Tuesday, June 23, 2015

OtGW review: Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee

[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]

"Along the fields of straw and stover, clocked in 'til the work day's over. Time’s a gentle stream, longer than it seems… Patient is the night."

"This is the way the woodsman told us to go, right?"
"Have you listened to anything I've been saying? For the last couple hours I've been saying…" [blows a raspberry]
"Well, that settles it. I'm gonna walk ten feet ahead of you."
A leaf gets blown off a tree branch and through a clear day sky. Wirt and Greg are still walking through the forest, and Wirt wonders why they haven't encountered a town yet. Greg, seemingly unworried, just continues to make odd sounds with his lips, which of course annoys Wirt. Greg then hears a voice calling for help, but Wirt thinks that it's nothing. He is more interested in a sign that says 'Pottsfield, 1 Mile'. There is a town not far from where they are! Greg, however, goes off to look for the source of the cry for help.

"I'm stuck. Help me out of here and I'll owe you a favor."
"Woah…! I get a wish?"
"No, no, no. Not a wish. I'm not magical, I'll just do you a good turn."
"Can you turn me into a tiger?"
"Um, no, I just said I'm not magical."
"It doesn't have to be a magical tiger."
Turns out, the cry for help came from a bush. The bluebird that the boys encountered in the last episode is entangled in thorns. Recognizing Greg, the bluebird says that if Greg helps her, she will help him. Greg mistakes this as meaning that he will get a wish, which the bluebird instantly denies (as she is not magical), simply stating that she'll give him a favor. Wirt, not knowing about the bluebird, tells Greg to stop talking to 'a bush'. Greg says 'ok', and helps the bluebird out of her snare.

"So, um, you two are lost kids with no purpose in life, right?"
"Uh huh."
The bluebird, grateful for the help, instantly wants to show her gratification by bringing the boys to 'Adelaide of the Pasture, the Good Woman of the Woods'. According to the bluebird, Adelaide can help the boys get home. Greg finds this idea exciting, but Wirt is skeptical and ultimately decides that he and Greg will to go to Pottsfield. The bluebird follows them, Greg inviting her to come with them. She is still concerned about her favor.

"So, let's small talk. My name's Greg. What's yours?"
"My brother's name is Wirt."
"Who cares?"
Wirt, Greg, and the bluebird, ultimately make it out of the woods and begin walking through pumpkin fields. Greg invites the bluebird to small talk, telling her both his and Wirt's names (and his frog's name, currently named Greg Jr). The bluebird says that her name is Beatrice and suggests to Greg that they ditch Wirt. Greg says 'maybe later', and asks Beatrice questions regarding being a bird. Beatrice reveals that she doesn't like being a bird, doesn't eat waffles, and eats maggots. Greg is a little upset that Beatrice doesn't eat waffles, and accidentally gets his foot lodged in a pumpkin. Wirt finally spies the town of Pottsfield, celebrating finding civilization, and also gets his foot lodged in a pumpkin. Wirt kicks the pumpkin off, and the party of three (plus the frog) enters the town.

"See anybody?"
"No. Oh! I see you!"
"Yeah, I see you too, Greg."
"Hey, not to be obnoxious, but an abandoned ghost town doesn't seem like its gonna be that useful getting you guys home."
The party enters the town, which appears to be completely empty. When Beatrice points out the uselessness of coming here, an annoyed Wirt goes knocking on a house door. When no one answers, he opens it to find a turkey lying on a table. The turkey raises its head. Though startled, Wirt asks to borrow a phone. When the turkey doesn't answer, Wirt apologizes for disturbing it and leaves. Beatrice asks Wirt if he found anyone, and Wirt says no. Greg asks the two of them if they hear something. There is music eminating from a nearby barn.

"You guys find this place as creepy as I do, right?"
"So, it's some kind of weird cult where they wear vegetable costumes and dance around a big thing… They seem nice enough. 
"Ok, you're in denial, that's fine. But I'm just saying, something feels off about this place…"
Wirt, Greg, and Beatrice go to investigate. Inside the barn are what appears to be several pumpkin people, playing fiddles, dancing around a maypole type object, bobbing for apples, skinning apples and corn, among other autumn festivities. A pumpkin man then accidentally bumps into the boys. Apologizing, the pumpkin man invites them to celebrate the harvest with himself and the rest of the townsfolk. Wirt then realizes, with relief, that all of the people are wearing costumes, which is confirmed by the man who they are talking to. Greg is glad that he didn't remove his pumpkin shoe. Beatrice finds the entire thing unsettling, and Wirt agrees, but says that the people seem nice enough. Beatrice thinks that Wirt is in denial, feeling that there is definitely something off about the whole thing.

