Watching Marble Hornets – Part 12

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

Last time, we saw the world from Alex’s point of view, and realized just how far under the shadow of the Operator he had fallen. Now, we conclude the second season, address the mystery of the missing seven months, and begin a new investigation.

Entry #48 (August 31, 2011)

We begin with footage of Alex’s house, shot at night from behind cover. A caption informs us that Jay began following Alex once his deception was revealed by the phone call to Jessica. We cut to Alex’s car on a busy road, and a second caption tells us that Jay didn’t seem to discover anything “out of the ordinary” during his investigation. We cut again, this time to Alex sitting on a park bench. A caption tells us that Alex began carrying a small satchel with him around this time. Another cut, and we see Alex emerge from his car in Rosswood Park; this time, the caption tells us that Alex went to the park regularly, wearing his chest-camera, and then that Jay never followed him into the forest. We then cut to footage of dense foliage and a caption surmises that eventually, Jay had no choice but to follow Alex. We then see Alex getting out of his car with the satchel, and Jay begins to follow him into the forest. Shortly thereafter, Jay confesses via caption that he lost Alex “almost immediately”. Later, we hear a buzz of audio distortion, and a possible glimpse of a dark figure as Jay pans the camera quickly across the forest; he then follows a trail until he suddenly sees Alex kneeling at the entrance of a tunnel, and ducks behind a tree. Jay watches Alex mess with the satchel, but when Alex turns around, Jay flees. We cut back to the parking lot, where a man in a white shirt is smoking a cigarette while leaning against his car, and Jay’s caption tells us that he left Rosswood without confronting Alex. Jay returns to car, and then tells us via captions that the tunnel he found looks identical to the one seen in Entry #29, the file labelled “noentry”. Jay resolves to track down the footage from the chest camera, and discover what Alex was doing in the tunnel.

So, a few points of minor clarification: first, Jay was following Alex for a few months after the revelation from Jessica. That happened approximately three months after Jay found Alex, which means that we are now closing in on the end of the missing seven-month period. Second, Jay does not find frequent trips to Rosswood Park while wearing a chest-mounted camera to be “out of the ordinary”. Third, present-Jay is, as always, inferring the motives and reasoning of past-Jay, and we mustn’t assume that he is entirely correct.

We speculated after watching Entry #42, in which the chest-camera was introduced, that it may have been the source of the “noentry” footage in Entry #29. This now seems probable, given that we know the chest-camera made at least one trip to the mysterious tunnel. Moreover, the satchel that Alex is carrying looks a lot like a camera bag, and the unseen camera-operator in Entry #29 is holding a small camera while also wearing the chest-camera. This is speculation, of course, but it seems possible that Alex shot the “noentry” footage which ended up hidden on Jay’s hard-drive.

So what is this mysterious tunnel? It is definitely connected with the Operator — we saw him appear during the “noentry” footage, and catch a glimpse of him in this video, when Jay pans across the trees just before discovering the tunnel.

Image credit to Unfiction forum user MarbleArk.

Image credit to Unfiction forum user MarbleArk.

Alex’s motives remain unclear. It is possible that Jay witnessed his first ever trip to the tunnel — or, if we are wrong about the chest-camera footage, even his only trip to the tunnel — but he clearly knows that the Operator is present in Rosswood Park, and is taking some kind of action over the course of months. What could Alex be doing? What choice and agency does he have? We would be better able to understand his actions if we knew what role cameras play in interactions with the Observer — are his cameras a necessary obedience, or a sign of rebellion — but we can only speculate.

What is Alex doing in Rosswood Park? Did he know that Jay was following him? What is the connection between the Operator and the tunnel?

totheark: Sidenote (September 1, 2011)

Beside a shimmering patch of light, the words “BE SILENT” appear. A white shape emerges from the darkness, and then cuts to a human-shaped outline in front of a screen filled with static, with Alex’s face crudely superimposed. We hear, heavily distorted, “You’ve done nothing but make everything worse.” These words repeat as the silhouetted figure moves, and we cut to the caption, “THIS IS THE BEST PART”. Then, the video ends.

This video was uploaded to YouTube with the description, “remainseated iwillfindyou”. At first glance, the video may be read as an instruction to Jay — stop, be still, wait for it — but the overlaying of Alex’s words on what appears to be the hooded figure’s form, along with the appearance of Tim’s white mask from the darkness, suggests an interesting alternative: rather than being directed at Jay, this may be ToTheArk throwing Alex’s words back at him. He told Jay that he had done nothing but making everything worse in Entry #47, but coupled with his unexplained actions in the tunnel, the message in Sidenote may be a defense of Jay — Alex is told to “BE SILENT”, after all — or a savagely sarcastic criticism of Alex.

