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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

3.07 --- The Hellgramite Method

Directed by : Gilbert M. Shilton
Written by : William Selby
Starring : Timothy Bottoms, Leslie Yeo
First aired : 5th of November, 1988.

Miley Judson (Timothy Bottoms, Johnny Got His Gun, The Last Picture Show) is a seemingly ordinary person. He has a job, a wife, and a young child. But the things are a bit more complicated than they seem - Miley is an alcoholic, and his disease is in the latter stages. He can't kick the drink off, and it's threatening to destroy his life, piece by piece.

One night during a bar binge, Miley is approached by a man who offers to light his cigarette, then gifts him the matchbox, which bears an anti-drinking commercial. Faced with all sorts of problems in his personal life, Miley decides to try this newest method offered to him, so he makes his way to the address given late at night. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the same man who gifted him the matches - dr. Eugene Murrich (stage veteran Leslie Yeo) - welcomes him in.

Dr. Murrich informs Miley that the treatment is infallible, should he stick with it. He does warn him that there is no way back once the treatment begins, a warning which Miley takes somewhat too lightly. He initiates the producedure by swallowing a simple red pill, then goes home, with the instructions to call in a couple of days.

Strange things begin to happen during the next pub crawl - Miley, regardless of what (and how much) he drinks, cannot get drunk. After downing two dozens of double scotches, it occurs to him it might be the new "method" he's trying that's messing with him. He quickly visits dr. Murrich, who then tells him the horrible truth. The pill he swallowed contained a hellgramite tapeworm larva, which feeds on alcohol. All the booze Miley drinks now will go straight into the worm, which in turn will grow...until he grows big enough to kill him from the inside. Miley is simoultaneously furious and frightened, but there is a way out. If Miley goes cold turkey right away, the worm will be laid dormant. This will incur horrible pains, however, once the worm is asleep the host is free of all problems - unless he drinks even a drop again. If that happens, the worm reawakens, and too many of those tend to kill.

Realizing that it's now or never, Miley decides to go for broke. He sends his wife and son away for a week, and begins his clean-up act. What ensues is a period of sheer hell - hallucinations, temptations, and all sorts of naughty issues threaten Miley, but he manages to weather all storms with success (excess pain which he goes through is a whole 'nother story). Still, the whole ordeal becomes just too much for him, and he eventually starts ransacking the whole house, looking for at least one shot of liquor to retrieve his sanity. After a lengthy search, he finally finds a little bottle of whiskey...

Some time later, a bar patron at Miley's usual watering hole is having troubles lighting his smoke. A stranger offers his help, and as the man turns around, we see it's Miley who's holding the match. He gifts the fellow his matchbox with the hellgramite method ad on it, and after squaring his tab with the bartender, goes out, starting a new chapter in his life.

***

The Hellgramite Method holds a special place in my heart. Of all the episodes I saw when I was a kid, this one left the biggest impression on me. For years, I would associate the whole colour TZ with this episode, always remembering Miley's plight as he wrestled with the alcohol-guzzling worm. With that in hindsight, I was sort of dreading to rewatch this one - was I just clinging to yet another hazy childhood memory ?

The answer is a resounding no. The Hellgramite Method is, by all means, a supremely chilling tale of alcohol abuse and ultimate redemption, and it completely held up after all these years. While William Selby's script, in itself, is nothing entirely special, the execution of it is nothing short of majestic. Reminding us that he's more than just a succesful George W. Bush impersonator, Timothy Bottoms delivers a bravura performance as the tortured alcoholic, faithfully translating all stages of abrupt drinking rehab in space of mere ten minutes. Looking like he's fighting the devil himself, Bottoms is ragged, sweaty, and ultimately almost out of his mind, his blood-curdling screams ringing in your ears. Leslie Yeo lends support as the well-meaning, yet nefarious doctor Murrich, but his turn is completely overshadowed by Bottoms' thespian schizophrenics. Simply put, this episode does not work without him.

It is also interesting to notice how the Zone took a slightly more lenient stance towards the evil of alcoholism. In Kentucky Rye, there is no redemption for the sinner. Here, the boozer gets a shot at salvation, but it's not an easy one to achieve. Perhaps we need more of those liquored-up topics to explore, as they always tend to spawn an excellent episode...

Comments on "3.07 --- The Hellgramite Method"

 

Anonymous Something_Wicked_451 said ... (5:30 PM) : 

This was the first episode I ever saw, as a little kid. It was on at about 5:00 AM one night on TBS when I was scared and couldn't get to sleep...it did NOT help! That worm scared the heck out of me.

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:31 AM) : 

As a psychologist who treats alcoholism and other addictions, it is clear to me that the screenplay writer of this episode had some familiarity with addiction and recovery. Addictive disease is a metabolic disorder, and once one crosses the line from substance abuse to addiciton, there is no turning back, just like with the Hellgramite worm. If an alcoholic or addict gets clean and sober, the disease does not go away, it merely goes to sleep. It only takes that "one little bit" that at times can seem so innocuous. While sober, the chemically dependent person's disease has grown, but does not cause any problems as long as it is left to sleep. But when woken up by relapse, it is almost always bigger and more destructive than ever.
-Dr. Blues

 

Blogger Mairosu said ... (4:36 AM) : 

Jesus, that has to be the most insightful comment in history of this blog. I just noticed it. Great work, doc !

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:46 PM) : 

This episode left quite an impression on me, too. I was born in 1976, and I saw this episode when it first aired. I am now 35, and I was just talking about the bit last week.

I am also familiar with alcoholism/addiction, and this is a powerful metaphor: once addicted, you die, or starve your "disease" into remission/dormancy and live.

 

Blogger Matthew Maloney said ... (2:26 PM) : 

You know, I was beginning to lose hope about this season. Some of the episodes have had a real B-movie feel to them or else are quite camp.

But this one really hits the spot and restores my faith. Easily up there with the best the New TZ has ever produced. At heart this story is about redemption and the strength of the human spirit to live. The main actor is superb.

Also, the comment above by the psychologist is the best insight I've ever read about a TZ episode. Cheers for sharing it!

 

Blogger jared terry said ... (3:48 AM) : 

Agree with what has already been said. For me the best episode of Season Three and one of the few able to comfortably match the best of the first Season. Has echoes of the Stephen King story Quitters Inc. which I very much recommend. Shame the rest of Season Three was not up to this standard.

 

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