Nightmares & Dreamscapes: The Fifth Quarter (TV)
Starring Samantha Mathis and Jeremy Sisto
Directed by Rob Bowman
Written by Alan Sharp
There are some Stephen King stories that just don't get me. That's right. Rabid fan that I am, there are a few…a very few…stories that are just 'eh' to me. They don't grab me. "The Fifth Quarter," which appears in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, is one of them. It's not bad, per se. That is to say, technically, it's well written, and there are interesting parts in it…but as a whole, it's just not my cup of tea.
"The Fifth Quarter" is the story of an ex-con (Willie, for the purposes of TNT, though the narrator has no name in King's story) played by Jeremy Sisto. In King's version the narrator is planning a job, but his former cellmate Barney can't wait and signs up for a job with some bad cats. He ends up dying from a gunshot wound to the gut, but not before he manages to tell his buddy about the score. In order to avenge his friend, and get a whole pile of money to boot, the narrator tracks down one of the conspirators and starts shadowing him, with plans to get all the pieces of a treasure map that leads to the dough.
King's version and screenwriter Alan (Rob Roy) Sharp's version differ almost immediately from the opening scene. Willie (Jeremy Sisto) is still in the clink and sends his good buddy Barney to stay with his wife, Karen (Samantha Mathis), and young son in the hopes he can stay clean so they can go legit once he's out. In her final visit before Willie comes home, Karen tells him that Barney's disappeared after hooking up with an ex-con named Cappy McFarland who works with him at an amusement park, a fact which upsets Willie a great deal.
Karen, who also works at the amusement park and is sweet and trailer trashy, welcomes Willie back with open arms but reminds him that now that he's out, he's gotta stay out – that's their deal. There is some awkwardness between them – not at all eased by Karen's interest in how Willie "managed" inside for seven years right after they've had sex – but Sisto and Mathis do a good job of portraying a struggling married couple. At this point I wasn't so upset with the changes to the story. Like I said, in my opinion, the original story left room for improvement.
But of course, things go downhill. Barney shows up, shot in the gut, like in the story. He manages to tell Willie the story of Cappy's score - during a really drawn out scene where they have to find excuse after excuse to send Mathis' character out of the room so she doesn't hear the story, which is ridiculous considering they're in a trailer the size of a matchbox. Still, he tells Willie about the big score (three and a half million) and how Cappy hid it somewhere and drew a map that he then divided up four ways (Barney, Keenan, Sarge, and Jagger…Cappy's dying so he doesn't need one).
Keenan tries to get Barney's quarter, shooting him in the process and thus begins the story. Oh, and Barney's dying exclamation is, "No hard feelings about me and Karen…" I guess he felt he had to die with a clear conscience and didn't want the fact that he'd banged his best buddy's wife while he was in the slam weighing him down. So, instead of the carefully planned shadowing and capturing of Keenan and Sarge that King pulls off in the story, Sharp sends Willie on a haphazard revenge tear.
Barney told him where Keenan lives, so he goes there, shoots Keenan in the arm, and gets his quarter of the map. Two down, two to go. Luckily, Sarge shows up at just the right time, and Willie gets the drop on him, forcing Sarge to take him to his house and get the third quarter . At this point, the mysterious Jagger shows up, having finished off Keenan, shoots Sarge, and tries to do the same to Willie, who takes one in the shoulder. Luckily, Sarge has one last hurrah in him and trips Jagger up, allowing Willie to kill him and get the final quarter of the map.
Most of the changes they'd made up to this point hadn't made the story any better, but they didn't really make it any worse either. It was still kind of a blah story. But at this point Sharp leaves the confines of the story (which ended with the narrator only having three quarters, since Jagger didn't have his on him) and tacks on an ending I'm still puzzled over. Parts of it were good, and the irony was nice…but then parts of it were just way off the mark.
Once Willie gets all four quarters, he returns home to his trailer and his loving wife. She admits the affair with Barney, saying that they were just giving each other a little comfort because they both cared about Willie so much…and also intimating that Barney told her Willie and Barney were a whole lot closer in jail than Willie let on, and if she could understand that, then he should be able to understand what happened between them. Apparently (and dubiously), Willie can accept that and gives her the map to hold onto since the cops are on their way and Willie's got a bullet in his shoulder and will be going back into prison.
Karen promises the map will be safe with her while he goes away again, and the cops cart him off. He tells them he and Barney got in a fight over Barney sleeping with his wife, Barney shot himm and he shot back, killing Barney. Now, despite the fact that the cops showed up out of the blue, they apparently can't connect him to the murder of Keenan, Sarge, or Jagger (which makes me wonder how they managed to be showing up at all). Willie seems a little cocky, taunting the cops that they'll have to find Barney's body before they can do much to him, only to find out they've already dug him up with the help of a cadaver dog. It seems like Willie is going to go away for a long time – which is where the delicious irony was.
If they had ended it here, I might have enjoyed this episode a good deal more. The acting was really good…I've always loved Jeremy Sisto, since he played Elton in Clueless, and liked Samantha Mathis in a few different things, most notably The Thing Called Love. Director Rob Bowman, who also handled "Umney's Last Case," did another interesting job with the look of "The Fifth Quarter." It has a sort of washed out, gritty feel that is the exact opposite of the slick and colorful look of Umney's. And Sharp wasn't completely off. He even snuck in a little tip of the hat to diehard King fans if you listen real close.
But he should have known when to quit. If it had ended with us knowing Willie was going away forever (or maybe getting the needle?), I would have been a little pleased. But he didn't. Instead, he ends with Karen discovering the secret of Cappy's map and the hidden money…a secret that is mind-numbingly retarded. The map isn't of an island off the coast of Maine; it's a clue that the "booty" is hidden in one of amusement park rides…Buccaneers of the Caribbean Adventure Ride!
Now, apparently that's supposed to be because Cappy was so sick with the cancer he couldn't get far to hide the money. But come ON! The reason they decide to hide the score after the robbery is because they're new bills -- marked -- and they can't be spent for several years without the guys getting pinched. So, Cappy, who's supposedly a shrewd and wily ex-con, hides the stash in a treasure chest full of plastic jewels in an amusement park ride that may not even be there in a year?
Overall, considering that the short story itself was rather mediocre, everyone did a decent job up until that ridiculous ending. It wasn't a total loss, but it wasn't worth staying up for either. I'm not particularly looking forward to next week, except that it's the end of the series. Next Wednesday the offerings will be "Autopsy Room 4" (it will be interesting to see how much they show and how they adapt that particular story) and "You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band," a story I love and am now sure they will not do justice to. So far, except for "The End of the Whole Mess," which was wonderful, I'd recommend you read the stories and skip these adaptations...
3 out of 5
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