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Series / The Dead Zone

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The Dead Zone, a.k.a. Stephen King's Dead Zone (in the USA) is a 2002 American-Canadian science fiction/suspense series based on Stephen King's 1979 novel of the same name, Starring Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny Smith.

Small-town teacher Johnny Smith is involved in a car accident that leaves him comatose for approximately six years. After regaining consciousness, Johnny begins having visions of the past and future triggered by touching items or people; doctors attribute the visions to activity in a previously unused "dead zone" of his brain that is attempting to compensate for the impaired function of the portions injured in the accident. Johnny also learns that his fiancée, Sarah, gave birth to his son in the interim following the accident, but has since married another man.

With the help of Sarah, her husband Walt, and physical therapist Bruce, Johnny begins using his abilities to help solve crimes. However, his attempts to do good are complicated by intermittent visions of apocalyptic events brought about following the future election of congressional candidate Greg Stillson.


The show was originally commissioned for UPN, but the network later dropped the show and it was picked up instead by USA Network. The series was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada for its first five seasons. The sixth and last season was billed as "The season that changes everything" and production was moved to Montreal. The Dead Zone was expected to be renewed for a seventh season, however due to low ratings and high production cost the series was canceled in December 2007, without a proper series finale.


The Dead Zone provides examples of:

  • 90% of Your Brain: Johnny's powers come from the "dead zone" of his brain being activated.
  • Aborted Arc:
    • The Christopher Wey arc of Seasons 2 and 3 seems to be building up to some major revelations about what leads to Armageddon. Ultimately, however, the mental and physical strain of these "super-visions" causes Johnny to throw away his cane at the beginning of Season 4, thus severing contact with Wey and his own future self.
    • More blatantly was how the promise of an epic fate-of-the-world final duel in the Season 5 finale between Johnny and Janus was unceremoniously thrown away in the first episode of Season 6, which has Janus killed in a fire and Armageddon seemingly prevented, just like that. The worst part was this is presumably part of what led to the declining ratings of the season.
  • Absentee Actor:
    • For a show with only four main cast members it's surprisingly rare to find episodes featuring all three, Nicole de Boer (Sarah), Chris Bruno (Walt), and John L. Adams (Bruce)! Usually just one or two of them — there are even episodes where none of the three are featured! The only cast member to appear in every single episode is Anthony Michael Hall.
    • Sarah in particular is noticeably absent for most of Season 5 — seemingly due to Nicole De Boer starring in a Made-for-TV Movie at the time. In Season 6, Bruce is Put on a Bus, seemingly out of a desire to cut production costs.
  • Alternate Continuity: The series is implied to be this compared to the book. The closest the show had gotten to the book was the Season 2 episode "Zion", which showed what would have happened if Bruce hadn't been around. Things don't play out exactly how they did in the book, as Stillson doesn't try and use someone as a human shield, meaning Johnny dies without bringing him down.
  • The Anticipator: Johnny plays this trope very well by sometimes exploiting his Spider-Sense and sometimes just being really intuitive.
    • In the episode "Vanguard", when Stilson returns to his limo in front of the lab, Johnny is sitting in the other seat already, which temporarily surprises Stilson. It is unclear whether his powers had anything to do with it.
    • Johnny, since he is psychic, exploits Spider-Sense to invoke this plenty of times. However, some instances stands out; in the episode "Double Vision" Johnny knows fellow psychic Alex will be in a parking garage so he waits for her casually. However, this trope gets weirdly subverted when Alex also anticipates him being there in the parking garage. They are expecting each other, but both refuse to be the one to open the door. Neither ever see each other in that scene.
    • Alex becomes the Anticipator later when a clue she leaves for Johnny leads him to a fancy restaurant. She cranks this trope Up to Eleven: she has prepared for him a sports coat he likes, but pretends not to; she has ordered his favorite foods, and she begins rambling about what he'll think of the meal.
