Watching Marble Hornets – Part 14

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

It’s been a long while since the last of these posts, but it’s good to be back. I’m going to accelerate the rate at which we burn through the Marble Hornets entries, because it seems as though they’re approaching the end of the series, and I’d like to be somewhat up to date when they do. For now, though, let’s pick up where we left off.

Last time, we wrapped up season two. Before we move on to season three, however, a brief interregnum: while Jay was practically silent between the first and second seasons, during the hiatus between November 13th 2011 and March 10th 2012 we were shown some glimpses of Jay’s attempt to find Tim.

@marblehornets, November 28, 2011
No sign of Tim as of right now. Still in the downtown area.

@marblehornets, December 10, 2011
I’ve been sleeping much too well recently. It’s an odd change of pace.

@marblehornets, January 7, 2012
Getting back out there today. Maybe I’ll ask some people around downtown if they’ve seen anyone that looks like Tim.

@marblehornets, January 12, 2012
Drove by Rosswood Park today. Almost stopped, but then I realized that’s a terrible idea. Why did I even consider it?

@marblehornets, January 24, 2012
Back in the downtown area. The store that Tim walked out of when I saw him is always closed when I’m here. No hours posted either.

@marblehornets, January 28, 2012
Store’s still closed. I looked through the window, and it seemed like an antique store of some kind?

@marblehornets, February 7, 2012
Showed up early this morning at the store to see if anyone ever came. Nothing as of yet. Lights were on inside, though.

As Marble Hornets continues to evolve, the storytelling becomes not only more assured, but more formal. The pseudo-naturalistic style of the first season, all found footage and fragmented narrative, has given way to a more traditional cinematic aesthetic that references those elements without necessarily inhabiting them. That’s an understandable shift, but it raises questions about the ways in which we’re supposed to interpret those events which are depicted, and those which are not. Let’s keep in mind, as we move through the beginning of the third season, that some of our assumptions about the highest-level storytelling may be wrong. For example, there are two ways to interpret Jay’s off-season adventures. He had three goals at the end of season two: to find out what happened to Alex, to find Jessica, and — after seeing Tim emerge from the mysterious building — to find him too. Alex and Jessica have apparently been forgotten, however, and Jay has taken no direct action. He hasn’t revisited the abandoned house from season one, where we know that Tim — in his masked persona — was living. He hasn’t revisited the burned-out house where Alex broke Tim’s leg, nor the house that Jessica and Amy shared. He hasn’t — understandably enough — returned to Rosswood Park, or the saw mill where Alex threatened him with a gun, or the corrugated tunnel. Instead, he has walked the streets of Rosswood Town, apparently making no progress in his pursuit of Tim.

So, how are we to interpret this? Taken literally — and from an in-universe perspective — Jay seems to believe that Tim is his only viable lead, but finding him is an enormously difficult task. Even if we assume that both Jay and Tim are taking modest precautions to remain hidden, it seems unlikely that Jay would pin months of work onto a single sighting. On the other hand, of course, there’s the metatextual understanding that we’re between seasons, and nothing of note is going to happen. When we discussed the gap between the first and second seasons, I noted that the images posted to Jay’s Twitter account were problematic; as we saw from the timeline revealed at the end of the season, Jay was still active and engaged in his quest when those images were posted. They are, at best, quasi-canonical. Are we supposed to take Jay’s investigation of Rosswood Town in the same spirit? This isn’t the real story, just a nod toward continuity and the story’s internal structure?

On one level, I think it’s clear that this is a hiatus, and the investigation is simply a quick explanation for the gap between seasons two and three. At the same time, there’s an intriguing third option, a way of reconciling the need for a pause in the story with the somewhat baffling ways in which Jay is conducting his investigation. His behavior doesn’t make a great deal of sense when we think of him as the problem-solving, damsel-rescuing hero of a story — but when we think of him as a young man who has gone through a profound ordeal, it makes a little more sense. He has seen physical violence and supernatural horror; he has lost everyone that was important to him; he has been forcibly denied the memories of months of his life. Perhaps he isn’t limiting his focus to Tim because that’s the only viable lead; perhaps he’s deliberately avoiding the rest of the investigation because this is the safest part of his world. He can still feel as though he’s accomplishing something, but there’s very little chance of actual success — indeed, he barely seems to be trying at all. Perhaps this is the way that Jay is coping with the loss and horror of the first and second seasons. It’s all well and good to conclude season two with a square-jawed statement of intent, but how does that work out the next morning, and the day after that, and the week after that?

We shouldn’t forget, either, that Tim appeared to be entirely normal when he left that building. Perhaps that is what Jay is chasing — the possibility of a return to a normal life. It’s been almost three years since he posted the first entry, and it’s been almost two years since his home was burned to the ground. Jay’s life — whatever it may have been — has been completely torn apart. Lost, alone, and with no star to guide him, is it any surprise that he clings to his glimpse of Tim’s normality? Wouldn’t you?

