This is the seventh part of a journey through Marble Hornets, a YouTube-based horror mystery series. You can find the introductory post here.
Last time, I wrapped up my look at season one; now, we begin season two. Jay has been silent for seven long months, ever since he received the tape of Alex and Amy, and resolved to find them.
Before we begin, a quick note on the structure of these posts. The last two or three have turned out to be so long — in some cases, in excess of five thousand words — that they’ve become rather unwieldy. Rather than skip important information in the interests of brevity, I’m simply going to cover fewer videos in each post, and update more often. As always, please jump into the comments if you have thoughts or theories, or if you’ve seen something I missed!
So, season two. Despite Jay’s prolonged absence, we don’t get straight to a new Entry: in the month before the series returned, three ominous pictures were posted to Jay’s @marblehornets Twitter account.
I think this deserves a small clarification: while these images are definitely associated with Marble Hornets, their canonicity is somewhat dubious, for reasons which will become clear as we move through season two. Jay acknowledged the images immediately prior to posting Entry #27, but made no further mention of them. I consider them promotional material, rather than a part of the story; for example, the tally marks on the second image add up to 23, which is the date that Entry 27 was released. It seems unlikely that an in-universe character would have access to that information, or any need to share it; when we reach the end of the season, we’ll see that it’s effectively impossible for these images to be a part of the story without fundamentally reconsidering the rules of the Marble Hornets universe. Such reconsideration isn’t impossible, of course, but… well, we’ll get there. For now, let’s forget about the images, and begin.
Entry #27 (November 23, 2010)
We begin in darkness, with a sound that may be a clock, or a heartbeat, or something more sinister. This sound is interrupted by an insistent buzz, and the camera moves upward. A television screen is flickering rhythmically, and the heartbeat-sound seems to be coming from it. The television is turned off. We cut to a shot of a hunched figure sitting at a laptop. The figure gets up to look out of the heavily-curtained window, and the daylight reveals that it is Jay. We cut to footage from a camera that Jay is apparently wearing, since he didn’t have a camera in his hand; the lens of this camera is slightly fish-eyed. Jay turns on the light and reveals what appears to be a normal hotel room — complete with a conspicuous picture of a hornet. A camera is set up on a tripod, and appears to be the source of the earlier shot of Jay at the window. Jay glances in a mirror, and seems to realize for the first time that he has a camera strapped to his chest. He goes out into the hallway, and we cut to a black screen. A familiar-looking caption appears: Entry #27. Over footage of Jay driving and exploring the local area, he explains that he has no memory of the last seven months; the footage of him waking up which began this Entry is the first thing he remembers. Jay returns to the hotel, and decides to stay for a few more days. As he returns to his room, we see a girl emerge from the room next to Jay’s; she passes him in the hall without a word.
This is a striking return for the series, and delivers on the stylistic and narrative promise of Entry #26. While the first season felt cramped and claustrophobic, season two has rooted itself in the real world, which makes the creeping sense of paranoia all the more disturbing. Marble Hornets is all grown up.
As may be expected, we’re given few answers in the the first entry of the new season, but we have more questions than ever. What is the nature of Jay’s amnesia? Is it the result of interaction with the Operator? Where is Jay, and how did he get here? Did he find Alex? What is the significance of the chest camera?
Entry #28 (December 4, 2010)
Jay searches his hotel room, trying to find any clue that will help him understand how he came to the hotel, and what happened in the missing seven months. He finds a bottle of ibuprofen pain-killers and a key inside his bag. He then moves his attention to the room safe; after trying several four-digit combinations, he gives up. We’re told that after four failed attempts, the safe locks the user out for fifteen minutes, which will make it difficult to open it by trial and error. Jay then reveals that he left the hotel to investigate the area; while leaving his room, wearing the chest camera, he passes the girl we saw in Entry #27. She asks him about the camera, and Jay — suave and experienced con-artist that he is — awkwardly explains that he’s making a documentary about hotels. The girl introduces herself as Jessica, and seems to recognize Jay’s name. They part, and Jay points out that it wouldn’t have been noteworthy if his name hadn’t seemed familiar, and if she wasn’t the only other guest that he had seen at the hotel. Finally, Jay informs us that his “night security” camera has been recording strange noises that seem to be coming from next door — that is, Jessica’s room. We get a short clip of the sounds, during which the quality of the video seems to intermittently degrade.
