Watching Marble Hornets – Part 11

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

Last time, we followed Jay into Rosswood Park, and witnessed his encounter with the Operator; while Jay escaped and ran into Alex, a mysterious hooded figure picked up his lost camera, and quietly returned it to his car. Now, we investigate what happened to Alex and Amy at the end of the first season, and begin to answer some lingering questions.

Entry #43 (June 27, 2011)

We begin with a shot of a bland, unfamiliar room. A phone begins to buzz, and Jay picks it up; he tells whoever is calling that he’ll be out in a minute, then picks up the camera and leaves the room, which is revealed to be in a hotel. We cut to the interior of a car, driving through light rain. Alex is driving. Jay asks him how much further it is to the house, and Alex replies, “Five minutes.” We cut to the car pulling into the driveway of a yellow house on a quiet residential street. Jay asks if this is it, and Alex confirms that it is, and point out the window that, “we jumped out of.” Jay asks what happened next, and Alex says that he doesn’t remember. They discuss the fact that the house is divided, but there is no sign of “her” room-mate. Alex gets out of the car and goes to the door while Jay continues to film him. Alex returns to the car, taking out his cellphone as he does so. Jay asks who he is calling, and Alex replies, “Room-mate.” He then leaves a voicemail message for Jessica, asking if she has seen Amy recently. We cut back to the car, and Alex tells Jay that he is bringing him back to the hotel, and will then return home. Jay asks if Alex wants him to follow after, but Alex declines, saying that he doesn’t want Jay to know where he lives right now. We cut to black, and when the footage returns, it is from the chest camera. Alex picks it up and buckles it on, then walks through the woods. The footage cuts several times, and each time it does, we are further into the forest, and it seems later in the day. The footage cuts once again, this time with a flash of distortion. Alex approaches a gap in a hedge, and moves through it into dense woodland beyond. He pauses, and turns suddenly to see the Operator standing nearby. Audio and video distortion swamp the footage, and Alex begins to cough, dropping to his hands and knees on the forest floor. He collapses entirely, and there is a burst of video distortion; Alex’s hand twitches violently, and the footage cuts for a moment, and then returns as Alex slowly gets to his feet. The distortion grows worse and worse as Alex slowly approaches the Operator, and then we cut to black.

This is very much a video of two parts, so let’s take them separately. In the first part, Jay and Alex return to what is clearly the house we saw back in Entry #26, where Amy and Alex were attacked by the Operator. We learn that they jumped from the second-floor window, and apparently escaped, although Alex doesn’t remember the details. He says that he woke up in his apartment, which strongly implies that he was not living with Amy at the time. That seems a little strange, since she asked, back in Entry #26, “When did we get a camera?” It is possible, however, that Alex brought a few of his belongings to Amy’s house, and the camera was among them. That being the case, we have to wonder whether or not it was a deliberate act.

Our second revelation is that Amy had a room-mate named Jessica. It seems almost certain that this is the same Jessica who found herself in a hotel room next to Jay’s at the beginning of the season. Remember that these events are unfolding in the missing months between the end of the first season and Jay waking up in the hotel, so we haven’t reached the point where Jay and Jessica meet. It seems that there is something odd about the tone of Alex’s message — he doesn’t sound overly concerned, and it seems strange that he hasn’t called Jessica already to enquire about Amy, given that it has been weeks, if not months, since the Operator appeared in the house.

We must also question Alex’s motivations. Why did he bring Jay along? Jay didn’t do anything, and there didn’t seem to be any reason for him to be there — is it possible, therefore, that Alex is simply trying to win Jay’s trust by seeming to investigate? His actions seem studied and conspicuous; what does he really want?

We then cut to the second part of the entry, but before we get into the content, let’s take a look at the narrative choice here. Jay is editing these entries together and posting them to YouTube, but we know that his footage came from the tapes, and the chest-camera footage comes from the hard-drive. Why did he decide to splice together two seemingly-unconnected pieces of footage into a single entry? We might infer that time-stamps or other information which was edited out of the final video confirm that this is where Alex went after dropping Jay at his hotel, but we might expect some confirmation of that fact. Once again, we cannot entirely trust the sequence of events as it is presented to us, because Jay is composing this story through the editing process.

