When I rewatched the fifth season of "The Dead Zone" from start to finish on DVD (bonus points for this set coming out right before the start of the sixth season) I also happened to be working my way through "The X-Files," watching one episode a night right before bed (I am up to Season 7 at this point). While watching "The X-Files" I had discovered that I really did not care as much about the so-called "mythology" episodes as I did the various weird cases that Mulder and Scully had to deal with that never involved aliens, black oil, or whatever. As I watched "The Dead Zone: The Complete Fifth Season" I found myself having a similar reaction to Greg Stillson every time he showed up in an episode.
Everybody who read Stephen King's novel "The Dead Zone" (loved it) or saw the theatrical movie (thought it was miscast) knows that the final confrontation with Greg Stillson is what costs Johnny Smith his life. Johnny knows from one of his magic touches that Stillson's fledgling political career will end up with him as President, at which point he will cause a nuclear war. The conflict in the novel was all about Johnny finding out that he could change the future for the better and then trying to come to terms with whether or not he had the moral authority to do so. Well, in the television series Johnny came to that decision a long time ago and while it was obvious that the television series had to be about a whole lot more than Stillson, I now have the feeling that this is all going to end just like the book/movie with both of them dead. Okay, maybe Johnny will get out this alive, but I am becoming more and more convinced that the situation will not be resolved until the final episode.
This season begins with Stillson engaged to Miranda Ellis ("Forbidden Fruit"), which resolves the previous season's cliffhanger in unspectacular fashion, and he pops up again as part of a government committee investigating Johnny's actions at a Waco-like disaster involving a religious cult ("Vortex"), and then in the final episode as events take him closer to the White House ("The Hunting Party"). But five seasons down the road, it is hard to care anymore. There is a major development in this whole plotline in that it is not just a combination of Stillson's charisma and a reactionary political climate that will make him president but also the machinations of the Janus Group. I can do without the whole conspiracy bit, but they now become another element for Johnny to deal with from now on.
It is also another reason that I like the episodes that have nothing to do with either Stillson or Janus. "Independence Day" shows what Johnny can do stuck in a traffic jam on the highway, ends up as the inside man on a robbery ("The Inside Man"), and infiltrates a cult compound ("Vortex"). Those last two are interesting because they touch on the religious implications of Johnny's gift much more than they usually do on the show. "Symmetry," in which Johnny experiences visions from multiple perspectives, shows that the writers can still come up with interesting twists on the basic premise of Johnny's powers. I was much less enamored with the idea that Gene Purdy has any secrets left when it comes to Johnny ("Revelations"), but having the Collector back for another go round worked out pretty well ("Into the Heart of Darkness"), except for what it says about convenient gaps in Johnny's knowledge that allow for such a sequel to take place.
Another reason I wish the show would put Stillson in the rear view mirror is that it seems like some of the cast members are losing interest. There are a whole bunch of episodes missing one of the characters in this season and already in the current season one of them actually dies (albeit, a fate predicted for them in "Cujo") and at least one more appears to have left the show. But then how many times can Bruce ask Johnny what he is going to do about Stillson? On balance, I still like the show, but the last couple of seasons the USA "Characters welcome" promos have been the best part of "The Dead Zone." Co-creators Michael and Shawn Piller, along with actor Anthony Michael Hall and the rest of the cast, have done an admirable job of turning King's novel into a solid television series, but even without psychic powers I have to believe the end is in sight.