There are basically three choices you can make in doing horror on television and film. You can be Spielberg, on a good day, and not show the monster. You can be Cronenberg, and show the horrifying thing in glorious excess. Or you can be David Lynch, and just confuse the fuck out of everybody while being tremendously creepy.
Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital falls decisively in the Lynch camp. Unfortunately, of the three, this is probably the hardest to do well. Last week we had, for no discernable reason, the hospital breaking into song regularly. This week starts off a little more low key, with your standard ghosts and resurrected serial killers. The talking ant-eater, for instance, gives this episode a miss. There's a dream with some blood pouring out of a locker, and the ghosts interact with some people, but mostly it's pretty bland.
Which is a problem for this series, because, frankly, the characters aren't interesting in and of themselves. They're underdeveloped whackjobs, and exist largely as stock characters – psychic, cute doctor, crazy doctor, obvious stand-in for Stephen King, etc. Four episodes in, I confess, I still only know one or two of their names. Admittedly, I suck at remembering names of characters, but in this case, I don't even feel particularly bad about forgetting them all. It's not as though they're meant to exist as interesting and realized characters.
The problem with the show is that what it lacks in characters it doesn't make up in plot. The episode wasn't a self-contained plot at all – it didn't even particularly end with a cliffhanger. It just sort of meandered on towards what might turn out to be a conclusion ten weeks from now.
I'm struggling with what to say about this episode, really, or even the show in general. It's just paced so slowly, and is so mysterious that it's hard to get a handle on it. I'm not even entirely certain what I'm supposed to be invested in as I watch it – who the little girl is? What the weird boy who torments her is? Or just a general sense of what the fuck?
King has said in interviews that the series is like a novel, and that it will unfold over time. Maybe that's true, but if it is, it seems like weekly episodes isn't the format for it. Personally, I find the dramatic flow to be broken up too much by commercials. Waiting a week between episodes is just too much. Maybe when all of this comes out on DVD, as it inevitably will, there will be something more to it. For now, it's interesting, but not exactly good TV.
Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on ABC.