This is it: “Across the Street” is the episode that cemented my love of The Magnus Archives. Massive spoilers for season one in particular in this post, so make sure you’re caught up before reading!
“Angler Fish” and “Do Not Open” were strong opening episodes for The Magnus Archives, but “Across the Street” is something else. Even now, over sixty episodes down the line, this might still be my favourite — it’s in my personal top 3, at least.
It also turns out it has connections to several key elements in The Magnus Archives’ overarching plot, which I’ll get to at the end of the article. But first, why I love this episode so much.
Weird but not derivative
I love weird fiction. Not just stuff that’s odd, but stories, films and other media that are in the tradition of weird fiction as established by H.P. Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen and so on.
It’s great to come across a creator who does something really interesting with established characters or ideas, such as the Cthulhu mythos or the King in Yellow. But for every “Study in Emerald” or True Detective there’s plenty of works that incorporate these elements but don’t really go much further than that.
Not so with The Magnus Archives. While there’s definitely a familiar feeling to Amy Patel’s obsession with the oddly patterned table (bit of Lovecraft, bit of Barker), the story goes somewhere new with it — or new for me, at least. I’m a fan of the genre but I wouldn’t claim to know everything about it.
The description of the limbs outside the window is both unsettling and original, and definitely weird without having to invoke the genre staples. This is something that continues throughout the series, helping maintain the mystery while still providing some excellent entertainment.
Excellent story structure
I listened to “Across the Street” twice today before sitting down to write this. I caught new details on my first relisten, and even more on the second sitting.
It’s little things like Amy saying the pipes make odd noises while she’s at Graham’s house, something that would barely register compared to the more obvious clue of hooks at the window appearing and disappearing. Her being attacked from behind. Or even the fact that she isn’t able to engage in her people-watching hobby in the week leading up to Graham’s disappearance.
Small clues are scattered throughout the episode that I at least couldn’t hope to pick up on my first listen — much like the series as a whole. If I’m not mistaken, the possibly non-Euclidean table makes an appearance during the season 1 finale’s massive incident at the Institute, along with plenty of other elements and characters introduced throughout the first season.
For me, it’s just incredibly satisfying to see how all these small elements are deliberately placed, often with subtle introductions, only to play an important role later in the narrative.
And speaking of deliberate placement… There’s the matter of the table. I’ll get to that later on.
Horror that resonates
Now, I’m afraid of a lot of things. That includes a lot of stuff that I know is completely irrational, such as ghosts, aliens, sharks in bathtubs, that kind of thing. Watching or reading something that plays on fears I know are nonsensical is fun and can definitely mess up my sleep for a night or two, but it doesn’t really touch me.
But what about the fear of finding out that your house — your very own home — isn’t a safe haven from those who want to do you harm? What about seeing that something is very wrong indeed, but no one around you being able to see the same thing? And what about finding out that someone who you thought was just a little odd is actually deeply disturbed?
This is something that really stood out for me in “Do Not Open” as well: there it was how easy it is for the protagonist to live a deeply abnormal and almost completely isolated life, with no one at his office seeming to notice.
In “Across the Street” this horror is doubled: on the one hand we have Amy, whose behaviour verges on the stalkerish, despite her attempts to downplay her obsession into just a hobby. In this age of smartphones and surveillance, who isn’t worried about what how much of their lives is open to spectators? And then of course there’s Graham: a lonely man who has spiralled down into eccentricity — or so it would seem. Because thanks to her obsessive behaviour, Amy knows that there’s something seriously wrong.
But she’s the only one who notices.
And in the end, despite being surrounded by plenty of neighbours and, in Amy’s case, friends and colleagues, she and Graham are witness to something horrific. Because there’s no safety in numbers. You might feel safe living in a big city, knowing that if something goes wrong, there will always be someone nearby.
And that doesn’t matter.
Ghosts and aliens might make me lose a night’s sleep, but this kind of horror is almost too terrifying to fully grasp. And The Magnus Archives goes there again and again and again.
One final thing: in both previous episodes I mentioned that I loved the endings as they didn’t try to add a plot twist. The same is true here, but the mini-reveal did fall somewhat flat for me. Maybe it will make sense in the long run, but having Graham write ‘keep watching’ over and over again — if he’s writing that, then surely he can’t watch? Or was it intended for Amy? Either way, for me personally the story would have been stronger without. But as I continue to relisten to more episodes, the more I expect something that stands out this much to be significant.
Speaking of significance: the table
This is something that I had to pick up when relistening to episode 59, “Recluse”.
In this episode, which is also strongly linked to episode 8, “Burned Out”, we don’t discover where the table comes from, exactly, but we do see how it was used in the past — and why the middle is missing.
In “Recluse”, we see that the table is used by Raymond Fielding to hypnotise the children he takes care of in his halfway house on Hilltop Road, Oxford. First to keep them subdued, then to lure them into his lair, where he… stuffs them full of spider eggs.
Yes, there’s an insect connection!
In “Burned Out”, we also find out what happened to the box that Graham was unable to find — although I didn’t realise this until I listened to “Recluse” again. The box was apparently buried under a tree next to the halfway house, where it was found by Ivo Lensig, who destroys its contents — the spider-infested apple used by Raymond Fielding.
I suspect that this connection is also significant in figuring out what the not-Graham is exactly. It certainly explains the multi-jointed, elongated nature of the legs Amy saw.
I also think that there’s a link to another story, which explains how the halfway house on Hilltop Road burned down, but I’ll have to wait till I encounter it in my relisten to verify.
So despite an ending that wasn’t quite on par with the rest of the episode, “Across the Street” was a corker. This is exactly the kind of horror I like, and luckily for me, The Magnus Archives keeps delivering more of the same.