  • Back Story: For both Johnny and Stilson, uncovered in bits and pieces over the course of the show.
  • Because Destiny Says So Averted. Turns out the the visions of the future allows one to change it.
  • 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: The sensitive Nice Guy Johnny as Betty, and the Rated M for Manly Walt as Veronica.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: From the Season 4 premiere to the Season 6 premiere, Greg Stilson and Malcolm Janus.
  • Black Best Friend: Bruce
  • 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.
  • Came Back Strong: Johnny is critically injured in a car accident and is in a coma for five years. When he wakes up, he has Psychic Powers, including precognition and psychometry. Averted with his physical state, though. It takes few operations, implants and months of rehabilitation for him to be able to even move on his own. He's well-aware and informed many times that he will be never as strong as before the accident.
  • Canon Foreigner: Rev. Purdy, Bruce Lewis, and Malcolm Janus.
  • 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.
  • Composite Character: Walt is a combination of two characters in the novel: the sheriff and Sarah's husband.
  • 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".
  • Convenient Coma: It's one of few examples where this trope is averted.
  • 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.
  • Crossover: Some USA Network promo ads are skits where Jonny Smith meets with Adrian Monk (several times) and Shawn Spencer of Psych.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Sarah, upon seeing the baby Johnny found in "Grains of Sand". Maternal instinct on overdrive.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Johnny's mother is revealed to have died during Johnny's coma — by suicide, out of grief over losing her son. In the book, she's the voice of "faith" for Johnny... which Rev. Purdy supplies in the series.
    • Johnny's father is indicated to have died a long time before the series begins. In the book, he's Johnny's voice of reason. Bruce fills that role in the series.
  • Double Standard: Rape, 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.
  • Downer Ending: 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. Thanks both to a WGA strike and declining ratings, this cliffhanger is not resolved. Potentially a Bittersweet Ending, as Johnny's father notes that if Johnny doesn't marry Sarah the world will end. Just before he dies, he tells Johnny that Sarah still loves him, despite the rift. Further, an arc over the course of the season has culminated in JJ discovering his own "dead zone" abilities — which may be even more powerful than Johnny's. As such, the fact that Sarah and Johnny are on the path to reconciliation in the final scene implies that things might be on the right track, after all.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Malcolm Janus in the final season. He was the Man Behind the Man for much of the show, the Big Bad of Season 5, and an all-around Magnificent Bastard...and best of all, that season's finale seems to be setting us up for a BIG epic showdown between him and Johnny. And what happens? 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.
  • Enemy Mine: Johnny and Stillson deeply dislike and distrust one another, but they are occasionally forced to work together to solve the mystery of the week.
  • Episode on a Plane: "Cabin Pressure".
  • For Want of a Nail: The TV series added the character of Bruce, Johnny's best friend, who wasn't in the book. The season 2 episode "Zion" shows what would have happened if Bruce wasn't in Johnny's life. For the most part, things play out exactly how they did in the book... except instead of Stillson attempting to use a human shield, he is instead knocked to the ground as protection, meaning Stillson escaped the assassination attempt with his reputation intact.
  • 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. Ultimately subverted as the man ultimately changes priorities to saving his family—which Johnny does.
  • "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.
  • Hope Spot:
    • At one point, it seems like a broken and tearful Stilson has been defeated, though a potential scandal involving double-homicide. And then Janus shows up, and takes charge as his new mentor.
    • Season 6 has one with the death of Janus, and Johnny shaking Stilson's hand and seeing a perfectly fine Washington, D.C. Turns out Stilson — and presumably Janus — have been using Johnny's father as a drugged adviser to help them anticipate future events — and when he dies, Johnny sees the Armageddon vision again.
    • For the characters, the season also builds up to Sarah and Johnny falling in love again. But then Sarah learns that Johnny lied to her about the circumstances of Walt's death, and a rift occurs which doesn't heal until the last moments of the season finale.