Either way, we are left with a stark question: what is coming next, and why is it the “best part”?

Entry #49 (September 6, 2011)

Via captions, Jay tells us that he has analysed all of the footage from Alex’s chest-camera on the day he followed him into Rosswood, and that, reluctantly, he must upload it. We then cut to the camera being turned on, and Alex strapping it to his chest. Alex is walking through the forest, muttering, “Don’t follow me,” and, “I know you’re there.” We then cut to a two-frame comparison of Jay and Alex’s footage, showing Alex in the tunnel while Jay watches him. We cut to a caption telling us that Alex sits in the tunnel for fifteen minutes, and then the footage returns with a faint hiss of audio distortion. We hear a voice asking if Alex needs help, and he turns, shouting at a bearded figure in a white T-shirt that, “I told you not to follow me.” The man protests, but Alex leaps to his feet and attacks him. There is a scuffle, and the camera falls to the ground. When the footage returns, Alex is astride the bearded figure in the middle of the tunnel, and appears to be strangling him. There is a flicker of distortion, and the audio static has grown worse. The bearded man stops struggling, and the image flickers again. Alex slowly gets to his feet, and leaves frame; there is another burst of visual distortion, worse than before, and Alex returns carrying a large rock. He lifts it above his head, and the image cuts to black; Jay tells us that he uses the rock to hit the man four times. Alex then gets back to his feet, and walks to the side of the tunnel, where he retrieves his glasses. He then leaves frame. A moment later, a violent burst of video and audio distortion reveals the Operator standing over the bearded man’s body; the distortion suddenly vanishes, along with the Operator and the body. Footsteps approach the camera, and it is picked up. The footage flickers, and we see that it is Alex holding the camera. Jay’s captions inform us that he doesn’t know the bearded man, and believes that Alex didn’t either. We then cut the interior of Alex’s car, and hear Alex calling Jay, telling him to meet him tomorrow at the park. Jay appears reluctant but Alex claims that it is important, and about Amy. Jay reluctantly agrees, and the video ends.

Tone can be a difficult thing for a story like Marble Hornets. Balancing the oblique and intriguing with the explicit and direct is challenging; the mystery must be interesting, but the answers must be rewarding. This entry may be the most successful synthesis of the two tonal extremes we see in this series: the enigmatic, bewildering role of the Operator, and the brutal physicality of Alex’s actions. For some, this entry may provide a startling twist to Alex’s story; for others, it may only confirm what was already suspected. Either way, the facts are clear: Alex is a murderer.

We have discussed in the past the issue of Alex’s culpability. It’s difficult to determine the degree to which he is under the Operator’s control — and we must again pause to consider the meaning behind the faceless apparition’s name — and to what degree he remains, while under the control, Alex. Is the Operator giving him instructions which he is coldly and consciously enacting? Is he lost is stupor while taking action? Is the truth somewhere between the two? For that matter, we can’t be certain why Alex was in the tunnel in the first place. Given Jay’s account in the previous entry, it’s possible that his journeys to the park are compulsive; had the bearded man not interrupted his reverie in the tunnel, would he simply have returned home without incident, as he had so many times before? What exactly was Alex doing, and was he aware of it?

Given his actions toward Tim in the abandoned house, and his justification of that act afterwards, I was comfortable that he was consciously himself during those episodes. The assault by Tim and the hooded figure — or at least, Alex’s death-threat response to the assault — seemed to support that. This entry doesn’t offer conclusive proof, but Alex’s muttering during the journey through the forest, his murder of the bearded man, and his phone call to Jay afterward certainly suggest that he is aware of his actions. It seems that whatever his relationship with the Operator is, it is not one of complete psychological domination. Alex, for better or worse, is still Alex.

Mostly. For now.

alex
sil

On the subject of the bearded man, this is not the first time that we have seen him. At the end of Entry #48, when Jay returns to the parking lot, we see him leaning against a car, smoking a cigarette. Considering that Jay emerged from the forest in a hooded sweatshirt, apparently wearing sunglasses and carrying a camera, it is not impossible that the man decided to investigate the forest because he saw Jay. Our intrepid hero may have inadvertently led the bearded man to his death.