Coming on the heels of Entry #27, Entry #28 seems a little flat. We’re introduced to several additional questions, but it’s difficult to shake the sense that these questions could have been introduced superficially in the last video, and then developed incrementally in this one. By introducing them in this manner, they seem disconnected and artificial, as thought we’re simply ticking off the plot elements we’re going to need later: Jessica, check; safe, check; key, check; nocturnal noises, check. As it is, we have little new information, and little sense of progression.
That said, this video isn’t without its high points. The safe is an interesting plot device, and Jay’s conversation with Jessica reveals her to be immediately charming. Jay’s reference to the otherwise-empty hotel also contributes to the air of faint unreality that began in the last video, something that would have been much more difficult to execute in the smaller-scale first season. The change in location and style, along with the shift to high-resolution video, makes the world around Jay seem brighter, but also more brittle, as if it may be swept away at any moment.
Is the hotel all that it seems to be? Does Jessica truly recognize Jay’s name, and if so, from where? Who is she, and what are the noises in her room?
Entry #29 (December 16, 2010)
Jay’s captions inform us that he has found a video clip on his hard drive, named “noentry”. The footage appears to be from Jay’s chest camera, and shows someone running down a forest path. The audio distortion is familiar. The footage cuts to blood in a muddy pool of water at the mouth of some kind of corrugated tunnel, complete with visual tearing. We move inside the tunnel, and see that whoever is wearing the chest camera is also filming with a hand-held camera. We see more tearing as the unseen camera operator approaches a large rock, and still more when he touches the rock, and his fingertips come away wet with blood. The audio all but cuts out, returning with rising distortion as the camera man backs away from the rock while investigating blood-soaked cloth, and turns to the end of the tunnel. There, silhouetted against daylight, is the Operator. The video seems to be caught between two frames, switching back and forth from one to the other, the distortion overwhelming the camera, and then we cut to black.
There’s no doubt that this is a powerful entry. The appearance of the Operator at the end is striking, not least of all because it’s a very different image than his usual black-suited passivity. His stance is more similar to what we saw in Entry #26, when he attacked Alex and Amy. This apparent move from passive observer to active participant is an interesting one, and suggests — along with the pool of blood — that the stakes are much higher now.
That said, this is another entry that feels a little incomplete, another plot point that has to be established before the storytelling can begin moving again. This is exacerbated by Jay’s unseen discovery of the footage — how much more evocative it would have been if we had been there to witness the discovery, and perhaps even his reaction? As it is, it feels somewhat disconnected, and is troubling in an abstract way, rather than as a concrete, immediate threat. This speaks to the tension between diagetic and memetic storytelling that I discussed in the last post: is Jay our narrator, or our secondary narrator within the fiction?
Was Jay operating the camera in the tunnel? Where did the blood come from? How long ago did this happen? Where is the tunnel?
Entry #30 (December 21, 2010)
Jay returns to the hotel after gathering supplies. Jessica is talking on her phone in the hallway; we hear her protest that she didn’t do something, and that she hadn’t been drinking, but whoever is on the phone apparently disagrees with her. She hangs up as Jay opens his door, and helps him move his groceries into his room. His camera has slipped out of focus, and there is a slight audio distortion as Jessica asks him about the groceries. Jay tells her that he is staying in the hotel because his house is being renovated — way to keep your story straight, Jay — and she replies that she is living in the hotel temporarily after being kicked out of her home. When Jay questions her about it, she demurs, and says that she has to get to work. Later that night, Jay records the strange thumping sounds coming from Jessica’s room; he gets up and investigates; as he knocks on the dividing door, the thumping stops, and we hear Jessica coughing in her room. When the door opens, Jessica claims that she just woke up, and the audio hiss returns. She returns to bed, and so does Jay.
