Tuesday, May 5, 2015

OtGW review: The Old Grist Mill

[WARNING! This post contains spoilers for Over the Garden Wall! If you have not seen the series, SEE IT! Then you can come back and read this]

"Our long bygone burdens mere echoes of the springs. But where have we come and where shall we end? If dreams can't come true, then why not pretend?"
The episode opens with a frog playing the piano. As a voice sings Into the Unknown, several cryptic scenes are shown. A girl sitting in the woods with her dog. When a bird flies out of the bushes, she looks up, slightly aggravated. A black cat riding through a corn field in a pumpkin filled cart drawn by giant turkeys. A circus filled with people watching the performers. A couple wooden toys. A man looking up at a painting of a beautiful woman. A shadow rushes past him, and he turns, startled. A woman snipping off a loose thread from a quilt using bird shaped scissors. Two boys setting a wind up riverboat down a small stream. A young woman standing in front of a magnificent display of human bones. A fish fishing. A pair of small hands picking up a rock with a silly face painted on. A girl looking into the woods as an old man chops wood behind her.

"Somewhere lost in the clouded annals of history lies a place few have seen. A mysterious place called the Unknown."

"Uh, Greg? Where are we?"
"In the woods?"
"I mean, what are we doing out here?"
"We're walking home."
Wirt and Greg walk through the woods. All the while, Greg voices off all the names he thinks would be bad for his frog. Before he can finish, Wirt suddenly takes notice of the fact that they are in the woods. Greg seems pretty nonchalant about it, whereas Wirt panics, wondering why they are out there in the first place, and saying that they must be lost. Greg tries to reassure Wirt by suggesting that he leave a trail using candy in his pants. Wirt says no, and begins to go into a dramatic speech, when the two of them hear the sound of wood being chopped. Despite Wirt's hesitant worries, Greg goes to investigate, much to the aggravation of the former.

"We should ask him for help."
"No, we should not ask him for help."
Turns out, a woodsman is in the woods. The boys watch as he gathers up the wood he's chopped, and Greg suggests asking him for help. Wirt is against that idea, and the two get into a petty shushing battle until they notice that the woodsman has left. A female voice then offers her help.

"A bird's brain isn't big enough for cognizant speech…!"
"Hey, what was that?"
"I mean- I'm just saying you're-you're weird, like, not normal. I-I mean- Oh, my gosh, stop talking to it, Wirt…"
"'It'!?"
Much to Wirt's shock, the voice is coming from a bluebird. The bluebird is offended at Wirt's shock, and Greg continues to set out his candy trail. Suddenly, the woodsman appears nearby, demanding to know what Wirt and Greg are doing in the woods. The bluebird doesn't hesitate to leave the vicinity. The Woodsman says that the woods are no good place for the boys to be in, declaring that 'the Beast is afoot here'. Wirt (in a bit of a panic) tells the Woodsman that they don't know anything about a beast and that they just want to go back home. Hearing that they are lost, the Woodsman grimly welcomes them to the Unknown. "You're more lost than you realize."

"Everyone has a torch to burn, and this here's mine."
The Woodsman brings Wirt and Greg to a small house and mill, where he says he found the house abandoned and repurposed its mill for his own needs. He assures Wirt that he and Greg should be safe in the house while the Woodsman does his work. Greg continues to lay out his candy trail and Wirt hesitantly asks what the Woodsman's work is. Apparently, the Woodsman goes out and chops down Edelwood trees, which he grinds into oil. He uses to oil to keep his lantern lit.

"…the Beast haunts these woods, ever singing his mournful melody, in search of lost souls such as yourselves…!"
"To help us?"
"No. Not to help you."
Wirt tells Greg that he has concluded that the Woodsman is a nut job. He weighs the pros and cons of running away, even considering knocking the Woodsman out. Greg listens to Wirt readily, and just as readily tells the Woodsman what they're talking about when asked. The Woodsman says that the boys are free to leave at any time if they so wish. At the same time, he warns them that 'the Beast' haunts the woods, searching for lost souls. The Woodsman promises to try and help the boys after he is finished with his work (that is if the boys are still around when he comes back), before entering the mill.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm just like… a boat upon a winding river. Twisting towards an endless black sea. Further and further, drifting away from where I want to be, who I want to be…"
"Oh, I didn't know that. Did you know that if you soak a raisin in grape juice it turns into a grape? It's a rock fact!"
"You're not helping at all."
Wirt realizes that they could leave if they wanted to, and tries to decide between staying and leaving. As Gregory walks around, playing with various objects around the house and responding to Wirt's talk with the occasional 'yeah!' and 'uh-huh', Wirt considers staying in the house. Since there was a talking bird, he logically deduces that there might be 'a beast'. Wirt then slips into anther dramatic monologue, which is broken by Gregory, who happily delivers a 'rock fact'. (Apparent 'facts' that come from a rock with a silly face painted on, which Greg carries around in his pouch). Wirt irritatedly states that Greg isn't helping, and tells him to go play with his frog. Greg then realizes that his frog has gone missing, and exits the house to look for him. Greg promises Wirt that he will be back soon to hear his plan.

