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Buried alive by Science Channel’s ‘Houdini’s Last Secrets’ finale

A fitting end, or below grade?

Houdini’s Last Secrets on Science Channel has followed a very simple formula. Take a famous trick from Harry Houdini, try to figure out if the famed magician really did the illusion, try to replicate it as closely as possible and see if magician Lee Terbosic is able to complete it.

For the most part, this blueprint has worked. Even though the previous episode about the Siberian Transport Cell Escape was flawed, it still typified everything that Houdini the skeptic stood for. Unfortunately, the show’s finale goes in a different direction that completely undermines everything it’s been about.

Episode 4: Buried Alive

Stunt designer Steve Wolf has been the star of Last Secrets, the mind behind all the tricks that have been recreated for the show. He’s been very meticulous and covers all his bases. Wolf goes through each option and explains why it will or will not work and proceeds to build the perfect contraption to reproduce an escape. It’s been truly impressive watching him work.

The fourth and final episode of Last Secrets starts no different, with Wolf literally drawing out how he thinks Houdini may have successfully escaped after being buried alive. Wolf is especially on his game and it’s exciting to see what ideas he comes up with for Lee. Then out of nowhere, Wolf drops a bombshell. It’s too dangerous to use a material that it appears Houdini did, and the team is going to use the closest modern equivalent for safety reasons.

Wolf is absolutely right to do so. The thinking behind their decision is sound and much safer. But it also defeats the purpose of the show. One of Last Secrets‘ selling points is the team’s attempt to recreate one of Houdini’s tricks as they feel the escape artist himself would have done it. We already know the stunts can be done via modern technology. It’s as if the team is admitting defeat.

Even worse, it’s done very early in the show. The rest of the episode almost becomes moot at this point. Yes, Wolf and his team do another amazing job. Everything works exactly as intended and the illusion goes off without a flaw. It’s certainly skillful, but it also lacks any of the tension or intrigue of previous episodes.

This forces the finale to focus on the legend of Harry Houdini himself. Previous episodes have touched on his life, with the bulk of the show being about the trial and error behind building his illusions. It’s as if the writers behind Last Secrets knew a major change to the trick would affect the audience’s interest.

A show dealing with Houdini’s skepticism is an interesting idea. Regrettably, the execution is very poor. The episode becomes lots of conjecture and conspiracy theories about Houdini — which is exactly the opposite of what he would have wanted.

So is it good?

The finale of Houdini’s Last Secrets changes up its successful formula and takes all the enjoyment out of the show. The recreation of the stunt is ruined almost immediately by making a major change to the buried alive trick. The show could have been saved with a look at the skepticism of Harry Houdini, and his investigations into the spiritualism movement. Instead, it goes in a direction that is melodramatic and silly. Houdini enjoyed having a shroud of mystery around his life, but this episode is not the way to do it.


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