Channel Zero season 3, episode 5 recap: Answered prayers

CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER'S BLOCK -- "The Pestilent God" Episode 205 -- Pictured: Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods -- (Photo by: Syfy, Acquired from NBCUniversial Media Village)
CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER'S BLOCK -- "The Pestilent God" Episode 205 -- Pictured: Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods -- (Photo by: Syfy, Acquired from NBCUniversial Media Village) /

In the penultimate episode of Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block, Alice found God, Zoe committed blasphemy and Chief Vancyk received his retribution.

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With the airing of it’s second to last episode, Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block brought one of the series’ core themes really into focus. In Candle Cove, Mike Painter had to reconcile with his brother’s death to save his daughter’s life. In No-End House, Margot Sleater and Jules Koja had to let go of their grief to be free of the No-End House. And in Butcher’s Block, Zoe and Alice will have to decide they want to embrace their mother’s legacy of mental instability or embrace their surrogate father’s legacy of death.

In essence, each of the series’ protagonists have been offered a kind of immortality. They were given the option to live without the inevitable pain and loss that comes with growing older. But the price of an immutable existence has always been incredibly high. For Mike, it would’ve meant sacrificing his own child and the children of others. For Margot and Jules, it would’ve meant feeding the house their memories and the memories of others. And for Zoe and Alice, it means literally having to devour others to survive. In each of Channel Zero’s worlds, you can live forever but not as a human being. To be free death, you have to give up something essential about being alive.

And while Mike, Margot, and Zoe seem to understand and embrace the idea that it’s fundamentally wrong to harm everyone to save yourself, I’m not so sure about Alice. And that uncertainty is absolutely thrilling.

I am an architect, they call me a butcher

“The Red Door” began in Butcher’s Block with Chief Vancyk (Tyrone Benskin) struggling with having cut his son’s throat. His wallow in misery was interrupted by Aldous (Bradley Sawatzky), who wanted to know where his brother Robert was. In the Andrew Wyeth-like realm of the Peaches, Zoe (Holland Roden) overheard the family argue about the fact that they had promised Izzy (Linden Porco) to someone, but had recently lost her. She also encountered a beautiful red door, behind which was something great and terrible.

One thing I really enjoy about Channel Zero is the way it unfurls its mythology. In this episode, we got to see the creature the Peaches worship and some information about its nature. In their estimation, it’s God. An understandable assessment as it provides them with long lifespans, incredible resistance to injury and beautiful place to live. But if it is a god, it is not a loving one. It demands human sacrifice in exchange for its gifts and communion with it inspires an unspeakable hunger in its worshipers. And given the antediluvian nature of its sacraments, its existence likely predates the rise of the Abrahamic faiths.

All of those details about the Peaches’ savior have been doled out in tantalizing drips and drabs, not large chunks of bland exposition. Creator Nick Antosca and his collaborators have given us just enough to follow the narrative, but not so much as to lose us in minutia. Increasingly, genre filmmakers and showrunners have become obsessed with making their mythologies feel weighty and portentous by adding unnecessary detail. But I think that approach leads to diminishing returns. Ultimately, too much articulation makes a fictional world’s contradictions and discontinuities more readily apparent. When it comes to the impossible and unknowable, I prefer the Channel Zero’s less is more approach.

I am a pioneer, they call me primitive

In Butcher’s Block, Aldous and his creatures went on the hunt after discovering Luke (Brandon Scott) wasn’t in Robert grave. Back at her place, Louise (Kirsha Fairchild) stitched Luke’s throat up. At the Peach mansion, Alice (Olivia Luccardi) told Zoe she knew the price of sanity and was willing to pay it. Later, Alice found Izzy hiding in one of the mansion’s walls. Back in our world, Louise saw that Aldous had arrived and hid Luke in her basement. Just as Aldous and his creatures were closing, Chief Vancyk decided to kill them all to save his son.

