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Series / The Booth at the End

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How far would you go to get what you want?

Sister Carmel: Do you believe in God?
The Man: I believe in the details.

A mysterious, unnamed Man (Xander Berkeley) sits at a booth at the end of a diner. People approach him because they've heard The Man has a gift. He can solve their problems: A parent with a sick child, a woman who wants to be prettier, a nun who has lost her faith. The Man can give these people what they want. For a price. The Man makes a proposition. In exchange for realizing their desires, these individuals must complete a task, return to The Man, and describe every step in detail. The trick is that these tasks are things that would normally be inconceivable to them. But The Man never forces anyone to do anything. It's always up to the individual to start - or stop. The Booth at the End asks the question: How far would you go to get what you want?

Hulu has the first season (originally a series of shorts) collected into five 23-minute episodes and a second season which premiered on August 6th, 2012.

This series contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Allen, the detective, was one to his son and deeply regrets it.
  • Babies Ever After: Sister Carmel and the artist.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The Man doesn't grant wishes, he just lets you know how to get what you desire. How the fickle finger of fate chooses to provide, however.....
    • In season 2, a returning character (Doris) ends up turning this (or so it would seem) against The Man. When The Man wants to know what motivates people, he has Doris make a deal with him. However, in fulfilling his task, he also ends up 'being trapped like them'. He also allows Doris into some of his secrets, after which she blackmails him into making a deal with her. Her desire? For The Man to love her.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Possibly the Man, who reacts as a human would in some situations— for instance, getting irritated when people accuse him of manipulating them, or being surprised and horrified at Willem's... interesting strategy to accomplish his task— and strangely dispassionate and uncaring at other junctures
    • Other good examples appear in season 2. On one hand, he asks people to torture someone and make people cry. And on the other hand, he shows reservations about making a deal with kids since they don't know what they're getting into. And he seems almost discomforted by someone wanting to 'eradicate' a religion and anyone who believes in it.
  • Brand X: The show makes a point not to identify the religion that Jack hates so much.
  • But Thou Must!: Not exactly. You COULD get what you want without him, but the only guarantee is to do what The Man says, and he only gives you one path.
  • The Chessmaster: Played with in that The Man somehow knows EXACTLY what moves will bring about the desired result, but his level of control and overall knowledge of the board is questionable at best, possibly even nonexistent. He insists he is merely a "messenger of opportunities" and that he "knows less than you think."
  • Cliffhanger: The ending of season one. When asked if someone can be brought back to life, The Man responds:
    "That can happen."
  • Deal with the Devil
  • Decoy Protagonist: At first, Willem's job of playing guardian angel to a litle girl is pretty cut and dry. But when he kidnaps her to hide her from her tormentor, with permission from no one, he veers wildly into this territory.
  • Dirty Cop: Allen has to protect one. Then he realizes, he himself is the actual dirty cop.
  • Even Morally Ambiguous Has Standards: The Man expresses something approaching reluctance in making a deal with a pair of kids in 2x1. Among other reasons, the kids aren't emotionally and mentally mature enough to understand what it means to make a deal with him.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode is named after something the Man says in that episode.
  • Lighter and Softer: Sort of. Season 2 retains all the intricacies of the series, but the client stories themselves tend to be a little more upbeat and hopeful plus many clients never end up doing their tasks. All of these upbeat stories are juxtaposed against Jack's plot to kill 22 people and Melody's effective suicide-by-want.
  • Literal Genie: You must be precise about what you want, or you will not be happy with the result. Other times, what you say you want and what you really mean/need/want are two separate things. The Man occasionally gives people what they really want under the guise of giving them what they say they want.
  • Men Act, Women Are: Richard quickly absorbs Jenny's plot line, even making his own deal to make her change her mind about hers. Then again, she gets what she really wanted anyway, she finally feels pretty enough through Richard's eyes
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Maria's task is to make people cry. Her first attempt involves her trying to steal a child's balloon, failing, running away, accidentally knocking a girl's ice cream out of her hand, then forgetting about her task and buying her a new one so she won't be sad.
    The Man: You may not be cut out for this.
  • Morality Pet: Doris serves as a semi-version to "The Man", as she is the only person who comes to him without greed, only curiosity. Similarly, those people with more selfish or greedy desires tend to end up with what they want... but rarely are very happy in the end, while those with desire more based around personal growth tend to be both be happy and get what they want. One 'client' starts off greedy but ultimately grows as a person and so ends up both happy and getting what they want (or rather, what they realized they wanted).
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Melody makes good on volunteering for shut-ins, helping her father, and, much later, bringing a serial killer to justice. She ends up dead for her trouble.
  • No Name Given: The Man
  • The Omniscient: The Man is either a Type I associate, or a Type II who has achieved beyond the mortal pale.
    • In 2x1, in a surprising moment of candidness (he was, seemingly, trying to convince a pair of kids not to make a deal with him), he reveals some information about him (or at least, his circumstances). He claims not to know much about how things work and how many dominoes fall once he gets them started. In another segment, he (sort of) describes what the deals do as cracking the world and putting it together again.