"Say, aren't you a little too… early?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, it doesn't seem like you're ready to join us just yet."
"Join you? Yeah, no, I'm just passing through."
"Folks don't tend to 'pass through' Pottsfield…"
Wirt says he is going to ask someone to give him and Greg a ride home and thanks Beatrice for all her help, saying she can leave. Beatrice says that there are 'bluebird rules' that state she cannot leave their side until she has returned the favor for releasing her from the bush. Resigned to this, Wirt goes in to ask for help, and Greg takes Beatrice to the dance floor (despite her protests). Wirt encounters a pumpkin lady, who says that Wirt seems a bit 'early', saying that he doesn't seem ready to join them yet. When Wirt says that he is just looking to leave Pottsfield ASAP, this catches the attention of everyone in the barn. One of the townsfolk shut the barn doors, trapping Wirt, Greg and Beatrice inside.

"Now let me get this straight. You come to our town, you trample our crops… you interrupt our private engagements… Now you wanna leave?"
"Uh… Yes."
Wirt and Greg are soon surrounded by the townsfolk, who seem quite disturbed that the boys want to leave Pottsfield and have destroyed some of their crops. Then, a voice tells the townsfolk not to jump to any conclusions. The speaker is an enormous pumpkin head, his body being the maypole type object the townsfolk had been dancing around. The townsfolk, who refer to the giant pumpkin as Enoch, ask what to with the boys. Enoch asks Wirt and Greg how they arrived at Pottsfield, and Wirt gives a nervous and half-told story before saying that they'll simply leave. Enoch doesn't seem to like the fact that the boys have destroyed private property and interrupted the party, and now want to leave. Beatrice, who had been attempting to make an escape, has now been caught.

"Children… It saddens me that you don't wish to stay here with us. Particularly because I simply have to punish you for your transgressions."
Enoch regrets that Wirt and Greg want to leave, and says that he has to punish the boys for their crimes. (Beatrice doesn't hold back on a 'I told you so'). These include trespassing, destruction of property, disturbing the peace, and murder. Understandably, this last accusation shocks Wirt, but this turns out to be a joke on Enoch's part. However, Wirt and Greg are still found guilty of the other crimes listed. Enoch then sentences them to… a couple hours of community service.

"Hey! Buried treasure!"
"Woah, really? See, Beatrice! What'd you find?"
"A skeleton!"
Each with a ball and chain around one of their ankles, Wirt, Greg and Beatrice are put to work. They gather hay, pumpkins, and corn. All the while, the townsfolk are keeping an eye on them. Finally, the boys are set to digging holes, and Wirt celebrates that their hours are almost up. Beatrice asks Wirt what he intends to do once they're finished, and Wirt considers staying in Pottsfield, saying its rather nice. Beatrice then wonders what the holes are for, and cheerfully suggests that perhaps the townsfolk are planning to bury Wirt and Greg. Wirt brushes this aside, and Greg announces that he's found buried treasure in his hole: a skeleton.

"Your time is up!"
Wirt freaks out, realizing that they really are digging their own graves. He asks Beatrice to use her claws to pick the locks on their ankle shackles, and Beatrice sarcastically asks if he wants her help. Wirt is forced to admit that yes, he wants her help, when he sees Enoch and the townsfolk coming. Unfortunately, the residents of Pottsfield arrive very quickly. Beatrice tells Wirt to stall while she works on their ankle shackles, and Wirt tries to come up with excuses when asked if the holes have been dug yet. Beatrice runs to help Greg as Wirt tells the townspeople that there were a lot of rocks that got in the way while digging the holes. Then, Greg and Beatrice run off, leaving Wirt to think that they left him.

"They're all skeletons…!"
The townsfolk still want to know what happened to the rocks, and Wirt continues to try and stall his burial. He is very quickly distracted by the sight of the skeleton climbing out from Greg's digging hole. The townsfolk greet the dancing skeleton with enthusiasm, and a second skeleton climbs from Wirt's hole. This skeleton is also greeted by the Pottsfield residents, and both skeleton are given pumpkin costumes. Wirt then realizes the truth: the Pottsfield townsfolk are all skeletons!

"And what about you? You sure you wanna leave?"
"Me? Yes!"
"Oh, well. You'll join us someday."
The townsfolk thank Wirt for 'digging up the life of the party'. Enoch, happy about the celebrations and harvest, then turns to Wirt, asking him if he is sure that he wants to leave Pottsfield. Wirt says yes, and Enoch accepts this, saying that he'll join them someday. Beatrice, having returned, demands to know why Wirt didn't come with herself and Greg. When Wirt accuses her of leaving him, Beatrice points out that she had picked his ankle shackle. He could've left if he'd wanted. The two are quick to leave Pottsfield and rejoin Greg in the woods.