"You have beautiful eyes…!"
Greg searches around the house for his frog (which he has currently named Kitty). Peering into the mill house, he spies the Woodsman grinding Edelwood branches in a machine and collecting the oil that comes out. Greg dismisses this as gross and accidentally falling into the barrel when going to search for his frog again. Turns out, the frog is in the barrel, and Greg is happy to see it. Greg then hears the sound of growling, and worriedly calls out, wondering if it's Wirt or maybe even his frog that making the sound. Then, an enormous wolf with glowing eyes sticks it's head in the barrel, frightening Greg (who compliments its eyes). Wirt is still inside the house when he hears the roars of the wolf. He worriedly wonders what's happening.

"Greg, why did you do that?!"
"That was your plan, remember? Knock him out!"
"No! Bad plan! I told you to forget that plan!"
The Woodsman comes back into the house, demanding to know what happened and where Wirt's brother is. Wirt replies with a shrug. Then, Greg comes stumbling into the house, a little woozy and shocked, but otherwise perfectly fine. The enormous wolf comes bursting in after him. Wirt immediately assumes that the wolf is 'the Beast', and the Woodsman warns the boys to stay back. Before he can defend himself and them, however, Greg knocks his hat off. This leads to the Woodsman tripping, falling, and hitting his head. When Wirt demands to know why he did that, Gregory proudly declares that he was following Wirt's plan. As Wirt admonishes Greg for following the 'bad plan', the wolf approaches him threateningly. Fortunately, Greg distracts the wolf by hitting its rear with the handle of the Woodsman's axe.

"He's eating your candy."
"I wonder if he ate my whole candy trail that lead to this mill."
"Ah! Greg, you lead the Beast right to us with your candy!"
Wirt and Greg run out of the house and try to hide out in the mill, but the wolf is already after them. Wirt throws a bag of potatoes at the wolf and Greg throws some more of his candy. To Wirt's surprise, the wolf gobbles up the candy, and Greg wonders if it ate his entire candy trail. Wirt admonishes Greg for leading 'the beast' to them with his candy, before the two of them are forced to run again.

"Oops."
Wirt and Greg run up onto the roof of the mill, but the wolf manages to follow them there as well. Wirt tells Greg to give the wolf the rest of his candy. Unfortunately, Greg has run out of candy. Fortunately, he's able to use a piece of candy that he stuck to Wirt's cloak early on, and tosses it off the roof. The wolf leaps down after the candy, and gets caught in the mill wheel.

"Wirt, he spit up that turtle and now he's my new best friend!"
The entire mill begins to collapse, and Wirt and Greg are forced to jump into the river. The wolf is forced by the pressure of the mill wheel to throw up a black turtle, the same black turtle that Greg had stuck a piece of candy on earlier in the episode. Wirt climbs out of the river, Greg and Greg's frog coming out after him, riding on the back of a dog. Apparently, having spit up the turtle, the wolf was now reverted down to its true form: a farm dog.

"The dog!? That is not the Beast! The Beast cannot be mollified like some farmer's pet! He stalks like the night. He sings like the four winds. He is the death of hope! He steals the children."
The Woodsman (now conscious and outside the house), mourns the loss of the mill and more so the loss of all the oil stored in it. Wirt tries to comfort him by pointing out that 'the beast problem' was solved. The Woodsman strongly and angrily declares that the dog was not the Beast at all, stating that the Beast cannot be taken care of so easily. As the Woodsman descends into a depressed mutter, Wirt rebukes Greg for 'messing up', blaming him for the destruction of the mill. Immediately, the Woodsman admonishes Wirt, saying that as the eldest, Wirt should take responsibility for both his and Greg's actions. Wirt stammers an apology, halfheartedly suggesting that he fix the mill (at the same time acknowledging that he probably can't).

