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Snowfalls and Wonderfalls

On Sunday I was originally supposed to be running a writing workshop for an undergraduate class at Harvard, but the weather precluded traveling to Cambridge. I did try heading out briefly in the morning, and I kept slipping on the ice and snow, so I called the folks in charge of the course and we're going to reschedule.

Instead, Nomi and I spent the day ensconced at home. She took advantage of the opportunity to bake more homemade challah, while I gathered together some recycling.

We also finally got around to watching the episodes of the TV show Wonderfalls that we had never seen. A little background might be in order here for those who don't recall the program. Wonderfalls was a mid-season replacement that ran on Fox in 2004. The show focused on Jaye Tyler, a young woman with a philosophy degree working as a retail clerk at a Niagara Falls gift shop. Animal figurines start talking to her, and when she follows their cryptic instructions to help people out, her life gets complicated, but things usually work out in the end. (More information on the show can be found at Wikipedia: Wonderfalls.)

Sadly for those of us who enjoyed this quirky and charming little program, Fox only broadcast four episodes before canceling the program. However, the producers of the show (which included Bryan Fuller, the creator of Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, and Tim Minear) managed to complete a full half-season of 13 episodes. Due to a fan campaign, Fox released the complete series on DVD in 2005, and Nomi and I bought it as soon as it came out. And as often happens, life got in the way, and we only managed to watch two of the unaired nine episodes – until yesterday, when we took advantage of the weather to watch the other seven.

One of the reasons I was interested in finishing the show was to learn why the animal figures started talking to Jaye. The producers of the show knew that they would not be making any more seasons as they were finishing the first one, so they stated publicly that they planed to present enough of an explanation in the final episodes to be satisfying. I wanted to see that answer for myself.

We're about to enter minor spoiler territory here; so if you have any plans to watch these episodes yourself at some point, you might want to stop reading now.

First of all, the producers of the show did do a nice job of bringing the story to a conclusion. In the final episode, "Caged Bird," we see that Jaye's life has taken a turn for the better, and we pretty much know how she'll end up. In the episode just before it, "Totem Mole," we get one possible explanation for why the animal figures talk to her, because Jaye finds herself talking with a deceased American Indian seer, which implies to the audience (or at least to me) that it is animal spirits who have decided to communicate with Jaye.

But it's actually in the antepenultimate episode that we find out what I consider a satisfactory answer regarding Jaye's predicament. (And a small thank-you to the producers for giving me a legitimate reason to use the word "antepenultimate.") During a climactic moment in a thunderstorm, the brass monkey in her therapist's office insists that Jaye lick the light switch on the wall. At her instigation, the monkey promises to answer her question of why the animal figurines are talking to her if she'll do what he asks.

Licking the light switch during the storm causes the power to go out in the building, a vital component to ensure a happy ending for the characters in the episode. And when Jaye goes back to the monkey, and insists that it fulfill its end of the bargain, the monkey answers her question in three words.

Why do the animals talk to her?

"Because you listen."

And that, to me, is a perfect explanation. Do we really need to know more? Do we need to know whether or not the animals are the voice of God, or the voices of spirits, or aliens, or whatever? No. Because what's important is not that the animals talk, but that they chose Jaye. They knew that despite her reluctance, she would listen and do what they ask. As upset as she gets at the animal figurines sometimes, she knows that following their instructions will lead to a better life for the people around her in the end. One gets the feeling that in the Wonderfalls universe, these voices have approached others before, only to be rebuffed when they discovered that not everyone has an open mind and a good heart. But just like the newspaper chose Gary Hobson in Early Edition, or the spider chose Peter Parker to become Spider-Man (as we learned in a retcon), the animals chose Jaye.

In short, the explanation is that it's one's character that matters. And I think that's a wonderful way to resolve the show.

Comments

Thanks for posting this thoughtful response about a show I really love. I'm adding it to memories.
Glad to be of service.
I also thank you for posting about this, though for a slightly different reason. I watched the first few aired episodes because of the show's pedigree, but their version of "quirky" tap-danced all over my last nerve, to the point that I now lose interest in new shows if they're described as "quirky". (I really don't know why it annoyed me so much; many people I like and/or respect loved the show. I find I can't watch sitcoms any more for similar reasons, though. I tend to write it down to an allergy to "Hey, ma, look at me, I'm being funny! Look!" presentations.) I really don't like to abandon narratives partway, though, so I'm glad to hear at least a partial resolution. So thanks!
If you want more details of the resolution, let me know and I'll be happy to provide.
Elaine and I borrowed the DVDs from her brother while in Vancouver (WA) for our niece's bat mitzvah. We got home, watched two episodes, and bought our own copies. When we sent the discs back to them, we included a pair of the monkey brass bookends which featured in the series as a way of saying thanks.
Are those brass monkey bookends really available?
They were (well, they never spoke to us). When we bought a pair about two years ago from Barnes & Noble, they were on clearance, so I don't know if you can still get them.
An Internet search turned up the B&N used to sell them, but apparently does not do so any longer, alas.
I've never even heard of this but now I want to watch it
Ah, I loved that show. Valerie and I watched the DVDs a year or more ago, doling them out one per night.

Wonderfalls

I agree this was a very interesting and quirky series. They certainly don't make many like this. Usually we just get dead people talk to me shows.

Did they really know when filming the last episodes that no more would be made? If so, I think they could have provided a better ending. I got the sense of a show cut off before its prime (and vaguely remember something about the writers plans for a future season in which Jaye's brother thinks she's a prophet and that the little boy who tries to make her his girlfriend had a future role too.

Anyway what's this about a spider choosing Peter Parker? Seems to me we have a remarkable spider.

Re: Wonderfalls

During the DVD commentary over the final episode, they make it clear that they knew as they were producing the final episode that that would be it.

And as for the spider choosing Peter, that was part of the retcon Straczynski created in his recent run on Amazing Spider-Man.
A friend pushed these DVDs on us a year or two ago. I'm glad she did; it was a fun show. Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. I didn't listen to the commentary, so I didn't know they'd known their fate while still filming. So I was wondering where they were going to take it after that, thinking maybe Jaye would help others to listen too. I guess not.
The Wikipedia entry on the show has some claims of plot threads the producers were planning to follow, if you're interested.
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