If we have no clear explanation of Alex’s actions, understanding the Operator’s presence in the tunnel is more difficult still. A superficial reading of the events we are shown suggests that Alex killed the bearded man, and the Operator took the body. If that is the case, we don’t know where, and we don’t know why — although it does remind us of Alex’s confession that, “Everyone is gone,” back in Entry #22. We must allow for alternative possibilities — such as the Operator “possessing” Alex directly, the bearded man surviving the encounter, or something more esoteric happening to the body after the encounter than simple transportation — but there’s precious little to base more elaborate theories upon. In truth, there’s no need to look beyond the reported events: their (relative, take-with-a-pinch-of-salt) mundanity emphasizes the monstrous tragedy of Alex’s character. When we met him, he was a promising film-maker; now, either by the manifestation of a fundamental darkness in his character or the consequences of the Operator’s influence, he is, starkly and sadly, a murderer. This is subtly effective storytelling, and it’s worth dwelling for a moment on the quiet darkness that underpins the increasingly high-stakes delivery. We’re left with questions about Alex’s sanity, his culpability, his essence, but not about the extent of his actions.

For all that, we now know what happened after Jay left Alex at the tunnel. We also have compelling reason to believe that this event was the prelude to the blood found in the tunnel in the “noentry” footage. This is an effective example of mystery-thriller pacing — by answering secondary questions, the potential tension and excitement is folded back into the central question. It seems that we know the “what” of the events in the tunnel, if not the “why”.

Who was the bearded man? What did the Operator do with the body? Is Alex responsible for his actions? Who did he believe was following him? Why does Alex want Jay to meet him?

Between this video and the next, Jay took to Twitter to express some concern over Alex’s victim.

@marblehornets, September 8, 2011, 2:38PM
Looking for any reports of a missing person around the area and time Entry #49 took place.

@marblehornets, September 9, 2011, 7:06PM
So far, I’ve found absolutely nothing about a missing person. I feel like I’ve looked everywhere, too.

@marblehornets, September 26, 2011, 2:18PM
Giving up on finding missing person reports. Getting back to the tapes.

@GreyouTT, September 26, 2011, 2:26PM
@marblehornets Maybe the man’s death has already been confirmed. And his case has been closed.

@marblehornets, September 26, 2011, 2:27PM
@GreyouTT Then wouldn’t there be a news story about it somewhere at least? I can’t find anything..

@GreyouTT, September 26, 2011, 2:30PM
@marblehornets Have you checked the Obituaries in old newspapers?

@marblehornets, September 26, 2011, 2:37PM
@GreyouTT Yes, I’ve checked everything. Found nothing.

This is an interesting exchange. On a superficial level, it’s possible that the film-makers are simply trying to close down the story of the bearded man; he was a random victim, and there’s nothing to be gained by exploring his back-story, so Jay’s going to let it drop and we shouldn’t worry about it. Alternatively, is it possible that something more significant than murder took place in the corrugated tunnel? When the Operator took the body, was it more than the removal of evidence? Has the bearded man been removed from the world so completely that all trace of him has vanished? If so, does Jay only know the bearded man because of the footage he has seen? Is that, perhaps, one of the reasons Jay and Alex have shown such commitment to recording their experiences — if they are removed, only the tapes remain.

totheark: Extraction (September 27, 2011)

There is darkness, and a discordant tone. In the distance, as if illuminated by an unseen streetlight, we see the masked man limp forwards. We see a glimpse of Tim, and another of the tunnel. Through increasing distortion, and a second flash of the tunnel, the words, “HOW MUCH DO YOU HATE” appear. A moment later they are replaced by, “IT IS NOT ENOUGH”, and the video ends.

This is an odd response from ToTheArk. On one hand, it’s focused and positively crackling with fury; on the other, that anger is not aimed at a clear and unambiguous target. It seems that there are three main possibilities: that the video is aimed at Jay, who hates Alex for his actions in the tunnel; it is aimed at Alex, who hates the Operator for compelling or coercing him to murder the bearded man; it is aimed at Tim, who hates Alex for both the murder in the park, and for breaking his leg at the abandoned house. It may seem that we can ignore the last of those three possibilities, since the presence of the masked man in the footage suggests authorship, but the video also contains a clear connection between Tim’s masked and non-masked personae, which is unlike ToTheArk. We also have to consider the presence of the tunnel, which would seem to move the focus back to Jay and Alex. If that is true, is this an implicit admission that ToTheArk is Tim? “Here I am, Jay, telling you that should be angrier than you are.” That would be a momentous revelation — too momentous, possibly, to be presented in such an oblique way.

And, of course, there’s the powerful suggestion that ToTheArk is a witness to everything that unfolds:

eye-tunnel

Who hates? Who — or what — is hated?

