Main cast: Nyasha Hatendi (Wilson Clowes), Latarsha Rose (Melanie), Jon Daly (Finn), Dale Dickey (Red), and Jonny Berryman (Ty)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Pooka! seems to be one of the most talked about episodes of Into the Dark, and I honestly am not sure whether it’s worthy of being treated like some kind of work of genius.
Maybe folks just like it when an episode goes all M Night Shyamalan on them, I guess, because this episode is nothing like what it seems to be at first. Oh, on the surface, this episode is about unemployed Wilson Clowes getting a high-paying job as the actor in a costume to help promote the new toy Pooka. Then comes the predictable suspense as to whether the toy itself is sentient, evil, and homicidal, and also as to whether wearing the Pooka suit is slowly turning Wilson deranged and homicidal as well. As you can guess, being all crazy is not a good thing when he’s finally found a chance at happiness with single mother Melanie and her kid Ty.
Thing is, the opening segment gives away completely that this episode is not what it seems, and the ending sequence will almost likely loop back to this opening scene. Turns out I’m right, so I have correctly guessed from the moment this episode opens that what happens next is all a big smokescreen, a stand-in for the protagonist’s issues and inner demons that he chooses not to confront and accept until the penultimate moment, which by then it’s already too late of course. While the concept of this episode is far from original or new, exposing their hand from the very moment the game begins, so to speak, is an act of self-sabotage. Why on earth would the people behind this episode choose to do just that?
Just like the last few episodes of this show, though, the cast is solid. Nyasha Hatendi and Latarsha Rose manage to inject some dark, haunting resonance into this episode that can linger for a bit after the episode ends, thus giving this episode an emotional depth that is rarely found in shows of this kind.
However, this episode still feels way too long for its own good. The design of Pooka is an effective mix of terror and cuteness, but perhaps to pad out the airtime, this episode drags especially in the middle parts when it tries to extend the whole “Is the toy the cause of the problem, or is it the costume that is trying to kill everyone?”suspense in a way that only adds to my increasing sense of restlessness. The filler moments dilute any emotional build-up that I may have for the main character and his predicament, especially when I guess—correctly, as it turns out—that Pooka is just a stand-in for the main character’s real issues.
I can only wonder whether the contract mandated each episode to be almost 90 minutes long, because so far, every episode would have been so much stronger if all the unnecessary clutter had been removed and the episode had been only 40 minutes or so.
Pooka! is easily the best episode of this series to date, which isn’t saying much as we are only three episodes in, but it also has the same serious pacing issues that mar the previous episodes. It’s definitely worth a look, but at the same time, it could have been so much better as well if the people behind this one had self-edited themselves better,