Written By: noname
You know those mystery books for kids where a group of youngsters, usually 10 to 12 years old, stumbles upon some super-secret conspiracy in their town and must do everything in their power to solve the case? There haven't been many "mystery" episodes in AIO that fall into this category - until now. Just about all the suspenseful episodes we've heard in the show's 20-year history center around a story arc (Blackgaard, Novacom) where a lot is at stake, or some "smaller" incident involving the regular Odyssey characters. And now, we have an episode that combines the best of both worlds, even though it isn’t a part of a story arc. There isn't a group of kids solving the case in this one, but the central character, Wooton, is such a kid at heart. It's definitely not typical Odyssey, but it's so fun to listen to. A mystery focusing on something so eccentric (a comic book symbol appearing on windows) and where help is desperately needed is so fitting for Wooton's character.
Yes, the episode had somewhat bouncy music. Yes, the plot sounded extremely ridiculous. And yes, this episode is probably unlike anything we've heard in AIO thus far. But it worked.
Let me explain: Paul McCusker is a master of character development. Nearly every episode he has written allows us to hear a story from the eyes and minds of the characters involved. This is what makes a good story great. While listening to this episode, I couldn't help but think of that other mystery episode that Mr. McCusker penned..."The Perfect Witness." In that story, we as listeners get to experience the mystery from the perspective of a blind girl. And in "The Other Side of the Glass," we get to experience a mystery inside the mind of Wooton. After hearing this first part, I don't think it could be pulled off any other way. It's just too much fun to listen to. :)
Have you ever watched Pixar’s superhero film “The Incredibles”? There’s a special commentary by the director, Brad Bird, in which he explains one of the fun concepts that makes the movie special: combining the mundane with the fantastic. It takes a gifted writer to appropriately merge two complete opposites in a story like that. In “The Other Side of the Glass,” Mr. McCusker combines the humorous and silly with the serious. There really haven’t been many episodes like this before, which makes this very unique. This is the only other comedic three-parter besides "Aloha, Oy!" and while it may not be quite as memorable as that episode thus far, and although the plot may be extremely unconventional for AIO, it still feels like classic AIO.
If you read my review of “Hear Me, Hear Me” (the last Wooton episode) on the ToO, you know that I’m not a big proponent of the bouncy “circus” music and the rather immature nature of the episode. But this one somehow feels less childish. The former had way too much childish humor, bouncy music, and "inconsistent" characters. This episode, despite its unconventional plot, somehow feels appropriate for AIO. It's as if Mr. McCusker revisited the crazy concepts in the "rejected episode ideas list" on AIOHQ and created something of his own that could be successfully pulled off now that we have such an "off-the-wall" character like Wooton. Does it work? I think so. The characters are themselves, the humor is well-placed, and overall, the episode contains that unique eccentricity that has made AIO special.
As I mentioned earlier, much of the fun of this episode is hearing the story from the mind of Wooton. Nearly every line he delivers is pure comedic gold, and most of the ones that aren't comedic contribute to the story and drive the episode along. To be honest, if there were ever a mystery episode with Wooton as a main player, it would have to involve something like this. I just can't see Wooton in an episode like "The Case of the Secret Room," but a mystery about symbols on windows? It's so perfect for him. :) You can tell that Paul had a lot of fun writing this - just listen to Wooton and Connie's exchange at the end of Part 1 about "a lot of really's." Sound familiar? (Hint: Listen to Part 2 of "Waylaid in the Windy City.") In the scene in the laboratory, Bernard mentions his repugnance toward chocolate smudges on windows. Now, I have to wonder, did anyone think of the beginning of “For Whom the Wedding Bells Toll” during that scene? ;)
Bernard is enjoyable as well - if there was ever a fun pair of characters in Odyssey to listen to besides him and Eugene or Eugene and Connie, it would be Bernard and Wooton. The last time we heard them together was in "Bassett Hounds," and the interaction between them in this episode doesn't fail to disappoint, especially in the finale. Speaking of Bernard, I absolutely loved that first scene in Part 1. Just listen to his humming and collecting the cleaning supplies before he talks to Madge - the sound quality is top-notch. We know it's Bernard before he even speaks with another character.
