Welcome to another edition of Going Antiquing, a special column that only comes around when a new Friday the 13th is on the horizon. This Friday, January 13 is the occasion in question, and so The Moon is a Dead World will venture on a week-long journey through the annals of Friday the 13th: The Series, also known as Friday’s Curse. In the past, I’ve covered the first eleven episodes of the series; this time, we’ll be taking a look at some classic episodes recommended by avid viewers. This episode was recommended by reader Joseph Mello.
“Brain Drain” is one of those episodes where the Curious Goods crew cannot feasibly obtain the cursed object on their own. In this case, it’s a large antique scientific instrument called the Trephinator, referring to the act of trephination or trepination in which a hole is drilled into the skull; one would, presumably, need a crane or some other heavy lifting utility to load the Trephinator into a truck and transport it back to the store. This is much the same as previously covered episode “The Great Montarro,” which involved a large magic box.
Regardless of the logistics of transporting the episode’s object, “Brain Drain” is another great episode of Friday the 13th: The Series. Much like yesterday’s “Tails I Live, Heads You Die,” the hunt for the Trephinator features stakes for our protagonists and a strong feeling of suspense as the trio from Curious Goods attempt to rescue Jack’s old flame – and now fiancee – from a horrible scientist who has been stealing intelligence from geniuses using the machine.
That villain is Stewart Pangborn (Denis Forest), once a test subject for a scientist working on creating a living brain until he decided to use the Trephinator to absorb intelligence. Unfortunately for the Curious Goods trio, no one knows exactly where the Trephinator is, and Micki, Ryan, and Jack don’t find out until two geniuses turn up dead at a museum.
All of this wouldn’t be so dire if “Brain Drain” didn’t work in a subplot with Jack and his old fling Dr. Viola Rhodes (Carrie Snodgress), a woman he nearly married before they broke off their relationship due to career motivations. While Friday the 13th: The Series hasn’t explored Jack’s past in much detail in previous episodes – and Viola has never been featured – “Brain Drain” manages to make the audience care for the character mostly due to Jack and Vi’s interactions and the fact that Jack is a strongly likable person. The viewer wants to see their relationship work, especially because Jack has lived a relatively celibate lifestyle throughout Friday the 13th: The Series. The unlikely, rushed marriage proposal comes out of nowhere, but for two people their age, it’s not unrealistic; even so, it’s easy to want the best for these two good people.
The problem is that Vi works for Pangborn, and of course Pangborn wants Vi’s intelligence. It leads to a tense situation where Micki, Ryan, and Jack race to the museum to warn Vi of Pangborn’s plan to use the Trephinator. In normal Friday the 13th: The Series episodes, the Curious Goods crew would succeed: it would be a close call, but Jack and Ryan would burst into the museum, unhook Vi from the Trephinator, and bring Pangborn to justice – or at least accidentally kill him. But “Brain Drain” isn’t a normal episode of the show. Instead, Vi does get the brain drain because they’re too late.
Still, there’s always a chance that the series’ reality will find a way to alter Vi’s state; it’s not always a mortal situation, as we’ve seen previously. But with the Trephinator, there’s no way to separate one intelligence from another – Vi is part of Pangborn, just as Pangborn is part of Vi. Even if Jack were to use the Trephinator to transmit intelligence from Pangborn’s body to Vi’s, she wouldn’t be the same person she once was. It’s a resonant theme about the transfer of knowledge and, in some ways, experience: there’s no way to reverse knowledge of something you wish you hadn’t experienced, in much the same way the Trephinator has no rewind button.
“Brain Drain” ends with a particularly downbeat feeling, with Jack mourning the loss of his one true love and asking her to wait for him on the other side. It could be seen as Friday the 13th: The Series taking the easy way out, of not expanding its character troupe to include Vi in the show. But the episode plays it too straight, too suspenseful, to really fault the series; instead, “Brain Drain” focuses explicitly on Jack, documenting another loss in his life thanks to evil Uncle Lewis’ dealings with the devil.