  • One Degree of Separation: Given the storylines of season two, this seems to be the rule of the clients. The drama comes not in that they're connected, but how they are connected and what they do that affects each other unknowingly or otherwise.
    • James and Willem are Working the Same Case, with The Man having assigned Willem to protect Elizabeth after James picks her to kill in order to save his own son.
    • Jenny's new boyfriend Richard is police detective Allen's estranged son, and also happens to be the bank robber that Allen is searching for.
    • Melody reports the serial killer to Allen. His brushing her off is what prompts her to take desperate measures, which in turn leads Allen to his Heel Realization.
    • Simon is Chekhov's Gunman for Sister Carmel's story; they conceive the child needed to fulfill both their deals with The Man.
    • Mrs. Tyler's story is the only one that is self-contained.
    • Dillon and Melody cross paths. One wants to live forever, the other wants to die. He gives her a reason to live (completing her task) and her death gives him a reason not to want to live forever (so he abandons his task)
    • Jack's story is mostly self-contained until the very end. Then he crosses paths with Henry and Theresa. The latter he tries to kill, the former ends up killing him. Henry and Theresa later cross paths again.
    • Cheryl and Conner cross paths, the former in her desire to find love for her child, the latter in finding his father. Though their tasks seem at odds, they agree to a course of action that helps them both get what they want
    • Maria's is the self-contained story for season 2.
  • Redemption Equals Life: Played with. James' decision to not kill Elizabeth immediately leads to his son's cancer completely disappearing.
  • Red Herring: Told to protect a Dirty Cop in his department, Allen starts covering for a homicide detective who steals valuable items from murder scenes. But Allen eventually realizes that he himself is the Dirty Cop, abusing his authority to fulfill his self-serving deals with The Man.
  • The Reveal: In Season 2 Episode 2, despite being around throughout season 1, Doris is identified by the Man as a non-Muggle (though it's unclear to the audience exactly what form of Secret Identity is at play). She knows much more than we would have ever guessed about the book.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The fact that Jack's vendetta against the religion he sees as his enemy began with trying to keep a particular building from finishing construction is highly reminiscent of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque".
  • Rule of Symbolism
    • There's something to be said when a man tasked with stealing things has the request of wanting to take away people's religion.
    • Likewise, Cheryl expresses the desire to find love for her child and Conner expresses the desire for the return of his father. The desires themselves are reflections of each other and how their stories cross and the outcome are the same. Conner finds Cheryl and together, they return to their respective homes where their families are reunited.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Played With. It's only a prophecy if you choose to do it, and the completion of the task rarely has an obvious connection to the goal.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Inverted. The audience is never shown ANYTHING outside of the diner setting, and instead relies on character dialogue to convey it. This serves as either an egregious violation of the rule, or helps the audience relate to the otherwise inscrutable Man.
    • A less meta-example of the inversion happens in season 2 episode 1. When The Man asks a woman to imagine all the things she would never do to someone (her task is to torture a woman with no connections), the woman closes her eyes and imagines. She experiences a jump-start at her mental images and never tells what she's thinking, only saying that it's horrible (enough to make her start crying).
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: This series seems to run somewhere in the "Fighting Fate is Hard" zone.
  • The Storyteller: Conner, the little boy in season 2, plays this straight compared to the adults. Whereas the adults often simply describe, Conner talks about his task in the pacing and language of a story with the accompanying inflection and background music. Of course, this is appropriate given his task/want and the One Degree of Separation people he interacts with who are on their own task/want quests.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: Neither James nor Mrs. Tyler go through with their grisly deals, but get what they want anyhow.
  • Trickster Mentor: The Man. Good sweet googly-moogly, The Man. He'll help you figure out what you have to do to get what you want, no problem...
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Willem tries to mess up The Man's system. This does not end well for him.
  • Wham Line: In response to what Gerald wants: "That can happen."
    • Also, as of Season 2, episode 2, we have Doris, speaking to the Man: "You want me to use the book. On you."
    • Also in season 2 we have Doris, revealed previously as a non-Muggle, coercing The Man into making a deal with her. He initially refuses, only for her to state that she'd call 'them all' upon him. Reluctantly, he accepts, and when he asks what she wants: "I want you to love me."
  • What You Are in the Dark: A part of The Man's modus operandi. Even if people get what they want, doing what The Man asks (or going through a large part of it) tends to make people confront themselves. Most aren't exactly very happy at what they see... but blame The Man. Those that take this personal confrontation well (such as it may be) tend to treat The Man gratefully and have more happy endings, or at least have endings that satisfy what they were looking for. See Literal Genie for some specifics.
    • Part of what makes this so difficult for people is that, in this case, the deal is that they have to come back and tell him What They Are In The Dark. Its hard confronting the truth about yourself, its even harder to sit down and explain all the details of your personal revelation to somebody else.