Watching Marble Hornets – Part 10

This is the tenth part of a journey through Marble Hornets, a YouTube-based horror mystery series. You can find the introductory post here.

Last time, Alex and Jay argued about Alex’s treatment of Tim, and ToTheArk — or forces unknown — took over Jay’s YouTube account and gave us a glimpse of Alex as a child, celebrating his birthday under the watchful gaze of the Operator. Meanwhile, Jay blacked out for a week and woke up back at the red tower from the first season. Finally, Jay found footage of Alex leading him down a dark path, and sharing a story of cruelty, suffering, and the monster that lurks in the forest.

Entry #39 (April 12, 2011)

A caption informs us that these events take place about a week after Alex broke Tim’s leg at the abandoned house. Jay’s car is parked next to a lake, and Jay is sitting in the trunk, waiting. His phone vibrates, and he answers it. Alex curtly tells Jay to meet him at Rosswood Park tomorrow, and hangs up. Jay calls back, but hears Alex’s now-familiar outgoing voicemail message. We cut to a parking lot at night; Jay is standing outside the car, holding his phone, but we don’t hear him talk. He gets into the trunk of the car, makes himself comfortable, and falls asleep. A caption tells us that forty minutes pass without incident, and then the footage returns, more blurry than it was before. A figure walks behind Jay’s car, and seems to peer down to look through the window. The figure then continues on its way, and Jay’s captions tell us that this was the only glimpse of the mysterious visitor on the tape.

After the frenetic activity of the last few posts, complete with unreliable narrators and fractured chronology, this entry is a nice break. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t questions to be asked.

Let’s start with the obvious: what has Alex been doing for the last week? Jay has apparently just been waiting, though we might infer that he has been living in his car, moving from location to location, continuing his established pattern of behavior. There’s also an interesting connection between the caption, which says that these events took place about a week after the encounter with Tim at the abandoned house, and Jay’s dialogue in the scene, in which he complains to Alex that it has been more than a week. I doubt that it is in any way significant, but we must remember that Jay-the-caption-writer is discovering this sequence of events just as we are, and that we should question the accuracy of his narration.

The only other mystery of note is the figure outside Jay’s car. It doesn’t appear to move like the Operator, and there isn’t the visual tearing or distortion we generally associate with the Operator’s presence. That said, the footage is much more blurry than it was when Jay fell asleep, a mere forty minutes before. The lighting conditions appear to be identical, so why should the quality be so degraded?

Two quick notes. First, it seems likely that when Jay was talking on his phone after arriving at the park, he was calling Alex, and since we don’t hear him talking, that he reached Alex’s voicemail again, but this hasn’t been confirmed. Second, this is the first mention of Rosswood Park since Jay talked to Jessica back at the hotel, and thus the earliest mention of it, chronologically speaking. It is possible that Rosswood is where Alex and Jay argued after leaving the abandoned house, but that can’t be confirmed.

Who is the figure outside Jay’s car? Where has Alex been, and what business does he have at Rosswood Park?

totheark: Forecast (April 21, 2011)

We are presented with cryptic footage of something unsettlingly organic. Numbers flash at the left, and we cut to distorted text which looks like the marker at the beginning or end of a reel of film; tangled in the middle of it is a crudely-drawn face, with Operator symbols as eyes. We cut to an emerging caption, which reads “here is something i have wanted to show you”. We see footage apparently shot by the unknown figure outside Jay’s car, looking through the window to where Jay is sleeping.

There are four coded or obscure pieces of information included in this video, all of which were swiftly solved by the audience. The numbers which flash at the beginning are 2, 26, 18, 2, 32, 36, 30, 32, 16, 10 and 40. When these numbers are halved, they map to the letters AMIAPROPHET. Second, the description attached to the video on YouTube is “c2VlIHlvdSBzYXcgeW91” which, when decoded from base64, translates as, “see you saw you”. The third piece of information is the music, which is Beethoven’s 5th symphony, slowed down and reversed. The fourth is perhaps the most disturbing: the organic-looking footage at the beginning is a dog’s lung being artificially inflated, as part of a Soviet-era experiment shown in this video. It is unclear how directly relevant it is, although long-term fans of Marble Hornets may be reminded of Alex’s unseen dog, Rocky.

Clearly the most significant thing about the video, however, is that ToTheArk was lurking in the darkness outside Jay’s car while he waited for Alex in Rosswood Park. We don’t know if ToTheArk is somehow tracking Jay, or is connected with the park, but he is clearly in the vicinity, and knows Jay is too.

