Original air date: May 2, 1983
We’re seventeen episodes into Fraggle Rock, and the writers are done messing around. You thought we had deep lessons before? Well, now it’s time to dig deeper. It’s time we had a frank conversation about what the Fraggles know about death.
That’s right, Episode 17 is “Marooned,” and quite frankly, this is about as good as Fraggle Rock ever gets. I know that’s a weird thing to say about the end of Season 1, when there’s still so much to look forward to. But “Marooned” shows just how confident the writers already were in their vision. It’s a fascinating character study, and grapples with issues that other family entertainment is just now getting around to addressing. Sorry, Puss in Boots, we’ve already got realistic panic attacks here, and things that are much, much more nuanced.
So, if you’ve forgotten, this is the episode where Red needs to hang out with Boober, her least favorite Fraggle, in order to keep him away from the other Fraggles while they plan a surprise party. The duo go to Spiral Cavern, where they get trapped in a tiny, airless cave in a cave-in. Once inside, all Boober and Red can do is wait for their friends to save them. And that’s where the writers start cooking.
Inside the tiny cave, we see Boober and Red go through spirals of their own panic and grief. Initially, of course, Boober is frantic and Red is sure there will be an answer. This is exactly what we’d expect, after all. But this episode is so much greater than that.
There’s two specific things that are fascinating about this episode. One is the disparate ways that Boober and Red react to this crisis. Once the sky has actually fallen and he’s actually, definitively doomed, we see Boober shift to being compassionate, resolute, and calm. Instead of focusing on himself as usual, he reaches out to Red, trying to help her cope with the inevitable. Red, however, stops being fearless and frenetic, and starts having a full panic attack.
What’s interesting is that here, seventeen episodes in, the writers and performers (specifically episode head writer David Young and main performers Karen Prell and Dave Goelz) have such a handle on their characters that they not only know how they’d usually act, but they’re also able to figure out a situation where their roles would be completely reversed. And yet this feels perfectly natural and real. It’s just beautiful character writing.
Speaking of beautiful, the other thing that fascinates me about this episode is the way Boober talks about death. He mentions life as being like a soap bubble, beautiful and perfect, but fleeting. One day, the bubble will vanish and no one knows why, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
Geez. I love this description. It’s stuck with me all these years, in part because it isn’t mincing words or softening things for the kids in the audience. Life: it’s perfect and then it just ends. The whole episode has this gorgeous bittersweet tone that is impossible to forget. Every time things get rough for me, I think about Boober and Red sadly singing “The Friendship Song.” We try a little harder for our friends, because our friends are what make this little soap bubble so beautiful and perfect.
And in the end, of course Boober and Red escape, thanks to their friends. It’s the ending we knew would happen; the writers were never going to kill off two of their main characters. But what’s so important to me is what this ending isn’t. You see, earlier in the episode, the Fraggles were trying to get Boober to loosen up. Marjorie sang a song about it, the wonderful “Go With the Flow.” But ultimately, we learn that Boober actually is better at going with the flow than anyone else.
There’s no sense that Boober was wrong, or that Boober needed to learn a lesson from Red. This episode tells us that even the whiny, cowardly Boober has true bravery and important skills. That’s amazing, and so rare to see in any media.
I genuinely can’t think of any episode quite like “Marooned.” Like a soap bubble, it’s short, but beautiful and perfect and impossible to forget.
Strongest Moment: It’s Red at her lowest and Boober at his most resolved: the first performance of “The Friendship Song.”
Weakest Moment: The Travelling Matt postcard, where he discovers gum but thinks it makes people’s tongues explode, is a little confusing. It doesn’t really fit with the theme of the episode, beyond setting up one Gobo joke.
MVF: Boober. I think I’ve made that clear. Or maybe Red. Or Boober. But probably Boober.
First Appearance of…: Felix the Fearless! The Fraggles’ buff, hairy superhero who can never do anything right and is actually whinier and more cowardly than all the rest. One thing he can’t do right? Appear frequently. He’s going to show up only once more, three seasons from now.
Best Puppetry Trick: Honestly? The best puppetry trick is how much raw, painful emotion Karen Prell and Dave Goelz are able to showcase in their performances. Beautiful stuff that will absolutely make you believe these wiggling dolls are accepting their impending doom. It’s tough not to cry when watching them.
Musical Highlight: I briefly mentioned it, but Boober gets some birthday wisdom from Marjorie in the form of the song “Go With the Flow.” It’s honestly one of the musical highlights of the entire series, an up-tempo jam about dealing with the worst things in life. Interestingly enough, I think the version from Back to the Rock might be even better. It doesn’t hurt that Daveed Diggs has a great singing voice.
One More Thing: I didn’t mention it earlier, but one of other interesting things about this episode is how it permanently changes Boober and Red’s dynamic. Every time you see them interact from now on, you need to remember that they both know each other’s deepest, darkest fears and secrets, and are keeping them from the other Fraggles. It’s interesting to think that every time Red complains about Boober, she’s just maintaining appearances and the status quo but really knows the truth about him. I wonder if Boober and Red ever hang out after adventures and be honest with each other, or if they just know they can never relive the closeness they felt during this adventure.
Anyway, it really makes you think.
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by Becca Petunia