Original air date: April 4, 1983
Who doesn’t love a good Doormat Learns to Stand up for Themself episode, am I right? Well, when I volunteered to write this review, I’d forgotten just how close to home this episode hits for me.
Look, I love helping. I really do. My skills are useful and necessary, the word “assist” is literally in my job title, and you simply can’t build community (or much else, for that matter) without everyone helping in some way. But I’m also a recovering people-pleaser who defaults all too easily to Fawn in the ol’ Fight-Flight-Freeze-or-Fawn moment of crisis.
It hurts to watch Wembley getting trampled on more than the inventory of Manny’s Land of Carpets. Altogether, he spends at least seven minutes—that’s over 1/4 of the entire episode, including intro and outro—trying to help all his friends with their various tasks. Tasks, I might add, that they are all completely capable of doing on their own: collecting Traveling Matt’s postcard, racket-balancing, hanging laundry, and finding just the right rock (In! A! Cave! Full! Of! ROCKS!). And then he is crushed under the weight of it all.
Enter Lou, an adorable purple Fraggle who actually helps Wembley and asks him what he wants. (I love that she acknowledges, with total lack of judgment, the possibility that Wembley might want to be lying with a boulder on his belly or standing with his nose and arms draped in wet socks—because, y’know, it’s Fraggle Rock, folks do weird stuff all the time.) The most basic kindnesses of “Here, let me help” and “What can I get for ya?” (said with the air [and apron] of a barista) and “Don’t move, relax, I’ll take care of ya” are so astonishing to Wembley that it’s heartbreaking.
Mokey, of course, in full Good Intentions Mode, decides to take the game of Nobody Ask Wembley What He Wants ten steps farther throughout the rest of the episode. Wembley announces that he met a cool new Fraggle, and the instant Mokey finds out it’s a girl, she assumes that means Wembley’s feelings are romantic. Yeesh, even for 1983, that’s a ton of heteronormativity.
I edited Lou’s Muppet Wiki page to delete the phrase “Wembley develops a crush on her,” because that’s not for us as viewers to decide any more than Mokey. Only Wembley knows what he’s feeling.
And it really could go either way! I’ve had countless new friendships that weren’t crushy at all, and I could say “Nice is right, she’s fantastic! She helped me, see. And I like her. And I’d like to get to know her a lot better” about any one of them. Yes, some of those new friendships develop into crushy feelings. But I’ve found that if I follow the Trash Heap’s advice to “Enjoy it! Relax! Go with the flow! Follow your nose!” then it (usually) fades. I’ll admit, I’ve also been as sappy-daydreamy-romantic as Mokey is for most of this episode, but I keep that Disney-Broadway-musical nonsense inside my head where it belongs, rather than projecting it onto my friends’ relationships.
Mokey, steamrolling along, brings Wembley to the Trash Heap to “solve all his problems.” Marjory roots around in her various love potions (of which there are at least 27!), and gives Wembley a bottle of—gasp!—Number 9. Through a Series of Shenanigans, Wembley is suddenly adored by Junior Gorg, all the other Fraggles, and even the Doozers. And the air goes fuchsia, which is pretty cool.
But even when everyone goes from taking advantage of Wembley to adoring him, they’re still not asking him what he wants—although Junior does, at least while he’s under the spell. This contrast is probably because the other Fraggles are used to doing whatever they want, while Junior (like Wembley) is used to doing whatever someone else wants.
This episode is really all about autonomy. Wembley learns a very similar (but not identical!) lesson in Back to the Rock’s “Four Wembleys and a Birthday.” In both instances, Wembley grows uncomfortable with others telling him what he wants instead of asking him or letting him decide for himself. But in this episode in particular, we get to see the dark side of a lack of autonomy. Mokey, who’s been drowning out Wembley’s voice with her own, and Junior, who captures Wembley and starts listing awful threats, soon learn what no choice feels like when they’re under the spell of the love potion.
All Wembley ever wanted was to be listened to.