Entry #50 (September 30, 2011)

We begin in Jay’s car. He examines a small knife, and puts it in his pocket, along with a number of tapes. He picks up the camera, and we cut to Jay in Rosswood Park, where he is leaving a message for Jessica. He leans against the car and waits. We cut to Alex emerging from his car, wearing a familiar striped blue shirt. Jay takes the opportunity to peer into Alex’s car, and asks him about the satchel; Alex replies that it is a camera case. They walk through the forest together; Jay asks how far they are going, and Alex tells him that it’s a long way. They walk a little further, and Alex asks Jay is he stole anything from his apartment, because he’s missing his front door key. Jay is distracted by the sounds of someone walking behind them, although nothing is seen. Alex casually enquires about Jessica, and Jay distractedly tells him that nothing significant has happened. We cut to a caption that informs us that this footage precedes the events of Entry #38; we then begin the next tape. With a buzz of static and blurred video, Jay complains that it is getting late, and that they should leave. Alex acquiesces, but tells Jay that the next time they come, Jay is to bring Jessica. Jay leaves Alex behind, and begins to walk back through the gloomy forest. Jay is growing more anxious as he walks, scanning the forest with his camera — until he sees the masked man hiding behind a tree, calls out to him, and gives chase. There is a momentary hiss of distortion as he follows, but the footage cuts to the mouth of the tunnel. Jay falls, and gets up. He is calling out to Tim, but there is no response. We cut to Jay sitting on the grass outside the tunnel, seemingly despondent. He then picks up the camera, and purposefully enters the tunnel. We cut to black, and captions inform us that the rest of the tape is blank. Jay confirms that this is the same tunnel, and also that Alex wasn’t wearing his camera when they entered the forest, so he has no footage of what Alex did after Jay left him. He cuts to the next tape, which begins with Jay watching Alex leave his apartment. Alex drives away, and Jay quickly climbs the stairs, unlocks the door, and enters. He locks the door behind him, and begins to explore. He explores, and finds some pages of Alex’s scribbled drawings. He checks the desk drawers, and finds more pages; then, in Alex’s nightstand, he finds a tape in a plastic case. He takes it, and immediately leaves the apartment, locking the door behind him. We cut to Jay in his car, where he labels the stolen tape “56-42” and shows it to the camera. He then starts the car, puts on his seatbelt, and the footage ends. A caption tells us that now he knows which tape was taken from Alex’s apartment, he can find it in his collection.

So, let’s begin with this entry’s place in both the internal and external chronology of the series. It neatly brackets Entry #38, in which Alex told Jay ghost stories while they walked through the forest, and obviously takes place in the aftermath of Entry #46, when Jay broke in to Alex’s apartment for the first time, and Entry #47, when Alex and Jay argued, and Jay contacted Jessica for the first time. This may well be the latest entry that we’ve seen to date, although that leaves one big question: when did Alex kill the bearded man? As Jay observes via captions, there’s no trace of the murder in the tunnel, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it hasn’t taken place yet. There are two details which I think carry significant weight here: Alex has the chest-camera in his possession, but isn’t wearing it, which might suggest that his mental state hasn’t quite deteriorated to the point where he wears it compulsively. On the other hand, Tim leads Jay to the tunnel, which means that he is either foreshadowing what will happen there, or indicating that the tunnel is inherently important, besides the murder of the bearded man. Is it the act that makes the place significant, or the place itself? We have no way of knowing what led Alex there on the day of the murder, but the Operator’s presence seems to be considerable.

Moving on for the moment, let’s fit some of the puzzle pieces into our larger picture. Jay has been staying in contact with Jessica — he begins the call by saying, “Hey Jessica, it’s me,” which implies regular contact, and Alex asks him how things are going, which may be a reference to a romantic connection between the two — and is keeping her informed about his investigation. The satchel that Alex carried to the tunnel on the day of the murder is, he claims, a camera case. Tim’s leg has apparently healed, despite the limp we saw in the last ToTheArk video. Something was causing distortion on Jay’s camera throughout the first half of the entry, though we can’t be sure if it was Alex, Tim, the Operator, or simply the region of Rosswood Park they were traversing. Also, Jay has learned a thing or two about breaking and entering since his last attempt. He now has the tape that Alex taunted him with back in Entry #47. Alex’s motivation in that regard may seem a little suspect — he indicates to Jay that the tape is important, pointedly reveals that the key Jay took from his apartment is the key to the front door, and leaves the tape in a hiding place of marginal security, only a few feet from where Jay originally found it — so we should keep in mind, when Jay shares the contents of the tape, that Alex may have wanted him to find it.

