I’ve been thinking a lot about where Panic fits into the inexplicable subgenre of Young Adult Death Games. What’s unique about the series is that it’s set in the modern world, rather than a dystopian future, which seems to be the norm. I’m talking Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and to a certain extent Ready Player One.
It makes sense that creators would want to separate these fictional worlds from our own reality. Kids risking their lives or murdering each other doesn’t really scream “entertainment” unless you can add a bit of disconnect for your audience.
It seems counterintuitive that stories about adolescents competing in mortal combat would gain such massive popularity in a time of mass school shootings and a suicide epidemic. One would assume that the adventures of Katniss Everdeen aren’t the best way to escape from a school day that included active-shooter drills. But perhaps this is all related.
Maybe when the threats of everyday life are inescapable, the biggest relief is imagining that your death could be part of some epic adventure. Not senseless. Not another statistic.
For Panic, this connection is less obscured, even if the show hides much of its more dire moments behind a sort of fairytale aesthetic. Our main character isn’t jumping off a cliff for a cash prize; she’s “a lost girl who learned to fly.” Flashbacks to previous victims of the Panic games are told through rumors, the facts of which are contestable.
Leave now if you want to avoid spoilers!
Nearing the midpoint of the series, we learn a bit more about our main characters’ personal and romantic lives. Picking back up where we left off, Heather escapes the mad farmer’s bunker, and she and the other contestants successfully steal one item from the farmhouse to complete their current challenge.
Kudos to the production design team for littering the farmer’s home with pornography. Of course, he wouldn’t have high-speed internet out in the middle of nowhere.
Episodes four and five feature a babyface turn for Dirtbag Ray. He steals an extra item from the farmer so that his friend can gain a few points in the competition. We learn that his father is in prison, so he was raised by his brother, Luke.
Luke is a previous Panic games winner. He is introduced rolling up in his teal Corvette. This man has big Scott Caan energy. He’s never used any of the top buttons on a shirt, and he knows which local gas station will let you buy lottery tickets with a debit card.
Heather, meanwhile, has her affections for Bishop most expertly dashed when she finds him hanging out with another woman. Understandably, she responds by going to a party and getting that sort of drunk where you wake up the next day with 37 pictures on your phone of yourself staring in a bathroom mirror and a tray of scorched pizza rolls on the kitchen counter.
This is like when I was a teenager and we were doing that very normal adolescent pastime: drinking and watching Lord of the Flies. Naturally, I sliced my hand while trying to turn my jeans into cutoffs, so I wiped the blood on my face and declared that I was Jack of the hunter tribe. Later that night my friend broke his arm at Wal-Mart. We would have excelled at the Panic games.
In a similar self-destructive fashion, a drunk Heather ends up making out with Dirtbag Ray. I must admit, these two actors have some pretty intense chemistry. As my mother would say, they have the “lust demons” on full display.
This session of parking lot heavy petting is broken up by the discovery of a clue for the next challenge. It is also revealed that Bishop is secretly helping conduct this year’s Panic games.
Despite her better intentions, Heather continues pursuing relations with Dirtbag Ray, whose brother likely caused the accident that put Dodge’s sister in a wheelchair. If you want to know what Panic’s biggest weakness is as a show, just check out that previous sentence. There are too damn many characters popping up constantly.
For example, I have no idea who these characters are.
Episode five features two characters that I’m pretty sure haven’t been introduced before infiltrating Bishop’s bedroom and learning that he is likely a judge in the Panic games. The police have similar suspicions.
The next challenge requires that players spend the night in a supposedly haunted house while attempting to solve a series of riddles. You can tell that the house is haunted because of all the Dutch angles in this episode.
A look at the Panic games leaderboard shows Heather in first place, followed by Dodge. In a fortunate break for the other competitors, Heather and Dirtbag Ray sneak off to fool around among all the sexy cobwebs and moldy grandfather clocks.
In a nice touch that I’d like to see normalized, Dirtbag Ray pulls out a roll of condoms. Good on you, Dirtbag Ray. I appreciate your adherence to safe sex even if others do not.
Speaking of which, Heather responds to Dirtbag Ray’s bandolier of prophylactics by slut-shaming him. It’s a really odd scene — just a guy getting called whorish for bringing a bunch of condoms to a haunted house.
Anyway, Dirtbag Ray is offended and walks away. Way to maintain your sexual autonomy, Dirtbag Ray. You definitely have friends with names like Stump and Car Bob.
In what’s becoming a bit of a pattern, the episode ends with more contestants trapped in a dangerous situation. The haunted house catches fire. Dodge gets electrocuted and has to be dragged out. Heather, who excels at being trapped, pulls a bookcase onto herself like she’s Leonard from Howards End.
And with that choice literary reference, we come to the end of another installment of Panic at The Gistco. See you next time.