Saturday, May 19, 2012

#2: The Retainer

Episode 1002: "The Retainer"

Original Airdate:  September 22, 1991

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall's friend's new retainer has the ability to transmit the thoughts of dogs (who are planning on rising up against their human oppressors).

Marshall's parents notice that Marshall is unusually afraid of going to the orthodontist to get fitted for a new retainer.  When they ask him what's wrong, his responds that it's the dogs that frighten him, a natural conclusion that they should have been able to figure out.

Flashback to a week ago.  Marshall and Simon's new friend Steve had just visited the orthodontist.  Steve is a big kid with even bigger teeth, so the dentist/mad scientist had to invent a completely new type of retainer just to handle his chompers.  The unsightly headgear made Steve very unpopular, for he was always getting food stuck in his braces.  So he could only hang out with the other outcasts, Marshall and Simon.  Oh, and the retainer could also pick up on the thoughts of dogs, causing Steve to hear voices everywhere he goes.

Once Marshall and Simon figure out that the voices Steve is hearing is connected to the stray dogs around town, Steve reports that the "friendly" husky they had been playing with was actually making sinister threats about eating them.  In order to witness this phenomenon first hand, Marshall attaches an electronic recorder to the retainer via a wire so that he too can hear the dog voices.  They end up at the dog pound but can only hear faint whispers and decide to head home.

That night, the stray husky from earlier murders(!) the sadistic canine-hating dog catcher and, by way of the Twilight Bark, Steve overhears the neighborhood dogs getting into a frenzy now that their main opposition has been erased.  The boys head back to the pound where they are confronted by Fifi the Poodle, the ringleader of the dogs' operation.  She instructs the boys to free all of the prisoners kept in the cages and the boys comply.  Then, she demands that Steve hand over the retainer so that the humans can no longer listen in on their secrets.  Unfortunately, Steve is unable to remove the retainer and so the dogs chase him out of town and he is never seen again.

We come back to the present as Marshall receives his nice, normal retainer.  As he returns home, the husky (named Fluffy) greets him.  Marshall assures the dog that his new retainer cannot hear any voices and Fluffy presents him with Steve's mangled retainer.  While the boys remain optimistic that Steve will return someday, it's clear that Steve is dead.  Accept it!

Evidence Locker Item:  Steve's retainer. (Once again, the tag number is difficult to read.)

Hearing Voices via Dental Work - The main premise of this episode it based on true accounts of people being able to hear radio transmissions via their teeth or metal objects in their head.  This happens because the radio waves operate at certain frequencies that will be picked up by anything set to that frequency.  Radio receivers are the only things actually designed to to this, but many forms of metal, such as wires, pipes, radiators, and faucets, have been documented as receiving these sounds.  When it comes to metal dental work, the owner will only hear the voices themselves since the vibrations seem louder within ones own skull.  This has been around since radios were invented, but the occurrences have been less frequent as newer technologies are made to avoid this problem.

The Bermuda Triangle - The triangle formed by the tip of Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico is the source of many unexplained disappearances by aircrafts, ships, and other vessels.  Many people attribute paranormal or extraterrestrial forces to the mysteries.  Marshall notes that Eerie's city boundaries form the exact same shape as the Bermuda Triangle, implying a supernatural link between the two.

"There's nothing to be afraid of."

For some reason this episode never quite sat well with me, but I'm finding it hard to gather why.  It might be because the connection between the retainer and the dogs is very random. "Foreverware" saw the link between suburban housewives and rubber kitchen containers and the story grew form there.  Here, there seem to be two plots trying to fit into one.

The set up with the dentist is great, for Vincent Schiavelli is exactly the kind of mad doctor one would expect to find in Eerie.  But, despite his erratic behavior, there is no hint that he is aware of the power of the retainer he invented.  The retainer could have been able to pick up anything.  It could have received messages from outer space or the thoughts of other people.  But instead, the dart landed on "dogs" so we had to get this goofy dog story.  The dentist stuff, while good, now just feels like filler, and even though we know the premise, it takes the characters forever to figure out the connection.  Adding in the whole flashback approach makes this episode feel very stretched out indeed.

The dogs, in particular, feel very cartoony and one-dimensional.  Of course the poodle has a thick French accent, how else would she sound?  They are a little bit too smart to be believable as regular dogs.  There is one moment that I felt should have been expanded upon.  After the dogs are freed from the cages, Marshall asks what they are going to do now, and the dogs reply that they don't know.  Then Fifi steps in and reveals the next part of the plan, but I kind of wish there was no "next part of the plan."  If the dogs behaved like dogs and had no long term plans, that would have been funny.  We would have spent a whole episode hearing evil thoughts and then we find out that they had no end goal and that they were just thinking what any dog locked up in a pound would be thinking.

Having the dogs be full out evil clashes with the concept of the show.  Eerie is supposed to be a special location, different from anywhere else.  If the only "weird" thing was that a retainer could hear dogs thoughts, that would have been fine.  Adding that dogs are trying to take over the world takes it a step too far.  The episode implies that all dogs everywhere are in cahoots.  As one dog puts it, "First, Eerie.  Then, Indianapolis!" If dogs everywhere are evil, then Eerie is no longer unique.  It just happens to be the place where this plot was revealed.

And, even though Marshall now knows all dogs are evil and bent on killing all humans, he isn't really doing anything to try and stop it.  But that's okay, because I've seen the rest of the episodes and the dog thing never comes into play again.

All that being said, I do commend the show for actually murdering two characters, one being a kid.  That's dark for a children's show and it just gets glossed over.  So maybe that's why I didn't like this episode as a child.  Now I had a reason to fear the dentist AND dogs.

Random Observations:
- Eerie and the Bermuda Triangle are the same shape.  Simon: "That explains everything!"

- I enjoy the makeshift Steve-antennae created by wearing a tin foil hat and waving his arms around for better reception.

- Simon picks up the bloody chewed-up leg bone of Mr. Dithers, the dog-catcher.  That'll give me nightmares.

- The only thing standing between dogs and complete control of the world is "the Mystery of the Doorknob."

Conspiracy Theories:
- Bigfoot has been going through Marshall's trash. Is he scavenging for food, or is he looking for something important?

- Simon notes that he found every book in the library that Marshall wanted except for The Sorcerer's Bible which was already checked out. At first, I thought this was a real book, but no such title exists. What could Marshall want with such a book and who in Eerie has checked it out already? Perhaps this is some book of witchcraft that may explain the weird happenings in the town.

Grade: A good premise is stretched too thin, and it's only redeemed by its genuinely dark themes.  C

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