Original air date: May 16, 1983
Like I said in my review of “Beginnings,” Fraggle Rock has been a blind spot in my Muppet fan repertoire, so I’m learning about the Fraggle world with each review I write. So in watching this episode, I came to a disturbing revelation:
Is Marjory the Trash Heap a supervillain?
Maybe I shouldn’t have watched this the same week I marathoned the Kingsman films and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but I definitely get some serious Ozymandias-ish, Thanos-y vibes from the beloved trash heap. Her motivations are sincere, but it results in the wrong lesson being learned.
For those not in the know, I’ll explain: visited by herself in a dream, she gets the idea to show the Fraggles, Doozers, and Gorgs how connected they are by magically taking away their radishes. Without them, the Fraggles have nothing to eat, the Doozers have nothing to make towers with, and the Gorgs don’t have a necessary ingredient for their health and beauty cream, which, as it turns out, actually prevents them from turning invisible. Panic and suspicion run rampant within all groups. Eventually, Marjory not-so-subtly implies she’s the culprit behind the disappearance to Mokey, and promises to return the radishes if a Fraggle, Doozer, and Gorg appear together in the garden at midnight. Though it doesn’t happen as serenely as she imagined, Mokey, Flange, and Junior do show up in the Gorgs’ garden at the appointed time, and the radishes are restored.
But do they really learn that they’re connected from all this? I’d argue that there’s a different lesson to be taken away. You might’ve guessed by the synopsis that this has a strikingly similar storyline to the later episodes of the first season “Back to the Rock,” but with one major difference: the disappearance of a vital resource is created within the ecosystem (in that case, the Gorgs erecting a fountain which cuts off the water supply to Fraggle Rock). Only by recognizing that they need each other to survive can the problem be remedied. In this episode, the cause is Marjory, who goes so far as to confess her crime to Mokey. I’d argue that the lesson learned is just not to upset the trash heap. She has magical powers and can literally starve out the Fraggles, disrupt Doozer society, and make the Gorgs disappear! They never really figure out why they’re all dependent on each other (Junior, specifically); only that they need to have the appearance of unity to keep Marjory satisfied. Without the why, there’s no impact to the idea of coming together. And what does she do while the world gives way to everyone’s worst instincts? She mopes, wondering why, oh, why, isn’t the message she wants to convey coming across?
Now before people start making the argument for burning trash (or worse, burning ToughPigs writers), I know Marjory means well, but it seems to me even the all-wise trash heap has something to learn. All the groups are left with is a sense of confusion, having merely complied with a terroristic demand. Instead of giving them a motivated sense of harmony, all she’s given them is a common enemy, a trope I’ve seen too often with fictional supervillains (and a few real-life villains) who feel their harmful ways are indeed altruistic. To change hearts and minds, there aren’t any shortcuts. You have to do the work. It’s messy and frustrating, but without the why, there’s no understanding, and that usually leads to you being named the bad guy. Also, there’s no postcard from Uncle Traveling Matt, so the real villain is writer Jerry Juhl. Boo! Hiss!
Strongest Moment: Junior saying goodbye to his face, feature by feature. If I was turning invisible, I’d probably do the same thing, only in the form of a musical number.
Weakest Moment: In “Perfect Harmony,” Junior serenely sings “in their underwear.” Way to bring the mood down, Junior. I’d slap you in your face, if only I could see it.
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): Even though Mokey is the only Fraggle who has anything to actually do in this episode, in a crisis, nobody panics quite like Boober. The next time you freak out over something going wrong, be sure to shout, “Ashes! All is ashes!”
Musical Highlight: This episode marks the first appearance of my personal favorite Doozer song, the Doozer March Song, also known as “Set Your Shoulder.” It was so good they brought it back for “Back to the Rock!”
Coolest Puppetry Effect: It’s probably just some good green screen work or a shorter performer than usual, but I love how the Gorgs still move around without their heads being seen. It’s simple, but well-executed
One More Thing… Speaking of missing Fraggles, this is also one of the rare episodes where Gobo doesn’t appear. It feels weird but also not weird. Jerry Nelson was obviously there for taping, performing Marjory, so they could’ve used Gobo, but there really isn’t a place in the story where he’s absolutely needed. I hope he enjoyed his time in the singing caverns.
Okay, One More Thing… All this talk of villainy, and I never mentioned the B-story of Doc getting into a feud with Ned Schimmelfinney, who’s been secretly adding to the gas tank of Doc’s car to trick him into thinking that he’s getting better mileage. I’d say that’s some villain stuff, but Doc is getting free gas out of the deal. I don’t think Schimmelfinney knows what a prank is supposed to be.
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by Matthew Soberman (firstname.lastname@example.org)