Sure, they fudge a few things. Everyone knows there are no 13th floors in buildings. Superstitious building architects conspired with the Knights Templar to cut construction costs millennia ago. But even with the subjective shortcuts, we don’t get the shaft. The sequence where Kristen gets stuck, alone, in the elevator is viscerally frightening. Not because of the half torso woman crawling across the floor, but for simple mechanics. It’s tightly framed within a limited point of view, which makes it both claustrophobic, and peripherally perilous. We know Kristen won’t get cut in half, but there’s a part of us that has wanted it since the tour guide painted such a vivid picture of it in our minds. While Kristen later blames her prescriptions, the scene also subliminally mirrors what happened at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, when Elisa Lam hid from unseen hazards.
David’s main antagonist for the week is all too visible. Leland is having the time of his life making a mockery of the religious rites. He’s paying for it, so the church goes along. It is slightly unnerving how David can openly express his disapproval of the supplicant to his superiors, only to have them repeatedly ignore him. His teammates have spoken out against Leland. Sister Andrea (Andrea Martin) almost asks David to hold her habit so she can kick the possessed poseur’s ass, but still the clergy accommodates Leland’s every whim. You can almost envision them holding their hands over their ears while chanting “I don’t hear you.” Something must be going on here which is clouded by the comedy. The series hasn’t made any overt references, but the church has to be in bed with the devil they know.
Leland’s passive aggressive race baiting is grating, so much so the audience might feel an inner cheer when David punches the local activist Logan later in the episode. Leland’s poisoning has that much of a ripple effect. It’s worse when the diversity-hire comments are echoed by the church officials, and fellow ecclesiastical students. The temptations are expertly hidden in the episode. Kevin, a fourth-year clerical student who notices David hardly ever shows up to class, says the star supernatural assessor is “being groomed to be the great Black hope of the Catholic Church.” David is later tempted by another, possibly more inclusive, faith.
It is a shame the audience doesn’t get to hear David’s homily in full. The priest-in-training has a high regard for his worth to the church. His superiors may think he’s being egotistical, but he honestly has a selfless motive behind the seeming braggadocio. Ben, on the other hand, “never stops feeling like an idiot on this job.” And his is the most interesting arc of the installment. He calls in a friend, who could have been more than a friend, to understand the finer points of the Elevator game. The game itself is a major plus for the series. It is perennially timely, and universally frightening. No one wants to get stuck in an elevator.
Ben’s almost-ultimate fate is almost equally universal. Those cheesy bugs are pretty creepy, admittedly, but they are sold by Ben’s reaction. The realization of their presence leaks into his eyes. It’s a slow ride before he registers shock and revulsion. He is actually expecting the woman to be alive when he turns her over. He is more disappointed than startled at his initial discovery, which suits the character. He’s grounded and, yet, expectant. He wants things to turn out right. Ben’s ambiguous acceptance of his personal demoness is also well played tonight. She is his Jiminy Cricket in reverse, and as he descends into sentimentality, she cuts his treacle down to the stump.
“E Is for Elevator” is a fun episode which really is appropriate for all ages, or at least will appeal to their actual interests. The urban legend keeps it contemporary, the social content makes it timeless, and the off-kilter approach keeps it lively. Evil also continues to leave some of the more paranormal ambiguities uncertain.