It pains me to say it, but the absolutely fantastic Alan Wake prequel mini-series Bright Falls has come to an end. It seems like just a few weeks ago we were first introduced to journalist Jake Fisher, the newest resident of the thoroughly creepy titular pacific northwestern town. It’s been a wildly fun ride, and definitely be sure to check out our previous impression posts on episode one and two, three, and four if you haven’t already to catch yourself up on all the show’s happenings.
Today though, Stephen “Cries When Things End” Johnson and I offer up our thoughts and analysis of the series’ final two episodes, “Off the Record” and “Clearcut.”
Stephen Johnson: I’ve changed my mind. The last two episodes of Bright Falls have convinced me that I don’t want to live in the town of Bright Falls. Not really. Sure, Deerfest would be awesome, and it’s undeniably lush and beautiful. But the whole part about my worst nightmares coming true and being trapped forever in darkness does not appeal to me, no matter how low the mortgage payments are for rustic cabins in haunted towns.
This episode made me laugh out loud – not in the clichéd internet LOL way, but an actual laugh. Jake’s explanation to the small town cop of his trashed room is comedy gold. When a rural po-po enters his cabin, and he’s obviously gone mad and torn the place apart in the night, but he just looks the cop in the eye and say, “Well, I’m from the city…” as if that explains everything.
The cop pointing out that the destruction of the rooms looks like the work of a deer, then hands Jake a teacup full of tobacco spittle. So I guess Jake is some kind of were-deer, or at least thinks he’s some kind of were-deer -- which isn’t the most terrifying thought in the world, until you consider the kind of a damage an insane buck could do with 12-point antlers. So it all comes full circle: The dead deer that started the series. The body in the bodybag. The frightening visions. It’s all about were-deer.
The most important thing in the last couple episodes, though, is the appearance of Alan Wake himself. A. Wake (get it??) drives by with his wife and looks at Jake’s crashed car by the side of the road. The couple share a brief exchange then drives on to their horrific fate. If you’ve played the game, you’d know they are on the way to a rental cabin on Diver Isle in the middle of Cauldron Lake. Pro-tip: Don’t rent a house on an island on a lake called “Cauldron.” It can’t end well.
Jake Gaskill: When last we saw troubled Jake Fisher at the end of episode four, he was coming to grips with having woken up in a body bag on a lakeshore after being placed there by some unknown figure for who knows what reason. Episode five picks up with Jake scrambling out of the woods shortly thereafter, and stumbling across his car, suggesting that it was actually used to transport him to the lake in the first place.
Jake’s been known to lose time, as we’ve seen on several occasions throughout the series. Could he have somehow managed to create this elaborate body bag scenario all by himself? Don’t know. Thankfully, Jake pays a quick visit to the wonderfully weird Dr. Hartman, which seems like the perfect opportunity to shed some light (subtle, huh?) on the whole situation.
As you’d expect, this encounter only serves to further instill in Jake that whatever is going on in his head (or reality?) is most certainly not good. Dr. Hartman’s flashlight-in-the-eyes test on Jake, which he prefaces with uber-eerie line, “Stay with us,” produces yet another brilliant series of video player border effects, with more of those random flashes that accompany Jake’s particularly vivid freak out episodes. The dead rabbit seen in earlier spells makes a return appearance, and it’s joined by a shot of a road lined with lush trees, another shot of Jake’s hands, and some strange tree/scrub brush thing. Understandably, Jake again freaks out, and Dr. Hartman seems none too surprised by the reaction, as he even tries to shine the line on Jake again, but Jake quickly bolts out of the office in terror.
The episode’s final sequence is sheer brilliance, as we see Jake duct tape himself to a refrigerator door after setting up a video camera to record himself in the hopes of capturing whatever it is that happens when he blacks out. When Jake wakes up in the morning, the refrigerator door is ripped off and the camera is lying on the ground. He pops in the tape to watch it, and what he sees is pure madness incarnate. As the audio of the recorded nightmare fills the hotel room, the camera slowly pans around Jake, revealing that his entire hotel room has been thoroughly trashed. It’s one of the coolest and more terrifying sequences I’ve seen in a long time. The final unearthly roar that demon Jake lets out is just gut wrenching.
Episode six opens with a wonderfully Lynch-ian encounter between Jake and a local police officer (the same one that the crazy lady in episode four bit on the hand) investigating the disappearance of the motel owner who was sucked into the woods by something sinister back in episode three. The cop’s reaction to the level of destruction in Jake’s motel room is classic, as is the fact that there is a single, untouched tea cup sitting on a chair that the cop then uses as a spit cup for his chew. I also love that after the cop suggests that a massive stag must have caused the damage in Jake’s room (or did Jake somehow turn into a giant deer?), he hands Jake back the spit cup so as not to be impolite.
The next scene opens with Jake metting up with his lady friend, who is on the phone with someone who asks, “So he has no idea?” just before Jake asks her to drive him out of town. Just after Jake tells her that she had to drive because he couldn’t have done it himself, Jake realizes that he’s been driving the car all along. Very Fight Club-ish for sure. And there’s one moment where outside the video player there’s an image of what appears to be Jake walking through the forest wearing the same outfit as the creepy dude he saw in episode two who was walking down the road dragging a deer head.
The woman’s shoe, which appears to have a speck of blood on it, is then seen in front of the passenger seat, bringing an end to the mystery of the shoe that can be seen just at the end of the opening credit sequence. As Jake starts to realize what has happened, he notices that he’s now actually driving back into Bright Falls. This causes him to slam on the brakes, and as he gazes out at a bend in the road (the same one that appeared in the portrait in Dr. Hartman’s office in episode two as well), Jake is slowly devoured by shadows racing along the car’s windshield.
The final scene is particularly chilling, not only because Jake’s face appears outside the video just as a policemen lights a flare at the scene of Jake’s disappearance, but because it also perfectly marries the end of the series and the beginning of Alan Wake by having Alan Wake himself and his wife drive through the crime scene. It’s a fantastic end to a fantastic project that I honestly can not recommend enough. Congrats to all of those involved. If you plan to pick up Alan Wake tomorrow, do yourself a favor and turn off all the lights and watch Bright Falls from start to finish before you play. Trust me. Guaranteed good times.