Of course, there were some aspects of Part 1 that weren't quite up to par. There were moments when I felt like Bernard could have delivered more memorable lines, but most of them were saved for the finale, which ended up being appropriate considering the seriousness of the situation at that point and the silliness involved in the resolution. Whit's line to Connie during the search engine scene, "What makes you such an expert?" seemed a bit uncharacteristic and somewhat mean, but it didn't really detract from the scene (and ended up reinforcing what a bunch of listeners were probably thinking anyway).
Now, on to part 2. I enjoyed this part, except for one qualm: Wooton’s character at the beginning. Now, keep in mind that I've always enjoyed listening to Wooton since day one. I love his character. In fact, when I first heard "Welcoming Wooton," I knew there was something about him that was really likable, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. Was it his jovial attitude? That was part of it, but what made me enjoy his personality was his love for people. As I thought about it more, I realized that Wooton and I share a lot in common. (Hopefully that doesn't scare some people. :))
But in the beginning of this episode, Wooton's enthusiasm is taken a bit too far. Did he really have to act the way he did at the Seawright office? I personally didn't find anything humorous about it, and it just made Bernard even more annoyed. Maybe I'm overreacting to this one little bit of an entire three-parter, but it, unfortunately, set the stage for the rest of my listening experience for Part 2. Thankfully, when I heard it a few more times, it didn't seem to bother me as much, but I wish it was addressed in some way.
Fortunately, after the incident at the Seawright office, the rest of Part 2 improves significantly. Listen for some very "natural-sounding" dialogue between Wooton (at least for his character :)), Bernard, Whit, and minor characters like Mr. Montoya and the security guard. Many of the lines had me smiling ("It looks like a truck without binoculars too!", "We're just drinking coffee and eating donuts; that's not against the law, is it?", "They love to bounce balls against the wall," "I'm not his father!", etc.) My personal favorite scene is the stakeout scene at the factory. We heard some hilarity from Connie's stakeout song in "Living in the Gray," but this is even better. Wooton's reactions to everything in that scene are an absolute joy to hear ("I don't know how they do it either...but it's so cool! Imagine being paid to do this!") compared to his lines in the first scene. Bernard's interactions with Whit and Wooton sound just like the character we all know and love.
For part 2, when the plot thickens and the situations become a bit more serious, the cheerful, bouncy style of music works in some places, but not others. It worked in part 1, but for this episode, some of the music cues were a bit much after listening to some of the more "serious" scenes. Again, I'll use the stakeout scene as an example. After Whit said, "How did he know my name?", we hear some overdramatic, fast, exciting music. Maybe it's just me, but it didn't fit after listening to such a suspenseful scene with much more spooky music. There are a few episodes that Paul McCusker has penned where "serious" situations are taking place, but the music manages to sound normal, not suspenseful or overbearing ("Tom for Mayor" comes to mind). Perhaps that could have worked here in some spots.
The one "style" of music that I really enjoyed was what I'll refer to as the "comic book music," which was used in between a few scenes. It's a fun combination of fast-paced, adventurous, but not necessarily overbearing music. We heard some of it as Wooton raced out the door at the end of Part 1, but we get to hear even more of it here in Part 2. Considering that the mystery centers around a symbol from a comic book, the music is appropriate and sets a fun, daring tone for this show.
There's also some very subtle nuances to listen for, like Wooton revealing where his name came from. Also, the "serious" scenes such as the stakeout, Wooton's discussion about coincidences, and the conversation with Wooton and Joseph have an appropriate amount of humor - if any at all - and convey their messages effectively. If only more recent AIO episodes were as such. Speaking of serious moments, I really enjoyed the subject matter revealed at the end. Some may disagree with me, but I think it's appropriate to occasionally address issues like illegal immigration on AIO. Alluding to current topics like these can work as good discussion starters between kids and parents.
Finally, we reach the finale. Part 3 can essentially be divided into four parts: the story from the bad guy, the decision from the good guys, the climax/resolution, and the post-resolution scenes. It seemed a bit short, and it wasn’t perfect, but it worked well, and the character development was at its peak during the climax of the episode.