Speaking of Alex’s apartment, we were given a glimpse of some of the scribbled drawings:

eyes-watching

operator-symbols

return-home

The Operator symbols being used as eyes is a new development, since they rarely come in pairs. They are reminiscent of the glowing circles ToTheArk has used in several of the response videos, most notably in Memories — a video which also featured a sketch of a head with stars for eyes, overlaid with the Operator symbol.

symbol-eyes

The use of eyes is remarkably significant throughout Marble Hornets, from the masks, to the eyeless appearance of the Operator, to the use of cameras to record events which may not have been seen or understood in person — remember the appearances of the Operator throughout the first season, in which people in the scene didn’t notice him, but the camera did. Watching and being watched is a major theme, and is only becoming more important as the stakes are raised, and the storytelling becomes more assured.

In general, it’s difficult to escape the sense that the stage is being set. Jay escapes the forest, but is invited to return with Jessica; he now has the tape, and further revelations must surely await. We can only wait for what comes next.

Why was Alex leading Jay into the forest? What caused the distortion? Why does Alex want Jessica to accompany them? Did Tim lead Jay to the tunnel deliberately? Does the significance of the tunnel extend beyond the murder? What is on the stolen tape?

Entry #51 (October 12, 2011)

A caption tells us that Jay found the tape he stole from Alex’s apartment, and that it contains original Marble Hornets footage. The footage in question begins, and we hear someone talking with Alex. Alex is shooting B-roll, and says that Seth is at home because he isn’t “feeling too good”. Alex composes a shot of an actor walking along railroad tracks, and we see that his companion is Brian. Alex and Brian walk an unknown distance to a burned-out building which Alex describes as an old doctor’s office. Brian expresses some reluctance at trespassing on the site, but Alex brushes off his concerns. They shoot several scenes. Under a covered walkway, Brian sets up a tripod, and the video distorts for a moment. We cut to Alex composing a shot of Brian leaning against a wall, but Brian breaks the shot, coughing violently. They set the shot up again, and Brian again expresses his reluctance. The footage cuts to black, and when it returns, the Operator is looming in the background. The footage cuts again. The camera is on the ground. Brian picks it up, calling out for Alex. He explores the building, obviously afraid, and hears coughing; investigating, he finds Tim curled up in a corner of an empty room. He turns to the door just in time to see the Operator appear amidst a hail of audio and video distortion. The camera is in its side on the floor, and an unseen figure drags Brian’s recumbent body out of the room. The figure then returns, picks up the camera, and leaves the burned-out building. Jay’s captions speculate about Alex’s actions, and that he may have been lying in the footage at the end of Entry #22.

A few points of clarification, then: Alex and Brian go to the burned-out building, and the Operator makes himself known mid-scene. Brian finds himself alone, picks up the camera, and goes in search of Alex. He finds Tim, and turns to see the Operator. Someone drags Brian’s body from the room, picks up the camera, and leaves the building.

The identity of the person who moves Brian’s body and picks up the camera isn’t entirely clear, but close examination of Entry #50 reveals that Alex is wearing shoes with one black shoelace and one white shoelace — you can see it at the beginning of Entry #50, immediately after he tells Jay that the satchel in his car is a camera case. While that isn’t definitive proof that the person who recovers the camera is Alex — remember that Entry #51 takes place in 2006, while Entry #50 takes place during the summer of 2010 — it’s enough to be reasonably sure. So, the Operator appears, and Alex disappears; Brian finds Tim and the Operator returns; Alex drags Brian’s body into the hall and leaves with the camera, with no further sighting of Tim.

It’s hard to miss the high-profile appearances of the Operator in this video…

brian-2

… but it’s possible that he’s watching Alex and Brian before they even get to the burned-out building:

brian

See the white specks over Brian’s shoulder? Nothing… or something?

Speaking of the building, Alex describes it as a doctor’s office, but it seems far too extensive for that to be true. Is it, then, an abandoned hospital? We’ll use that as a working hypothesis for now.

We should dwell for a moment on the differences between this encounter and Alex’s murder of the bearded man in the tunnel. Here, we see no direct physical assault, although that doesn’t mean that no such assault occurred. In any event, the Operator did not “take” the body. Given the series’ willingness to show Alex’s brutal side, it may well be inferred that Brian is not dead; if that is the case, perhaps the dragging of his body was a humane deed, intended to help. Of course, deciphering Alex’s intent remains our largest challenge.

Fitting these events into the broader chronology is a difficult task. It’s immediately tempting, given the conspicuous reference to Seth at the beginning of the video, to assume that Alex is lying, and that his journey into the mysterious basement with Seth — which we saw in Entry #22, and which ended with Seth being “taken” — took place the day before. At the end of Entry #22, however, Alex’s monologue to camera includes Brian in the list of those who have “gone”. Is it possible, then, that Seth really is sick, and that the basement still awaits him? Where is Jay during these events? Where was Tim, prior to his appearance in the hospital?

