Shining Vale Season 2 Review: Don’t Just Believe Women, Listen To Us.

TV Reviews Starz
Shining Vale Season 2 Review: Don’t Just Believe Women, Listen To Us.

In our post-#MeToo world, we are constantly told to believe women.

This is usually in regard to situations of harassment and sexual assault, where these stories and experiences are usually relayed after the fact—after all the signs have been ignored and the red flags brushed under the rug. Perhaps even more important to this conversation is that we should listen to women (and, really, anyone regardless of gender); that we should hear what is being said about assaults and bullying and discrimination and microaggressions and all the other ways humans destroy other humans’ souls so that we act now instead of later.

The first season of the Starz horror comedy Shining Vale, which is created by Friends and Trial and Error vet Jeff Astrof and Catastrophe and Bad Sisters’ Sharon Horgan, noted that the symptoms of menopause are the same as demonic possession and ran with it. It told the story of a novelist with writer’s block (Courteney Cox’s Pat) whose body is taken over by the spirit of a repressed mid-century housewife (Mira Sorvino’s Rosemary) when she and her family move to a Creepy Old House in a Creepy Old Town. (Since the writers seem hell-bent on making the “location is a character” trope happen, I’m just going to refer to these geographies as proper nouns).

Leaning into the references to Stephen King’s The Shining that are obviously conjured both by Pat’s predicament and by the very name of the show/Creepy Old Town, the first season ended with Rosemary possessing Pat to both finish her novel and attempt to kill her family with an ax (yes, she also says “Here’s Patty”). The only victim of physical wounds ends up being Pat’s frustrated and forgiving—but largely oblivious to his role in this situation—husband, Terry (Greg Kinnear), who gets an ax to his temple.

Their kids, the jaded and manipulative Gaynor (Gus Birney) and simple soul Jake (Dylan Gage) have to live with the emotional damage of it all, and force Pat into a mental hospital; Gaynor is especially insistent after taking into account that Pat’s mom (Judith Light’s Joan) also has a history of mental illness. As she’s being restrained and wheeled in against her will, Pat notices a picture of a 19th century sanitarium called The Shining Vale Home for Hysterical Women that looks just like her Creepy Old House. Dead center among the people posing on the front lawn? A woman who looks like Rosemary.

Not only does no one believe her; they don’t seem to be listening to her.

The second season of Shining Vale, which premieres on (appropriately) Friday the 13th, looks at the original premise of how society teaches us to ignore and gaslight women of a certain age and doubles down on the idea: where else in a woman’s life do her concerns go dismissed or unanswered until she feels like everyone is plotting against her? Turns out, everywhere. Why can’t we just be happy? And what does it even feel like to be happy? (Just to drive the point home, the trailer makes use of the Patsy Cline classic “Crazy”).

Picking up four months after Rosemary-as-Pat’s failed attempt at mariticide, the show finds the writer sprung from the psychiatric facility not because she’s ready, but because her insurance ran out. Having little other options, she returns to the Creepy Old House/scene of the crime to find that (to at least my surprise) the kids haven’t moved out and (to no one’s surprise) are about as emotionally solid as the stack of week-old dishes in the sink. Still, they insist that they don’t need their mother’s help. Terry, it seems, is also on the mend after his head injury. 

With everyone in their own orbits, Pat isn’t sure if she’s seeing things when she meets their new neighbor, Ruth: a transplant from the outer boroughs who dresses and sounds like Rhoda Morgenstern but has the face of Romy White. With her panic attacks going largely ignored by an overly optimistic Terry or written off with eye rolls and glares from their kids, Pat finds herself curious enough to (with trepidation) engage with Ruth. But why was the town’s relator Robyn (Sherilyn Fenn) so dodgy when Pat asked her about her mysterious new neighbor?

Career-wise, Pat’s questions are also not being answered. Her book (well, the book she wrote while Rosemary was inside of her) is a raunchy, bloody hit. Women with dead-serious stares are coming up to her to say they “fucking loved it.” Her friend and editor Kam (Merrin Dungey) brushes off any concerns that the narrative behind it, and Pat’s mental problems, are getting misrepresented or distorted. When the money keeps rolling in, you don’t ask how.

Because it lives in the horror genre, the second season of Shining Vale is able to get away with plot hiccups and tropes that would have otherwise bumped me (Why doesn’t this family move pronto? Why doesn’t Pat push further on her questions?). But the finale’s payoff also cleverly drives home the message that those genre-spurred frustrations are pointedly there so we didn’t forget that this is a story about a woman who is ignored.

It also comes with some brilliant one-liners (“You can’t ever get rid of mental illness. That shit is like glitter,” Joan says in the premiere episode) and comes with a stacked cast of character actresses that, starting this season, include Allison Tolman as a school principal hoping to publish her own novel and Harriet Sansom Harris as an overworked mental health professional.

The plot’s skeleton may not be the most creative—at the risk of breaking one of the many, many spoilers on Starz’s Do Not Reveal list, I’ll say that the show moves away from King to reference another influential horror writer whose work is having a moment—but, by widening the focus from not just Pat but to her kids, it gives the character (and her viewers) a chance to consider the ramifications her actions, and her genetics, have on her kids. 

This is especially true of Gaynor. Birney was great last year as a petulant youth who’s acting out on her (justifiable) anger of being forced to move from Brooklyn to a Creepy Old House. This year, we see her deal with some of her own worst fears, and begin to understand her mother’s worst fears for her. Sometimes they include singing melodramatic songs to an empty coffee house.

Maybe Gaynor will come away from this learning to listen to her mother. But, most likely, she’ll come away with a hard truth: not enough people listen to each other.

Shining Vale Season 2 premieres Friday, October 13th at 9 PM on Starz, and streaming on the Starz app. 

Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in CosmopolitanVultureThe Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and daughter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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