We should also note the curious phrasing in the caption. “Here is something I have wanted to show you” almosts suggests that the figure has been watching Jay for some time; perhaps he, or they, have kept track of Jay’s whereabouts through less-than-supernatural means.

Does this evidence support the half-serious theory that Alex is ToTheArk? Certainly: we don’t know of anyone else who would know in advance that Jay was going to be at the park. At the same time, Alex is also contacting Jay directly, which means that if he is ToTheArk, he is either playing an extremely complicated game, or operating — pun intended — under some significant constraints. Alternatively, we might return to the idea that Tim is somehow associated with ToTheArk; is he finally sufficiently recovered from Alex’s assault to track down Jay and film him?

Was the figure outside Jay’s car really ToTheArk? Who is it? Did Alex know ToTheArk would be present at the park?

Entry #40 (May 3, 2011)

The next day, Rosswood Park. Jay takes his camera from his car and sets it on the hood. He tries to call Alex again, and reaches his voicemail. Jay leaves a message, his voice betraying his growing frustration. He then picks up the camera, and sweeps it across the tree-line; the footage cuts, and Jay is walking through the forest. He pauses by a running stream, then continues onward. As he walks the footage cuts out, then returns with low audio distortion. The distortion grows more and more severe, until the footage cuts again and the sound returns to normal. The light has changed, though we can’t be sure how much time has passed. Jay is in a large, deforested clearing, near a fallen log. He sets down the camera, sits on the log, and calls Alex again, leaving a message which says that he has ventured into the forest, and that he plans on returning to the parking lot in fifteen or twenty minutes. He moves onward, finding what appears to be an old brick chimney, the only remnant of a long-fallen house. He investigates the chimney, and we see some familiar visual tearing; the audio begins to distort, and as Jay moves around the chimney, he sees the Operator. Jay falls and scrambles backward into cover, then raises the camera to see the Operator standing directly over him. Distortion swamps the audio, there is more visual tearing, and then the camera fall to the ground. In the distance, we see Jay running toward the trees. The audio and video distortion become worse, until the video ends.

So, this is a big deal, and there’s a great deal about which we can speculate. This is the first time that Jay has run into the Operator since he was teleported into the abandoned basement back in Entry #23, and the first time we’ve had a good look at him since he appeared in Amy and Alex’s house in Entry #26. As always, it is difficult to discern his intentions; Jay is clearly terrified, but the Operator takes no overtly hostile action, at least physically.

The chimneys — it seems that there are two of them; the second can be seen shortly after Jay approaches the first — are curious. They are remarkably evocative structures, and the film-makers must have been thrilled to find them while location scouting. They are also, however, disconnected from anything else we know of the Operator. Even Alex’s veiled reference to the Operator’s origins made no mention of structures of any kind. Are they, then, significant? Is it possible that the Operator was watching Jay, or stalking him, and simply chose this moment? Is there a possible connection between the chimneys and the red tower from the first season?

This is a prime example of the limitations of the storytelling style raising interesting questions. Marble Hornets has played with the idea of found footage, and taken it pretty much to the limits of believability, as I’ve discussed before. Here, though, we have an obvious question: what happened to Jay’s camera? Somehow, this tape finds its way into the safe in Jay’s hotel room after the missing months have passed. Does Jay recover it? Does someone else find the camera, or retrieve the tape? What happens to this tape may tell us a great deal about Jay’s adventures over the summer of 2010.

Now is as good a time as any to look at the Operator’s many appearances over the course of the series, and to try to determine a pattern. Throughout the first season, there are only three Operator sightings at which Alex is not explicitly present: Jay’s encounter in the abandoned basement in Entry #23, and ToTheArk’s videos Return (in which Jay is slouched in the corner of the hallway at Brian’s house, and the Operator approaches the camera) and Admission (in which a figure which is probably the Operator passes through the living room of Brian’s house amidst heavy distortion). In the second season, things become a little more complicated: we can’t be certain, for example, that the Operator was really present at Alex’s sixth birthday party, as seen in enttry #37; we don’t know whether one of the figures looking down at the camera in Broadcast is the Operator; we don’t know if Alex is nearby — or is our cameraman — when the Operator is glimpsed at the end of the corrugated tunnel in Entry #29. That means that, in season two, we have no confirmed contacts between the Operator and Alex.

Since we didn’t know the exact nature of the connection between Alex and the Operator in season one, it’s difficult to speculate about what this shift — if it is significant at all — may indicate. We should remember, though, the reconstructed timeline of events from 2006, in which Alex was at first curious about the Operator, then grew more paranoid, and was finally terrified enough to give Jay the tapes and move away. Is it possible that we are seeing this pattern repeat itself with Jay?