Rather than simply tracking who is still in play at any given moment, let’s consider Alex’s demeanor. He is confident, cold and sarcastic during his trip to the hospital with Brian; he is frightened and shaken during his expedition with Seth, and has apparently given up any pretense of shooting his film. Alex in Entry #22 is much more a “season one” Alex; in Entry #51, he seems to be more the assured, morally ambiguous character we have come to know in season two. But perhaps we are being unfair: after all, Alex takes little or no malicious action in this video, and his behavior is broadly consistent with what we have seen of him in other footage from in or around 2006. With that in mind, then, we must accept the possibility that Alex is exactly what he seems to be — a driven, dedicated film-maker — rather than the duplicitous murderer he will become. Perhaps this is Alex’s first consequential encounter with the Operator — although that raises the question of Tim’s presence in the building — and is thus the tipping point between his active curiosity and increasing paranoia. After Brian has been taken, he escapes the hospital with the camera, begins filming himself compulsively, and eventually leads Seth into the basement in search of answers.

All of that, of course, skims over the fact that he drags Brian’s dead or unconscious body into the hallway, and then leaves the hospital with no further investigation. If he is both aware of and responsible for his actions at that points — and there’s no clear evidence which suggests that he is — then we must wonder as to his culpability yet again.

On the matter of culpability, let’s remember our previous speculation that Alex wanted Jay to steal this tape. If he did, then he must have known Jay would watch it, and probably interpret it in its worst possible light. That would suggest that Alex is responsible for what happened at the hospital, since if he were innocent, he wouldn’t obliquely pass such seemingly-damning evidence to Jay. Is it possible that Alex is seeking help? Does he regret his actions? If so, why is he unable to articulate that regret directly? What other reason could there be for essentially giving Jay the tape?

Interestingly, this is the second time that a previously-undiscovered tape has revealed someone being “taken” by the Operator — last time, we saw Seth being taken in the tape that Jay found at the red tower. We still don’t know who left that tape for him; we still don’t know if Alex wanted Jay to have this tape, either.

When did these events take place? Did Alex know what was going to happen at the hospital? Why was Tim there? Why did Alex drag Brian’s body from the room? Did Alex want Jay to see this tape?

Entry #52 (November 13, 2011)

Jay is sitting in his car, talking to camera. He is at Rosswood, waiting for Alex; he confesses that he has seen the footage from Entry #51, and that he shouldn’t trust Alex. He then says that Jessica is on her way, and that he is keeping her in the dark about Alex’s duplicity. The footage cuts to Jessica sitting on the hood of a car. Alex pulls up in his car, and Jay and Jessica follow him into the forest. We cut, and we are further inside the forest. The rain is falling, and Jay is questioning Alex’s intentions again. Jay holds Jessica back, and she says that she heard footsteps behind them. They continue to follow Alex. The footage cuts, and returns as they arrive at an old shed or sawmill. They follow Alex inside, and climb the stairs to the second floor. Alex tells them that the thing they have come here to see is on the far side of the room. Jay moves toward it, then turns to find Alex holding a gun. Alex tells Jay that he knows Jay stole the tape, and that he has been following Alex. He tells Jay that he lied to Jessica to protect her; he berates Jay for sharing the tapes “with the world”. Behind him Tim appears, wearing his mask. Alex continues to yell until Tim grabs him and pulls him backward; Jay tells Jessica to run, and the two flee downstairs before a gunshot is heard. Jessica screams. The footage cuts, and Jessica and Jay are back in the parking lot. Jay tells Jessica to return home, pack a bag, and meet him at a nearby hotel. He then approaches Alex’s car, opens the door, and takes the satchel and the chest camera. He returns to his own car, and takes a moment to compose himself. The footage cuts, and Jay is examining the contents of the satchel in his car outside the hotel. Jay shows Jessica the tapes and the harddrive, and says that he’s going to put them in his safe. Jessica suggests the last four digits of her phone number as a combination, then leaves for her room, complaining of a headache and coughing. We cut to Jay filling the room safe with tapes. He then goes down to the parking lot, and hides the satchel in the trunk of his car. We cut to Jay in his room, his laptop open of the desk, the chest camera on the bed. He takes his keys from his pocket and straps on the chest camera, then moves his own camera to the side of the bed. He turns out the light and lays down on the bed. The footage cuts, and we hear Jessica scream. Jay grabs his camera as the audio begins to distort, and bangs on the dividing door between their rooms. The video distorts, and Jay turns to see the Operator in his hotel room, no more than ten feet away. Through jagged audio distortion, we can hear Jay yelling; then, he moves rapidly toward the Operator, who raises his arms, and the footage cuts to black. It returns in a blaze of distortion, then vanishes again; it returns with a blurred shot of Jay, who then vanishes. When it returns, Jay is laying on the floor of the hotel room, his hand extended toward the camera. He does not move, and the tape ends. His caption tells us the events of Entry #27 must have taken place the next morning. Over footage from Entry #27, he tells us that chest camera stopped recording around the same time, and didn’t start again until just before he woke up. Over a series of clips of Alex, Jay speculates that Alex never wanted to help him, but that he was trying to tie up loose ends. Jay says that if Alex is alive, he is going to find him. The tapes don’t contain any clues, so Jay has returned to the area around Rosswood Park, looking for clues as to Alex’s location, or Jessica’s fate. Yesterday, however, he saw something else: Tim, lighting a cigarette as he left a building, apparently no worse for wear. Jay followed him for a short distance, then the footage cuts. Jay tells us that he lost Tim’s trail, but that he is continuing to investigate. He’ll return with more entries, though he doesn’t know how long that will take. The video concludes with one last caption: “Regardless, I’m going to see this through to the end.”

