**Spoilers for Panic**
Welcome back, everybody. I hope you enjoyed the 72 hours of constant fireworks that was the July 4th weekend.
Speaking of numbingly repetitive noises, is anyone else being bombarded by commercials for some obscure ailment called ankylosing spondylitis? I swear that streaming platforms played that same commercial on repeat all weekend. And I’m convinced the name of the illness changed slightly each time as a way to keep me unsteady.
Anyway, episode six of Panic opens with Heather recuperating in a hospital bed. She managed to escape the burning haunted house thanks to a protective layer of plot armor. Now all her contest winnings can go to mounting medical expenses.
Speaking of money, Bonnie Bedelia gives Heather a two-week advance on her farm earnings and encourages her not to take an accounting course. Instead, Bonnie Bedelia urges Heather to pursue her passion for writing. This is, of course, the most villainous thing Bonnie Bedelia has ever done.
This episode and the following one have pretty shaky footing when it comes to class struggles. Heather recounts a story of when a classmate thought Heather was hooking up with her boyfriend, when in reality Heather had simply purchased the boyfriend’s old sweater from — gasp — Goodwill. Of course, this implies that in the Panic universe the sweater company only made the one sweater.
Also, has anyone who writes for this show actually been into a Goodwill in the past 10 years? It’s all elderly women and young people who look like they walked out of a Wes Anderson movie looking for high-waisted acid-wash jeans.
Tugging at one of Panic’s romantic threads, Natalie continues to pursue Dodge, who has the tidiest room you’ve ever seen for a man his age. They share a heated embrace and begin getting intimate after Dodge shares the story of his dad’s suicide by hanging. I would normally make some comment about getting whiplash from such a tonal shift in a single scene, but that’s too much neck trauma for one paragraph.
Speaking of odd romantic fumblings, Heather and Bishop confess their feelings for one another just as she learns that something has happened to her little sister. Heather rushes home to find that her sister threw away her mom’s boyfriend’s “cigarettes,” and he shouted at her.
Heather finds her mother and said boyfriend snorting what is described as $100s worth of cocaine. Heather tosses the remaining coke, and we have a punchout at the trailer park. Heather’s mom glasses the boyfriend with a beer bottle and urges Heather to escape. This is, admittedly, a lot.
At the site of the next challenge, contestants find blindfolds waiting for them. They are told to begin walking, tires squeal, cut to credits. But Heather’s not there! How do we have a Panic quorum without Heather?! Someone call a timeout.
Our contestants (minus Heather) arrive at the location of the newest challenge. They must navigate the train tracks suspended over a river while blindfolded. But here’s the twist: They can receive guidance from the challenge masters, but in exchange they must answer personal questions about their fellow competitors.
Heather and her sister are forced to spend the night in the car and perform their morning ablutions in what appears to be the restroom of a Kmart. Here’s a good tip: If you cut off the bottom of a tube of toothpaste, you can get out the last remaining bits. It may come in handy the next time you are trying to remain presentable while living in a car.
This sibling relationship is really the heart of this show. I wish it was more central to the overall story. It is a good example of how kids are moved around with little agency when younger, but often then forced to take up a world of responsibility. Also, no one tells you how to do your taxes. It’s incredible that white-collar prisons aren’t just flooded with 18-year-olds brought up on evasion charges because they didn’t know what to W-do with their W-2s.
Moving ahead, Natalie reveals that the challenge masters used their questions to get dirt on their fellow contestants’ worst fears. We learn that Dirtbag Ray is claustrophobic — like Storm from the X-Men.
Dodge refuses to let fear get the best of him. He doesn’t need to answer any questions. In a clever move, Dodge pulls a handful of coins from his pocket. Tossing them in front of him as he navigates the train tracks blindfolded, he uses his ears to detect if his next step will be on solid ground. Clever boy.
Natalie tells the challenge masters that Dodge’s biggest weakness is his love for his sister. Maybe she is the truest dirtbag of all.
Eliminated after missing a challenge, Heather tries to use the immunity she won in a previous challenge to get back into the competition. This is apparently not in the official Panic bylaws, which are an odd thing to exist.
Also, in this scene we see Heather check in at what appears to be a pretty nice hotel. Like, she and the clerk are not separated by a wall of bulletproof glass. Things aren’t yellowed. There aren’t packs of stray dogs smoking cigarettes and carving slurs into bedposts.
I point this out because I have plenty of experience in rundown motels. For example, here’s a picture I took in the shower of one of these rentable crime scenes.
Yep. That appears to be a bloody handprint on a bathroom wall. The internet broke my mind, so instead of packing my bag and leaving, I posted a picture on Instagram.
This is the sort of place I’m talking about. The type of room you can rent for an hour, night, week, or month. A mausoleum for 1,000 spent cigarettes. I’m not sure the chair against the door was really going to do much good, but it’s like when parents put Bibles under their kid’s pillow and tell them it will prevent bad dreams.
Also, I recall sleeping with a knife that night, so let’s bring that sort of energy to Panic.
Going back to the well, Heather manages to talk Bonnie Bedelia into giving her more hours as a farmhand and housekeeper. Then, in terrifying fashion, Bonnie Bedelia says it’s time for Heather to “meet Tom.” Heather is then led to a heavily fenced structure with bars and gates everywhere. This shouldn’t be so frightening, but it seriously feels like we’re about to see where Bonnie Bedelia has imprisoned the Elephant Man.
Tom is revealed to be a CGI tiger. That’s… interesting? This is clearly Chekhov’s tiger. This tiger is coming back for our dramatic conclusion. Did someone envision teenagers being mauled by a tiger and write backwards from there?
Equally strange, Dodge gets his mechanic buddy to plant some sort of device in Dirtbag Ray’s truck. Things are really taking a turn in this episode. Tigers. People are recreating the Penguin’s plan to commandeer the Batmobile from Batman Returns.
Wrapping things up, we get confirmation that Dirtbag Ray’s brother, Luke, was the driver in the hit-and-run that put Dodge’s sister in a wheelchair. As a previous Panic winner, Luke appears to have done a good bit of deal-making and blackmail to gain an advantage. Heather, as well as the police, learn that Luke also runs a gambling racket for the Panic competition.
This sets up the inevitable scene where Dirtbag Ray is forced to choose between saving Heather or his brother from the tiger pit. Maybe that happens after the ejector seat Dodge installed in Dirtbag Ray’s truck fails to launch him into space. Whatever. Just lean into the chaos. Repeat “ankylosing spondylitis” as the fireworks rage. This is the sound of freedom ringing.