Though little more happens in this video, it is somewhat more successful than the previous hotel entries, because it’s continuing the slow burn of suspicion and paranoia. Jessica is more connected to the outside world — her phone conversation, her reference to her job — than Jay is, and that adds to the unreality of the hotel. We don’t know if she’s telling the truth, lying because she doesn’t trust Jay, lying because she’s trying to manipulate Jay, or some other alternative; it doesn’t hurt that she’s one of the more accomplished actors in the series, and able to play just the right level of distrust and insecurity.
Was Jessica kicked out of her previous home? Where does she work? Who was she talking to? What are the noises? What is she hiding?
Entry #31 (January 4, 2011)
In search of the tunnel from Entry #29, Jay finds his way to a local park, Rosswood. With the wind blowing and the sky cloudy, he introduces us to the trails behind the park. Venturing into the forest, he first finds a tattered trail marker; almost immediately, he realizes that he is being followed by a figure in a hoody. Jay picks up his pace, and seems to be afraid of the figure — a man, judging by his build and bearing. Finally, Jay breaks into a run; he hides behind a tree and watches the man pass. Jay continues his investigation, pointing out that most of the trails are old and poorly maintained. Finally, as it begins to get dark, it starts to rain. Jay turns to leave, only to see the man again; he is nearby, with his back to Jay. Jay approaches him slowly, calling out but receiving no response. Jay gets closer and closer still, but the figure does not move; at last, Jay touches his on the shoulder, and he turns, taking out his earbuds, clearly puzzled as to what Jay wants. With a wry look at the camera, Jay returns to the hotel, where he decides to talk to Jessica. Jessica seems immediately hostile, and has nothing to offer with regard to Jay’s questions about the park; he slips up, however, when he offers a third explanation of his presence in the hotel, and Jessica calls him on it. He leaves, but she pursues him, asking if he feels alright, and if he has suffered any memory loss. Jay lies, and returns to his room.
And so we move into 2011. As in the last entry, the slow pace of the second season in continuing to pay off; we’re introduced to the park, and while the presence of the hoody-wearing figure is creepy — and the payoff unexpected — it really all speaks to Jay’s ever-increasing paranoia. He is truly lost, has nothing of significance to go on, and can’t even bring himself to trust Jessica, who seems like his best shot at figuring out what happened during the missing seven months. At the same time, he is still investigating, and that says a lot for his strength of character.
In the wake of the conversation in the hotel, it’s more tempting than ever to speculate about Jessica. It is unlikely — to say the least — that she should alight upon memory loss as a random symptom; it seems clear that she is either suffering from similar symptoms to Jay, or is pretending to in order to gain his trust. She’s smart, she seems genuinely afraid, and the coughing we heard in the last entry seems to support the idea that she has been exposed to the Operator; that said, Jay’s increasing suspicion of her is perfectly explained by the rising paranoia he is experiencing.
Is Jessica all that she seems to be? Was the hooded figure? Is Rosswood Park significant?
Entry #32 (January 12, 2011)
Jay is working on his computer when someone knocks on the door; he picks up the camera and goes to investigate, finding a clearly-frightened Jessica. There is audio distortion; she asks what he is doing, and when Jay attempts to dodge the question, she presses the issue. She repeats his lies, growing angrier as she does so; the audio distortion also increases. Jay brushes her off, and she confesses that she doesn’t know how she got to the hotel. She has also noticed that she and Jay are the only guests in the hotel, and that, despite not knowing each other, they have adjoining rooms. She again mentions the memory loss, and tells Jay that she is losing “huge chunks of time”. As she adds that she is having coughing fits, headaches and insomnia, the video begins to distort too; there is even a moment of now-familiar visual tearing. Jessica continues, telling Jay that she believes she is sleepwalking, and that she has dreams of being a child, and that something is watching her. Jay stops her, and tells her that he will tell her everything, and to give him a few minutes to “get it all straight”. He tells her to pack, and she agrees; there is additional video distortion as she goes back into her room. Jay returns to his desk, and there is more visual tearing just before we cut to black. Jay’s captions appear, telling us that he is uploading this video before going into Jessica’s room.
First off, this is the single strongest performance we’ve seen in Marble Hornets so far. Jessica walks a line between terror, confusion, misery and anger, and does it beautifully. It isn’t easy to sell that kind of exposition, but she does a great job.