And so, our conclusion. As in the last video, there are a lot of moving parts in this entry, so let’s recap: Jay and Jessica accompany Alex to an unfamiliar building in the forest around Rosswood. Alex pulls a gun, declares his intention to kill both of them, but is attacked by a mask-wearing Tim. Jay and Jessica escape, but hear a gunshot. They flee to a hotel, where Jay sets the scene for the beginning of season two: he puts the tapes in the safe, straps on the chest-camera, and hides the satchel in his car. He is awoken by Jessica screaming, and is attacked by the Operator. When he wakes up, he will have forgotten the last seven months, as will Jessica. In the present, Jay returns to Rosswood to search for Alex, but instead finds Tim, seemingly normal. There is still no hint of Jessica’s fate after she disappeared from the hotel, except that Tim was also present. Jay’s dedication is renewed. He will find his answers.

There is no doubt that this is an effective end for the second season of Marble Hornets, and pays off the season-long mysteries with a certain narrative grace. The hotel room, Jessica’s presence, the cameras and tapes — all of those are explained, along with a strong suggestion that Jay’s memory was erased during his encounter with the Operator. It also concludes Alex’s descent into villainy, although not so conclusively that we can’t continue to speculate about his internal conflict.

So let’s talk a little about the narrative style of this entry. We begin with Jay’s on-screen confession, which is an unusual choice for Marble Hornets. It’s relatively effective, although the wisdom of Jay’s choices is somewhat lacking — he decides not to tell Jessica that Alex may be dangerous, to follow Alex into the forest regardless, and to take no visible precautions against Alex’s potential aggression and hostility. That’s fine, in its way; Jay is not the smartest guy in the world, and he’s stumbling a little. The problem comes with highlighting that: here, the film-makers have Jay enunciate the problems with his decision-making process, and try to excuse them. That’s hardly ever a good idea, and in this context — given that we have reason to believe Jay’s narration is unreliable at the best of times — it makes Jay seem dangerously foolish or deceitful and duplicitous. At other times in the series, enough space has been given to Jay’s dubious decisions that we can imagine mitigating circumstances; here, the limits of the situation are clearly explained, and that only serves to make us wonder what the hell Jay is doing going anywhere near the forest, let alone with Jessica along for the ride. It’s particularly interesting given Alex’s acknowledgement that Jay has been sharing the videos; the line between Jay-the-protagonist and Jay-the-narrator has been all but erased over the second season.

It’s almost unfair to dwell on that scene, however, since the rest of the entry is so assured, and such a satisfying conclusion to the the principle mysteries of season two. Even the moment-to-moment storytelling is tight — when Alex, Jay and Jessica are approaching the mysterious building, for example, Tim peeks out from the upper window, unseen by the other characters but conspicuous to us.

Mask

Of course, if Tim was already in the building as they approached it, does that mean that Jessica heard someone else following them in the forest? A hooded figure with a cloth mask, perhaps?

It isn’t at all clear how Tim knew that Alex would take Jay and Jessica to that building, but it suggests that the building was not randomly selected, but is more somehow important; that said, there’s a lack of the usual distortion that suggests that the Operator’s presence. In fact, the Operator’s absence from the showdown with Alex raises some interesting questions about whether Alex is following orders, acting on his own, or had simply slid into madness.

When the Operator does show up, however, he does so in full force. The most interesting part, in terms of the larger mythos, was when Jay vanished from his bed; we’ve known about teleportation for quite some time, but this seemed to be a deliberate part of the Operator’s attack. Jay was taken, and then returned, with much of his memory missing. Is that what happens when the Operator attacks?