And Alex, we must remember, is no mere bystander. He broke Tim’s leg, summoned Jay to the park, and has yet to reveal his agenda.

One last note: this area doesn’t look like the parking lot where Alex and Jay met after the encounter with Tim at the abandoned house. Whether or not they had driven to Rosswood together was an open question, and we can’t definitively say that the conversation didn’t take place in some other part of the park, but this isn’t the same area.

What happened to Jay’s camera? Did Alex know the Operator would be present? Was luring Jay to Rosswood Park some kind of trap? What is the connection between the Operator and the Park? Is there something significant about the chimneys?

totheark: Intermission (May 16, 2011)

Scratchy distortion is heard; we see a scribbled picture of a forest, and cut to a caption: “did you see me”. We return to the sketches, the distortion growing more severe. Another caption: “I saw you”. We see a drawing of a figure leaning against a tree, apparently shrouded in shadow. We see a short clip of heavily-distorted footage of a forested area — apparently, the area where Jay encountered the Operator — and then we cut to a series of numbers on a black screen, and a pixellated Operator symbol.

ToTheArk continues to be fond of alphanumeric substitution and base64 codes: in this video, the numbers at the end resolve to the letters ALWAYSTHERE, and the YouTube description — “YmV oaW5kIHRo ZSBjd XJ0YWlu” — translates as “behind the curtain”. The biggest revelation about this video, however, is that ToTheArk was apparently present during the events of the last video. Revisiting Jay’s footage, and taking into account the position of the sketched figure, we realize that there was someone reclining against the tree as Jay called Alex at the beginning of Entry #40. ToTheArk was there, and he was watching.

Image credit to Unfiction user GeneauxheartsxTim

ToTheArk’s presence raises some interesting questions about Jay’s encounter with the Operator. The nature of the relationship is profoundly unclear, although videos like Return and Admission suggest strong links between the two. ToTheArk is, at least, aware of both the Operator and Operator symbol; we don’t yet know whether the Operator is aware of ToTheArk.

More to the point, Alex is also directly connected to this location: he was either leading Jay to this region, or tricked Jay into coming alone. While it’s true that he didn’t give Jay any instructions to go wandering in the forest, he must have known, one way or another, that the Operator was nearby. Was his intention to investigate? To somehow attack the Operator?

Wait… ToTheArk was there? Alex was (supposed to be) there? Are they, perhaps, one and the same?

Is Alex ToTheArk? What was ToTheArk waiting for? Did he observe Jay’s encounter with the Operator?

Entry #41 (May 25, 2011)

A caption tells us that there is fifteen minutes of blank footage after the events we saw in Entry #40, and then the camera turns on again. It flickers to life, and it is upside down on the ground, in a similar yet different position than it was at the end of the last entry. We hear footsteps, and an unknown figure picks up the camera and pans around the clearing, revealing the red-brick chimneys. Holding the camera, the figure begins to walk toward the tree-line. The footage cuts, and we are deeper in the forest; it cuts again, and we are looking down into a flowing stream. The camera moves around the stream, and we hear a faint audio distortion. There is some footage of the sun shining down through the canopy, and then the figure reaches the fringes of the forest. While apparently hiding behind some bushes, we see Jay’s car in the parking lot. The unknown cameraman quickly crosses the park, opens the driver-side door, and reaches across to place the camera in the passenger seat. We hear the door close, and the audio hiss returns as a figure in a tan-colored hoodie walks in front of the car. The figure turns to reveal a crudely-drawn mask, then leaves.

Well, hello there, mysterious masked man.

Some have reported seeing the letters TTA scratched into the stream-bed. It’s a little unclear, but given the way the camera lingers on it, it seems deliberate.

Image credit to Unfiction user xxxblindxxx

As may be expected, many viewers reported seeing the Operator in this entry, but I don’t seen him. The most common places are around 1:07, where a white object can be seen to the left of the frame, but is later revealed to be a tree stump, and behind the waterfall during the stream sequence, which would make the Operator less than eighteen inches tall.

First, let’s confront the obvious: even without the letters in the stream, it seems clear that the hooded figure is, or is part of, ToTheArk. Given that we know ToTheArk was in the area, and the similarity between the hooded man’s sad-face mask and the sketched drawing in Intermission, it seems clear that this is our guy. We might assume that he watched Jay waiting in the parking lot, and followed Jay into the forest. It’s possible that he witnessed the entire encounter with the Operator, and waited until it was safe before recovering Jay’s camera.

