As November begins and we try not to get sucked into the fuss and playfulness that the approaching holiday season can bring, it’s important to sit back and remind ourselves of what we are thankful for. It can be easy to get sucked up into wondering what could have been. Or wondering what we don’t have in our lives as the year starts coming to a close. But this type of fairly common thinking, ultimately, can do more harm than good and make us lose sight of what we have right in front of our faces. We end up taking these things we have for granted. However, in the latest INTO THE DARK installment titled PILGRIM, we see the extreme of what happens when a family is reminded of the consequences of taking what they have for granted in arguably one of the most nightmarish scenarios I can think of for a Thanksgiving holiday.
The episode primarily focuses on teenager Cody Barker (Reign Edwards), who is struggling to deal with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as well as resisting any idea of familial unification that her stepmother Anna (Courtney Henggeler) comes up with. Cody’s father Shane (Kerr Smith) is completely and utterly disconnected from the family, choosing to spend all his time on his phone rather than pay attention to his wife or kids. Meanwhile, image-obsessed Anna thinks that it is time to remind her family about their privilege and signs the family up for a Harvest Celebration that involves Pilgrim re-enactors acting out how the first Thanksgiving was celebrated. When this is announced at dinner, Cody immediately resists the idea and, upon splitting a wishbone with her half-brother Tate (Antonio Raul Corbo), makes a wish that hopes the whole entire thing blows up in her stepmother’s face. From that point onward, the tone immediately shifts and things start to get really weird really fast with disastrous results.
I’m going to refrain from writing more about the plot since the episode itself is chockful of spoilers. And part of the film’s mystique is in the shocking surprises that are woven into the script written by Marcus Dunstan (who also directed) Noah Feinberg (Reincarnation Inc., Fruit), and Patrick Melton (Black Light, Feast). I will say that once the Pilgrim re-enactors enter the film, you will be unable to pull yourself away from staring at the terrifyingly enthusiastic performance from Peter Giles, who takes a cult leader, narcissistic zealot stance with his portrayal of the head pilgrim and the equally unnerving performance from Elyse Levesque, who plays the seemingly never-blinking Patience.
While the acting itself was good, I definitely couldn’t help really enjoying and being sucked into the progressively disturbing atmosphere that Dunstan was creating for us onscreen. There are a couple of moments that really stood out as jarring, with many moments later on in the episode that made me question whether or not I was trapped in a fever dream and tripping. The usage of color to create unsettling moments definitely contributed to this. I am immediately reminded of when Patience is churning berries in what would typically be a butter churner, but you know that something is wrong. The timed beats as she shoves the plunger in and out of the churn and the shots cutting back to Finn (Taj Speights) as he ascends the stairs really helped amplify the tension as we waited for what he would discover. That moment and a couple more trippy moments, later on, helped play off the dream-like, nightmarish quality that starts to take over as the veil is raised on the Pilgrims’ actions.
And I can’t really discuss this installment without mentioning theming. The most prominent theme featured throughout the course of PILGRIM is to be grateful for what we have. While I do think that the constant repetition of this theme being spoken and referred to was sometimes a bit heavyhanded, I do think this is a message that we need to be reminded of. However, on the flip side, we see this message conveyed via an almost vigilante style of justice, which easily puts viewers on edge. Here are these people who are here to promote a simpler way of life and to remind the family of how privileged they are playing God and deciding who gets to be punished for not appreciating what they have in life. To see the two extremes play out and come together makes me wonder whether or not the message is that we should be grateful for what we have, but we shouldn’t needlessly punish ourselves if in a weak moment we can’t feel that thankfulness. I’m curious to see how others will interpret the thematic material in this episode because I know I’ve thought a fair bit about it.
Overall, I enjoyed PILGRIM, which was far more unsettling and contained more thematic material to munch on than the previous episode of this new season. While the message of needing to be grateful for what you have is a little heavy-handed at times, there is most certainly a need for that type of message I think in this age of social media where we see constantly what others have that we may not. It is really not difficult also to feel afraid of the vigilante-style justice inflicted by the re-enactors on the family. That terror we feel as we watch everything play out and the awful thought of, “At least it’s not us,” is really what I think some will take away from this episode. That, and the old adage of, “Be careful what you wish for.”
The Thanksgiving-themed episode PILGRIM is now available on Hulu.
PS. Keep your eyes peeled. There is a wild Pooka that makes an appearance. You’ve been warned.