The fourth season of Syfy and Nick Antosca’s Channel Zero,The Dream Door has a lot of absurdity interlaced within its six episodes. Newlywed Jillian (Maria Sten)has a special ability. When she gets upset and feels betrayed or scared, she is able to create a magic door. This isn’t an imaginary door, either. This door exists in the real world and she is the only one able to open it. Sounds pretty weird, doesn’t it? Well, buckle in because it’s about to get a lot weirder. You see, inside this door is a contortionist clown named Pretzel Jack (Troy James) that gleefully murders anyone that he feels is threatening Jillian.
Jillian doesn’t know how to control this Pretzel Jack. He just comes when he is needed. When she begins to feel threatened or angry, the camera tilts, the lights flicker, and he appears. He stabs. He dances. He performs for her, then he awkwardly walks away. He even takes it upon himself to go after her new husband, Tom (Brandon Scott), while he meditates in a bath. As if that isn’t weird enough, it looks like her new neighbor Ian (Steven Robertson) has the exact same ability as her, displaying his control over the process by creating a mini-door in front of the couple and producing a precious cat.
It gets crazier from there, but that’s not why we’re here. We are here to talk about what The Dream Door means. What Pretzel Jack actually represents. We are here to dig into the themes presented by a show were people can create doors with their minds that monsters come out of. An upside-down terror world where there are people who use pieces of themselves to create avenging golems that are unstoppable killing machines in their quest for comfort. We aren’t here to talk about gooey bloody and regenerating clowns. We are here to talk about the last thing you might expect from a nightmare-inducing show like Channel Zero: The Dream Door. We are here to talk about trust.
“Everybody has secret doors. You and I can open ours.”- Ian
As Jillian and Tom navigate their way through the first months of their marriage, she begins to suspect that he is cheating on her. She sees him arguing with a woman in a store, then sees dozens of middle-of-the-night calls to someone named Sarah Winter. She follows him one night to find out that he doesn’t go where he tells her he is going. Jillian does the mature thing and asks Tom all about his shady actions, but she doesn’t believe his answers. It turns out that she was right to suspect that something was going on. Tom has a secret, and his reward for keeping it is about to run come out of a new door in their basement.
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The door appeared when she began to suspect Tom’s indiscretions. She was able to open it when her fears were at their zenith. What came out of that secret room ran up the stairs, only to be seen again while she was arguing with Tom’s friend about Sarah. Pretzel Jack, dressed in full clown makeup, a red sweater, and herky-jerky athleticism, murdered her friend after he yelled that Tom was too good for her. Jack stabbed him over, and over, and over with a screwdriver, completely obliterating the man’s head. Then, just as nonchalantly as he arrived, he did a flip and waved goodbye. Jillian stood there in shock, and it wasn’t until a few days later that she realized that Pretzel Jack was going after the person who started this all; her husband Tom.
“Do you know who he is?”- Tom
“He is me.”- Jillian
You see, Jillian’s father left when she was young. He had a secret family that he kept under wraps for years. After he left, she was afraid. She was broken. She needed a protector. It was during this period of her childhood that she conjured Pretzel Jack for the first time. He would come out of the door in her closet and sleep under her bed, comforting her and keeping her safe from the darkness that threatened to swallow her whole. This left Jillian with a hole in her heart, one that she filled with distrust and suspicion. When Tom’s secrets were brought into the light, the old wound was ripped open and laid bare. Pretzel Jack had come back, and he was out to end her pain, by any means necessary.
This is what sets The Dream Door apart from the other horror television we have given lately. There are plenty of terrifying moments, from an absolutely horrifying door-conjured birth to an It Follows-like Tall Man that ferociously attacks in the broad daylight, but it’s the time it takes to talk about marriage and trust that sets it apart. When we marry someone, we show them our soft underbelly. We make ourselves vulnerable and have to trust that they will not cut us open. It’s a delicate trust, too, one that doesn’t work if it is only one-sided. Tom kept a secret from his wife and mocked her vulnerability by continuing to lie to her about it. This caused Jillian to resent, to disbelieve, to question every motive and decision she has made. Instead of protecting her exposed underbelly, Tom chose to slice her open and let her soul spill out onto the floor.
“You have a bunch of intense shit in your head. We both do. But I accept that, and I love you.”- Tom
What also erupted from that wound was Pretzel Jack, a physical manifestation of her pain and her past trauma. It is an extreme example of what can happen when trust is broken (I mean, I have trust issues, but they don’t jump out and stab my wife to death every time she’s late coming home) but it is a representation of the defense mechanisms we can employ when we are hurt. It’s only when Tom lays himself bare for her to see that they are able to move on. “This is me, good and bad” he tells her as they are hiding from a hoard of created goblins, which allows her to try to rebuild what she had inadvertently broken.
The other lesson learned while watching this season is that, in order to protect those that we love from our issues, we have to learn to control them. Pretzel Jack, as we discussed, is a manifestation of Jillian’s trust issues, fear, and rage. These emotions get the best of her, and using the form of Pretzel Jack, attack and almost kill her husband twice. The only way forward in their marriage is for Jillian to find a way to control Pretzel Jack. They can’t ignore him, or pretend that he isn’t there like so many of us do. Just like her distrust and her anger, she has to find a way to manage Pretzel Jack to keep those that she loves safe. There is no other horror program out there that can double as marriage counseling as effectively as this season of Channel Zero. It has saved us all a ton of therapist-money.
If you’re still trying to decide whether or not to binge Channel Zero: The Dream Door, take this lesson into account. Come for the amazing acting, the shocking visuals and the horrific monsters that inhabit this world and stay for the deep character development and the lessons on love and trust. You see, to truly survive in a marriage and to reap the joys that pact brings with it, we have to offer all of ourselves to our partners. We have to protect their hearts and hold their trust dear, because if we don’t, they might just conjure something that will.
Channel Zero: The Dream Door is available to stream on demand from your cable provider or purchased from Amazon. Do yourself a favor and check out this chillingly frightening and powerfully moving show right away. After you’ve watched, hit us up on Twitter @NOFSpodcast and let us know what you think. While you’re at it, go ahead and bookmark our homepage at Nightmare on Film Street so you can stay up-to-date on all the hottest horror news, reviews and retrospectives the internet has to offer.