For our cold open, two brothers in mechanic’s gear are fixing up a vintage 50s car while listening to a 50s radio station. The older brother, the developmentally disabled Archie, is prompted by the nostalgia wave to point out a picture of the family from before his brother Ray was born. Ray, meanwhile, is more nostalgic for the fact that those were the days that their now deceased father was keeping “the coloreds” in their place. So he’s not too thrilled when a young black boy comes by selling candy, with his murderously racist outbursts upsetting Archie.

Over at the shop, Johnny is minding the place solo, buying a box of old junk from a customer when Archie comes in, sees a vintage 1954 Chevy factory radio in the box, and buys it from Johnny. Johnny is fairly pleased with himself for making back the money he spent on the box of junk, until Micki and Jack get back and realize that he sold an item before checking it against the Manifest. Which, of course, lists a 1954 Chevy radio. Archie, meantime, has given the radio to Ray to put in the car, which mostly prompts Ray to go on some more racist ranting. Which leads Ray to drinking, and tracking down Elliot, the boy from earlier, and “accidentally” shooting him, in a scene that’s fairly uncomfortable in light of modern “stand your ground” laws. Ray flees in the Chevy, smearing blood on the radio dial, causing the car to glow and travel back to black-and-white Mississippi in 1954, to the town the family lived in before he was born, a few days before his father would commit the murder that got him executed. Ray is just thrilled to find himself in a time and place where he can get away with beating and harassing black men, and very quickly attracts the attention of the local Ku Klux Klan, which gets him invited to…his family home, where his father is, unsurprisingly, ranting about “the coloreds.” Ray tries to talk his father out of killing the black man who he and the Klan harassed earlier in town, not because it’s wrong, but because there will be a witness and they’ll all go to jail for murder, but ends up participating in the killing anyway.

The gang stakes out Ray’s house, Jack having figured out that the radio allows a person to travel back in time to 1954, making this possibly the most specific cursed antique yet. Ray rushes home to find his father, learning that nope, he still got executed for that murder he did, so Ray announces that he’s going to kill another black person. This enrages Archie, who tries to stop him, and gets beaten to death for his efforts. The gang breaks into the garage to try and stop Ray and Jack and Johnny get dragged back to 1954 as well. Ray goes to warn his father, and makes plans to kill the lawyer who got him prosecuted. Jack tries to warn the lawyer, and doesn’t get far, as a white man telling a black man “you better be careful” has the result you would expect. Meanwhile, Ray goes for an Oedipally charged talk with his mother, learning that she very much does not share her husband’s opinions on race, and is fairly upset with him since it’s obvious his beating of Archie has caused brain damage. Jack steals Ray’s Klan scrapbook and takes it to the Sheriff, leaving the office just in time to see the lawyer being abducted, and gets himself abducted when he tries to stop it. At the rally, the Sheriff, who is just coincidentally the Grand Dragon, accuses Ray of being an FBI infiltrator, and orders him burnt at the stake. Johnny hotwires Ray’s car, and escapes with Jack and the lawyer, and Ray is burnt alive by his own father. And Jack and Johnny return to the present of 1989.

Oof, this is a rough one. It’s not just that some elements are little hard to watch in light of current events, it’s that the writers and producers apparently saw a story about a racist villain as an excuse to go way over the top. The language is remarkably tame, unsurprising given syndication restrictions, but the racists are still completely cartoonish, and it wears on you when so much of the episode is given over to them. The only saving grace is that the heroes are fairly active in the story and involved in events and the “nope, time is fixed” approach to time travel.

A Very Robey 80s

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Fuzzies and Other People, 1984 ed., H. Beam Piper
The last of the series. Speak not to me of “re-imaginings.”

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The cold open starts with the end of Tails I Live, Heads You Die with the Satanists using the corpse-resurrecting Coin of Ziocles dying when their temple collapses around them. And then it moves onto a construction crew excavating the site finding the corpses and dumping them into the garbage, because having the police investigate would just slow down the project. The Coin somehow escapes the trash bin and ends up in an alley, where two corrupt cops, Gorman and Briggs, are planning to rob a mob bag-man. Things go wrong, naturally, and Koslow is killed by the bag-man, and Gorman uses a convenient coin to Harvey Dent the decision on whether or not to kill the bag-man in retaliation, thus discovering the Coin’s power.

