The Dead Zone

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The Dead Zone is a 1979 Stephen King novel about Johnny Smith, a high school teacher who is left in a coma for five years following a car accident - only to discover when he wakes up that, while he has suffered slight brain damage, he has also activated a "dead zone" in his brain, giving him Psychic Powers. Now, whenever he touches something or someone, Johnny may have a psychic vision of the past, present or a possible future. As he comes to terms with all that has happened in the missing five years of his life and the notoriety he gains with his abilities, he finds himself trying to stop the election of Greg Stillson, an up-and-coming politician whom Johnny foresees will cause a nuclear apocalypse.

The story has been adapted twice into visual media. The 1983 film stars Christopher Walken as Johnny and was directed by David Cronenberg. In 2002, a television series based loosely on the novel aired on the USA Network, starring Anthony Michael Hall as Smith.

Not to be confused with the Dragon Ball movie "Dead Zone".

General Tropes found in the novel, movie, and TV show:

"The missiles are flying! Hallelujah, Hallelujah!"

Tropes specific to the USA Network TV show:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Alternate Continuity: The series is implied to be this compared to the book. One episode shows that the book's ending is what would have happened if Bruce hadn't been around.
  • American Accents: Maine has a pretty distinct accent, which is absent (or tend to be Canadian Accents due to the actors probably being on the other side of the continent.)
    • In "Descent," in a flashback showing miners (or "minahs"), they all try. It's very obviously not their native accents.
  • Backstory
  • Betty and Veronica: Played with some with Sarah and Dana (seasons 1 and 2). Sarah, a brunette, Johnny's old Childhood Friend Romance, is Betty, but she's married now. Dana, the redhead, is more like a typical Veronica.
    • Sarah could be dealing with her own inverted version: Walt as Betty, and Johnny as Veronica.
  • Black Best Friend: Bruce
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Averted, as it's Anthony Michael Hall as the protagonist.
    • Played straight in "The Mountain" with BOTH the blond ranger and blond shopkeeper.
  • Burn the Witch: In 1.10, "Here There Be Monsters," John is detained on a witchcraft charge to try and frame him for a murder.
  • Catch Phrase: "There's still time." Reviewer Billie Doux refers to this as "The Dead Zone Mantra."
  • Christianity Is Catholic: averted with Reverend Gene Purdy, who is a typical protestant minister and dresses in suits.
  • Continuity Nod: The logo of the Native American casino in "Dead Men Tell Tales" is the cave drawing the old shaman in Johnny's vision of the past made of Johnny in "Shaman."
  • Cool Teacher: Johnny, when he was a science teacher.
  • Costume Test Montage: At the beginning of "Dinner with Dana," Dana combines this with the Lingerie Scene as she prepares for her date with Johnny.
  • Did Not Do the Research: In the pilot episode, Bruce references that Johnny has "missed O.J." - he still thinks he's well-regarded, and sarcastically asks if he's a Senator (having just watched a clip of Jesse Ventura as Governor of Minnesota.) Johnny crashed his car in June 1995, long after O.J. Simpson was first accused of murder.
  • Downer Ending: The TV series: They manage to break up Stillson and Sarah, but by doing that The End of the World as We Know It is put back on track, it had previously been averted.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Malcolm Janus in the final season. He was the Man Behind the Man and primary antagonist of the previous season and an all-around Magnificent Bastard, and in the first episode of season six he is killed ignominiously in a fire along with Sheriff Walt Bannerman. Walt could count as well since it seemed calculated to give Johnny and Sarah a chance to hook up, but the ramifications of his death were handled much more realistically.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Johnny has constant visions of it.
  • Episode on a Plane: "Cabin Pressure" of the TV series.
  • Fridge Brilliance: The TV series added the character of Bruce, Johnny's best friend, who wasn't in the book. There is one episode that shows what would have happened if Bruce wasn't in Johnny's life. This episode is exactly what happened in the book. See Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Grandfather Paradox: Played with in "Visions." Johnny meets a man from the future who tells Johnny that he needs to figure out how he ended up in a coma (and activated his own Dead Zone). The dilemma is if Johnny does, the man never goes into a coma to have a vision to tell Johnny about it.
  • Groundhog Day Loop: In "Deja Voodoo," Johnny lives the visions, and when he and the Girl of the Week get shot, it resets to the point of the original vision.
