I See Dead People - A Look at TV’s MEDIUM

PrintE-mail Written by Ed Fortune

Telefantasy by its very nature tends to be strange and original. The TV show Medium did something remarkable, even for a genre show. It made the unusual normal and the unnatural something seemed almost comforting by turning the ability to see the dead into a key part of a procedural crime drama. Part family drama, part cop show, part supernatural thriller, it’s something a bit different.

Medium details the adventures of Allison DuBois, a psychic who can walk into dreams and talk to the dead. The show’s history is a bit of a rocky one. It was always on the verge of cancellation, despite making it to seven seasons. The main character is based on a real person of the same name. In the real world, this psychic was firmly debunked and the assistance they offered the police was proven to be worthless. The TV show imagines a world in which Allison’s powers are real, and the inevitable consequences of being able to talk to the dead. Its appeal is helped enormously with Patricia Arquette as the charismatic lead.

Let’s take a quick look at some key episodes.

Where it all began. We meet Allison DuBois, who has a fairly normal life. She is married to an aeronautical engineer, she has two children and is interning with the Phoenix District Attorney’s office with a view to going to law school. In addition to all of this, she can see and talk to the dead.  Her husband, convinced of her power, contacts various law enforcement agencies with details of her visions. The Texas Rangers respond and Allison finds herself as an asset against the fight against crime, when she’s not juggling it with her home life, that is. Just as the police start to trust her, the evidence is lost and the tone is set for the show.

Twice Upon a Time
The second season is perhaps too early for an alternate reality episode, but Medium is that sort of show. Allison’s grandmother (long dead) comes to see her in her dreams. Her actual world is in pieces, as using her powers to fight crime has come at the cost of her career aspirations. Her vision is one of her as an unhindered career woman. A top-flight lawyer who doesn’t take no for an answer.

Of course, Medium’s folksy charm won’t stand for Allison to be happy. In this world, she has no kids and a husband who doesn’t really love her. But she has plenty of power and money. It’s fun to see Arquette in a clichéd business woman outfit and the tale is a nice counterpoint to the messy and difficult (but fulfilling) life of the regular version of Allison.

Four Dreams
Season Three opened with a two-parter considered by the fans to be a bit special. The police are clueless, again. This time a band of people are breaking into homes and murdering families.  Meanwhile, none of the main cast are having a good time of it, as all of Allison’s allies have a plethora of family drama to deal with.

The pace picks up when Allison, prompted by the accounts of the only surviving witness, starts to have dreams. The witness was a child, and the only accounts available are via children’s drawings.  The result is a series of weird and vivid cartoon dreams of Monkey Bandits, who commit horrific acts of violence.

Not only does this allow the show to go to places it wouldn’t normally do so, the two-parter allows for stronger character development. 

And Then
Season Four opens with a child dead in a toy store and a massive manhunt for the murderer. Allison is at her wits end, and it seems nothing can be done. That is until we meet bounty hunter/detective Cynthia Keener played by the irrepressible Anjelica Huston. She adds some acerbic energy to the show and turns out to be on the Season Four’s biggest characters. Plenty of scenery chewing in this one, and yet again the tone gets darker.

Burn Baby Burn
Another two-parter, though much less daring. Still, we have creepy dentists, spouse murderers, death by immolation, and three women bickering over the innocence of one dead dude. The closest thing we get to comedy episode in Medium.

Be Kind, Rewind
What do you get if you cross Groundhog Day with Medium’s usual trick of psychic prediction and dire warnings? Be Kind, Rewind is another example of how Medium takes a normal TV trope and uses its unique, home-spun angle to make it something much more interesting and surprisingly far-fetched.

Drowned World
One of the problems with being able to see visions and talk to the dead is that it makes the incoherent and improbable seem all the more likely. Drowned World is the story of serial child murderer and Allison’s attempt to bring them to justice. The clues, however, are layered with layered affairs and as the various B-plots of series begin to tie together, something more involved is revealed.

The Devil Inside
A religious fanatic targets Allison and her family, breaking in and causing both Allison and the police to go on high alert. The fanatic’s actions meet with inevitable and tragic consequences. Unfortunately for Allison, this causes angry spirits to mess up her powers. The result is that our heroine is stuck with a warped version of her abilities, which imperils every further. It’s a nice take on the show’s mythos and a surprisingly gripping watch.

Bite Me
Allison’s powers go a bit wonky after watching Night of The Living Dead. No, really. This episode has an Elvira cameo and is mostly shot in black and white. The episode actually sticks to Medium’s formula but in such a fun way.

How to Beat a Bad Guy
This is the episode that begins the arc in which Allison finally becomes a bit of a bad ass. Following a mugging, our protagonist meets Kira, a self-defence instructor. Of course, the local police force happens to be investigating Detective Scanlon’s brother, who is out of prison. This is a key show as it sets up a change of tone for the remaining series making things pacier.

How to Kill a Good Guy
The flip side of How to Beat a Bad Guy, and follows the consequences of the good detective Scanlon’s actions to the bitter end. It’s got some guest stars from The Dukes of Hazzard, some great misdirection and concludes the bickering between Scanlon and Allison. It’s a great example of how the various cogs and wheels in the show work.

Me Without You
No list of notable episodes would be complete without mentioning the final episode of the entire show. Rather than trying to tie everything together, the last episode throws it all up into the air instead. It takes the consequences of Allison’s powers to the ultimate limit and creates a powerful, bittersweet ending that is rather hard to forget. The supporting cast do get complete story endings and the entire show feels concluded and yet Me Without You is done in such a haunting way that the story stays with you. A perfect conclusion, even though it’s not the conclusion you may have wanted.

You can watch MEDIUM, starting with Season One on CBS Action in June.

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