At the shop, Micki and Jack are off to appraise some items, after giving Johnny some platitudes about how it’s okay for him to be missing his father Vince, killed off in The Prisoner. Back at the police station, Gorman’s report is being finished up, and the other officer casually mentions that the only other deaths reported with the strange forehead burns had an occult connection. The media has also picked up on that detail, and a news report on the bag-man’s death sends Micki into a panic, giving Jack an opportunity to infodump some backstory on Johnny. While Micki worries that the Coin is somehow after her, Gorman investigates the police files on the coins, which show a remarkably sophisticated knowledge of Satnic powers operating in the world, possibly explaining how the gang has so little trouble covering up some of the more public incidents they’ve been involved in. Gorman manages to glean enough information from the reports that he breaks into the morgue and uses the coin to resurrect is partner.

The gang goes to the site to search for the coin, prompting a traumatic flashback for Micki and a rather bleak description of the nature of the afterlife in this universe. Johnny gets tasked with going to the police and finding out more info, since his father apparently had never before mentioned connections to the police which did absolutely no good in keeping Johnny out of jail that one time. Meanwhile, Gorman is making plans with his zombie partner to kill a prostitute with the coin, so that they can use it to resurrect the bag-man and get the money he was supposed to have on him that night, completely oblivious to the fact that Zombie Cop is clearly planning his own agenda. At the station, Gorman overhears Johnny asking about the case, while Johnny uses his leet hacking skills to discover that Briggs’ body has gone missing. Over Micki and Jack’s protests, Johnny starts following Gorman and Briggs, apparently convinced that they’re good cops and not totally corrupt cops slowly succumbing to a Satanic evil, even when he sees them abduct the prostitute they were earlier plotting to kill. After he sees them use the Coin, Johnny grabs it from them and takes off. He returns to the shop and overhears Micki’s concerns about the Coin returning and what that means for her, and so goes and digs up his father’s corpse and resurrects him.

Once resurrected, Johnny’s father is more the “confused innocent” sort of zombie, instead of the Satanic rage fueled type Briggs is. He takes his father’s corpse out camping, while Briggs and Gorman hunt him down, since Johnny wasn’t exactly subtle back at the police station, a process made even easier by the fact that Johnny leaves a message on his answering machine essentially spelling out where he’ll be. When they show up, Johnny is able to get away by threatening to use the Coin on Gorman, but Briggs shoots at him anyway, causing Johnny to drop the coin. Gorman tells Briggs to let Johnny go, since it’s only a few days before the rest of the police force figures out what’s going on, so Briggs shoots Gorman. Which, frankly, we pretty much saw coming. Micki and Jack are, understandably, furious when they find out what Johnny has been up to, and go to take care of the Coin themselves, Micki having finally overcome her anxieties. They catch up to Briggs at the cemetery where it turns out that, yep, the Coin really was trying to kill Micki again, and is using Briggs to do so. Johnny shows up to save Micki, resulting in a foot and car chase through the cemetery that ends with Micki beating the zombie cop to redeath with a shovel at the bottom of a freshly dug grave. And Johnny uses the Coin to kill his father again.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had an episode devoted to mopping up after an artifact that got away in a previous episode, but we’re not given any new twists or expansion on how the artifact works. It’s still the same tit-for-tat curse it was last time. There’s also a fair amount of attempted character development pushed forward this time, though the two strands of Micki being fearful and Johnny bringing back his father don’t quite gel together satisfactorily. We do see a pretty solid characterization of Johnny as being willing to allow objects to be used forming here as well, which does mark a sharp change from Jack and Micki (even if it’s a theme they had Ryan flirt with a few times too).

A Very Robey 80s

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Fuzzy Sapiens, 1984 ed., H. Beam Piper
These books were hand-me-downs from my father, who bought the entire series and then made me read them.
The only other books he did that with were H.P. Lovecraft collections.