We can’t be certain, of course, but let’s remember that Jay has a degree of control over the way he presents himself to us. He may not be handling things as well as he seems to be.

In any case, let’s get back to the unfolding story. Jay decides to investigate the antique store, and has a brief conversation with a delivery driver on February 12th. He returns on the 15th, and discovers that driver has left the door unlocked. He sneaks inside, and investigates.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 4:00 PM
I don’t see anyone else in there right now so I’m going inside.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 4:19 PM
Looking around.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 4:35 PM
Lots of paintings of wooded areas in here.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 4:51 PM
Found a pile of old cameras in one of the display cases.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 5:09 PM
One of the other display cases is full of dolls.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 5:25 PM
One of the rooms is nearly empty. Only a few paintings left. Maybe it’s the room that guy was taking stuff out of?

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 5:32 PM
One of the few left.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 5:40 PM
And this one. Looks similar to the other.

@marblehornets, February 15, 2012, 5:46 PM: The person in the center has a weird face. It’s just two circles and a nose. But the rest of the picture is so detailed.

At this point, the driver returns to the store, and Jay hears his moving something heavy upstairs. He takes this opportunity to flee, and escapes without being seen. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about the photographs he took while inside, but they certainly feel like Marble Hornets’ greatest hits: forests, cameras, dolls and a strange, faceless figure. It’s curious that Jay presents these images without commentary — is he dryly leaving the implications of each image unstated, or has he internalized these elements to the point that he’s not even aware that he’s focusing on them? One is reminded of Alex’s compulsive charcoal sketches, and the forest imagery that dominated them. Does this store have a link to The Operator? Is this evidence of a general preoccupation in Rosswood Town? Is this nothing more than a knick-knack Rorschach Test in which Jay is seeing what he wants to see?

Jay continues to visit the store periodically over the next few weeks, but discovers nothing more about Tim until March 1st.

@marblehornets, March 1
Back at the store. A lot less people here this time.

@marblehornets, March 1
She remembered Tim. Told me he mentioned going to a doctor’s office.

@marblehornets, March 1
Found what I think is a mental health clinic a few blocks down from the store. It’s closed right now though.

At last, a solid lead. Jay switches his focus from the antique store to the clinic, and continues to watch for Tim. A week passes.

@marblehornets, March 8
Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what I’m going to say to Tim if he shows up here. I have no idea how he’ll react to seeing me.

@marblehornets, March 9
Had my camera with me all week. Entry #53 will be uploaded tomorrow.

And sure enough, four months after Jay’s last video, we begin season three.

Entry #53 (March 10, 2012)

We begin with Jay driving, while captions bring us up to speed. He notes that this town is far from where they shot Marble Hornets together. He visits the antique store, and peers through the windows. Inside the store, he asks a middle-aged woman if she has seen Tim, and she tells him about the doctor’s office. Jay investigates, and finds the mental health clinic. He waits outside, hoping that Tim will show up. Finally, after a caption reading, “Yesterday, about 11 AM”, Tim arrives the clinic. He coughs, and Jay picks up his camera, approaching him. He calls him by his full name, which is removed from the tape. Jay introduces himself, and Tim says that he doesn’t remember him. Jay explains that they helped Alex shoot his film, Marble Hornets, which Tim appears to remember. Jay mentions their earlier conversation about finishing the film, but Tim says that he is late for his appointment, and goes into the building. Jay sits down to wait. Some time later, Tim emerges from the clinic and lights a cigarette. Jay approaches him, and he is wary; Jay enquires about his health, and Tim coughs and says that he was having some personal issues a few months ago, but that everything is fine now. Tim’s phone rings, and he answers; after a brief conversation, he says that it was his work, and that he has to go. They exchange phone numbers, and Tim promises to call when he finishes work. He crosses the street, leaving Jay behind. We cut to black, and Jay informs us, via captions, that he intends to maintain his story about completing Alex’s student film. He shows a brief clip from Entry #15, his first meeting with Tim. Another caption then tells us that he continued to explore “downtown”. He is walking near a wooden railway bridge when his phone rings. Tim tells him that he has tapes of “behind the scenes” footage from the original Marble Hornets shoot. “Great,” Jay says wryly. “More tapes.” He tells us via captions that he’s going to investigate the tapes and that he’ll take “whatever might lead me to some answers.”

We’ve talked a lot in the past about the degree to which Jay’s entries are manufactured works. This is perhaps the most constructed and least “authentic” entry to date, since the entire thing is intended to bring the audience — many of whom were not following the Twitter stream in the off-season — up to speed. That extra distance makes it difficult to make definitive judgments about Jay’s state of mind, and the half-metatextual aside about the extra tapes makes it impossible to determine his genuine level of enthusiasm.