So, who is under the hood? It seems that we can discount Jay, although the fact that the hooded figure made it back to Jay’s car before he did — while traveling, it must be said, at a fairly casual pace — is certainly food for thought; we can also assume that it isn’t Tim, who would be suffering from the broken leg Alex inflicted upon him the week before. Are there other likely candidates? We’ve been playing with the idea that Alex is ToTheArk for some time now, and while it certainly isn’t impossible that Alex is the hooded man, we don’t actually have any additional evidence to support the theory either. We might also remember the hooded man from Entry #31, who seemed to stalk Jay through the forest, until Jay approached him; that man, however, seems to be much more heavily-built that this hooded figure, so there may be no connection.

Where is Jay? Who is the hooded man? Is he really ToTheArk? Why did he return Jay’s camera?

One minor detail, before we move on: in response to a Twitter question about the tapes being unnumbered, Jay clarified a detail about the accuracy of the reconstructed timeline.

@marblehornets – 1:49PM, June 2, 2011
The ones I found in the hotel safe are numbered (although a handful aren’t). I also told Alex “It’s been over a week” in Entry #39.

totheark: Indicator (June 2, 2011)

We see flickering shots of a doll, face-down on the ground. A caption reads, “Messages everywhere,” and we see the doll crawl toward us, then away again, in a stop-motion animation. A second captions read, “Signs everywhere”. We see a close-up on the doll’s face, which has apparently been burned and scarred; the doll’s left eye has been replaced with a button from a telephone, labelled “OPER”. A third caption reads, “You will never be free,” and we see the doll imprisoned behind wooden planks. A series of binary numbers appear, and we conclude with a last glimpse of the doll.

Back when I began this look at Marble Hornets, this was one of the videos that I was dreading. When I began watching the series, the Operator got under my skin in a fascinating, creepy way; videos like this, however, are just difficult to watch. It’s disturbing, it’s violently disharmonious, it’s challenging to endure.

All of which, I suspect, is deliberate — but that’s a thought we’ll return to in our next installment.

Trying to decipher a clear message from this video is difficult. Does the doll represent Jay? Perhaps Alex? What are we to make of the “messages” and “signs” that are “everywhere”? Is ToTheArk taunting Jay, or berating him?

One clue may be found in the binary message at the end of the video. It decodes into the letters HELIES, which once again makes us reconsider all that we have been told. Is Jay missing something? Is he being misled? That would at least make sense of the video: he is the doll, the innocent, and though the are messages and signs everywhere, he is blind to them — perhaps blinded by his obsession with the Operator, as symbolized by the button in the doll’s eye — and will thus never be free. This video could well be seen as a wake-up call from ToTheArk to Jay, particularly in the wake of Jay’s encounter with the Operator.

All of which raises one important question: who is lying?

What is the meaning behind this video? Who is its intendent recipient? Does it connect with the hooded figure and Jay’s recovered camera?

Entry #42 (June 9, 2011)

Jay informs us that he has found some footage which was taken on the same day as his encounter with the Operator. We see Alex in his car — apparently, he has begun compulsively filming again. He listens to Jay’s voicemail message from Entry #41, and throws his phone away in disgust. He then picks it up again, and straps the camera to his chest. He leaves his car, and as he looks around, we can see a figure leaning against a tree in the middle distance. Alex then begins walking toward the part of the forest that Jay entered, and the footage cuts. When it returns, Alex is on the fringe of the forest, calling Jay’s phone. He listens to Jay’s voicemail message, and leaves a terse reply, demanding that he leave the forest immediately. The footage cuts again, and Alex is now deep in the forest. We hear footsteps, Alex seems to stumble, and then looks around to see Jay running through the forest. Jay yells at him to run, and he grudgingly follows after. The footage cuts, and Alex is walking along a path in the forest; another cut, and we are outside the forest. Jay is sitting by a tree, and Alex approaches him, demanding to know what is going on. Jay tells him “that thing” is in the forest, and Alex clarifies: “That thing is in there?” Jay replies that it is a couple of miles in, but yes. Jay explains that he was tired of waiting, and wanted to look around, then got lost. Alex asks about the camera, and Jay confesses that he dropped it. The footage cuts, and they are approaching the parked cars. Alex asks Jay if he saw what was on the video, and Jay asks if he has any clue where Amy is. Alex says he doesn’t, and Jay asks his what he wants Jay to do. Alex snaps, “Help me, Jay!” Jay agrees, but says he can’t do it today, not after his encounter. Jay says he wants to stay in a hotel, and Alex says that he should follow him. Alex looks back to the large solitary tree, and we see that the figure who was sitting there when he arrived has now gone. Jay gets in his car, and then calls out to Alex, saying that he has found his camera, but the battery is dead. Alex says that they’ll check it at the hotel, then gets in his car and starts the engine.

