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Saturday, August 19, 2006

3.01 --- The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon

Directed by : René Bonnière
Written by : Haskell Barkin (story by Haskell Barkin & J. Michael Straczynski)
Starring : Harry Morgan, Cedric Smith
First aired : 24th of September, 1988.

Dr. Jeremy Sinclair (Cedric Smith, Road to Avonlea), a psychiatrist (or a psychologist, one of the two anyway), has an interesting problem ahead of him. He is to investigate a case of certain Edgar Witherspoon (Harry Morgan, MASH, How the West was Won), who, according to his landlady and niece, went slightly mad. Edgar has been seen rummaging through garbage, collecting odd trinkets such as paper clips, dolls, and old music instruments, and is generally speaking a proper nuisance to the neighbourhood.

Sinclair pays Edgar a visit, who simply brushes him aside without letting him in, but not before acquiring a blonde doll head from a big closet in the hallway and uttering something about preventing a major disaster in Santa Barbara. This brief discourse makes Sinclair believe that he is rather harmless to the community - an opinion not shared by the abovegiven ladies, who convince Sinclair to return and have him evaluated at the psychiatric clinic. Jeremy is reluctant, but after hearing on the radio about a minor earthquake at Santa Barbara, he visits mr. Witherspoon again.

This time, he manages to convince him to get in, and is amazed at what he sees. Mr. Witherspoon has constructed an unique machinery, consisted of all sorts of odd things such as dolls, playing cards, teapots, and whatnot, and seems to be genuinely busy around it. When asked to elaborate on all this, Edgar explains to Jeremy that one day he heard a voice, which bestowed him with a task of keeping the Earth in balance. In order to do so, he constructed this machine, which needs constant tinkering - per "voice"'s instructions. This is more than enough evidence for dr. Sinclair, who is now certain that Witherspoon, in fact, is a loony old coot, and he has him dragged to the mental hospital. On his way out, he accidentally pushes down some chains, which Witherspoon interpretes as certain destruction for a small Pacific island of Tatoa. Before he is carried out from his cellar apartment, Witherspoon yells to Sinclair that at exactly 3:17pm, an island nation of Tatoa ceased to exist because of him.

Later that day, Witherspoon is in his office listening to the news on the radio, and is startled to find out that an island called Tatoa indeed perished, as a result of a giant tidal wave. After phoning the news agencies who confirm him the disaster indeed happened at 3:17, he realises the folly of Witherspoon's imprisonment and has him directly released. He then rushes himself to Witherspoon's cellar, and is just in time to prevent the landlady from destroying the Earth-balancing contraption. In order to fend her off from snooping, he sells her some story of needing this machinery for further medical research, and offers to pay Witherspoon's rent, which she accepts.

Soon after, Witherspoon arrives and informs Jeremy that the voice spoke to him while at hospital - and told him to retire ! When dr. Sinclair asks who will take care of the worldly balance, Edgar informs him that someone would be chosen for the task. Before even finishing the sentence, Jeremy instinctively takes a teapot and evens out a scale on the machinery ... realizing that the duty is now his, and that he must care for the world's destiny. Edgar bows out with a smile, telling Jeremy that he will grow to like this job, leaving the poor doctor frantically looking for a tambourine which might just prevent some distant disaster...


This amusing, lighthearted episode was chosen to bat leadoff for Season 3, and it's a pleasant enough experience. Harry Morgan is amusing as the old codger taking care of the world, with Cedric Smith a worthy enough antagonist who eventually understands his woes. Not a half bad piece, yet I would have preferred this done in a more serious manner, and if possible without the vaudevillian music cues.

The story itself was provided by Haskell Barkin, who previously penned Season 1's Tooth and Consequences. Another TZ veteran, J. Michael Straczynski (What are Friends For ?, Season 2), helped out with the writing chores - Straczynski was also one of the pivotal Season 3 figures, assuming the post of story editor previously held by the O'Bannon - Brennert - Ellison - etc. consortium.

Blighty trivia : at one point, Witherspoon asks dr. Sinclair if he has ever been to England, and gets a positive response. Cedric Smith was born in England.

Serling trivia : Harry Morgan is a veteran of one Night Gallery episode, namely The Late Mr. Peddington.

Comments on "3.01 --- The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon"


Blogger jgiles20 said ... (8:29 PM) : 

I did enjoy this episode if only for the fun performance of Harry Morgan as the old coot. He was very funny and scatterbrained and it was a treat to see him play a comic role. I enjoy him on Dragnet and he was equally good on here. I liked all of the odds and ends he accumulated. Today he'd be considered a hoarder and perhaps a little crazy.


Blogger Matthew Maloney said ... (4:21 PM) : 

I have to say that everything about this episode was good except for the direction of all things. I really think the director could have gone a different way with this story and made it a more serious study on insanity or the lack thereof. The stupid comedy music doesn't help this at all. But this is definitely a step up from the thrash that was Tooth and Consequences from the writer.


Blogger jared terry said ... (3:43 AM) : 

As pointed out this episode kicked off Season Three with a light hearted mawkish and winsome tone. I think going this way ultimately made Season Three by far the worst of the whole series, the focus seemed to be on benevolent magic as opposed to anything dark, disturbing or even 'twilight'. I believe this change in approach (due to already declining viewers I guess) ultimately finished the re-booted series off sadly.

Having said that I do agree that this is all in all actually a rather likable and enjoyable episode and one of the few bright spots for me in Season Three. Unlike some of the later episodes it looks as it some money and time was spent on it and the main role is convincingly played. The narrative itself is so barmy that it is hard to not warm to it or be intrigued by it on some level.


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