The big news, though, is as we may have suspected: Tim doesn’t seem to remember Jay, or the events of the previous year. He’s aware that he had some “personal issues”, but seems sincere about his memory loss. He seems to have a vague recollection about the events of Entry #15, although he didn’t recognize Jay in the first place, so it’s possible that he was merely being polite. It raises an interesting question, however: when did Tim forget about the past? It’s tempting to assume that he had his memory wiped along with Jay and Jessica at the end of season two, but the masked man, complete with limp, appeared in the hotel when Jessica disappeared, two months later. Something happened, if we’re to believe that Tim’s amnesia is genuine, between Jessica’s disappearance on January 12th, 2011 and Jay seeing him in Rosswood Town in November. It also suggests that Tim was in his masked persona, for some or all of the time, between his show-down with Alex in November 2010, and whatever “personal issues” he went though late in 2012 or early in 2013.

A couple of quick notes: this town — Rosswood Town, as we’ve been calling it — is confirmed as being some distance from where Alex and the others shot the original Marble Hornets movie. That means Rosswood Park, the town itself, the hotel where Jay stayed with Jessica, Alex’s apartment, and the burned-out house are all in this area; the red tower, Jay’s former home, Brian’s house, the playground where Alex recorded his earliest encounters, and the other Marble Hornets locations are back in Hornetville. In addition, there’s some slight audio distortion when Tim coughs at 4:22, and the merest flicker of a visual tear when they’re exchanging phone numbers. Also, the woman in the antiques store stumbled a little over her line: “He comes in here when he’s — uh — looking for his… he has a doctor’s appointment.” Was that a slip of the tongue, or an indication of something more sinister? Why would Tim frequent an antiques store? Was he looking for something? Is there another connection?

So, what happened to Tim? Are there really more tapes, and, if so, what will they contain? Is there more to Rosswood than meets the eye?

ToTheArk: Reminder (March 15, 2012)

We open on blurred images of foliage. A cut, and a blue-tinted shot of a building is overlaid with the text, “DO YOU REMEMBER ME”. There is a flash of an Operator symbol and a twisted, distorted face, and then we return to the building and the caption. We cut to a shot of Jay outside the antiques store, peering in through the window. We cut to black, and the text, “I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN”.

ToTheArk is back, and gets right to the point. There are several ways to read the intent behind the video, but there’s no missing the force with which it’s expressed. The Operator symbol works as a visual exclamation point, and the face… well, the face looks a little familiar.

Whereas this image is taken from the ToTheArk video Inquiry:

It looks like Tim, but more distorted than ever. Is this a sign that Tim is being somehow twisted, is becoming something other than he was? Or, since we must be careful about attributing authorial intent, a sign that ToTheArk either believes, or wants the intended recipient of this video to believe, that this is the case? There are two tempting interpretations: the first is that Tim has been changed from his masked persona, and something has therefore been lost; the other is that Tim, despite seeming better off than he was, is falling deeper into the darkness.

As for the intended recipient, it’s possible to read this as a message to Jay, but given the preoccupation with memory and the distorted image, it’s also tempting to interpret this message as being directed at Tim. It’s also curious that the blue-tinted building is somewhat reminiscent of the sawmill where Tim intervened to save Jay and Jessica by attacking Alex. Given our speculation at the end of season two that Tim’s masked persona and the hooded figure are closely associated with ToTheArk — as well, of course, with each other — it’s possible to read this entire video as somewhat plaintive. If Tim is telling the truth and his masked persona is no more, then the hooded figure may be alone, consumed by memory.

The footage of Jay is ominous, particularly when we look back at Entry #53 with a little more care…

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 2.36.19 PM

Looking just to the left of Jay’s camera, we can see that ToTheArk was indeed present when Jay was investigating the antiques store. It’s possible, although we must be careful not to extrapolate too far, that Jay has been under scrutiny since he began searching for Tim in Rosswood Town; it’s also possible that it’s the store that’s being watched, rather than Jay. It’s not at all clear who shot the footage — it seems likely that Jay would have noticed a hooded figure standing around, although it’s impossible to be sure.

Who is ToTheArk addressing? Who shot the footage? Is Jay being watched, or the store? What has been forgotten, and what is being remembered?

So, that’s it for our introduction to season three. Next time, we go back to where it all began, and begin to see how deeply some secrets are hidden.

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


One thought on “Watching Marble Hornets – Part 14

  1. I’ve loved reading all your entries on Marble Hornets. I do have to ask though, are you intending to finish writing about the rest of the series? Even though it’s finished I’d love to see further analysis.

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