Channel Zero Season 4: The Dream Door is maybe the least mysterious or complicated story of this anthology series. Still, there are some things to discuss and more importantly praise the hero/villain of the story Pretzel Jack played by the gifted Troy James.
Finding the door
Jillian and Tom Hodgson move into Tom’s childhood home, and soon they discover a strange blue door in the basement. It’s hard to open this door, but when they finally manage to open it, they find a stairs that leads further down to another blue door. On this door is a white handprint. This door is also mysteriously closed.
But when Jill puts her hand into the handprint, the door opens and she finds a strange creepy looking clown locked up in a small room. It’s the clown that resembles the clown she draw when she was little and now it seems that he has come to life.
Imaginary friends and childhood trauma
This clown that can bend his body like a contortionist seems very terrifying, but there’s more to him than creepiness. She first started to draw Pretzel Jack as she named him, after her father left her and her mother for another woman. So she conjured up this Pretzel Jack. A blue door appeared in her bedroom which allowed Pretzel Jack to psychically appear to her and to comfort her and make her smile. But his efforts lasted only as long as her childhood lasted. When she grew up she forgot all about him.
That fact that her father left her, left a big mental scar that still haunts her. She has lost faith in men and now she suspects Tom cheating on her. She is in therapy for her distrust in men. And she even asks Jason, Tom’s best friend if Tom is cheating on her.
This is the theme and the foundation of the story. It’s about trust and wanting to feel loved and protected. It’s the most accessible theme and storyline of the anthology series. It’s something that’s understandable and more relatable than schizophrenia (Butcher’s Block), or the suicide of a parent (No End House), or something even more elusive (Candle Cove).
Pretzel Jack and symbolism
But now Jill isn’t a child anymore and her emotions are far more stronger and violently charged than when she was a kid. As a kid she needed an arm wrapped around her, but now her anger is taking over. Pretzel Jack isn’t just an ordinary imaginary friend but a conjured Tulpa, a concept created with her mental powers. So now Pretzel Jack has to go a step further to protect her. His solution is to kill everybody who is hurting her. He kills Jason who knows more about the woman Tom is seeing, Sarah Winters, but he refuses to tell Jill more about it. He also kills Jill’s therapist who doesn’t really want to listen to her and doesn’t believe her. It’s easy to kill them, because Jill doesn’t have a strong and meaningful connection to them, only anger and frustration. But mostly Tom is Pretzel Jack’s main target.
The information denied and being treated like a silly women is really frustrating to Jill and the emotions get the better of her. She can’t control her emotions and therefore cannot control Pretzel Jack. She has never learned how to. Which is reflected in Pretzel Jack’s behavior. She is connected to Pretzel Jack, because he is her creation. While Jill doesn’t have control over Pretzel Jack, yet, it’s her emotions that control him and guide him.
This seems to make both Jill and Pretzel Jack the villains of the story. But of course there’s a twist, a catch and a choice.
Jill has opened a real door and a metaphorical door to her emotions, leading further down to more hidden emotions that are caused by a trauma. Just like she locked up Pretzel Jack, she has locked up her trauma instead of really dealing with it. The door is just as symbolical as it is real. In fact she made it real. Just like what is hidden inside, deep down.
It’s a story where emotions aren’t just the motivation and catalyst of the events, in this case the killings, but they have become corporeal, acting as marionettes in the real world. Acting upon our emotions fully aware or not is what makes us villains or not. By later on, embracing Pretzel Jack physically, she is able to face her emotions, to recognize them, accept them and deal with it.
It’s up to Jill to make a choice to embrace them and act upon it, either letting her emotions run wild, turning her into a villain, or embracing them, acknowledging them, and being able and willing to deal with them in a right way. It’s the most profound shot that will ultimately define her as a person.
Friendly neighbor Ian
Next door to Jill and Tom lives the friendly but quiet Ian. He becomes to Jill someone who does listen to her and wants to help her. In fact, he shares the same power as Jill. He confides in he that he too had a difficult childhood, and holds a grudge towards his father. He conjured up Tall Boy, an enormous boy in a man’s body that kills people for him. Contrary to Jill, he does have control over his creation and he is willing to teach Jill how to accomplish that. She wants Pretzel Jack to stop killing.
But there’s a catch. Ian is not who he says he is. In fact he’s her half brother. They share the same father, Bill Hope. This explains why Jill and Ian share the same gift.
He learned that Jill was his half sister and he became obsessed with her. Even in an incestuous way. He wants to teach her how to control Pretzel Jack to gain control over her and to be together. He even orders Tall Boy to kill Bill and to kidnap Tom to lure Jill and make her conjure up other creatures.
The real villain
So while it seemed fo a long time that Pretzel Jack was the villain of the story and later on that Jill was his puppet master, she was actually traumatized in a way that unleashed her anger and murderous thoughts. But it is shown that it was Ian who gave her a nudge in the right direction, letting the blue door appear and opening it. He trigged her distrust and anger and frustration even more and wanted to use it to gain her trust to eventually create together more Tulpas doing their bidding.
While Jill conjured Pretzel Jack in an unconscious way, Ian knew exactly what he was doing, killing people on purpose. Making him the real villain of the story. Pretzel Jack was just a reflection of Jill’s emotions, becoming psychical and just acting in a very instinctive way, neither Jill nor he aware of their actions.
When Jill finally finds out who Ian is and what he is up to, the irony is on him. Now that he taught her to use Pretzel Jack in a deliberate way. She is able to use it against Ian.
But Ian has more creepy imaginations up his sleeve and his other creations the Crayon kids cause a lot of havoc and creepy moments.
As Jill grows stronger, and her love for Tom is restored, she is able to fully control Pretzel Jack, ordering him to kill Tall Boy. But as Ian has showed her his special room with many doors behind which many creepy imaginary stuff hides and which he can summon any time, they only truly will be safe when Ian is dead. With the help of Pretzel Jack Jill and Tom manage to overpower Ian. But irony strikes Ian again for a second time, for it is Tall Boy himself who accidentally kills Ian. All the doors disappear and so do Tall Boy and the Crayon Kids.
The importance of recognizing trauma
This story shows how childhood traumas maybe insignificant to others they can deeply damage a person. Emotions can be contorted, leading a life of their own and in this case become all too real and acting out, leashing out to anyone who is considered a threat.
This is excellently played by Troy James who can twist and turn his body in the most creepy ways and his Pretzel Jack truly comes to life as an amazing disturbing but also elusive ambiguous figure. He’s neither bad not good, nor are Jill’s emotions good or bad. They both just are. Just like our emotions he’s scary, he’s loving and anything in between and without saying a word, only acting with his body he’s able to communicate all of these complex emotions. He’s not only the hero of the story, but the main character and what drives the plot and even Jill.
Read more about Channel Zero:
- Channel Zero season 1: Candle Cove review
- Channel Zero season 1: Candle Cove explained
- Channel Zero season 2: No End House review
- Channel Zero season 2: No End House explained
- Channel Zero season 3: Butcher’s block review
- Channel Zero season 3: Butcher’s Block explained
- Channel Zero season 4: The Dream Door review