Sidewinder’s View: Tales From The Darkside, “The New Man” (1984)

I recently picked up the four-DVD set of the TV series Tales From The Darkside…for a whopping four bucks. I used to follow this series when it was first on television in 1984-85 (I lost interest after the first two seasons), but I hadn’t seen any of these episodes since they first aired.

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Episode One, featured Barnard Hughes as a mean old miser who enjoys scaring the hell out of little kids with his “haunted” house displays on Halloween, was pretty good. Hughes is a petty, sadistic old creep who receives his supernatural comeuppance, via real witch and devil, inspired by his endless greed. I remembered this episode.

I remembered the show’s second episode, The New Man, starring Vic Tayback, but I’d forgotten just how confusing and irritating the plot had been.

Tayback plays a broker in a real estate office, where he’s worked, rather successfully, his boss explains, for two months. We learn early on Tayback’s a recovering alcoholic when he refuses a celebratory drink with his boss. A ten-year-old boy shows up at the office looking for his dad, Tayback, who has no idea who the kid is.

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At home, Tayback finds his wife and teenage son keeping company with the same kid. Tayback’s confused as to why the kid’s in his house and keeps insisting he’s never seen the kid before in his life. He starts questioning the kid, and his wife, about the kid’s history, which really worries the wife and irritates the teen son. “This is your son Jerry”, they keep telling him.

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The wife voices her concern that Tayback’s been drinking again, which the ten-year-old seems to confirm, having “smelled something strong” when he visited Tayback at the office.

When Tayback persists in questioning the kid and his wife, to the point of boiling frustration, the wife breaks down and tells him she can’t handle any more of Tayback’s falls off the wagon: The lost jobs, the lack of money, “begging at the supermarket, the police, the DTs”, i.e. the shame and embarrassment she feels over being married to a hopeless alcoholic.

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Tayback insists he’s “crawled to Hell and back” to get where he is today (i.e. sober) and resents that his wife, who’s smelled no odor of alcohol on his breath as of yet, suspects that he’s back on the bottle again.

When Tayback shows up at work, not having shaved, looking a bit hung over, he finds his boss upset with him. Two days have gone by, the boss informs him, not one, as Tayback believes, and Tayback’s been absent from work. Tayback’s confused and explains he’s been having trouble at home.

His boss tells him the deal he thought they’d sealed, the one which prompted the boss to offer Tayback the celebratory drink, may have fallen through because of Tayback’s absenteeism. Tayback gets a call from his wife, informing him that she’s convinced that he’s begun drinking again, so she’s taking the kids to her sister’s.

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Tayback returns home to find the house empty, his family gone. Tayback starts tearing apart the ten-year-old’s room, crying out “who the hell are you?!”, still confused as to who this weird, meddling little kid was.

Tayback finds a bottle of booze in a dresser drawer in the kid’s room. He takes a drink and keeps drinking.

At this point, I was as confused as Tayback’s character. The wife and teenage son were both adamantly verifying the identity claim of the ten-year-old and, for some odd reason, Tayback seemed to be suffering a form of selective amnesia about one of his own kids.

Last scene in the episode: Tayback now out of the story, we’re back at the real estate office. Same office boss, after listening to another broker, at Tayback’s old desk, make a deal-closing phone call, approaches the new guy with a celebratory drink.

The new broker, also stating he’s a recovering alcoholic, declines the drink. Same as with Tayback in the opening scene, the boss downs both drinks.

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A knock at the office door. The boss opens it, sees the same ten-year-old boy standing in the hallway. He tells the office boss that he’s here to see his dad– the new, recovering alcoholic real estate broker, who the kid refers to by name.

The new broker, of course, has no idea who the kid is. By the boss’s reaction as he lets the kid in, we’re almost led to believe that he’s in on some conspiracy with the little creep.

The episode ends with the now sinister-looking little kid smiling creepily at the perplexed real estate broker and telling him, “Hi, Dad. I came to get you.”

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The end.

Oh, he’s going to ‘get’ him, alright, I thought, but why?

Questions I had after this episode:

Was Tayback’s boss in on the conspiracy?

Was the office boss only hiring down-on-their-luck recovering alcoholic salesmen, then setting them up for failure by having this oddly cheerful little kid arrive (right after a big sale) and insist the confused salesmen were his father(s)? Why would the boss do that, considering each sale hadn’t quite been finalized?

Tayback gets fired because he neglects his responsibilities and seems to have blown the deal. If it’s a conspiracy to cheat the salesman of his commission, why wouldn’t the boss at least wait until the money was in the bank?

And why would he want to set up a successful salesman, recovering alcholic or not, who would likely bring in more $$$ for the office? He sets up one guy for failure, then has to find another guy to take his place, after just a few good sales? Highly unlikely. Yet his expression as he lets the creepy kid into the office, yet again, seems to indicate the boss is in on the scam.

Did the creepily cheerful ten-year-old have the ability to control people’s minds?

Tayback’s wife and teenage son are both absolutely convinced the kid’s part of the family. Considering the kid shows up later at the office to pester a completely different recovering alcoholic in the same manner, the kid’s either a supernatural imposter of some kind…or he actually is Tayback’s kid and is completely deranged.

Who put the bottle of booze in the kid’s dresser drawer for Tayback to find?

If the ten-year-old put it there, why wouldn’t he have told Tayback’s wife about it, as proof Tayback had fallen off the wagon, stashing booze around the house in odd places? If he had shown her the bottle, why would the wife have left it there, hidden?

Throughout much of this episode, I guess we were supposed to doubt Tayback’s sanity and believe this kid is actually his son, as the wife and teenage son insist…

…yet, at the end of the episode, it would seem the kid really was just a devious little imposter, with, it would seem, a supernatural ability to alter people’s perceptions and memories, whose mission is to provoke recovering alcoholics to fall off their individual wagons.

Of all the characters in the story, the only one I felt any sympathy for was Tayback’s. I never believed the character was drinking again– we were never shown that– until he found the bottle in the kid’s drawer after the wife and kids had split. And at that point, I really did feel that Tayback had been the hapless victim of a bizarre conspiracy to drive him crazy and cause him to lose everything by losing his sobriety.

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One could speculate that what was really going on in the episode was that Tayback really had fallen off the wagon (offscreen, of course) and that the booze was wiping out all knowledge of his youngest son.

But then the final scene appears to shoot that theory all to hell. It points the viewer back towards a bizarre, possibly supernatural conspiracy that targets recovering alcoholic real estate brokers working out of one specific office. Why that office?

The gist of the first episode was that bad people get the fate they deserve.

The gist of the second episode, I guess, was that recovering alcoholics deserve to be persecuted until they fall off the wagon and lose everything.

Only Tayback’s character seemed like a decent enough guy, a hard worker determined to stay sober and work his ass off for the sake of his family. I didn’t feel he was deserving of the torment he was put through, that’s for sure.

Maybe we were supposed to feel he deserved his fate because he wasn’t strong enough to resist the bottle after all. Perhaps that was the point, but it still left a sour taste. An episode of dubious medicinal value, to say the least.

I enjoyed Tayback’s performance here, but, otherwise, this cynical, frustrating and downbeat Darkside episode stunk.


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