Channel Zero Season 3, Episode 2 recap: Meat is murder

CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER'S BLOCK -- "Father Time" Episode 202 -- Pictured: Peach Family Dinner -- (Photo by: Allen Fraser/Syfy. Acquired from NBCUniversial Media Village)
CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER'S BLOCK -- "Father Time" Episode 202 -- Pictured: Peach Family Dinner -- (Photo by: Allen Fraser/Syfy. Acquired from NBCUniversial Media Village) /

Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block’s second episode was an eerie, gruesome and oddly funny marvel that saw Joseph Peach made Alice an offer she might not be able to refuse.

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This week’s episode began with a beguiling cold open that’s difficult to put into words. Ostensibly, it was a 1950s era commercial for Peach’s Meats. In it, a character played by Edie Peach (Diana Bentley) told her family about the importance of eating meat. While the commercial followed the template of ads from that period, it was clearly…off. For one thing, it filmed in color before color TVs were widely available. Also, the way Edie spoke about the food chain and haphazardly carved up a ham had a casual menace to it. And the sequence had a sense of humor to it that made the whole thing feel profoundly unsettling.

Its kitschy aesthetics and emotional dissonance made it feel of a piece with Twin Peaks. That’s not to say the sequence feel like a rip off David Lynch’s style. Channel Zero has a more contemporary approach to the surreal that is unique. That consistency is remarkable given that each season has been helmed by a different director with a unique visual style. It’s a real testament to creator Nick Antosca and long-time cinematographer Isaac Bauman that the series has maintained an idiomatic tone for three seasons now.

Two episodes into Butcher’s Block, I think I have a handle on what the season’s director Arkasha Stevenson brings to the table. She has a gift for composition and is very good at balancing very different aesthetic. Butcher’s Block feels like an economically insolvent 2018 American every-day town. The sequences involving the Peach family feel like a nightmarish ‘50s Southern Gothic. And the sections of the story that involve the two worlds intersecting bridge the gap between those two tones. The Peaches feel like they are literally infecting the present with a rightfully forgotten past.

We must not look at goblin men

Following that bravura cold open, the show returned to present day. The small creature and a man in an old suit (Andreas Apergis) emerged from the staircase. Alice (Olivia Luccardi) left a message for Zoe (Holland Roden) asking her to check in. Louise (Kirsha Fairchild) asked Alice to show her where she encountered Joseph Peach (Rutger Hauer). Louise revealed that the Peaches were rumored to be involved in a series of disappearances and the whole family disappeared in 1952 after the death of Peaches’ two daughters. Alice saw the creature and the suited man and followed them to the staircase, the sight of which prompted her to pass out.

Alice was awakened by Joseph and the pair had a conversation about God. Joseph also mentioned that Alice didn’t need to worry about Zoe anymore. Alice went to the police but they laughed off her concerns, partially because Louise had a combative relationship with Officer Luke Vanczyk (Brandon Scott). Somewhere else, the skinless creature coated an unconscious Izzy (Linden Porco) with an unknown substance. Back at Louise’s house, Zoe had returned and claimed to be cured. Luke arrested the suited man after he attacked a woman. The man seemed to know Luke and promised to make him a special project.

While Channel Zero has always looked really good, “Father Time” has set a new benchmark for the series. There were at least a dozen shots in this episode that I’d ranks as being among the most beautiful and haunting of the year. Most of these were insert shots, like the dead bodies of Peaches’ daughters hanging from a bridge or Zoe standing in the liminal space the Peaches occupy. It’s incredible to see such cinematic imagery on a weekly basis.

Channel Zero: Butcher's Block, Channel Zero, Syfy
CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER’S BLOCK — “Father Time” Episode 202 — Pictured: Holland Roden as Zoe Woods — (Photo by: Syfy. Acquired from NBCUniversial Media Village) /

We must not buy their fruits

Zoe claimed a powerful man cured her and that she would support Alice if she ended up being schizophrenic. In the Butcher’s Block police station, Luke walked in on the suited man, sans clothing, devouring his cellmate. After hearing Joseph’s voice in her head, Zoe imagined herself eating Louise’s cat. The suited man was transferred into the custody of a different department. Luke followed the transport and saw that the man was inexplicably released. Luke also saw the suited man meet Joseph at the staircase.

Louise told Alice about a local boogeyman called the Butcher that she believed was based on Joseph. Afterward, Alice found an invitation to dine with the entire Peach family in the park. Alice brought Louise to the dinner and she identified them as the real Peaches. She also named the suited man as Joseph’s son, Robert. Mid-conversation, Joseph transported Alice to his mansion, which had burned down years ago in the real world.

A straight recap of the events involving Robert doesn’t really do them justice. While his actions in this episode were undeniably chilling, the character is also kind of funny. He had an arch detachment from the world that made him come off like a caricature of an evil rich guy. And the sequence where Luke followed him to the staircase was almost farcical. The way was filmed and scored had the macabre comic energy I associate with Tim Burton’s early films. As strange as it sounds, the sequence didn’t feel out of place. In fact, it provided a nice breather given what was to come.

Who knows upon what soil they fed, Their hungry thirsty roots?

Joseph paralyzed Alice, cut her head open and located her most traumatic memory. In a flashback, it was shown that it was the day the Woods sisters’ mother brutally stabbed Zoe during a psychotic episode. Joseph told Alice that he could remove the memory, and the schizophrenia growing in her brain just as he had done for Zoe. All she had to do was join the family. Alice then woke up in the park the following day. The Peaches had vanished and their dinner had transformed into plates dishes of rotting meat. Among the spread was the mostly devoured remains of Izzy’s mother Tanya.

One of the best things about Channel Zero is that its approach to horror is more existential than visceral. It doesn’t rely on cheap tricks like jump scares to scare the audiences. It creates absolutely terrifying worlds and then traps relatable, three-dimensional characters inside them. Consequently, when the series does present more visceral material, it hits with the impact of a sledgehammer. And the entire sequence set in the Peach mansion was the most graphic the program has ever been.

Next: Channel Zero season 3, episode 1 recap: Into the woods

While the table full of rotting meat was rough, the part that really got me was the brain surgery. Instead of showing Joseph boring out a piece of Alice’s skull, the camera was focused tightly on her face. Though she couldn’t move or speak, the pained expression on her face was more effective than any scream. The almost tasteful restraint shown there coupled with the brutality of her sister’s stabbing and the daylight gore of the dinner table was darkly awe-inspiring. I can’t wait to see where this show takes us next.

Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block airs on Syfy Wednesdays at 10 pm.