On to the substance of the video: this is either an audacious ploy to lure Jay into her room, or Jessica is being honest. She seems to be suffering from all the same symptoms as Jay — assuming that “sleepwalking” equates to Jay’s nocturnal wanderings in the first season — although the Operator is conspicuous in his absence from her account. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, although the distinctive visual tearing suggests that he is in the immediate vicinity. It’s interesting, too, that Jay has not reported that he is feeing unwell; since season two began, his only complaints, delivered via Twitter, have been of fatigue.
The dark circles beneath Jessica’s eyes are striking. Are they merely an indication that her sleep has been disturbed, or are they somehow connected with Jay’s appearance in ToTheArk’s Return video?
Is this exhaustion, or could it be an advanced symptom of the mysterious Operator-sickness? it is possible, particularly considering the symptoms Jessica has displayed: the cough, memory loss, and the mild audio distortion which accompanies her appearance on camera. It is interesting, of course, that there is little or no distortion when Jay appears on screen, despite his obvious and prolonged contact with the Operator, but we rarely see Jay in an emotionally-charged state which isn’t also accompanied by static. It’s something to watch in the future.
Does the visual tearing mean the Operator is nearby? Was Jessica’s emotional state somehow causing the distortion? How did she get to the hotel? Did she and Jay know each other before they lost their memories? Is she suffering from the Operator-sickness?
Entry #33 (January 18, 2011)
Mere moments have passed since Entry #32. Jay appears to be preparing to leave; we hear drawers opening and closing. He picks up the camera and moves to the dividing door. He knocks and calls out for Jessica, but there is no response. Jay lets himself in, but there is no sign of Jessica. Investigating further, Jay finds a slip of paper, upon which is written the word “combination” and the number “1102”, with the zero represented as an Operator symbol. He enters the code on Jessica’s safe, but it is incorrect; it does, however, open the safe in his room. The safe is full of tapes, and Jay sets down his camera to gather them up. Behind him, accompanied by rising distortion, we see the door to Jessica’s room open. Jay pick up the camera, there is a visual tear as he turns around, and he sees the masked man charge toward him. Jay dodges the first attack, and appears to strike the masked man with his flashlight. Jay runs into Jessica’s room and closes the door; he goes out into the hallway, and there is flicker of static. He turns to see the masked man limping after him, but runs downstairs. We cut to black, and Jay assures us that he escaped the hotel, and that he has the tapes. He doesn’t know what happened to Jessica, but he won’t return to the hotel alone.
After building a brooding tension since the beginning of the season, we finally arrive at our release, and the first turning point of season two. The masked man is back, Jessica and gone, and Jay has a bushel full of tapes. Yay!
It seems safe to assume that the tapes belong to Jay, and that he placed them in the safe. The significance of the code — if, indeed, it has any significance — is unclear, except to note that the digits add up to 4. I’m not a fan of numerological analysis, but since 4 has already been featured in the series, it may be a valid connection. It isn’t entirely clear who wrote the combination on the piece of paper, but it seems likely that it was either Jessica or pre-memory-loss-Jay; it isn’t at all clear why the masked man would have written the combination down, or even known it in the first place.
There’s one controversial element to this video: when Jay and the masked man emerge into the hallway, it is clear that they are much further down the hall than Jay and Jessica’s rooms were. This is discarded by some as a continuity mistake; to others, it is another example of Jay teleporting through doors. I’m unsure, although the attention to continuity seems to be very high, and we have previously seen Jay teleport in the presence of the masked man, so it isn’t too much of a stretch to allow it here too.
As in the previous entry, we have examples of the visual tearing we have come to associate with the Operator; and as in the previous entry, he is nowhere to be seen. Is it possible that the masked man is now causing the tearing too? Does that indicate a worsening condition, or growing power?
In case it isn’t already obvious, who is the masked man? What did he want with Jay? What happened to Jessica? What will Jay find on the tapes?
Next time, we delve into the new batch of tapes, and identity of the masked man is — spoilers! — finally confirmed. Don’t miss it!
If you enjoy Marble Hornets, support the creators by buying the DVD set.