"Beware the Unknown! Fear the Beast! And leave these woods! If you can."
"Right, yeah, got it."
"And you, little one, you look after that frog. Give him a proper name."
"Ok!"
The Woodsman rejects Wirt's offer, instead pointing them north and telling them to search for a town. Additionally, he warns them of the Beast, the woods, and the Unknown in general. And after the Woodsman tells Greg to looks after his frog and give him a proper name, the boys leave. Scene change, and the two brothers continue to walk on through the woods. Greg happily declares that he'll call his frog 'Wirt', which Wirt says will be rather confusing. The two of them exchange names as they continue walking on, and a bird watches them from above

(Sort of) REVIEW TIME!

In medias res. It's a Greek phrase meaning 'in the middle of things', often referring to the beginning of a story which begins 'in the middle of things'. The story starts without any explanation of what's going on, things usually being explained later on in the story in the form of the main character speaking of their adventures. Epics such as the Odyssey or the Aneiad are the best examples of this.
This is how this episode starts, in medias res. And I love that, I love that you know as much as the boys do. The episode starts with them walking in the woods, without any explanation, and even Wirt doesn't seem to know why they are in the woods. It is a really good plot device if you know how to use it right, and this episode does it right.
This episode sets off the mood very nicely. The entire episode takes place at night, giving one a sense of apprehension, a fear of what might be hiding in the dark. And of course the sense of childlike helplessness, the fear of being lost in the woods, is a primary tone in this episode. In the end, when Wirt and Greg walk through the woods under the bright light of the moon, there is a lighter tone, more calming and secure. [EDIT] Something that I didn't notice until later, but this episode is a sort of 'imitation' of Hansel and Gretel. Two children, siblings, lost in the woods. A trail of food. Candy is involved. This is most likely intentional, and there might be deeper meaning, but I'm on a time crunch right now… [END EDIT]
I loved the music in this one, especially the opening song Into the Unknown. I had it stuck in my head for the longest time. Into the Unknown is probably my second favorite song, after the song Over the Garden Wall, which will be showing up in a later episode.
This episode introduces all the main characters and their basic personalities. Greg is happy-go-lucky and childishly oblivious. Wirt is dramatic, pessimistic, and self-absorbed. The Woodsman is shady, but helpful, if seemingly bonkers, but in a way that draws a sort of sympathy from the viewers; obviously this guy has been through a lot. The bluebird, who we find out in the next episode is named Beatrice, only shows up briefly in this episode and we don't really know much about her because of it. But she's a main character!
The animation is very clean in this episode, though there are a few moments where Wirt seems oddly proportioned…
Speaking of Wirt, I liked how the Woodsman called him out on not being responsible as a big brother. I remember first watching this series and thinking that Wirt was odd as older brothers in the media go. He doesn't seem too concerned about Greg's well being. He hesitates out of worry and fear when Greg runs off, he doesn't go looking for Greg when he hears the wolf crashing around. On the other hand, he does have Greg on his mind while in danger. Sure, he doesn't exactly grab Greg by the hand and run, and he usually only thinks of Greg once he himself is out of danger. He did take the Woodsman's axe away from Greg saying '[he was] too little to have it, anyway'. Still, Wirt is not exactly brother of the year. He's easily annoyed with Greg and obviously doesn't want to have to deal with watching over him… Admit it, older siblings, you've felt this way. All older siblings need the occasional push back into reality: there are times when you have to be a parent and take responsibility for those younger than you. This 'calling out' has some degree of slow effect on Wirt, though it's most prominent in later episodes.
[EDIT] This DOESN'T mean that I think Greg shouldn't get blamed for some of his wrongdoings. This DOESN'T mean that I think older siblings should always take responsibility for the stupid things that their younger siblings do. Believe me, I think that I would be a way more bitter older sibling if that were a common philosophy in my family. However, parents get admonished if their little kid steals candy (even if the parents aren't the ones who stole it) because the parents either didn't teach their kids better, or because they weren't keeping a closer eye on them. My point is, Wirt was not willing to take responsibility for Greg. The Woodsman doesn't exactly admonish Wirt for Greg's mistake, he admonishes Wirt for not taking the responsibility of Greg's mistake, for not acting as an older brother should. [END EDIT]
My only complaint concerning this episode is the occasional weirdly animated scenes (like the one I showed above). It's mainly just characters seeming a little out of proportion. All in all, I give this episode a 9.7/10.
Welp, that's all for now. Stay tuned for my next review concerning the second chapter of Over the Garden Wall: Hard Times at Huskin' Bee.

[Oh, toad-ally check out this fanart of Gregory and his frog interacting with Mabel and Waddles of Gravity Falls by wittle-sana-chan on Deviantart]

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