Hi. Welcome back to my re-watch of Punky Brewster. If you want to read my prior reviews, you can check them out HERE.
I am watching this show on the NBC App. For some reason, not all of the original run episodes are on the NBC app. As a result, I will only review the ones I can see. If I find the missing episodes, I will blog about them, re-number my episodes, etc.
I will provide a short episode summary here at the top, then a long and detailed summary just below that. There’s a sub-section near the bottom (scroll down) labeled “reaction” if you just want to get right to my thoughts about the episode.
QUICK NOTE (and a minor spoiler) BEFORE THE QUICK SUMMARY:
This episode refers to Native Americans as Indians. This was the common nomenclature in the U.S., for Native Americans, for decades / centuries – including through the 1980s when this show as made. For ease of transcribing / story-telling, I reefer to Native Americans that way in the recap when the characters do.
THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:
Punky and all of her friends go camping with Henry and Mrs. Johnson. The kids wander off together to get firewood for the camp and they get lost. They end up wandering into a cave where they meet an Indian chief and some other Indians. The Chief tells Punky that they have been waiting for her since the end of the winters snows.
There is an evil spirit living at their campground, deep in the cave where they now sit, and the Indian Chief tells Punky that she is the chosen one to fight it. He warns that if she does not, the camp will die and his people will have no home. Punky and her friends agree. Within moments of going deeper into the cave, the mouth of the cave closes shut behind them. The episode ends on a cliffhanger with us meeting the terrifying evil spirit face to face.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:
This show makes me nervous in general. Putting “Peril” right in the episode title though… I’m openly scared.
The show begins with a carload of kids singing “A Camping We Will Go.” Punky and her friends are going to Lake Waxahatchie.
Henry and Mrs. Johnson appear to be in charge of these children. Henry goes on at length to Mrs. Johnson about how much better camping is than staying at a fancy hotel. After Henry’s more noble reasons, Mrs. Johnson cuts to the heart of the matter and notes that there is not an expensive bill for camping.
Punky, Cherie, Margaux, and Allen are the children on this adventure. Brandon the Good Boy is present as well.
Henry: Ahhh. Fresh air. Isn’t it wonderful?
Mrs. Johnson: Well you can keep it. I don’t trust air I can’t see.
Margux complains right away that the sun is frying her face and she hopes that she brought enough moisturizer. Allen tells her that she does not need moisturizer because she is naturally all wet. Margaux ends his amusement with his own joke by hitting him on the shoulder and calling him a peasant.
Suddenly, Punky notices that there are dead trees in all directions. Henry says there has been plenty of rain lately and speculates that perhaps the trees have a bug problem. Margaux panics and asks if they can call the Orkin Man.
[Camping montage. Kite flying. Butterfly chasing. Tent building. Watching ducks swim. More butterfly chasing.]
Henry gathers the children around him and tells them to gather up some wood. He gives them the instructions to stick together and not go far. Margaux, at first, does not move. The other three kids come to retrieve her.
Margaux: Listen, I’m not putting one foot in that filthy forest. There are things in there that sting for a living. You guys run along and I’ll sit here quietly in the tent until dinner is served.
Naturally Allen and Cherie pick her up and they push her along with them over protests.
The kids and Brandon are picking up firewood. Punky notices another dead tree. The musical scoring of the show plays a couple of ominous musical notes when we see it. Cherie tells Punky that she had dead trees on the brain and Punky expresses concern over them.
P: Why are they dying?
C: They probably got a whiff of Margaux’s freckle cream. That stuff would kill anything.
Suddenly Brandon sees a rabbit and gives chase. The kids follow him. When they find Brandon, he and the bunny are lying down together and Brandon is giving it some gentle sniffs. Punky takes him by the collar and they leave. The camera stays on the rabbit for a good long while after the kids leave. [I am confused? Is this ominous? Is this a tree killing rabbit?]
A little while later, the kids and Brandon find a cave. Brandon goes in by himself. Punky expresses some concern about how long it is taking them to get back to their campsite. She asks if any of them even remember seeing their current spot before and they all reply no.
P: I hate to say this guys but I think we’re lost.
