Episode 9 of Goosebumps gets meta as the characters make a return to normality and the series gets ready for the season finale.
Episode 9 of Goosebumps makes one begin to imagine the conversations in the writer’s room. The episode opens with Nathan Bratt (Justin Long) finishing a novel that he has written based on the show’s adventure, in the undisclosed period of time between episodes 8 and 9. After a conversation with a literary agent who effusively gushes that Bratt could be the next Stephen King, the novel is accepted by the publishing house. (I’m sure all of the scenes between Bratt and the literary agent are exactly how selling a manuscript would play out.) There’s just one caveat for publication: Bratt’s book needs a different ending.
As Bratt wracks his brain to come up with an ending for his novel, one cannot help but project this frustration onto the series’ writers. Whether that’s fair and accurate or not, it’s inevitable when you have Bratt’s novel taking place in a small town called Port Seymour and starring a villainous Ventriloquist doll named “Snappy” and teenagers named “Isaac,” “Jesse,” “Lisabetta,” “Madison” and “Linus.” Once that line of thinking begins, it’s hard not to catch a sour, disparaging feeling in the writing, and an acknowledgment that Goosebumps’ plot has been stretched beyond its limits.
This sort of self-reflexivity is nothing new in media. As Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” and artists often write through personal experiences as a means to make sense of them. Filmmakers have broken that invisible fourth wall in order to interrogate the creative process and throw light on what goes into producing the entertainment that the viewer is now enjoying. Neither of those seems to be Goosebumps’ intention. Before Episode 9, the show had not displayed any particular thematic concern toward the process of creativity and the emotional state of writer’s block.
Without even a passing nod or reference to the act of creativity in previous episodes, Episode 9’s meta-commentary feels self-conscious, rather than earned. The scenes of Justin Long staring blankly at a word document on a laptop come off as padding for time, rather than an illustration of writer’s block. Besides, I don’t believe that there are many kids, seemingly Goosebumps’ target audience, that will be gripped by discussions of writing deadlines and worries over finances, both of which take up a lot of real estate in Episode 9.
While Bratt struggles with writer’s block, Episode 9 sees the teenagers return to their normal lives, without seemingly any emotional fallout from having lived through a Goosebumps novel. They are back to angsting over crushes and plans for college. Much of the drama within the subplot revolves around Lucas (Will Price) and Margot’s (Isa Briones) romance. The relationship is faltering because Margot dreams of moving to Seattle after graduation, while Lucas wants to stay in Port Lawrence, but I smelled trouble from the fact that Lucas ate a worm in front of her during their first scene together. The other members of the group hover in the background of the episode, offering a quippy comment every once in a while so that the viewer doesn’t file a missing person’s report.
Ultimately, Episode 9 of Goosebumps ends up feeling like an innocuous piece of padding, made to fill out time before the season finale. The problems that had seemingly dissipated with the tight and efficient pacing of Episodes 7 and 8, are back with a vengeance, and we return to dry, drawn-out storytelling. The most successful moments of Goosebumps were when the show leaned into the children’s horror elements, and hopefully those can return for the season finale.
Episode 9 of Goosebumps will be available to watch on Disney Plus from November 10, 2023.