Monday, May 28, 2012

#9: Who's Who

Episode 1011:  "Who's Who"

Original Airdate:  November 17, 1991

One-Sentence Synopsis: A troubled and artistic girl from a dysfunctional family gains the ability to make her drawings come to life when she signs her name with an Eerie #2 pencil.

Marshall stops in the World O'Stuff to use the phone after his bike has been stolen.  Three rowdy younger boys are wrecking havoc in the store while their sister quietly sketches and suffers.  She introduces herself and her brothers to Marshall, revealing the odd trait that each member's has the middle name "Bob," including Sara Bob herself.  She decides to draw a picture of Marshall's missing bike and Marshall, trying to lift her spirits, tells her to sign it so she can be like a true artist.  Before she gets a chance, one of her brothers steals her pencil, so Marshall buys her that last pencil in the store, an Eerie #2.

Sara Bob signs her drawing, and Marshall leaves to go get picked up by his mother.  Outside the store, Marshall's bike has reappeared, although it has a flag attached to it, just like in Sara Bob's drawing.  Marshall's mother scolds him for not keeping a better eye on his bicycle and tells him to go home to complete his chores.  Sara Bob admires her from afar.

When Marshall returns home, his father yells at him for not painting the garage like he had promised and before Marshall can get to work, a police officer shows up with Marshall's stolen bike.  So now, Marshall has two identical bikes, except one has a flag.  Sensing strangeness, Marshall and Simon head over to Sara Bob's house for answers.  He finds her place in a state of chaos, with her alcoholic father ignoring the ruckus and her brothers demanding her services.  She states that it's been this way ever since her mom left as she takes them to her room.  There, they see many of her drawings, each representing a different wish.  Simon also notices an incomplete picture of a familiar looking woman, but Sara Bob distracts him, asking the boys about their wishes.  Suddenly, Sara Bob's youngest brother demands clean clothes and in a fit of rage, she draws him running around naked, signs it, and his clothes disappear.

Realizing that it's the signature that makes the drawings true, Marshall warns her not to draw or sign any more pictures until he returns from painting his garage.  Back home, however, Marshall discovers that garage already painted with a mural of Simon and him riding motorcycles.  Marshall's father is impressed, but still upset that it wasn't what he wanted and also mentions that Marilyn has suddenly gone missing.  Marshall rushes back to Sara Bob's house and finds it to be completely different.  Her family is now nice and polite, the house is clean, and Sara Bob's original family has been placed in the goldfish bowl!

Marshall instructs Sara Bob to change things back and just face her family head on, rather than ignore them.  The drawings are destroyed and Sara Bob's real family returns, just as rude and inconsiderate as ever.  She hides in her room with her new mom, Marilyn.  Marshall tells her to return his mother to him and she reluctantly erases that drawing as well.  Sara Bob decides she has no choice but to leave Eerie for good, so she draws herself in Paris with her own mother, signs it, and disappears.

Evidence Locker Item:  Not shown, but at the end, Marshall is left with Sara Bob's Paris drawing, her sketch pad, the Eerie #2 pencil, his new bike (which Simon seems to have claimed as his own), and one last sketch that Sara Bob made featuring a Nanny Schwarzenegger sent to straighten up her family.  He destroys the garage mural drawing, though.

"What do you think of my drawing?"  "Um, well, I'm not quite sure.  Is it upside-down?  Abstract?  Autobiographical?"

This episode gives me a weird vibe and I'm not quite sure how to explain it.  I definitely like the story and plenty of the elements.  It's "Be careful what you wish for" with a twist, in that Sara Bob is perfectly fine with her wishes, she's just torturing other people in the process.  That's an interesting take on the familiar plot, especially since we are putting unlimited power in the hands for a kid who has been so oppressed by her own family.

Sara Bob's home life is sad, but in a cartoonish way.  Like Simon's family dynamics in "The ATM," there are some subtle moments hinting at the truth, specifically that Sara Bob's mother has abandoned her family.  But then the rest of her family is so over-the-top in their horribleness that it's funny, until you realize how painful it all is.  It's like she's living in a comic strip and has to take their absurd behavior and abuse.  Because this episode walks the line of comedic and tragic so awkwardly, it's hard to fully appreciate it.

At the end, we are given a weird set of morals.  First, Marshall tells her to stand up for herself, and that fails miserably.  Then we find that she has stolen his mother and still living a fantasy, so Marshall again tells her to stop her behavior.  Finally, she chooses to escape to Paris rather than face her reality.  What's the lesson here?  What if a kid in Sara Bob's situation were watching this episode?  All they would have learned is that life sucks and they should escape by any means possible.  Yes, I get that they were trying to give Sara Bob a happy ending, but the lines of what is right and wrong are indistinguishable.

Maybe that's the point.  This episode shows that the world is not in black and white and there is no fix-all solution.  It's just a piece of escapism, like a fairy tale, allowing the protagonist to prevail.  Sara Bob is Cinderella and at the end she gets her new life.  That's good enough for me.

Random Observations:
- Why is this episode called "Who's Who"?  Is it because all the family is named "Bob"?  Maybe it's because Sara Bob is discovering herself as an artist, gaining independence.  After eight straightforward episode titles, this one has to get all deep on us.

- I really like the running theme of visual art in the Teller household.  Syndi suddenly becomes an artist for one episode and hates that Marshall's mural turned out so much better than her wannabe attempts at cubism.  Edgar's internal dilemma about not wanting to stifle his son's creativity is a great moment, as you can understand the need to both keep and get rid of the mural.

- Harry Goaz has a brilliant role as Sgt. Knight, the stiff and menacing cop who comes to return Marshall's bike.  He is best known for his role as the police officer Andy from Twin Peaks, another great show that dealt with a small town with strange occurrences.  But while Andy was very childlike and emotional, Sgt. Knight is no-nonsense and emotionless.  Yet he kills with the line "Are you Marshall, with two 'L's as in 'L-lama'?"

- Sara Bob's youngest brother, Bob Bob, is also pretty great.  He seems like a miniscule abusive alcoholic just like his old man.  It's terrible and hilarious at the same time.

- There is some confusion about the location of the Eerie pencil at the end of the episode.  It seems as if Sara Bob transported herself to Paris, leaving everything else behind.  Yet, she later sends them a sketch of the nanny-man that clearly has been brought to life.  Did she take the pencil with her as she disappeared?  Or does she now have the wish-granting power within herself, now that she officially declared herself to be an artist?  If so, that means Marshall and Simon still have the magic pencil, which would come in handy.  But maybe it only works with a true artist.

Conspiracy Theories:
- Sgt. Knight has an exhaustive knowledge about Marshall and his bike, including the fact that Marshall has a mole on his upper left arm.  He also states that the Eerie Police's motto is to "protect and control." If that isn't a sign that Eerie's weirdness is part of a vast conspiracy that is monitored and maintained by the government, I don't know what is.

- Simon has two odd exclamations of surprise.  One is "Holy Tornado!" and the other is "Holy Corn!"  Both of these make complete sense for an Eerie resident and will be explored in further episodes, but the "Holy Corn!" in particular, combined with the Everything Corn store next to the World O'Stuff and the "GROW CORN FOREVER" graffiti from back in "The Losers" point to the omnipresence of the vegetable in the town.  It may just be a joke about Indiana being Farm Country, but for Eerie, these are not mere jokes.  Corn is life here.

Grade:  A funny episode that raises some philosophical quandaries, but the weird blend of comedy and tragedy leaves a discomforting aftertaste.  B+

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