Henry and Mrs. Johnson appear to have realized that the kids are missing. They are walking around together shouting for them.
Punky instructs Brandon the Good Boy to lead their group back to camp using his sniffer. And… off he goes. After walking around for a wile, they return to the cave. Punky suggests that maybe Brandon’s nose is not working great because he has a cold. Allen decides that they should all enter the cave, both because it is likely warmer inside and also because it will be fun.
[Is Brandon going to have to save the group from a dangerous Mountain Man type person? A bear? Which kid is about to almost die?]
Margaux: We go in that cave over my dead body.
Allen: That’s another good reason.
The girls implore Allen not to go into the cave and he enters alone. Punky remembers that Henry told them all to stick together so she says that they have to go in after him. the three girls and Brandon follow Allen into what appears to be a very deep cave.
Inside the cave, the kids notice art all over the walls. They appear not to notice that a fire is burning. Brandon sits next to it while they marvel at the artwork. The children shout loudly, “hello!” and Cherie notes that the cave seems to go on forever.
They return to the fire and sit next to Brandon. They notice that the cave art appears to look like their small group – including three little girls and a little boy.
P: It’s almost like… like… whoever drew those pictures and made this fire was waiting for us.
The kids acknowledge that they are all terrified. Punky suggests doing something that makes it fun to be scared. She wants to tell ghost stories. The friends agree and Punky goes first.
Punky narrates their day so far in a spooky story telling voice. When she gets to present, with kids sitting in a cave around a fire, all of a sudden, she says they all of a sudden hear a noise. An owl hoots outside after she says this. Her story goes on to say that Punky yells “be quiet” and the owl was quiet. Then, story-telling Punky predicts the children hear another noise.
Somewhere in the cave behind them, the kids hear someone drumming.
Allen: Is it Indian drums?!
Punky: It was supposed to be a wolf’s howl!
Allen: No. Definitely Indian drums.
Margaux yells for the kids to get out of there. Too late.
Four Native Americans in traditional tribal gear emerge from inside the cave. The leader of their group, wearing a headdress, sits down by the fire. The kids who have backed up against the wall push Punky forward.
Punky: How..[raises her hand]… do you do? You’re probably wondering what me and my friends are…
He points at the other kids to do the same.
Indian: Many many summers ago, summers beyond count, there was no Lake Waxahatchie. The land was buried. Nothing could live or grow for evil dwelt here.
Indian: A wicked spirit lived deep under the earth in the heart of this cave. The spirit’s name was Owah Tagu Siam.
Punky: Oh what a goose I am?
He goes on to tell her that all who tried to defeat the spirit died a horrible death. Then Princess Moon journeyed with her friends into the spirit’s underground kingdom. The children survived the terrible traps and ferocious creatures until finally Princess Moon came face to face with Owah Tagu Siam. He says that the Princess was full of goodness and her spirit was stronger than the evil spirit. So the evil spirit fled from her and shut itself into a chamber of rock. Punky cheers. The Indian tells her that the land became fertile and green. When Punky says this is a great story the Indian man tells her he is not finished. He says the evil spirit has escaped again and that the land is now dying once more.
P: So that’s why we saw so many dead trees!
I: The spirit knows that Princess Moon no longer lives. And we fear that he has come back stronger than before.
Allen: What a bummer!
I: [smiling] It is no longer a bummer. A new champion has been sent to defeat the spirit.
When Punky asks who it is the man points at her and says “You!” He says they have kept the fire burning “since last winter’s snow” and they have been waiting for someone to come who has power and is full of goodness.
P: That can’t be me. Just last week I dropped a water balloon on our mailman.
The Indian man says that if she does not help them they are doomed.
I: The plants and the trees shall die. The animals shall live. My people will have no home.
Punky asks if she can talk this over with her friends for a second. He nods. Punky wants to help them. Allen and Cherie are on board. Margaux asks if they are insane. Punky reminds her that the Indian Chief – the one they just met – believes in them and she says they should give this a shot. She puts her hand out and the other three kids lay theirs on top of hers.
Margaux: But if we get killed you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.