  • Hostage Situation: the bank robber in ep 1.08 "The Siege." John allows himself to be captured in order to keep everyone alive.
  • Hot Scoop: Dana
  • Idiot Ball: Johnny holds on to it pretty tight in the episode Panic. A teenager in the witness protection program shows up at his door bleeding from a gunshot wound in the leg. Johnny doesn't call the police, and performs terrible first aid on the leg. When the assassins try to get into the house, Johnny activates his security system, but doesn't punch in the panic code that would automatically alert the authorities. Then, when one of them is trying to break into the room where he is hiding with the witness and his own son, the three of them rush up to the door to hold it shut knowing the guy has a gun. He's lucky he has the Power of Plot on his side.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: "Zion," where Bruce sees what it would have been like had he not left his hometown (and not been there for Johnny). Resulting plot is described in Fridge Brilliance.
  • Killed Off for Real: Walt.
  • The Missus and the Ex: Johnny is in bed with Dana, and since he's in his bed, memories of Sarah crouch up, and just when you think he's Cursed with Awesome because A Threesome Is Hot, David Ogden Stiers as the ex shows up in the vision.
  • Modesty Bedsheet
  • Ms. Fanservice: Dana
  • Myth Arc turned into Aborted Arc: The TV show is based off of Johnny trying to stop Stillson's rise to power. At the start of Season 6, this is dropped entirely, leaving the show to do a bunch of standalone episodes. Realizing their mistake, the writers picked up the arc again at the end...just in time for the show to get canceled.
  • Opening Narration
  • Plain Name: Johnny Smith.
  • Put on a Bus: Bruce and Gene Purdy in Season 6 of the show.
  • Rape Is Okay When Its Female On Male: somewhat subverted in "Misbegotten" when Penny, the obsessed Crazy Cat Lady, wants to have Johnny's baby. Johnny is not thrilled. It's not portrayed as good at all, but she's portrayed as slightly sympathetic.
  • Really Gets Around: Kind of subverted with Johnny as they don't really happen, but he lives the personal visions. He even went so far to say that one vision living through another man's affair was his first time since Sarah. He even had a vision of being in bed with Dana before actually being in bed with Dana.
  • The Reveal: The pilot suggests that Johnny woke up when the nurse whose house was burning down brushed his arm because he had a vision of her daughter. The Season 1 finale reveals that in fact he woke up the moment Greg Stillson was sworn in as a state representative, kicking off the main story arc of the next few seasons.
  • Shout-Out: An aspiring writer who Johnny sees in a vision is told that "Stephen King must be shaking in his boots."
    • In the Episode on a Plane "Cabin Pressure," one extra notably sleeps through the entire troubled flight and awakens only after the danger has passed. Something very similar happens with one passenger on the dimension-crossing flight in Stephen King's short story "The Langoliers."
    • In "The Storm" Robert Picardo says Jane Lynch was a Firestarter, which she dismisses as accidents.
    • One episode has a hotel desk clerk reading a book by Richard Bachman.
  • Television Geography: The first 5 seasons were filmed in Vancouver. The obvious signs are the Rogers video stores.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: see example under The Missus and the Ex
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: In "Shaman," Johnny meets a Native guy from the past who has the same ability he has. The Native saw Johnny appear to him in Johnny's future, so he knows he has to save Johnny so Johnny can later appear in his past. Is something of a Stable Time Loop as well.
    • Also "Collision" Johnny finds out his future self appeared to him in a vision right after the car crash and saved his life otherwise Johnny wouldn't be alive.
  • The Watson: Poor Bruce, who must basically be spending every spare moment away from his physical therapist job helping Johnny on his various adventures.
  • Worst Aid: Caring for a kid shot in the leg, Johnny starts by tying a tourniquet above the wound. See the trope page for why this is a bad idea. He also does this while the kid is sitting on his countertop with the leg dangling down. The first thing you should do with a heavily bleeding wound is elevate the limb, to lessen the blood flow.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: In an episode guest starring Lochlyn Munro and Ally Sheedy as old friends of Johnny's who are brother and sister, he kept getting visions that ended up in the same way; the sister committing suicide in order to give her heart to her brother, who is in desperate need of it. He tries desperately to change the events, but is forced to let it happen at the end.