Saturday, May 26, 2012

#7: Heart on a Chain

Episode 1007: "Heart on a Chain"

Original Airdate:  November 3, 1991

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall and his friend Devon compete for the affections of the new girl Melanie, but after Devon dies, she receives his heart in a transplant and begins acting like him.

Summary:
Marshall has recently begun hanging out with a cool kid in his class named Devon.  Devon enjoys living on the edge and often engages in dangerous activities, like skateboarding in the middle of the street without a helmet!  Suddenly, a new girl named Melanie is introduced into their class.  Melanie has a heart condition that prevents her from strenuous activities and has come to Eerie to live a normal, peaceful life while she waits for a heart donor.  She is also super cute and both Marshall and Devon fall for her.

Marshall, Devon, and Melanie begin hanging out all the time, with the boys obviously trying to impress her.  The boys each get Melanie a gift.  Marshall's is a tasteless prank heart that shoots snakes everywhere while Devon's is a more thoughtful heart-shaped locket on a chain with the note "My heart belongs to you."  Leaving Melanie's house, Devon skateboards in the street again and gets struck by a milk truck.

Melanie is suddenly rushed to the hospital to receive her new heart, Devon's.  After the surgery, Marshall notices that Melanie has begun acting more lively and dangerous, much like Devon had.  Nonetheless, she and Marshall start dating, now that Devon's out of the picture.  Unfortunately, every time they try to kiss, Melanie gets a mild heart attack.

Marshall surmises that Devon is controlling Melanie's actions from beyond the grave via is heart, and is jealous of her new relationship.  Marshall discovers that Melanie decked out her bedroom in photos of Devon, revealing that she still thinks about him constantly.  Marshall tells her that she has to let go of Devon and move on, or else he'll control her for the rest of her life.

Melanie then visits Devon's grave and tells him goodbye for good, returning his heart locket.  She feels a weight lifted and decides that she needs a break from boys entirely.  She kisses Marshall goodbye, without suffering a heart attack, and that was the last time he ever saw her.

Evidence Locker Item:  Most likely the heart locket since Melanie gives it to Marshall just before she leaves.

References:
Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse. - Devon's motto originated in the 1949 Humphrey Bogart film noir Knock on Any Door.  This would go on to represent the rebellious youth of the 1950s (keeping with Eerie's time capusle theme) and is often associated with actor James Dean who died young in 1955 at 24.

Annabel Lee - Marshall's teacher is named Annabelle Lee and she keeps a photograph of Edgar Allen Poe on her desk.  "Annabel Lee" is Poe's last poem, which tells the tale of a man who continues to love  a beautiful girl even after her death.  Thematically, this fits right with today's story.  Ms. Lee seems to have a fascination with mortality and love as well.  Her demeanor and appearance gives one the idea that she is of the undead herself.

The Fly - An 1958 horror film, later remade in 1986 and based on a short story, The Fly concerns a scientist who switches bodies with a fly.  In a spider web near Melanie's house, a tiny voice can be heard shouting "Help me!" just like in the original movie, when the man/fly gets caught.

Review:
"Love is stronger than Death."

Once again, the series has produced another incredible episode that you wouldn't expect to see on a children's television show.  The quote I included is written on the classroom board at the beginning of the episode for a Romeo and Juliet assignment, and it is explored thoroughly and with great care.  I want to emphasize that "Death" is capitalized, which is important when discussing the final scene.

Simon sits out for a majority of the episode because, like in "The ATM," Marshall is dealing with relationships that Simon is not old enough to understand.  For Marshall, Eerie is weird enough.  Throwing puberty into the mix is just going to make things ten times stranger.  He notes that it shouldn't phase him that his first experience with love accompanies his first experience with death, but really, this should scar him more than any other Eerie story thus far.

One thing I particularly enjoy about this episode is that it kind of strays away from the usual weirdness and everything that happens could be explained normally (save for the final scene).  Since we are used to seeing Eerie through Marshall's eyes, we are quick to believe that Devon's heart is controlling Melanie but his control could also be seen in a metaphorical way.  Perhaps Melanie misses Devon so much that she is subconsciously acting like him and giving herself psychosomatic chest pains when she gets to close to Marshall.  The episode leaves it kind of ambiguous, since love and death are weird enough as it is.

Then we get to the final scene which contains a subtle detail that turns the episode from sad to devastating.  After Melanie says goodbye, Marshall says he never saw her again and the camera pans to Devon's angel grave, which sheds a tear, suggesting that Devon will also never see her again.   But, if you look closely, you can see the Grim Reaper himself walking towards Melanie just offscreen.  Marshall and Simon walk right by Death, not even seeing him.  This is the last thing we see before Devon's angel cries.  Clearly, Melanie dies when the tear falls, suggesting that Devon was the one who really couldn't let go, so he killed her in order to be with her forever.  Marshall lost two good friends in a week!

For a kids show, this is heavy stuff, so it's clear why they don't dwell on Death and keep him out of focus in the background.  But the fact that it was included at all shows that they were treating this story with dignity.  Joe Dante, the comedy-horror director famous for movies like Gremlins, was a creative consultant of Eerie, Indiana and he directed a few episodes, including this one.  His knack for dark themes hidden in a idealistic world shines through here, making this one of the best episodes.

Random Observations:
- Several students in Marshall's class are still wearing the zombie glasses from "Just Say No Fun," but if you look at the production code, this episode came before "No Fun."  So, either it was meant to be foreshadowing, or it was just another case of lingering after effects since Marshall never really stops all of the weirdness he encounters.

- Simon gets neglected again, but he does deliver a callback to a conversation the older boys had in "The ATM" when he meets Melanie and asks if she's a girl or a lady.  The smile on his face at the end when Marshall asks him if he wants to go look for UFOs is a great closing moment for the two friends.

- At the World O'Stuff, Marshall meets with the man who looks like Elvis from his paper route ("Thank you li'l paper boy") and he gets some great advice on love: buy her a Cadillac.

- Marshall's family is on their A-game in this episode, becoming overly embarrassing when they learn Marshall has a crush.  The best part is when they all crash his date in the attic and Marilyn leans in to say, "We like her," clearly within earshot of Melanie.

- One of Marshall's weird trinkets is a radio from the 1930s that only plays music from the 1930s.

Conspiracy Theories:
- On Halloween, Marshal and Simon were planning on running into vampires.  Ms. Lee, has an unusual fixation on Melanie's faulty heart, and she even has a poster of a heart in her classroom.  Perhaps....no, that's silly.  Vampires don't wear polka dots.

- A milkman nearly runs down Devon early in the episode, and then succeeds in killing him later on.  Not only do I think this was the same milkman from before, but I think this milkman was course-correcting the path of history to make sure Devon was killed.  This idea won't seem so farfetched a few episodes from now.

Grade:  A surprisingly mature episode that handles the heartbreaking experiences of love and death with great care.  A

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