Episode 6 of Goosebumps is enlivened by the performance of Justin Long, but dampened by drawn-out and sluggish storytelling.
With episode 6 of Goosebumps, we are now four episodes away from the end of the season and it feels as though the story proper is still being set up. In the episode, instead of making active decisions that push the storyline forward, the characters spend their time passively asking questions in order to prompt answers that the audience members need or reiterate information that we already know. While it’s an improvement over the first five episodes, due to strong performances, there is still no sense of forward movement in the storytelling of Goosebumps. There is no sense of discovery, no mystery to its mystery. All information is spelled out for the audience members in neon bright letters.
Episode 6 of Goosebumps places Harold Biddle (Ben Cockell) at center stage, finally answering the questions set up from the first episode of the season with his gruesome death. In 1993, Harold Biddle was moved by his family to the home of his deceased grandfather (Eddie Jemison), a successful ventriloquist. Harold is the sort of teenage boy that would describe himself as misunderstood and sensitive, and overly identify with Radiohead’s “Creep.” In actuality, he’s a thoroughly unpleasant person who reacts with anger to every overture and doesn’t understand that taking a ventriloquist dummy to his high school classes will get him teased.
A bright spot in Harold’s life comes with the presence of Sarah, who will grow up to be the mother of one of our intrepid main characters Margot, played by a winning Alex Felix. Harold and Sarah form a delicate friendship in which he leans on her kindness and she attempts to pull him out of his shell, the type of which is frequently found between the outcast and popular girl in YA fiction. Tragedy strikes as Harold continues to spiral downward in ways reminiscent of the classic horror movies, Carrie and Dead of Night.
All of this story is narrated through a lengthy monologue delivered by Justin Long to our Scooby Gang of main teen characters. Episode 6 of Goosebumps is held together by Long’s performance, as fully committed as Vincent Price in a Roger Corman flick. He delivers the expository dialogue with an off-kilter rhythm, natural comic timing, and holds the screen with a liveliness that cuts through the sludge and captures the attention.
The decision to reveal the answer to the show’s driving question, “What Happened to Harold Biddle?” through a didactic monologue is a wrong-footed one. Having the answers handed to them by Long’s monologue renders the main characters as inert as wooden furniture, and robs the audience of the feeling of discovery that they would get from putting the clues together alongside the characters.
Despite the problems, I do think it is an improvement over the previous five episodes. Episode 6 of Goosebumps is elevated by Long’s performance and storytelling that stays near its central premise rather than getting distracted by the side roads as in earlier episodes. The downside of the episode is still the bloat. In a traditional film or miniseries, the information contained in Episode 6 of Goosebumps would have taken ten minutes, rather than the forty minutes here. To warrant such a drawn-out build-up, whatever happens in the last four episodes had better be pretty spectacular.
Episodes 6 of Goosebumps will be available to watch on Disney Plus from October 20, 2023.