"Why are you going to Adelaide's?"
"I guess in some ways, I'm trying to get home too."
"That's vague. What does that mean?"
"I don't have to tell you anything."
"Well, I sure hope that Adelaide is more helpful than that woodsman was. I think his directions were… not very good."
Wirt thanks Beatrice for helping them and says that Beatrice probably isn't honor bound to help them anymore. But, since the boys had never been in any danger with the Pottsfield residents, Beatrice says that she still has to help them. This pleases Wirt, who wants Beatrice to help them get home. Greg says that he finally knows what to wish for: that Wirt Jr (the frog) would have fingers so that they could play the guitar. Beatrice agrees to help the boys get home, and says she will bring them to Adelaide's. She also needs Adelaide's help, anyway. When Greg asks why, Beatrice vaguely says that in a way, she is trying to go home too. Wirt hopes that Adelaide will be more helpful that the Woodsman, deciding that his directions weren't that good. A leaf blown in the wind gets caught on the border fences of Pottsfield, unable to escape.

(Sort of) REVIEW TIME!
When I first watched this episode, I went through a roller coaster of emotions, the emotions that the episode undoubtedly intended for the watcher to feel. There are so many false alarms in this episode…
"Oh, no! Creepy pumpkin people! Oh, wait, they're just townsfolk wearing costumes. Oh, no! We're in big trouble! Oh, wait, we're just gonna go through a few hours of manual labour. Oh, no! We're gonna get buried alive! Oh, wait, we're just digging up live skeletons so they can join the harvest festival. Wait, WHAT?!"
The atmosphere can go from secure and cosy, to creepy and dangerous within a minute, keeping the watcher on their toes. And that's just a part of what I love so much about this episode. I really don't think any other episode in the series does this, and, in fact, I've never seen an episode outside the series that does this. It is a good story device, especially for horror and suspense, but I can see how it could be used poorly. Too many false alarms would have made the story boring and repetitive. Luckily, this episode is able to use just the right kinds and amount of false alarms, and even still manages to finish the story with a creepy note. (Which I will touch upon later).
The color pallet in this episode is gorgeous. That's another thing I've noticed recently about this series: the color pallets for each episode are different, depending on the atmosphere of the episode. It's a subtle but vital point for any cartoon or TV show: the color pallet and/or lighting matter very much to the atmosphere of your show. Much of the color pallet in this episode is slightly dulled, with a lot of brown and orange. Actually, come to think of it, almost as soon as the gang steps into Pottsfield, the sky goes grey, opposed to the more secure feeling sunlight at the beginning of the episode. This dulled color pallet gives it a cosy, old folksy type feel. In the barn, when the doors are closed and things get more sinister, the shadows cover almost everything, highlighting the colors that are seen, giving the scene an unnatural, trapped feeling. When the gang leaves Pottsfield, the sunlight comes back, and we start feeling secure again.
The music in this episode was good, as usual, setting in the right kind of atmosphere in the right situations, as music in shows and movies tend to do. But the music wasn't really the highlight of the episode. (For me at least). There is a song called Patient is the Night that plays while the gang are doing community service. It's a good song, that would probably be on my top 5 Over the Garden Wall songs list, but again, it's not the highlight of the episode.
I loved Chris Isaak's voice performance as Enoch, the leader of Pottsfield. I know zero about Isaak, and I'd never heard of him until Over the Garden Wall, but he is awesome. Isaak's voice is perfect for the character of Enoch. It's soothing and calm with its slow drawl, and yet very, very unsettling at the same time. Enoch is one of my favorite one time characters in the series, and I'm kind of disappointed we didn't see more of him, but he works just fine where he is.
I said that this episode ends on a mildly creepy note, but that depends on your interpretation. One thing that caught my attention was the leaf at the beginning and end of this episode. When I was watching this episode with my sister, and the episode closed with the leaf caught in a fence, she wondered if this little closing image meant anything significant. I suggested that maybe it means that nothing really leaves Pottsfield (assuming that the fence borders Pottsfield). Needless to say, I managed to creep out both my sister (not always an easy feat) and myself. I'm not sure if I'm right about the symbolism of that leaf (which is presumably the same leaf from the beginning of the episode, effectively book ending it), but I stand by my theory.
If you want a clearer creepy factor, the way Enoch sends Wirt out of Pottsfield does kind of send chills down your spine. "Oh, well. You'll join us someday." Yeah kids, this protagonist will eventually die and end up at this creepy place!
Now for some trivia before I wrap this up. Pottsfield most likely drew its name from the term 'potter's field'. Potter's field is a term for a place where unknown or indigent people are buried, like beggars and paupers. Mass burials would take place as well. The inspiration for this episode is pretty obvious.
Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee is one of the best episode of the series in my opinion. It's one of those things you have to watch again once you realize what the twist is, and then you start noticing certain things. (Say, aren't you a little too… early?" "What do you mean?" "I mean, it doesn't seem like you're ready to join us just yet.") The voice acting was superb, the atmosphere was fantastic, and the story was great. The animation was a lot cleaner than the first episode too. 10/10
Keep an eye out for my next Over the Garden Wall review: Schooltown Follies. This… this'll be interesting.

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