It’s Friday again! And TGIF means more TFBTP! And you know what that means? SPOILERS!! You have been warned.
This week, we move into disc 3 and take on Is This Seat Taken? by Sarah Langan.
Summary: A young woman attempts to charm men into committing crimes for her and with her.
If there’s anything that Tales Beyond the Pale Season 1 delivers (and delivers BIG) it’s atmosphere. The music, sound effects and quality of the voice actors can almost take on physical forms. You can practically touch the bloody human flesh (ew) and feel the blackened wisps of misty shadows (chills!). Because of this, Is This Seat Taken? really stands out from the crowd, especially with its disturbingly cheery, mentally unhinged and sexually abused female protagonist. But this faux brightness is just part of a candy coating, a façade that reveals a dark twisted center. This is a Natural Born Killers prequel meets Bonnie and Clyde meets Girl Interrupted with a splash of 80’s flair at the end with Slow Burning Crimes by East Hundred. The strong Long Island accent (Hi, Fran from The Nanny) was a little annoying, but again much like Man on the Ledge it was more enjoyable with each listen. The actress was definitely channeling some of Marisa Tomei’s exuberant Brooklyn accent from My Cousin Vinny, which I adore. The story itself has some reveals and small twists which were not enough to ruffle the feathers too much so I can’t say that it is mind blasting, but it’s a solid story. The characters are sympathetic and psychotic. Robert didn’t have a wonderful childhood and Cassie had her own demons to overcome. Together, they find that they truly have some common interests, i.e. recreational homicide. The blossoming of their love all at once nails the idea of being a love-struck, angsty twenty something while also conjuring up some horrible memories relating to Columbine and/or the Menendez Brothers. Is this the first Tale with a happy ending? We can be happy that Cassie and Robert are deeply in love with each other and support one another other in their extracurricular activities. (Especially if support means “take a bullet for.”) I doubt the people who are about to get murdered by this killer couple think that this was a happy ending!
This is a pretty slow boil tale, and it’s hard to know who to root for in the beginning, which makes it all the more interesting. Is she messing with him? Messing with “us”? Or just messed up? It’s a good mix of the listener knowing what’s kind of going on, so it’s not annoying cloy, while not knowing completely, so it keeps you guessing. I am a huge dork-fan of “found footage” type stories, and this has a similar feel, but not at all forced. It uses the self-narration-recordings well without being over the top, and I happen to really like Long Island accents, so that didn’t bother me as much as it bothered a certain other reviewer. And you learn something about mental psychoses, like zombie eyes, and how to properly strategerize cannibalism! Entertaining AND informative! I feel like Stephen’s and Viv’s reviews summarize the strengths pretty well, so I don’t have that much to add. While it’s not at the top of the class for me (it’s not nearly as creepy or skin-crawly as some of the Tales . . . I would probably categorize it more of a thriller than as horror, really), it’s far from the bottom. It’s got great twists and Robert is one of the most sympathetic characters in the whole series, even when you learn he’s a psychopath, which is just some good writing right there.
Is This Seat Taken is another great addition to Tales from Beyond the Pale. It is less atmospheric and less of a horror story than the other tales. Even though the subject matter is dark– a woman taking advantage of mentally unstable men to see if they will kill for her, all so she can write a book about it– the story feels lighter in tone than the rest of the Tales. It uses the radio format very well to make sure you only know what she is thinking, and not her current mark. Which makes it a great twist when you realize the mark has pieced together what she is doing, and has in fact turned the tables (at least to a degree) on her, and is using her as much as she is using him. The dialogue and acting are top notch, the voices fitting the characters perfectly. And wait, what is this? Is Fessenden right? An actual happy ending (of sorts)? While this is not my favorite of the Tales, it is a refreshing change of tone from the more atmospheric Tales (The Hole Digger, The Grandfather) and the more disturbing ones (Johnny Boy, British and Proud, Trawler). It is like a horror story palate cleanser.
Next tale: The Grandfather