The Witness is a manic, fast paced episode that doesn’t let up from the moment it begins. To give some example of what I mean, I keep a notepad with me when watching the shows we review here at The Junkyard, but this episode was so fast that I wrote precisely two words: The Witness. With its 12 minute running time, it was over so quickly that I was left with my jaw hanging open and my pen in hand, waiting to touch the pad again. It’s no surprise that this episode won 3 Emmy awards. But is it flawless? And what does it say about the human condition? That’s a hard one to answer…
Visually this is a work of art, although I suppose one could say that’s a very subjective point of view. The city (presumably Hong Kong) is a massive, sprawling construct and it’s hard to imagine this being all animated; it looks too good. On top of that, the physical movements of the characters is superb. There are a number of little things that go on which enhance the story tenfold: when the unnamed girl (voiced by Emily O’Brien) gets too close to the “camera”, her breath fogs the glass. Of course, this is animated so it just works to create the visual experience that we are watching something real playing out before us.
Another nice touch is the words that appear briefly onscreen. The episode is frenetic: the woman witnesses a murder that takes place across the street from her apartment. She bolts, but the murderer chases her. The murder itself is punctuated by freakish stylizations of their faces probably familiar to most fans of anime but the words that pop up on the screen like “bang” when a gun goes off, just serves to illustrate an already disturbing event. When the pursuing man falls and we see “boom” appear, we know he’s taken a heck of a fall. Throughout the episode, we see lots of these moments but they are all done very quickly; blink and you miss them! Overall, the visual experience is one to behold. The plot itself is unnerving right up until the bitter end when we find the roles reversed in a very time-loopy way. Hence… the Ouroboros.
I feel the need to go on record here to state that I find the human body an amazing thing. I am especially fond of the female form and don’t ever want to be viewed as prudish in my acceptance of seeing it on screen. Having said that, I do have to ask about the logic of it appearing fully uncensored in a story like this. What does it do to advance the story? Would it not have been just as effective if the girl worked at Macy’s? Why is she a nude dancer who, upon seeing her pursuer in the club, takes off with only a kimono on as she runs with it wide open through the city streets? Yes, the artwork is amazing and they illustrate her with the same beauty I associate with the female form, but by crafting the episode with such an adult theme, it’s effectively reduced the audience. While the theme of murder might already reduce the audience to a smaller demographic, many parents won’t even let their teens watch a show with nudity in it (although as I type that, I realize the oddity that we’d be more reluctant to show the human body than we would to show a murder…!)
The thing about adult content is that there’s a place for it. Just like you wouldn’t have a brutal murder portrayed in, say, Rugrats or a cartoon pop up in the middle of a Dateline episode, I think writers have to consider their target demographic. As Inspector Clouseau once told Kato, there is a time and a place for everything and I don’t think this episode needed the nudity which takes up the bulk of the story.
And that says nothing of the language, although I could give that a pass due to the nature of what is going on. I remember watching a scene from The Brady Bunch as a kid, where a tarantula was on one of the kids chests while they were sleeping. He wakes up and says something like “golly gee”. Let’s be honest: if I woke up and there’s a tarantula on my chest, I’ll outpace any sailor with my colorful language. I’d also move faster than Taz from Looney Tunes. I guess why I’m willing to give this a pass when the same could be said of The Sucker of Souls has a lot to do with the subject matter, and also that the first words of the episode were not excessive vulgarities. (We’ll get there in a few weeks.)
Are we trapped in an endless loop? Scientists have speculated that our world may in fact by a hologram and if so, are we just going round and round? One might certainly feel that way with ones job. We go back to the office day after day doing much the same things as the day before. A time loop? No, but it does have the repetitiveness of one. The plot of this story seems to show us the two characters doomed to repeat their actions although in a state of heightened stress, alternating between pursued and pursuer. But is that all there is for them?
Throughout the episode, the man asks the woman to just wait. He says, when he finally corners her in an apartment, they should just talk, even though she has a gun pointing at him. Maybe the reality of this is that we need that reminder: sometimes we should just talk to one another. Of course, that’s not going to be an easy thing if you’ve just seen the murderer commit the act but maybe he needed to say more than he did.
I can’t say I really know what the takeaway is in this story. Assumptions go wrong? It’s clear to the viewer that the murdered woman at the start is the identical woman who witnesses the murder. But is that an assumption? Surely not, as the witness couldn’t see that from where she was standing.
Well the first is the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. This is a clear indication of what’s coming in the episode. We’re in for a loop and it works very well. While I thought the second icon looked like a loving Ice Warrior, the truth is it’s likely a representation of the dominatrix outfits seen in the club where the unnamed woman dances. Lastly, we have the eye representing the Witness, although by the end, can we be sure who the witness really is?
It’s undeniably a powerhouse episode that is over so fast, it’s hard to imagine not being willing to give it a shot, but it’s target audience is smaller than it should be by nature of the material. Don’t misconstrue: murder is not something for any age either, but you can get away with that if it’s not over-the-top. Sure, you’re not giving this to the 7 year old in the family regardless of nudity and vulgarity, but maybe the 15 year old would otherwise enjoy it. For the adults in the house, however, I think it’s an incredible episode that doesn’t let up for a second. ML
Red Dwarf did something very different with “ouroboros” 🙂
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Symbols for infinity can be a most intriguing story element as I most originally learned from a soap opera storyline once about a criminal organization called “Infinity”. For SF in regards to the drama of how repeating cycles can be either endless or breakable, storytellers can still thankfully get good use out of it from Red Dwarf to Love, Death & Robots.
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