Punky tells the Chief they will take on the evil spirit. He says that many tales will be told of their courage. He advises them that the Spirit feeds on fear but they can fight it with love.
Allen: I’d rather have a bazooka.
The Indian Chief shows the children which way to go, deeper into the cave, and Punky stops to relay a message first. She asks the Chief if he will tell her foster father, Henry Warnimont, where they are. The Chief tells her they will go and find him now.
Suddenly the children hear a loud sound of thunder. The Indian chief says they have chosen well. He and the other adults leave. Punky tells a now fearful Margaux that they have an ace up their sleeve. If things get to hairy, she says, they can juts return to the cave entrance and leave.
Another loud bit of thunder sounds, the cave shakes, and stalactites and stalagmites at the mouth of the cave come together like closing teeth. The children and Brandon are now trapped inside.
Margaux points out that the rocks moved all by themselves. Cherie says that it’s magic.
Punky: So the evil spirit has magic. Big deal. Alright maybe it is a big deal. But we’ve got something too. We’ve got PUNKY POWER!
Almost as if in reply, the cave shakes and more rocks fall. Allen asks her not to do that anymore and Punky suggests that they get moving so that they can find another way out of the cave.
Deeper in the cave, Punky says that the spirit cannot be watching them. Her reasoning is that the cave is huge and that it cannot be everywhere at once. However, as the children move along we see many sets of glowing eyes behind them at every turn.
Suddenly, a horrifying spirit (it looks like an evil clown with jagged teeth for a mouth) screams at them.
TO BE CONTINUED!
I mean… what?!? WHAT IS THIS!? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!!
Punky Brewster is a Stephen King story?! Maybe it always was?! I mean. WHY!
Okay. I took a break. I’m back now.
Let me get this first part out of the way: Is there any scenario wherein I would deem it a good idea to send some urban Chicago nine year olds alone into the woods without adult supervision? No. Henry and Mrs. Johnson just did. The State of Illinois should consider placing Punky with someone else. The evidence is OVERWHELMING.
Assuming we take all of this, from this episode, at face value, this episode confirms that something about Punky is special. Even Punky knows it as she refers to her own “Punky Power.” The cave literally shook when she declared it.
My “Stranger Things 1.0” television theory is holding up. There were several kids from television shows in the 1980s who displayed supernatural powers on sitcoms that had nothing to do with the supernatural. Punky is one of them. (Zach Morris and Steve Urkel are two others.) Perhaps we will get a better idea of what Punky’s powers actually are in Part 2 – though the evidence from the series so far seems to indicate that her power is related to moving the hearts of other people.
- She convinced an old, poor, cranky, lifelong hermit to take her in.
- She convinced a judge and a social worker to accept that Henry gets to take her in – despite all kinds of evidence for why it should not happen.
- She wins over almost everyone she has ever met – however improbable the circumstances. The older girl bully at Fenster Hall. Henry’s maintenance man. Her teacher Mike. A bank manager – who could not give her a loan when she wandered in alone – but sent her his dog grooming business instead. The Chicago Cubs (they let Henry and Punky sit in the dugout.) The young home invader in the Season 1 finale. Marvin Hagler gave her boxing lessons for free and for three hours. Punky Power is love. I bet Moose McGirt is her offscreen body guard at school now.
- She has convinced kids who do not like fishing to love it because Henry was sad that they did not. She convinced her friends to join her dog grooming business. She recently convinced everyone she knows to build a treehouse with her. Here, she convinces three other young kids to enter a dangerous cave with her. She seems to be able to use her hearts and minds power to manipulate the actions of others in some way.
I am definitely going to have a nightmare about that spirit monster to end the episode.
WHO THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO PUT SOMETHING LIKE THAT ON A PRIMETIME TV SHOW AIMED AT SMALL CHILDREN?!
Well, this is a two-parter. I’m looking forward to seeing how Princess Moon uses her Punky Power to defeat an actual evil spirit. I’m also terrified that Margaux is going to be carried off by giant spider or something. Henry and that Indian tribe are going to need Punky Power to save them from Margaux Kramer’s lawyers.