the TAU, Threat Assessment Unit, the detectives that assess threats in situations and report accordingly. That definition might seem a little glib, but the words “threat” and “assessment” are maybe said 150 times collectively between every character. At one point a character shoots at another, “I appreciate the assessment, but…” after she profiles a suspect. It’s ridiculous. Not to mention variations of the word “stalk.” I was seriously laughing by the middle of the episode, at how the word seems to be so entrenched in every person’s dialogue, as people say things like, “I’m not the stalking type,” while unprompted. Seriously, please do yourself a favor and have a drinking game with this show every time a permutation of the word is uttered. I’m going to start keeping a count each week, and it feels pretty mandatory. I’m a little surprised even that the TAU isn’t just called the SS, “Stalk Squad,” because that’s what we all want, and what it really is.
The pilot sees Detective Jack Larson (Dylan McDermott) joining the TAU team, led by Maggie Q’s Detective Beth Davis, and he might actually be the biggest stalker there is, as much of his dialogue is dripping in double-speak while a perma-smarm grin is on his face at most times. This thinks it’s the biggest joke in the world that he might be a bad guy and you don’t quite know what’s what yet. He’s great at profiling stalkers because, you know, he probably is one. Or he isn’t. Whatever. We learn that it’s all about his ex-wife and estranged son, and how he maybe came here to stalk them and maybe he didn’t.
Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson’s Creek, and most recently, the also infuriating The Following) is known for his dialogue and this episode veerryyy much has that Williamson feel as pop culture (Swimfan even gets a nod, and being in the same league as Cape Fear!) is flung around. Banter is also commonplace, especially between Larson and Davis. Quirky things are said like “quasi crime scene” and “I’m sporadically rude.” It feels very aware of itself, and definitely is putting its effort on its sleeve, but for whatever reason I thought it worked.
It all fits into this ridiculous hyperbolized universe that you have to ditch logic with from the get-go and you’ll find yourself having a much more fun time. This is a show about stalkers for God’s sake, and they treat them like they’re terrorists or the biggest scourge on the earth. People are getting lit on fire here!
As one might suspect, Stalker is very procedural in nature, and just like in any crime show of this nature, we see suspects and family of the victim being questioned as we piece together the crime and connect the dots. And it’s still a show that probably doesn’t need to exist, but it’s giving us material like Dylan McDermott, in deadpan, saying to Maggie Q, “I’m sorry I stared at your breasts” while in the middle of working. Or him legitimately making her answer the question of why she wears sexy clothing. It’s at least more fun and ridiculous than any other procedurals out there right now.
We move along and we follow the TAU assessing different threats in a fairly regular manner. People are questioned, the detectives are pushed along, and we get a little closer to putting this all together. We see midlife crisis-having husbands going to former softcore porn actors to get tips on women that inevitably turns into something more. There aren’t a ton of twists here (other than Davis beating up a stalker, and repeatedly slapping him because she knows she can get away with it), and it doesn’t even really matter that the material moves in a fairly orchestrated manner, because there’s masked gasoline-toting stalkers running around, and the dialogue and situations are so outrageous.
There are moments that shouldn’t be plausible at all like McDermott’s Jack Larson discovering a hidden crawlspace somehow (presumably because his stalker sense went off), but when we get revelations like that it’s a “viewing room” in the ceiling so the stalker can feel like he’s on top of the victims, who even cares?
This is the kind of show where characters get angry, so they throw glass things at walls in frustration because glass things shatter best. There’s shots of eyes through peepholes. Phantom hands moving in the mirror off in the background. There are scary, evocative images here that actually work and heighten the creep factor. And speaking of such, if all of this wasn’t enough, the episode closes out with a hip cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” because of course it does.
“What the hell am I doing here?” the song beckons. That’s exactly what you’ll be asking yourself as the episode ends, but you’ll be wanting more, mystified, and hopefully hammered at this point.
Stalker. Take a drink.