Stalker: Whatever Happened to Baby James review

Stalker continues its ride into ridiculousness with a lukewarm second stalkfest. Here's Daniel's review...

This Stalker review contains spoilers.

“As the obsession grows, so does the stalker’s courage.”

Here we are, back in the out of its mind world of Stalker, and it’s nice to see that every cold open so far could effectively still be a scene out of Scream, which I’m more than fine with being the qualifier for the show’s intros so far. We see a frightened teenager yelling into a phone, stressing over the condition of the front door, and running back upstairs when she should probably be heading for the exit.

As this foolishness is going on, it’s paired with dialogue like, “My mom’s on a date with a stockbroker,” which feels like it’s intentionally in there just so it sounds like she might be saying, “My mom’s on a date with a stalker.” This hyperbolization of everything, including what you’re thinking, as absurdity completes your sentences, is why I think this show works.

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This week we get Hannah, a teenage girl, whose house is broken into by a stalker, but the twist, because there would need to be a twist in such an incredibly ordinary plot, is that the girl isn’t the stalker’s target! The stalker, who has taken the form of the lumbering, hooded individual from the show’s marketing campaign, chases Hannah, and her young brother, out of the house.

On the enforcement side of things, we’re treated to women either talking about having crazy sex or being crazy psycho as they are reduced to this very easy stereotype. It’s like junk food though. Of course the women are talking about this just like how naturally they’re the damsel in distress; the “Final Girl” as they’re simplified to prey the other half of the time. Even the smart ones, like the profilers and psychologists are won over by easy gifts.

Men aren’t any better here, seen always leering at woman or afraid of being suspected of crimes, as they are all painted as creeps. Phrases like, “He likes roleplay” are smirked through at work. Side characters are turned into statutory rapists (the good kind, apparently) just because. We literally cut from a shot of a man creepily watching Beth to a shot of Jack creepily watching his estranged child. It’s like a mirror reflecting an image of another mirror.

The case is looked into and we see the Threat Assessment Unit scoping out Hannah’s home. We learn that treehouses make a good stalking spot and it’s deduced that this stalker is of the sexual predator nature, with the suspect having a history of it running in his family.

Amidst all of this, I for whatever reason really like what McDermott is doing here, as he almost pseudo-sleepwalks through scenes with this David Duchovony-aping performance. It shouldn’t work necessarily, but it does and adds to the fluid ambiguity of everything and accentuates the off kilter feel that the show has already established.

There are some nice creepy touches that are the sort of elements that I’m watching this show for and hoping we get more of. The slideshow of young girl photos set to “California Girls” in Barnes’ home is a nice push further in that direction. Barnes in general, doing everything that’s as close to violating his probation as possible, but not crossing the line also fits the bill. We need as much of this as possible, and with how sexuality is so broadly painted here, it shouldn’t be a problem.

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As this heats up, Jack and his ex-wife, Amanda, inevitably end up working together as his master stalking plan that he has (or doesn’t have) gets one step closer to fruition as he gets in her head. By the end of things, she threatens him with, “Or I will tell them that little thing that I know that no one else does that will ruin you,” in the vaguest, most convenient accusation ever made. We know that there is of course Baggage and a Secret, because that’s Interesting, but the show isn’t ready to tell us anything beyond that at this point.

Other contrivances roam the halls of the TAU like Barnes, in spite of the obviousness, not being Hannah’s stalker, or the realization that Hannah wasn’t the target, but that her brother Thomas was, as the plot meets its quota for twists and complications.

The most frustrating thing here is how thin the beginning of all of this is. The first episode had the luggage of setting up a pilot and introducing these characters. Here we have this team spending entire acts on the limited evidence in a backyard and people shouting out “Thomas!” a crazy amount of times. I was hoping that the plots we’d be getting would be pushed to the furthest extreme each time, and this one starts definitely on the more pedestrian than nutso side of things, I’m going to be needing more in order for this to be consistently engaging in its over-the-top-ness.

Thankfully, about half way through the episode begins shifting more into the other direction. The twisted revelation that Thomas’ stalker/kidnapper is actually the friendly neighbor, who lost a son that was exactly the same age as Thomas, with this all being an attempt to recreate her broken life, is appropriately ridiculous. It’s even more so that she’s also suffering from multiple personality disorder and straight out bonkers, hitting women in the face with frying pans, and (of course) also responsible for the death of her actual son.

Seeing Judith immediately losing it with James (formerly/actually Thomas) and giving him the exact opposite of the perfect life she promised him is terrifying. In almost no time at all, she’s wielding a hefty knife about to teach Thomas/James a thing or two about being a bad boy. To the show’s credit, it’s genuinely suspenseful to see Q and “Judith” feeling out each other, before a cupboard is knocking right over onto Q. We even get the bonkers visual of Judith straddling Thomas in bed while she cranes back a knife to end him. And it’s scary and effective just because this show is so crazy I wouldn’t put it past it to slash a child a few times. Have his scars be a constant reminder of the pain everyone.

As the episode ends, Jack is staring at the photos of his own son, as the soundtrack swells, and it feels like this isn’t that different from Barnes’ eerie slideshow. He stares at the life he used to have, just like how Judith tried so hopelessly to replicate what she’s lost. Lines continue to blur. The catcher is the criminal. We all want a chance to do life over.

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“Stalk” count: (a disappointing) 8

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3 out of 5