Another thing I really enjoy about Channel Zero is that it doesn’t sacrifice characterization for the sake of the plot. While this episode did a lot of necessary table setting for next week’s finale, it didn’t do so at the expense of its protagonists. Nobody did anything just because the plot needed them to do it. Writers Mallory Westfall, Justin Boyd and Nick Antosca dedicated enough real estate to main characters’ inner lives to keep the story grounded even as its narrative grew increasingly fantastic.

While both the Butcher’s Block and Peach estate threads were given a lot of nuances, the emotional weight of the terrestrial material was especially impactful. The episode did a great job showing the aftermath of Chief Vancyk’s betrayal. It was captivating to see the Chief buckle under the weight of his sins and to see how it shook up Luke’s entire sense of identity. And it was immensely satisfying to see that Louise and Luke had formed a real bond in the wake of the horror they’ve experienced. And it’s important to note that in addition to being extraordinarily well-written, the Butcher’s Block-set scenes also featured season-best performances from Fairchild, Scott, and Benskin.

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I am purity, they call me perverted

Later, the Chief and Louise dismembered Aldous and the creatures’ bodies. In the other dimension, Alice gave up Izzy after Joseph assured her they don’t eat children. However, Edie (Diana Bentley) and a thankfully genital-less meat monster brought the girl to the red door. Afterward, the Peaches held a ceremony wherein Joseph removed Alice’s madness. Fed up, Zoe retrieved Izzy from beyond the red door and brought back to the world we know. But instead leaving with the girl, Zoe stayed behind to get Alice.

Zoe confronted Alice about Izzy’s whereabouts but Alice was lost in post-operative euphoria. Disturbed by the change in her sister, Zoe ate Alice’s madness to get back to the way she used to be. In Butcher’s Block, Luke shot his father after he proposed leaving the town and abandoning its people. In the mansion, Alice nonchalantly mentioned that Zoe probably returned home with Izzy. Zoe did, in fact, flee back down the staircase. After confirming that Izzy was gone, Joseph promised God he would get her back.

As with every other installment of Channel Zero this season, the episode was full of arresting imagery. With all the flesh-slicing and pulsating meat, “The Red Door,” was undeniably the series most viscerally unsettling chapter. Still, the episode had more going on than just an unusually intense presentation of gore. It seemed that Director Arkasha Stevenson and cinematographer Isaac Bauman made Butcher’s Block and the Peaches’ realm look fantastic and visually distinct as always but they also did interesting things with the world beyond the red door. Given the frequent use of abrupt zooms and opulent in that setting, that particular space had a strong Kubrickian vibe.

Channel Zero, Syfy
CHANNEL ZERO: BUTCHER’S BLOCK — “The Pestilent God” Episode 205 — Pictured: (l-r) Olivia Luccardi as Alice Woods, Rutger Hauer as Joseph Peach — (Photo by: Syfy, Acquired from NBCUniversial Media Village) /

I know I believe in nothing but it’s my nothing

Previously, the final act of every season of Channel Zero has started with one its main characters taking a leap into the fantastic. Mike had to enter the world of Candle Cove to confront his brother. Jules reentered House World to rescue her best friend Margot. Butcher’s Block both conformed to and deviated from that pattern. On the one hand, Alice chose to commit herself to the Peaches and their dark faith. On the other, Zoe rejected it, both in reabsorbing her madness and by returning to the real world.

As such, it’s really hard to say where things will go from here. Obviously, the Wood sisters, Louise and Luke will have to have some kind of final reckoning with the Peaches. But given that our protagonists don’t share a unity of purpose, it’s hard to be optimistic about their chances. Although Alice came to Butcher’s Block to help her sister and other troubled people, she ended up finding personal deliverance. Given her extreme fear of losing her sanity, it’s hard to see her giving up her “blessing.”

Next: Channel Zero season 3, episode 4 recap: Blood ties

Louise, Luke, and Zoe were all strong enough to resist because they had strong links to our world. For Louise and Luke, that link was their mutual desire to save their city. For Zoe, it was saving Izzy. But for Alice, schizophrenia and a lifetime being the only sane member of her family have greatly frayed her connection to humanity. And as Louise noted when talking about her experience with her own mentally ill sibling, “a person can only give so much, then they got nothing left to go around.”

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