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On this "painfully special" episode of
Strangers With Candy

    While hanging with Orlando and playing "Presidential Assassin" at the video arcade before school, Jerri meets a smiling flower-bearing cult member. Orlando tries to warn Jerri about those people, but to no avail. That morning, Principal Blackman warns the student body of the threat of the Safe Trap cult that recently came to Flatpoint. When Jerri gets home she discovers that Derrick and Sara are taking a family trip to Good Time Island without her. A couple of students at school had shunned her attempts to make weekend plans with them and even Orlando would be too busy helping his uncle stock their church with water and firearms. Jerri decides to go to the shopping mall and drop cups full of soda and ice on people below. She meets up with the same cult member again and she (Rebecca) invites Jerri to come with her and her friends. They walk out to a van in the parking lot where Jerri is hoping to have "Beck" all to herself, but when the back of the van is opened Jerri is greeted with a big "Hallelujah" and a chorus of "I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table". Jerri is brought to the Safe Trap House, but doesn't know exactly where it is, perhaps the blindfold and the sleeping pills have something to do with that. Inside Jerri is surrounded by yellow-clad smiling zombies who offer her love and attention. The next morning at breakfast Jerri meets "Father, our father", the leader of the cult. When she sees how bland their lives are, and after listening to "I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table" for the umpteenth time, Jerri decides to leave. Father tells her that she's free to go, but when she gets to the door and tries to turn the knob she says that she can't open the door. Father acts as though she has stated that she can't bring herself to leave because she wants to stay. But the truth is that she just can't open the locked door. Father tries to win Jerri over by telling her that she's beautiful. These are words that Jerri isn't used to hearing, especially lately. Jerri is allowed to make a phone call to a loved one to tell them that she's all right and that she won't be coming home... ever. She tries to call home, but a distraught Sara keeps hanging up the phone each time it rings. Sara is basking in her motherly concern and being comforted by Derrick. Jerri decides to give Orlando a try, and when she tells him that she's at Safe Trap House he tells her that she's got to get away from them. But before you can say "Heaven's Gate" Jerri is at the mall selling flowers. Orlando sees her there and tries to speak with her. She tells him that Jerri is dead and that her name is "Sycamore". Orlando drops to his knees and screams, "Nooooooo!!!". Jerri, riding up the escalator, quietly responds, "Yes."  [to be continued...]

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Episode Title: "Blank Stare", Part 1

Tony's Rating:

Original Airdate: 6/19/00

Production Number: 2-08

Directed by: Peter Lauer

Writers: Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris
Additional Writer: Matt Lappin

Regular Cast: AS, DD, DR, GH, LS, OP, SC (brief, no dialogue)

Guest Cast:  Alan Tudyk (Father), Emma Bowers (Rebecca), Henry Valasco, Heather Magee, Troy Metcalf (Troy), Jeremy Schwartz (Bill), Jenni Tooley (Butterfly), Leanne Littlestone, Deborah Karpel, Jason Schuler, John Miller-Monzon (Josephus)

Flatpoint Lexicon:

Arthur, Chester Alan (är'·thür) [1830-86] 21st president of the United States 1881-85

d.t. (dē tē) [abbr. for delirium tremens] A violent form of delirium caused by excessive use of alcoholic liquors and narcotic drugs, and characterized by tremblings, acute mental distress, and hallucinations.

full release (fül rĕ·lēs') n. [massage therapy term] sexual climax, resultant from manual manipulation of genitalia; aka happy ending

Safe Trap (sāf' trăp) n. ominous religious "love cult" that preys on the simple-minded by showering them with compliments, hugs, and fudge

Additional Episode Information

The "Welcome Table" song is an old spiritual song, also known as "River Jordan."  Janis Joplin sang one version of it decades ago. Also, during the 1960s, the lyrics were changed so that it could be sung at protests during the Civil Rights era (e.g., "I'm gonna sit at the Woolworth counter...").
· When Orlando plays "Presidential Assassin" at the end of the episode Jerri Blank's name takes up almost the entire top 10 list of High Scores except the #7 position, which was claimed by Squeaky Fromme (a woman who tried to kill President Ford in the '70s).
· The games on either side of "Presidential Assassin" are "Cult Escape" and "Monkey Danger"
· Alan Tudyk (Father) previously starred in Paul Rudnick's "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told", which also featured Amy Sedaris and Orlando Pabotoy. Tudyk also appeared onstage with Amy in Douglas Carter Beane's The Country Club in New Haven, CT, and in the short film Night, Night.
· Jeremy Schwartz and Jenni Tooley have worked together in various productions of the Undermain Theatre in Dallas, TX, including Shiner and Chekhov's The Seagull.
· John Miller-Monzon (Josephus) is an Associate Producer of SWC
· The license plate on the Safe Trap van says BU2FL DRMR. At the top of the plate are the words, "The Catatonic State".
· When Dolores Duffy auditioned for the role of Iris Puffybush in "Yes You Can't" her resumé said (under Special Talents) "Bongos", which the writers incorporated into this episode.

Movie Parallels:
• Many details of the cult episodes were "borrowed" from the 1981 film Ticket To Heaven, which starred Nick Mancuso as a young man who is seduced by a religious cult with heavenly robots who travel around in a van, eat slop, sing repetitive songs, are perpetually happy, and use starvation, exhaustion, and brainwashing to mold recruits into money hustling disciples of a messiah-like leader, who is referred to as "Father."  One perky young acolyte named Ruthie (Kim Cattrall) tries to make the group sound benign by describing it as a cooperative. David is transformed into a gaunt, mindless shadow of his former self, but is ultimately saved when friends and family launch a plan to kidnap and de-program him. See more details and comparisons here.   Thanks to Ryan Burgos for bringing this movie to my attention.
• Dialogue and plot points from these cult episodes were also lifed from a 1982 film called Split Image (featuring Deborah Rush), which was about a young man who was drawn into a cult by a girl named Rebecca (Karen Allen), who was also known as Amy. His parents (Elizabeth Ashley, Brian Dennehy) then hired someone (James Woods) to kidnap him away from the cult's charismatic leader (Peter Fonda) and de-program him. Thanks to Ernie Fuhr for this info.

On The 'Flatpoint High School' Sign:  "GOOD MORNING STUDENTS"

The Best Things In This Episode:
· The "Presidential Assassin" arcade game. What fun!  I wonder if they've come out with the George W. Bush version yet.
· The shot from the bottom of the spiral staircase looking up at the cult members, while Jerri was on the phone
· Orlando's Brando-shouting-"Stella!!!" scene at the end.
· Sara's grief and Derrick's comforting.

Closing Credits Dance Sequence:  Singing "I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table. I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table One of These Days..." on the Safe Trap House lawn.

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