Despite the fact that this entry seems to be very low-key, there are a couple of fascinating details which are ripe for examination. The first is Alex’s camera, which seems to be identical to the camera Jay was wearing when he awoke in the hotel after the missing seven months. It also seems to be the same camera which was used in the “noentry” footage, in which we discovered the tunnel, the blood-stained rock, and glimpsed the Operator. It’s possible that this camera ends up in Jay’s possession, though it’s also possible that Jay, inspired by Alex’s resourcefulness, makes his own version. If the former, then we must wonder how the camera came to be in Jay’s possession, and what happened to Alex.

The second detail worthy of our attention is the figure sitting by the tree. It closely matches the hooded figure which returned Jay’s camera; if it is, then that’s conclusive proof that Alex and the hooded figure are not one and the same, and strongly casts doubt on the idea that Alex is ToTheArk. It’s also worth commenting upon the chronology of events here: Jay encountered the Operator, and ran from the clearing. The hooded figure apparently waited a while, picked up the camera, returned to Jay’s car at a leisurely pace, and set the camera inside. Alex then arrived while the hooded figure was still in the area, and went in search of Jay; he found Jay in the forest, still running and still some distance from the parking lot. It is possible that Jay simply lost his way after running from the Operator, and the hooded figure — who apparently knows the area more thoroughly — managed to retrieve and return the camera before Jay found his way out. That said, it’s also possible that something else happened to Jay out there in the forest, between leaving the clearing and running into Alex. Time will tell.

We should also dwell for a moment on Alex’s behavior. He seems more irritated by Jay’s behavior than concerned for his welfare, and we cannot discount the fact that, when he arrives at the park, he begins his search for Jay at exactly the point at which Jay entered the forest. It’s possible that there is only one entrance to the network of trails which run behind Rosswood Park, and that there is no greater significance to his decision, but it’s also possible, given his unconvincing skepticism that “that thing” was in the forest, that Alex knows the Operator is out there, and expected Jay to run into it. We have nothing conclusive right now, but Alex’s loyalties and motivations remain unclear.

Lastly, let’s consider the detail that Alex did, in fact, send the tape to Jay in Entry #26. That seemed likely following their discussion in the parking lot after the encounter with Tim, but this is as close to definitive confirmation as we’re likely to get. That means that Alex knew of Jay’s whereabouts at the end of the first season, and deliberately used the Operator symbol in the video.

Who is the hooded figure? Did Alex know the Operator was in the forest? Where is Amy? What will Alex and Jay do to try and find her?

totheark: Memories (June 20, 2011)

We open with some flickering, indistinct images, and then a shot of a wooden bench. A caption reads, “Years wasted”, and we see the bench from another angle. In the darkness, two circles appear, reminiscent of glowing eyes. “You’ve done,” appears on the screen, and the word, “Nothing,” appears beneath it. There’s a tangled jumble of images, and then a wooden frame with a crudely-drawn head, with stars for eyes. The Operator symbol appears over the head, and the words, “So much more than time has been taken,” appear. We cut to black for a moment, and then the glowing eyes appear once more.

This video marks the two-year anniversary of Marble Hornets, and it’s tempting to see it as ToTheArk’s commentary on the entire misadventure. Two years have passed — or been wasted — and Jay has accomplished nothing. More than time has been lost — that may include the seven months of memories, but may also include Tim’s sanity, Amy, Brian, and who knows what else.

The bench is interesting: a definitive comparison is impossible, but it seems reminiscent of the bench on Alex’s porch, all the way back in Entry #1. This would be an appropriate time to connect Jay’s investigation with that simple video which started it all.

The glowing dots are also a fascinating symbol; they are similar to the white ovals used in Entry ######, which seemed to be a reference to Tim’s mask. They are also suggestive, as I mentioned above, of glowing eyes, which could easily represent someone — or something — watching from the darkness. We’ll be watching for them in the future.

It’s also interesting that the description this video was given on YouTube — “NT Qz MjE =” — is base code for “54321”. It’s tempting to interpret that as a countdown, although we must wait and see what ToTheArk is counting down to.

And that’s it for this part of our Marble Hornets review. I apologize for the gap between the last entry and this one; analyzing these videos takes more and more time as the mythology becomes more complex and the sequence of events more tangled, but I’ll try to turn the next part around more rapidly. Thanks for reading, and shout out in the comments if I’ve missed anything, or made any huge mistakes!

Next time, we move our focus to Alex, and learn much more about how close he is to the Operator, and his relationship with the masked and hooded men.

If you enjoy Marble Hornets, support the creators by buying the DVD set.


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