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Our cold open this week is a man racing through traffic, desperate to get to an ear, nose, and throat specialist while his head throbs in a way very reminiscent of any number of “head about to explode” scenes from horror films. When he gets to the doctor, he pulls out his hearing aid, resembling a long, worm-like device, before expiring.

At the shop, Micki and Jack are preparing to attend an estate sale auction, hoping to recover several items that had been purchased by an investment banker, leaving Johnny to mind the shop and fill his time writing horror stories based on tabloid articles, as he has apparently been expressly forbidden to write anything based on items in the Vault. One of the stories, curiously, is about a banker whose head exploded in a doctor’s office. Meanwhile, at a dive bar, Adam (played by Wayne Best who appeared previously) and his partner Phil are doing a pretty typical mind-reader act, which is starting to fall apart as Adam is very clearly losing his hearing and thus missing he cues. Phil threatens to fire Adam unless he gets a hearing aid, and so he goes to the very same doctor from our opening, where he feels strangely drawn to a particular device when instructed to pick one out, probably because it’s literally throbbing. He pockets it and puts it in before the next show, at which a talent scout, Randi, for a major late-night talk show is scheduled to attend. The routine bombs, though, when Adam realizes that he can hear the thoughts of everyone in the audience, which is fairly distracting when you’re trying to listen to a coded hint. When he picks out a murderer in the audience, though, the talent scout decides she’s very interested in him and his “rugged” looks.

Unfortunately for Adam, this is one of those “tit for tat” cursed objects, and he immediately starts to feel a crushing pain in his head, so he stumbles out of the bar and into the street. He makes his way back to the doctor’s office, just as Johnny makes the connection between the tabloid story he read and the one item that was missing from the estate sale Micki and Jack went to. Adam projects the overload of thoughts into the doctor, killing him, while Jack hears the struggle between the two over the phone. The gang rushes over to find the doctor’s body, and Adam heads over to Randi’s apartment to put the moves on her. The gang starts tracking down the doctor’s patients, and the next morning Jack visits Phil, who has just received a phone call from Adam quitting, since, well, he’s now booked on the talk show as a solo thanks to last night’s tête-à-tête. Phil, rapidly disheveling attends the show, as do Micki and Johnny, who naturally “overhears” their interest in his hearing aid. Micki decides to use that to her advantage, and use herself as bait to catch Adam so they can get the hearing aid back. This goes about as well as the heroes plans ever do, and Micki barely escapes, so Adam is forced to release the thoughts into Phil, and is caught in the act by Randi, who agrees to keep quiet about it to save her career.

At the studio the next day, Adam meets a network executive and learns that they’re interested in having him be a variety show host, in case you were still under the impression that this show was meant to take place in America. The gang, meanwhile, are trying to discover some weakness of Adam’s that can be exploited, before the power of the hearing aid leads him to aspire to more than just local television stardom, but all they find is Phil’s body. They head to the studio to try and stop Adam, and get locked into a green room by Randi for their efforts. Randi intends to let Adam use them to dump the voices in his head, but the power will only work if he does it to one person (apparently) so he kills her instead. Jack jimmy opens the door and confronts Adam on the stage, challenging him to “prove” he’s really psychic by removing the hearing aid, since it could be used to have an assistant feed him answers from off-stage. This convinces the entire audience that Adam is a fake, and that many thoughts hitting him at once overwhelms him and, well, makes his head explode. Giving our heroes a chance to grab the hearing aid and skedaddle.

Despite the groan-inducing title, this is a pretty good episode. The choice of antique is a bit strange, but at this point we can probably cut the writer’s some slack, having already gone through a pretty good list of things you would already expect to find in an antique store. It’s a pretty standard, by the show’s terms, curse as well; it’s a thematically appropriate power and you have to kill to maintain it or it turns back on you. Clearly this was cursed during one of those periods when Lewis Vendredei was feeling a bit lazy. The guest cast does a good job, and the balance between them and the regulars is good, with the regulars given more to do than just stand around and watch things happening.

A Very Robey 80s

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