  • Hostage Situation: The bank robber in ep 1.08 "The Siege". John allows himself to be captured in order to keep everyone alive.
  • 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.
  • The Illuminati: Malcolm Janus sports a ring with the all-seeing eye, implying that the Illuminati is what's behind Stilson. Ret-conned in Season 5 where Janus's group is implied to be a relatively small group of former soldiers.
  • 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 and Malcolm Janus in the beginning of Season 6. In the finale, Stilson's former dragon Sonny.
  • Leitmotif: Sarah has a simple and somewhat hauntingly tragic piano melody (a version of which, interestingly enough, also serves as the end credits theme). Also, the emotional arc in Seasons 2 and 3 involving her emotional reconciliation with Walt over the events of "Destiny" is powered by a sadly romantic theme, introduced in the opening scene of "Descent".
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Beautifully done in season 3 when Sarah finally tells JJ that Johnny is his biological father. JJ doesn't want to believe it and runs up to his room; Sarah and Walt follow. Johnny slowly, sadly heads to the door... and JJ reappears.
    Walt: John, JJ has a question to ask you.
    JJ: What am I supposed to call you?
    Johnny: [fighting tears and kneeling down to hug JJ] "Johnny". Just "Johnny".
  • Meaningful Name: Malcolm Janus
  • The Missus and the Ex:
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Dana, Sarah, and any love interest for Johnny or Stilson or whoever that has a bed scene.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Walt, particularly one scene with him standing around in his underwear.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Dana. Sarah also has her moments.
  • Mundane Utility: Although in the beginning Johnny Smith has little control over his powers and they manifest only at dramatic moments, as the series goes by he gets better at using them voluntarily, sometimes just to make his life easier. For example, telling which worm has the greatest chance of catching a fish during a fishing trip.
  • 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. The ratings suffered from the drastic changes to everything. Realizing their mistake, the writers picked up the arc again at the end... just in time for the show to get canceled.
  • Nebulous Evil Organization: Malcolm Janus's "Coalition for a Better America", which may or may not be a branch of The Illuminati. (We learn the name in Season 5, as part of the Retcon that implies that it may not be, after all.)
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: "The Cold Hard Truth" has a VERY thinly-veiled Expy of Howard Stern.
  • Noir Episode: Season Six's "Switch", which involves Johnny trying to protect a Femme Fatale from being thrown off a train. Bonus points for most of the action taking place at night — with the train stations seeming lit specifically for noir.
  • Oddly Small Organization: Initially, it can be pretty hard to believe that Janus's "Coalition for a Better America" consists of the small group of former soldiers in the photo Johnny and Walt discover late in Season 5 — until we realize that 1) aside from Janus himself, we've barely seen anyone from his group, and 2) those in the photo could easily be explained as the leadership who formed the Coalition out of an elaborate con game.
  • Opening Narration: Nearly every episode until Season 6 has Johnny explaining the premise of the show to the audience:
    "I had the perfect life — until I was in a coma for six years. When I woke up...I found my fiancée, married to another man. My son...doesn't know who I am.note  Everything has changed.... (Beat) Including me: One touch...and I can see things. Things that happened. Things that will happen. You should see what I see."
  • Pensieve Flashback: Some of Johnny's visions work in this manner. He can even sometimes rewind or replay the vision in Bullet Time to get a better perspective of the events he's seeing.
  • Pregnant Hostage: Late in Season 5, Sarah is kidnapped during the early stages of pregnancy. This isn't revealed to the audience (or her family) until the midpoint of the episode, though.
  • Put on a Bus: Bruce and Gene Purdy in Season 6 of the show.
    • Dana also leaves some time earlier. The Bus Came Back eventually, but only for one episode.
  • Rated M for Manly: Walt, resulting in in-universe comparisons to John Wayne.
  • 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. A tally is being kept in the trivia section
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff Bannerman
  • Reset Button: Occasionally.
