Friday, June 1, 2012

#11: Marshall's Theory of Believability

Episode 1012:  "Marshall's Theory of Believability"

Original Airdate:  February 2, 1992

One-Sentence Synopsis:  A professor of the paranormal visits Eerie with his museum of oddities, but he destroys Marshall's faith in weirdness when it is discovered that the recent UFO he found was a hoax.

Summary:
A traveling museum of the supernatural has stopped in front of the World O'Stuff and it has drawn quite the crowd, with Marshall and Simon being the first in line.  The owner of the caravan is a man named Professor Nigel Zircon, who studies in the "parabelievable."  Marshall believes he finally has found a legitimate source who will be willing to believe his Eerie theory and begins idolizing the man.  The rest of the town, including Mayor Chisel and Edgar Teller are more skeptical of the odd exhibits showcased in the museum.  Zircon claims that he has come to Eerie because he believes an extraterrestrial space-craft is due to land there soon, which has Marshall very excited.

Since the pictures of UFOs always come out blurry, Marshall and Simon decide to show Zircon the most credible piece of evidence they have from their locker: a plaster cast of a Bigfoot footprint.  They meet with Zircon, and explain how all sorts of weird things happen in Eerie, but when they pull out the footprint, they find that it has broken during the transport from Marshall's house.  Zircon keeps their spirits up, but their meeting is cut short when Mayor Chisel arrives to force Zircon out of town, saying that he is illegally parking in front of the World O'Stuff.  Zircon insists that he must remain for the arrival of the spacecraft and Marshall suggests he park the museum at his house.

Zircon spends the night at the Teller residence, causing great tension with Edgar, who believes that Zircon is just a con artist filling his son's head with lies.  Meanwhile Zircon's assistant prepares the fake crash site of the UFO (because Zircon is a con artist), but he gets interrupted by the sudden arrival of Bigfoot.  He sends up a flare and Marshall and Simon spot a bright light crashing in the sky from their backyard.  They grab Zircon and their parents to go investigate the crash, but while Zircon instinctively heads to the fake crash site, Marshall heads to the crash he saw.  There, they find a spacecraft and it looks nothing like the fake one Zircon's assistant had made.

Pretty soon, the town is in a frenzy, believing UFOs to be real.  Zircon takes ownership of the craft, assuming it is the fake one and the mayor attempts to claim it for himself since it landed in his town.  Marshall's father insists that Zircon is still a fraud and Marshall sneaks into the museum looking for something to prove his father wrong.  Instead, he finds fake IDs and building materials for the fake UFOs, shattering his faith in Zircon.

After much negotiation, the mayor offers to buy the craft for $1 million, but before Zircon can take the money, Marshall reveals the plans for the con and Zircon is run out of town.  Marshall and Simon discuss whether or not to keep the fake spacecraft in their evidence locker, when Zircon and his assistant reappear to apologize to the boys.  His assistant reveals that the spacecraft they found wasn't the one he planted.  Suddenly, the craft lights up and floats back into space, reaffirming Marshall's beliefs.

Evidence Locker Item:  Simon snaps a photo that is just as blurry as all of the others in the locker, but this time they know for sure that it's real.  (They also had a Bigfoot print found in Mr. and Mrs. Walter Funk's backyard on March 8th, 1991, but it broke.)

Review:
"I don't believe it!"

When you're a kid, you believe a lot of things that eventually turn out to not be true.  What drew me to this show was because, even though I knew it was fictional, I also believed in the supernatural.  UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts were all within the realm of possibility for me.  So, having an episode focused on faith is a natural fit for this show.  Bigfoot and Elvis appearances aside, this episode had only one element of the supernatural and that was saved for the very end when the spacecraft floats away.  Up until then, both Marshall and the viewer's faith was tested.

As a kid, I didn't really understand this episode.  I didn't understand why Zircon would be faking all of this weird stuff.  He was an adult, he would know the truth.  I, like Marshall, was very disappointed and confused.  Watching it now, I can tell from the start that he is just a swindler.  The character speaks believably and intelligently and doesn't act like a cliched con artist, but that's all a part of his ruse.  He has done this trick for so long that he can authentically convey belief in the supernatural.  Seeing Marshall get suckered in by it is sad, if only because it makes us realize how we've only seen Eerie through his eyes.

Since Marshall is our narrator for every episode, we take him at his word, and we think that Eerie is obviously weird.  But now we start to see things from his parents' perspective, and scientist Edgar is truly concerned about Marshall's hobbies.  While we see Marshall as the only observant citizen, Edgar sees a troubled mind.  The balance of normal vs. weird is thrown off by this episode, and that makes it an excellent story.

We start to believe that maybe nothing we have seen so far is actually true.  Maybe Marshall's imagination has just got the better of him.  If you look at Marshall's evidence locker, you'll notice that none of the items yield any actual proof of his journeys.  A bag of glasses?  A Tupperware container with an old sandwich?  A mangled retainer?  To the outside observer, it's just a bunch of junk.

This may not be the funniest or weirdest episode of Eerie, Indiana, but it is one of the most important.  He reminds us to value logic and not get distracted by the unbelievable.  The truth is out there.

Random Observations:
- Bigfoot has a cute little bow.  Why do get the feeling some old lady put that bow on its head, mistaking it for a puppy?

- Edgar Teller's credentials are impressive: intern at Smithsonian Institute, undergrad at Syracuse in archeology, NASA Scholarship to MIT, and his thesis, "Matter: What Is It Exactly?"

- Mayor Chisel's council includes Sgt. Knight, Mr. Radford as a redneck deputy sheriff, Elvis, a group of Japanese businessmen (part of the Eerie-Yoshizaki Consortium), and an elderly milkman (Marshall?)

- I want a "I Have Been to Eerie and Seen the Space Thing" t-shirt.

- After learning Santa Claus wasn't real, Marshall stayed up to wait for him and his camera broke before he could get a picture.  How long ago was this?  Does Marshall still believe in Santa?  Is he real in this universe?  Man, I wish Eerie had a Christmas episode.

Conspiracy Theories:
- Why did the spacecraft arrive the exact same night the fake one was launched?  And why did it leave so quickly?  Were there living creatures inside of it?  It spent 24 hours in Eerie.  Maybe it was preparing for an invasion.  Or maybe, it was dropping off a certain gray-haired visitor...

Grade:  A solid episode that's light on weirdness and humor, but heavy on philosophy.  B+

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