Through a Lens Darkly
The Booth at the End and Our Faustian Selves
What would you do if you knew with absolute certainty that the completion of a particular task would bring about the fulfillment of your greatest wish? Would you be willing to commit disagreeable (even immoral) acts to achieve your dreams? How far would you go to get what you want?
The series' premise is startlingly simple: the Man (Xander Berkeley) sits in a booth at Cadillac Jack's Driver-In and waits. People—convinced that he can "get things" for those who want them badly enough—visit his booth, and he makes a bargain with each of them: if they complete the task he assigns, they will get what they so desperately desire.
But his bargains are harsh and unsettling: James, a successful businessman seeking to avert his son's death from leukemia, is ordered to kill a young girl. Sister Carmel, a faithful nun for fifteen years who yearns to "hear God again," is told that the only way to guarantee the return of her faith is to become pregnant. Mrs. Tyler, a feeble retiree struggling to cope with her husband's Alzheimer's, is tasked with detonating a bomb in a busy coffee shop, while Jenny, a pretty, shallow young woman, must rob a bank in order to achieve the physical beauty for which she longs.
How far will they go to get what they want?
Berkley, an under-appreciated veteran of the stage and screen is mesmerizing as the eerily anonymous Man whose bargaining powers drive the story forward.
As The Booth begins, the Man clearly resembles a modern-day Mephistopheles, smiling silkily while turning his clients' greatest weaknesses against them, fomenting sinfulness and suffering at every turn. When Mrs. Tyler asks "Do you make everyone who comes to you hurt someone?" the Man responds "Only some," with a dismissive, half-disappointed shrug more threatening than the words themselves.
Gradually, however, the Man's omnipotence is revealed as nothing more than a peculiar sort of omniscience—knowledge only of very specific actions and their consequences. He is not the one who brings about the transformative events, but their harbinger. "How did you do that?" a man asks in amazement when his bargain comes to fruition. "I didn't," the Man says. "You did." "You have to know" says another, but he demurs: "I don't know." Sister Carmel, battling her spiritual sterility, pleads: "If you can really let me hear Him, just let me hear Him."
"No," he says firmly. "You have to do it; what we agreed upon."
"Don't make me," she begs.
"I'm not," he replies.
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.