So the next time I find myself offering to help before I pause to consider whether I actually have the time and energy to do so, I’m going to try and remember Wembley. “I’ll be happy to help you with all of those things later, but one at a time. Right now, I’m gonna spend time with my pal Lou.” (My version of that probably means sitting at home alone in my PJs doing nothing, which is absolutely glorious.)
Meanwhile, in Outer Space, Doc manipulates Sprocket into helping him with yet another absurd project. “Come on, Sprockie, gonna help me, aren’t you? No? Look, Dog is Man’s best friend, and friends help.” In a strong contender for Coolest Puppetry Effect, Sprocket is hoisted slowly to the ceiling and then gets trapped under a chandelier / burglar alarm / smoke detector. Thankfully, Doc learns his lesson, and declares, “Behind every great man, there’s a dog, eh, Sprockie? And behind every great dog, there’s a hot dog.”
Strongest Moment: When Wembley finally says “No, Mokey, I won’t,” tells all his friends what’s wrong, and sets some very reasonable and healthy boundaries.
Weakest Moment: Marjory: Oh, nuts! I forgot to tell them that the potion only lasts for twenty minutes!
Philo: Eh, never mind.
Gunge: Yeah, they’ll find out soon enough.
Philo: Yeah, in about half an hour.
Do we really need to hear this same time frame stated twice in the space of four lines?
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): 100% Team Lou.
First Appearance Of…: Also Lou!
Most Classic Moment: Red: “Darling!” Mokey: “Beloved!” Gobo: “Sweetheart!” Boober: “Sugar lips!”
Musical Highlight: While “Help Me for a Change” is relatable and “Lover, Lover, Number 9”/“Wembley, Wembley, Number 9” is a one-verse banger, I have to give it up to “Just a Little Wimp”/“Learn to Love a Wimp.” I love when a song is sad at first and then joyful in the reprise. Wembley has learned so see all the great things about being exactly who he is. Plus is there anything cuter than Wembley singing “And I’m bigger than a bean”?
Coolest Puppetry Effect: OMG THE MINIATURE WEMBLEY PUPPET HAS A TEENY TINY BUBBLING POTION BOTTLE.
Darkest Moment: During “Wembley, Wembley, Number 9,” the other Fraggles’ contracted pupils are extra creepy. It indicates a curse more than actual attraction, which would have dilated pupils. Wembley, being hoisted and fawned over and smooched against his will, yells, “Why am I letting them do this to me?!” thereby stumbling into the whole dang point.
Fraggle Lore: Moss packs are used to help Fraggles in pain. Presumably they’re less like ice packs and more like heat packs, since Traveling Matt remarks about the Silly Creatures’ moss pack (an actual ice cream cone), “the foolish thing didn’t even keep my head warm.”
Obscure Character Watch: Morris Fraggle is seen playing the saxophone during Wembley’s song “Help Me for a Change.” Morris would go on to have minor speaking roles in later episodes, and his puppeteer, Terry Angus, gave him glasses to make it easier to locate the character on the monitors when filming.
One More Thing…: In the scene where Wembley tells Gobo and Mokey about Lou and Mokey insists Wembley is in love, all of this is happening in the background: At the start of the scene when Mokey is painting, a Doozer drives by and stops by Mokey, who sets her cup of red paint down on his machine thingy, and the Doozer drives away with the paint. Later, we see a Doozer walking by carrying the paint on a dolly. At the end of the scene, a Doozer drives by, deposits the lil jar of paint back where it came from, and rolls away. Mokey picks it up and never notices it was missing.
Okay, One More Thing…: I do not envy whoever had to clean ice cream off of the Traveling Matt puppet. But, as we learned in that great recent video where Adam Savage met John Tartaglia/Gobo and Donna Kimball/Mokey, Fraggles are apparently dryer safe! And therefore presumably washer safe; I guess I always just presumed they’d be spot-clean only. But, now that I think about it, frequently used puppets are probably soaking up a lot of puppeteer sweat from the inside out and I am SO sorry I just made all our brains have to read that.
Click here to walk hand in hand with your new friend to the ToughPigs forum and let Mokey find her own darn rock!
By Beth Cook.