We might also spend a moment on the Operator’s motivation, assuming that it would be something we can even understand. Is he simply pursuing his own agenda? Is he acting out of vengeance for Alex’s possible death at the hands of Tim? Is he clearing up loose ends, as Jay accuses Alex of doing? Was the Operator only ever biding his time with regard to Jay, and presumably with Jessica? Did Alex summon him to take care of a lingering problem? If so, is Alex still alive? What, then, was the gunshot?

There are two small nit-picks that may be resolved without too much difficulty. The first is Entry #29 — the “noentry” footage — which shows someone entering the mysterious tunnel and finding blood and a discarded shirt. It seems likely that it was Jay who visited the tunnel, and found evidence of the bearded man’s murder, but that doesn’t match the fact that Jay only acquired the chest-camera immediately before his memory was erased. It is apparent, therefore, that the footage was shot by Alex; it may or may not have been shot in the aftermath of the bearded man’s murder, but it seems likely that the murder was not the only act of violence which took place in the tunnel.

(It’s tempting to allow for the possibility that Entry #29 was, in fact, shot by Jay, immediately after he was abducted by the Operator in the hotel room. While we can’t disprove that categorically, it seems strange that Jay should have filed the footage on his hard-drive under the filename “noentry” before passing out unconscious on his bed. It also begs the question of the Operator’s intent — Jay knows what happened in the tunnel, so it’s difficult to see what could be gained by returning him, supernaturally, to the murder scene. If, indeed, the blood that the unseen camera-man finds belongs to the bearded man in the first place…)

The second small problem is with the scrap of paper that Jay found in Jessica’s room after her disappearance. The code to the safe was written on it, although it now seems unlikely that Jessica would have remembered the code at the time; not only that, but it seems unlikely that she would have written it down and left it for Jay to find, particularly when we consider the fact the the zero in the number was written as the Operator symbol. How, then, did the scrap of paper get there? The only reasonable explanation is that Tim put it there for Jay to find, which implies a greater degree of contact between Tim and Jessica — and, presumably, Jay — between the time that they arrived at the hotel and the encounter with the Operator. Is it possible that Tim tracked them down, and there was an unseen encounter earlier in the day? Alternatively, consider the repetition of eyes and watching in ToTheArk’s response videos — is it simply the case that someone, perhaps Tim, is always watching? We can’t be sure, but there’s enough space to wonder.

We must also wonder how Tim came to be walking down the street in the town near Rosswood Park, but that is a thought — and an investigation — which can wait until season three. For now, we can be satisfied that the mysteries of the last seven months have been largely resolved, and Jay is now moving forward once more.

Before we move on, we must take one last look at Alex. Based on this entry, it seems that his motivation through the second season may have been simpler and less sophisticated than we suspected. In the end, did he simply want Jay dead? Was it the theft of the final tape that tipped the balance? If so, why did he lean so heavily on the fact that Jay had his house key, and that the tape was important? Was it nothing more than the paranoia of a fractured mind, or was he deliberately maneuvering Jay into a position where he would be forced to take bloody action against him? Is Alex corrupt and weak, internally conflicted, or simply maniacal? Is it his intention to forget the Operator and move on with his life? Does he strive to forget what he has done, what he has become? Or does he want something else, something darker?

The ambiguity of Alex’s motivations may be focused upon a single line. During the confrontation, he says that he lied to Jessica about Amy to keep her out of it. If that’s true, then he tried to protect her; if it isn’t, then he was simply trying to keep his original lie intact. We can’t be sure which is the truth, but we’ve learned that the stakes are high enough for Alex that he will coldly murder an innocent young woman. Whatever happened to him after Jay and Jessica fled the building, he was, in that instant, nothing less than a monster.

As for where he is now — if, indeed, he’s still alive — time will tell.

Next time, we take a look back at the second season, consider how far we’ve come, and look forward to the third and final season.


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

 

4 thoughts on “Watching Marble Hornets – Part 12

  1. I want more Alastair Stephens, do you hear me? I want more!

    God damn it do you write the most coherent analysis of this series that I have ever read. You are not so blindly a fan as to avoid criticism, your criticism is fair and valid, I really enjoy that you aren’t as jaded and cynical as some viewers are.

    My only question is how do you know that season three is the last season? Is that an official announcement or is it just you only intend to go that far?

  2. Thanks so much, Mark — I appreciate it!

    As to season three being the final season, Troy Wagner said so back in 2011. He has also said that it will be as long as it needs to be, and isn’t necessarily in the same 26-episode format as the first two seasons.

    Of course, he could change his mind any second. Time will tell!

  3. Great writing Alastair. I’m impressed you manage to pull so many of the elements of the films together into a cogent story. Suddenly it all makes more sense!

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