When I first tuned in to hear Part 3, the cheerful music played at the beginning during the scenes of the previous episodes was done away with, and more serious music was used instead. Bravo on that choice! This part of the episode lasts a bit longer than usual, as there has been so much information revealed and events that transpired in Part 2. Finally, we go directly to Wooton’s “detainment.” Maybe it’s just me, but the whole thing ended up being somewhat of an anticlimax – instead of being threatened by Mr. Corelli and company, we only hear a conversation between Corelli and Wooton, in which we discover that there’s no “Freddy C.” What a disappointment; no excitement there. I suppose it wasn’t necessary, but that scene was a bit of a letdown after all the buildup from the previous week’s cliffhanger. It’s some great information, and I suppose it’s the only way the situation would have been handled within the realm of reason, but it just didn’t seem to fit.
By the time the beginning is finished, the episode quickly moves on, and we are taken to a “decision” scene with Whit, Bernard, and Wooton. (This entire time, I couldn’t help but think of “Do or Diet,” especially when they ate donuts in Part 2.) I didn’t quite understand Bernard’s distaste for nostril hair in this section, but oh well. Not too long after that, we are taken to the climax, an extremely fun scene with some excellent dialogue between Bernard, Wooton, Whit, and even Agent Hayworth – probably some of the best dialogue in the entire three-parter. I wondered if Paul McCusker was thinking about “The Final Conflict” when he wrote that scene – the two have many similarities (good guys attempting to get the bad guys out of a building, a hero rushing in to stop the villain(s), more good guys watching the action from a car, etc.). It’s almost as if this served as a subtle parody of that entire scene, but maybe I’m just over-observing everything. Whatever was intended, it played out extremely well for the most part. :)
I say “the most part” because the scene had one minor problem: the action. One of the marks of a quality audio drama is its ability to stimulate the listener’s imagination, which is one of the things AIO sets out to do. But there are some instances where there is so much excitement going on that the writers end up using a character to explain everything that’s happening. In the factory scene, we hear Wooton giving a blow-by-blow description of everything going on. At moments, there were no other characters talking for a little while. But it was handled pretty well, contained some fun lines, and wasn’t quite as groan-inducing as the “explanation scene” with Maude in “A Most Surprising Answer.”
Then, after some conversations between the bad guys, we get to that crazy scene where Wooton attempts to foil Mr. Henderson and Mr. Corelli in the van. Yes, it’s extremely silly, but somehow it fits in an episode like this – yet another example of Mr. McCusker’s knack for merging a serious situation with some humorous elements. I was somewhat disappointed, though, to find that once again, the villains simply get caught by the police in their car. It happened in “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and “The Top Floor,” and now it’s happened yet again. Maybe there’s something going on with all the suspenseful three-parters lately. But honestly, I didn’t really care all that much because the scene had enough Wooton uniqueness to make it stand out above those others. :)
At the very end, Wooton visits Joseph. I loved this scene. For some reason, I was half-expecting Wooton to reveal to Joseph that he draws Power Boy, but thankfully he didn’t. We get an explanation about the real Freddy C. and how Joseph chose to stand up for his principles. It’s a simple moral, but it’s expressed in a fun way and manages to be different from the themes of many of the exciting action or mystery shows on AIO. Then, at the very end, we hear Wooton and Joseph “riding off into the sunset” by doing something fun. Or, rather, clucking off into the sunset. :) Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better ending.
You’re probably getting tired of reading all of this, so I’ll start wrapping it up. ;) I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Whenever I hear a suspenseful or multi-part show on AIO, normally I leave excited or “in awe” of the listening experience. But this show is different. It didn’t set out to completely blow the listener away. It’s not trying to be something incredibly exciting. It’s simply meant to capture an incident in a small town through the eyes of a humorous character. Its “feel” and atmosphere hit all the right notes. It’s not perfect, but it simply works, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing it. Like many of Paul’s episodes, it has great replay value, and I’ll gladly listen to it for many more times to come.
So I tip my hat to you, Paul McCusker. Well done on a fantastic, memorable episode.