That said, Alex’s journey into the forest is troubling, no matter how it is connected to the visit to the house. He seems to be heading toward a specific destination, and when he finds it, the Operator is there waiting. Alex collapses, but does not try to flee; instead, he gets back to his feet, and deliberately approaches the Operator.

What are we to make of this? It’s tempting to believe that Alex is being somehow controlled by the Operator — that is, perhaps, to say that he is being Operated — but it’s impossible to be sure. His twitching hand and uncertain movements may suggest that something is controlling his body, but they may also be symptoms of the Operator’s proximity.

One small factor in Alex’s favor — at least as far as his complicity is concerned — is the camera. It seems that the chest-camera may be designed to specifically record encounters with the Operator, insofar as it cannot be dropped and lost, as Jay’s hand-held camera was. If Alex is willingly working with or for the Operator, why would he try to record the encounters?

Is Alex under the Operator’s control, consciously or unconsciously? Where is Jessica? Where is Amy? What are Alex’s intentions?

totheark: Inquiry (July 7, 2011)

After a moment of silence, video begins to play, accompanied by ominous music, and what sounds like a film projector. The caption, “Look at you,” appears, blurred at first and then sharpening. We see a strange silhouette of a man, and the image slowly zooms in; the silhouette dissolves to a picture of a brain, accompanied by the caption, “You are who you are.” An arrow appears, pointing to the parietal lobe. We see two white circles, which begin to run as though made of wet paint, and cut to a warped face. A caption reads, “You are you,” and an Operator symbol appears over the face’s eye. There is a moment of black, and another distorted face appears, along with the message, “But who are you.” Two more distorted faces follow, and the footage cuts to rows of zeroes, behind which something is moving.

There’s a lot to cover in this video, but all of it is typically cryptic. Let’s start with the hidden information, and move onward from there. First, a resourceful viewer named Feiticera ran the audio track through a spectrogram, and revealed a troubling hidden message in the audio distortion at the end of the video:

Image credit to Unfiction forum user Feiticera

And if you look closely at the last section:

Image credit to Unfiction forum user Feiticera

Now that’s ingenious, even for ToTheArk. The exact meaning is difficult to pin down, but we’ll return to it in a moment.

The other piece of hidden information can be found in the YouTube description for the video, which is “maɪnəs sɛntrɔɪd”. That is the phonetic representation of the words “minus centroid”. In geometry, the centroid is the precise center of something; does the description suggest that something central, something critical, has been removed?

So, with all the information arrayed before us, let’s take a look at the central message. Identity is clearly significant here, and the distorted photographs, the reference to the brain, and the possible implications of “minus centroid” all suggest that ToTheArk is wondering if our cast of characters are still truly themselves. It’s certainly worth noting that the second of the four distorted faces appears to be Tim, while the third is almost certainly Alex. The fourth may be Jay — or possibly the first — but both are too distorted to be sure. In any case, ToTheArk seems to be wondering whether or not these people are themselves, or something else — a question which is almost certainly mirrored in the rather blunt, “Do I help or do I kill?”

It’s tempting to speculate that the Operator’s influence is somehow corrupting those who have contact with him. We’ve seen Tim seek refuge behind a mask, and Alex’s behavior is certainly troubling, but we’ve also had reason to wonder how “himself” Jay is. That is assuming, of course, that ToTheArk is opposed to the Operator; the Return and Admission videos shot in Brian’s house may suggest that they are actually working together.

In context, it seems as though ToTheArk is working against the Operator, and is trying to figure out which of the characters — but particularly, in light of the previous video, Alex — has been corrupted.

What does ToTheArk want? What proof will he or she need to decide to help… or kill?

Entry #44 (July 15, 2011)

Shot from the chest-camera, a figure is moving around outside a house at night. The unseen figure seems to put something into a trash can, then returns indoors. We realize that the camera is worn by Alex when we hear him call Jessica, telling her that he has reached Amy, and to disregard his prior message. We then cut to Alex in front of a bathroom mirror, blankly staring at his reflection; then, we see him coughing blood into the sink. Another cut, and he seems to be looking around a dark room with a flashlight; then, we see him drawing charcoal sketches of trees and Operator symbols. Beneath a large Operator symbol, he crudely writes the word “OPERATOR”. We then see him leaning back against the wall, possibly unconscious; as we watch, a walking figure casts a shadow across him. We see a shot of Alex’s bedroom, and then cut to another angle, while Alex appears to fix the camera to a tripod. He takes off his glasses and gets into bed; the image flickers, and when it returns, the Operator is standing in the corner of the room. Video and audio distortion grows steadily worse, until the image strobes violently, and suddenly stabilizes, revealing that both the Operator and Alex have disappeared. Jay’s captions appear to tell us that the bed remains empty until the camera’s battery died, and that, after examining the rest of the footage, he has no proof that Alex ever contacted Amy.

This is clearly a conscious return to the style of the first season: we have the same fragments of footage, the same brooding sense of claustrophobia and oppression. This is doubly effective — it doesn’t just evoke the same atmosphere, reminding us that the Operator is a real threat who actively hunts those who have attracted his attention, but it also strongly implies that Alex never escaped the influence of the Operator. This has been going on for years; it’s easy to feel sympathy for him, particularly when we see him slumped against the wall or staring into the bathroom mirror. Alex may be corrupted — his message to Jessica certainly suggests that his earlier call was a feint to earn Jay’s trust, as we suspected — but he is clearly suffering, and has been for some time.

Besides the connection between Alex and the Operator — which is simply a confirmation of what we suspected following the last video — there is little new in this video. It works beautifully, however, as a nod to the first season, and a reminder of the stakes: Marble Hornets is not simply about facing death and destruction, but about the loss of sanity, and of the self.

Which brings us back to ToTheArk’s last video, doesn’t it?

Is Alex willingly working with the Operator? How much of his original self remains? Is he fighting, and is it possible for him to escape the influence?

Entry #45 (July 23, 2011)

Jay’s caption reads, “Approximately three months after finding Alex.” Alex is sitting on a couch, changing the tapes in a camera; after a moment, he seems to hear a sound from outside, and gets up. He pulls up the window-blind, then moves to the door and looks through the peep-hole. He opens the door and goes out onto the porch, then runs back in grabs his camera. He switch to footage from a hand-held camera, as Alex runs down the wooden stairs from his front door to the street. He calls out, and we see a hooded figure run down the street. Alex gives chase. The footage cuts for a moment, and then we see the hooded figure slow to halt in an open parking lot. Alex approaches him, and he begins running again. Another cut, and Alex is chasing the figure down a path next to some trees. The hooded figure disappears, and Alex looks around; the footage cuts again, and Alex is advancing through the trees. He sees the hooded figure ahead of him, and stops; a second later, he is tackled to the ground by an unseen assailant. The footage flickers, and we see Alex on his back, his the hooded figure kneeling by his legs. A second figure enters the frame, and kneels down, which reveals it to be Tim, wearing his mask. He is holding a rock, with which he threatens Alex. He begins to choke Alex, and we see visual tearing; both masked men suddenly look up, and immediately run, leaving Alex gasping on the ground. There is significant visual distortion as Alex reaches for his camera, and the footage cuts. When it returns, Alex is looking around the trees, yelling after his vanished attackers, threatening to kill them. There is a burst of distortion, and the entry ends.

This is another entry which, while suggesting that Alex is a dangerous and corrupted individual, manages to elicit our sympathy. The hooded figure clearly lures him away from his apartment in order to attack — and, we can only presume, kill — him.

There are a few details worthy of our attention here: first, Jay’s caption at the beginning states that this is three — or at most four — months into the missing seven-month period from the summer of 2010. That strongly implies that there is a lot of story left.

(Once again, we must note that Jay says “after finding Alex”, but does not clarify that they met for the first time at the abandoned house. It remains possible that there is an unseen chapter of the story, in which Jay and Alex meet for the first time since Alex handed over the Marble Hornets tapes.)

We also have conclusive proof that the hooded man is not Tim, and that Tim has not abandoned his masked identity. As he moves to Alex’s side with the rock, he is limping; it makes sense that it was the hooded man, and not Tim, that lured Alex into the forest.

We are inevitably reminded of the cryptic message in ToTheArk’s last video, in which he wondered whether he should help or kil. Assuming that the masked men are, either in whole or in part, ToTheArk, then it appears that a decision has already been made in regard to Alex. It is almost tempting to ascribe their decision to the content of Jay’s posted videos, but we must remember that these events happened a year in the past; therefore, since ToTheArk had already made the decision to kill Alex back in 2010, we must ask to whom he is referring in the Inquiry video. It is not Tim or Alex, which leaves only two major characters: Jay, and the Operator himself.

Once again, in this video, Jay stitches together two different pieces of footage from two different sources to create a single narrative. There aren’t any obvious inconsistencies between the two parts of the entry, but it’s worth staying conscious of Jay’s narrative choices.

Another incidental detail: we can safely assume that the masked men flee from the Operator before they can kill Alex, but if the implication isn’t enough, look closely at the distortion at the end of the footage:

Image credit to Unfiction forum user ZombiePiggy

Most significantly, however, we now have fairly conclusive proof that there is more than one person involved with ToTheArk. We’ve speculated that the ToTheArk videos may have been made by different people — and Jay thought so too — but a thorough analysis of those different styles would fit better at the end of the season. We’ll get to it!

Why does the hooded man want Alex dead? Does Tim just want revenge? What purpose do the masks serve? Did the Operator protect Alex? If so, what does he need Alex for?

Entry #46 (August 2, 2011)

Jay is shining a flashlight over foliage, and cuts the light off as they turn to look at a house. The door opens, and Alex emerges, carrying something with him. He descends the stairs and vanishes from view; Jay runs toward the house and climbs the stairs to the second floor. He goes inside, and we see some keys hanging by the door. There is a flicker of video distortion, and we move deeper into the apartment, down a narrow hallway. We peek into a closet, then move into the bedroom at the end of the hall. Jay puts down his flashlight, looks at Alex’s scribbled drawings, and picks up a video tape; the camera operator runs back to the closet as the exterior door opens, and hides inside. A figure passes the closet door, and Jay’s phone buzzes. We hear Alex leaving a terse voicemail message for Jay. Jay emerges from the closet, and immediately sees the Operator outside the window. He begins to panic, and turns to see Alex coming down the hallway with Jay’s flashlight in hand. Alex bluntly points out that he left the flashlight behind, and takes the tape from Jay’s hand; Jay responds by telling him to shut up, and by turning off the flashlight. Alex accuses Jay of, “Leading him right here,” and points out that Jay was stupid for breaking in to his apartment while he was taking out the trash. Jay turns on the light and looks to the window, but the Operator is gone. Jay says, “It’s not out there any more,” but as he turns around, we see the Operator looming at the end of the hallway, inside Alex’s bedroom. In a burst of audio-visual distortion, Jay runs for the door, pausing only to take the single key which was hanging on the wall. Jay’s captions note that Alex did not follow him, and that the key he took appears to be the one he found in his bag at the hotel.

Poor Jay. Alex’s criticisms are entirely fair: he broke in without a definite plan, when he had mere moments before Alex returned, left his flashlight behind, and didn’t turn off his phone. This was a fumbled operation, but it also gave us one of the most effective jump-scares in the entire series. It also continues to build Alex’s association with the Operator, while casting definite doubt of his allegiance — and sanity.

A few notes: this is definitely the house that we saw in Entries #44 and #45. Alex has apparently been living here for quite some time, and this may indeed be the apartment that he remembers waking up in after the Operator’s attack at Amy and Jessica’s house. It is unclear how Jay found it, although the day before the Entry was posted, he posted to Twitter:

@marblehornets, August 1, 2011, 9:39M
Finding a lot of footage of me tailing Alex without him knowing it.

It’s unclear how and when Jay picked up Alex’s trail, but we can assume that he was active during the missing seven months.

We catch a glimpse of one of Alex’s pages, upon which is written “help me” and “kill me” numerous times. That seems like an ominous echo of ToTheArk’s secret message in the spectrogram analysis of the Inquiry video. We assumed that it was a straightforward question — one which seemed to be answered after the hooded man attacked Alex with Tim — but it may also have been a reference to Alex’s conflicted state. Who does he want to help him? Does he want to be killed, or is he afraid that he will be killed? They messages continue to cast doubt of Alex’s supposed complicity with the Operator, though we can’t be sure to what extent he has fallen under his influence.

Is there any truth to Alex’s assertion that Jay led the Operator to his apartment? It would seem not: he was there in Entry #44, and nearby in Entry #45. Alex, then, is trying to deflect Jay’s suspicions, which may be the most significant proof of his willing complicity.

Would the Operator have harmed Jay if he had not run? What was on the video tape Alex took back from Jay? What lock does the key fit?

totheark: Classified (August 15, 2011)

Amidst shifting planes of white zeroes, the words “I know you’re there” are written in red text. We cut to a hooded figure with two lit circles as eyes, with numbers appearing alongside. We end on a close-up of an eye, with the words “I saw it” in the corner.

As ever, there are concealed messages within the video. The most obvious can be found in the numbers which appear beside the hooded figure; when decoded with alphanumeric substitution, the first set reads “sniwteht”, and when divided by three, the second and third sets read, “wwonkuoydo” and “didehtahw”. When reversed, these strings yield the message: “The twins. Do you know what he did?”

The position of the hooded figure seems reminiscent — if not identical to — the posture the hooded figure adopted in Entry #45, as he was kneeling over Alex. It seems unlikely that this is a coincidence; if the image is not taken directly from Entry #45 — and there do seem to be some subtle differences — then it is certainly intended to be a reference. Who, then, are the twins? The hooded figure and Tim? The hooded figure and Alex? Is the use of “the twins” intended to distance ToTheArk from them? We have suspected that the hooded figure may be ToTheArk, but this casts doubt upon that.

It’s also possible that the differences the between the figure in this video and the hooded figure in Entry #45 may suggest that there are two different people involved, and that they are the twins.

We should note that the YouTube description for this video is “[][]”, which seems to be a reference to two identical entities, side by side — that is, the twins.

Who does ToTheArk know is “there”? Who is the “he” that the coded message refers to? What did “he” do? Who — or what — are the twins?

Entry #47 (August 18, 2011)

Jay’s captions tells us that this video takes place an hour after he fled Alex’s apartment. Jay is in his car, his head on the wheel, either sleeping or deep in thought. Alex approaches the car and knocks on the window; Jay rouses himself and gets out of the car. Alex pushes him and berates him for breaking into his apartment. Jay admits that he had no plan, and Alex taunts him with the tape. Alex leaves and Jay follows him, asking him how he got out of his apartment. Alex ignores the question and tells Jay that he has been no help. They argue, and Alex pushes Jay again. They continue to argue, and Alex tells Jay that he is “done helping”. Jay follows him and demands Jessica’s telephone number; Alex refuses, but Jay steals his keys, and locks them inside his own car. Alex reluctantly gives Jay the number, and after calling the number to confirm that it does, indeed, belong to Jessica, he returns Alex’s keys. Jay gets back in his car and drives away; Jay’s caption reminds us that Alex dodged the question about how he got out of his apartment. We then cut to the interior of Jay’s car on a bright, sunny afternoon. He calls Jessica and introduces himself; he asks about Amy, and Jessica, surprised, tells him that Alex told her that he found Amy, and that they were together. Jay tells her that Alex lied, and tries to reassure her that she shouldn’t be worried. He tells her to ignore any future calls from Alex, and that he’ll be in touch. His captions underscore the fact that Jessica knows Alex was lying, and then ends with the ominous sentence: “In hindsight, I never should have called her.”

A confrontation between Jay and Alex has been a long time coming, but it plays out in a particularly interesting way. Alex knows that Jay is suspicious of his behavior, and also that he saw the Operator in his apartment; now, instead of taking direct action against Jay, he says that he is done helping, and clearly tries to warn him off. There are a number of possible motives that we can attribute to this, ranging from a direct threat against Jay if he continues to investigate, all the way to a veiled request for help. Alex does, after all, give Jay Jessica’s number; since neither he nor Jay could have left the parking lot with his keys still locked in Jay’s car, they were at best at an impasse. If Jessica’s number was so important — and it was, because Alex knew it would reveal the lie about Amy — then he gave in rather easily. Ordinarily, it would be easy to dismiss that as pragmatic writing on the part of the film-makers, since they wanted Jay to gain the upper hand without spending hours on a scene in the parking lot, but given our uncertainty over Alex’s allegiances and intentions, we have to admit the possibility that he was taking the minimum possible action against Jay, while still tacitly encouraging him.

We knew, of course, that Alex had lied to Jessica, so the conversation between Jay and Jessica contains little in the way of new information. It is interesting in that it is the first direct contact between them, and Jessica notes that Alex called her “months ago” regarding Amy, which suggests that we are already coming to the end of the missing seven months, and that Jessica and Jay will soon find themselves, without memories, in the strange hotel. 2011 Jay knows this, though 2010 Jay doesn’t yet — and that raises an interesting question about the enigmatic final caption. Does the Jay who is editing together these entries know more about Jessica’s fate than we do? Is he simply referring to her memory loss, time in the hotel, and her disappearance? Does he know more about what happens between this entry and their arrival at the hotel?

Time will, of course, tell.

One interesting nod to the series’ internal continuity can be found in Jessica’s phone number. The last four digits — the only digits that we hear — are 1102, the combination to the safe in the hotel back at the beginning of the season.

It’s unclear how Jay will proceed from here. Alex’s decision to taunt him the mysterious tape may come back to haunt him, giving Jay’s predilection for breaking in to the same buildings more than once. What he do know, however, is that the events of the missing summer are coming to a close, and something big is about to happen to both Jay and Jessica — and, presumably, Alex Krailie.

Next time, we see just how far Alex has fallen, and close out the second season with some answers, encounters with monsters both human and not, and a new mystery.

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


5 thoughts on “Watching Marble Hornets – Part 11

  1. I dont have anything too important to make note of but to date theres new marble hornets and ToTheArk videos on youtube.

  2. Your analysis of Marble Hornets is absolutely top-notch, and the best dissection of the series available on the internet. Thank you for taking the time to do this, and I sincerely hope you will continue through season two and into season three.

  3. Could the twins not also refer to Alex and the Operator? And that the happy birthday entry could allude to a familial connection? After all we have no way of knowing how old or potentially how young the Operator is.

  4. Great catch, Mark, and one that opens up a huge number of potentially fascinating stories. I’ll give it some thought!

  5. I’ve recently started following the videos alongside your page, and your analysis are amazing! Congratulations!
    I’ve watched some of Marble Hornets videos before, but didn’t pay attention to them, so now I’m re-watching carefully.

    I have an idea; I think ToTheArk is trying to help Jay…In a weird way… and “protect” him from Alex and the Operator. I agree with Mark, I guess they (Alex and the Operator) have some connection. And Alex brings people to the Operator for some ominous plan. Gains their trust and turns them into puppets or something.
    I guess ToTheArk is being mysterious about it because they can’t make a direct approach, because the Operator knows about them. This would explain the cryptographic videos.
    This idea has some flaws, though, like the fact that ToTheArk has some videos which shows the Operator, and the first entries stand clearly that they are connected to each other.
    Maybe they were forced to do that, and now are trying to change it? And they think Jay can help?

    Also, from previous entries, couldn’t the Operator be the one who lured Jay into the woods, pretending to be Alex on the phone? I think someone like the Operator would have this power.

    Keep going this amazing job :)!

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