  • Retcon: A few, ranging from Sarah's son being "renamed" (sort of) from "Little Johnny" to "JJ", to the exact events involving the car crash, to the reason for the absence of Johnny's father from his life, to the nature of Janus's organization. Many of these overlap with The Reveal, below — a few are matters of detail and are just shrugged off. Perhaps the weirdest retcon involves locations in Season 6, which look different for the simple reason that the series moved filming to another city.
  • 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.
    • In addition, the pilot also implies that Johnny was in a coma from the moment of the crash. A Season 3 episode has him discovering lost memories of his lingering before ultimately losing consciousness in the hospital.
    • "Babble On" has a memorable one where Johnny discovers that his father didn't die when he thought, but at some point gained the same abilities Johnny did, only stronger... which seemingly drove him insane. This leads to another one in the Season 6 finale, where he discovers that his father's alive, and being held by Stilson as an unwitting adviser.
    • The Season 5 finale reveals that not only dos Janus know about Johnny's visions of Armageddon...he and his crew actually want it to happen, so as to rid the world of the old order and bring in the new.
    • The Retcon concerning Janus's organization can count as this: They may not have been the Illuminati after all — but a band of crooked former soldiers posing as a grand, evil cabal so they can intimidate people into giving them what they want.
  • Rogue Juror: The episode "Unreasonable Doubt", a Whole Plot Reference to 12 Angry Men, right down to the fact that Johnny initially votes not guilty not because of any doubts that his powers had given him about the evidence, but because he knows that the accused is facing a death sentence (in this case, he has a vision of him being shanked in prison) and wants to be sure they've done their job properly.
  • Second Love: Walt for Sarah.
  • 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. Wild Mass Guessing could be that she is Charlie grown up.
    • One episode has a hotel desk clerk reading a book by Richard Bachman.
  • Special Person, Normal Name: Johnny Smith. Leads to a Running Gag where people smile and treat his name like it's a cover name.
  • 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.
    • A loose story arc beginning in Season 2's "The Storm" and continuing on to the premier of Season 4 has Johnny regularly contacted by future counterpart Christopher Wey, who survived Armageddon and is just as desperate to find out how it happened as Johnny is. Ultimately, Johnny breaks contact because of the harm it's been risking to his brain.
    • 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.
  • Title Drop: Every version features the phrase "the dead zone". However, oddly enough each version ascribes the phrase a different meaning. In the TV series, Johnny's powers stem from the fact that his brain was badly enough damaged during the coma that certain mental functions were re-routed through an area which had up until then been dormant — a "dead zone".
  • Took a Level in Badass: The Season 6 finale indicated this has happened with Stilson. Janus may be dead but Stilson seems to be running the organization in his place — and doing a disturbingly good job of it.
  • The Watson: Poor Bruce, who must be spending every spare moment away from his physical therapist job helping Johnny on his various adventures. Sarah also fills this role on occasion throughout the series — most blatantly in Season 6, following Bruce leaving town.
  • We Have Those, Too: On the first episode, someone starts explaining to Johnny what a CD is, only for him to tell them that they had CDs when he went into his coma in 1996.
  • Wham Episode: Most of the season finales, naturally — but also "Babble On", where Johnny investigates what really happened to his father, culminating in a Wham Line as he confronts Rev. Purdy: "WAS MY FATHER LIKE ME?!"
  • 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.
  • Worthy Opponent: Both Stilson and Janus view Johnny as this.
  • 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, with whom Johnny shares a mutual attraction, getting into a fatal car accident so her heart goes 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.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Okay! So Janus is dead, Stilson tells Johnny he's going to change his ways, and Johnny sees Washington D.C. perfectly fine. Happy ending — wait... there's a whole season left?!? More apparent when you watch it on DVD, or otherwise know that Season 6 is the last, and thus there isn't going to be a new big arc to replace Armageddon.


Example of: