Though Howl and Sophie are the main leads of Hayao Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle, another character who is just as integral to the storyline, is The Witch of the Waste. One theme throughout the entire film, is how every other character has a false front regarding just who they are, and by the end, they have shed these fake personas, and come out stronger, and more accepting over who/what they are.
Of course, Miyazaki took many liberties with the characters from Diana Wynne Jones’ story, and the Witch of the Waste is no exception. Much of her involvement with our main characters does not follow the storyline of Jones’ book. Instead, Miyazaki chose to make her a character of age, vanity, and superficiality.
Much like Howl seems to be close to the village where Sophie lives, there is rumor that the Witch of the Waste is nearby. During her first appearance, she stays hidden within the walls of a small, ornate litter. She is usually accompanied by several ‘blob men,’ who wear brightly-colored clothing and masks. Amazingly enough, no one in the village seems to notice these strange, tall, featureless ‘men.’
When we get our first full look at the Witch of the Waste, she definitely looks a little ‘off’.’ She has the appearance of an older woman, somewhat full-bodied. However, her body looks almost ‘sculpted,’ given that she seems to have a protuberance of neck-flesh under her face.
We can assume she tracked Sophie down, after her blob-men attempted to get Howl on the street in an earlier scene, and reported back as to who she was.
“What a tacky shop,” the Witch says, surveying the room. “I’ve never seen such tacky little hats. Yet you are by far, the tackiest thing here.”
Sophie doesn’t take well to being insulted, and orders this strange woman to leave.
When she leaves, The Witch of the Waste passes through Sophie, casting her aging spell on her. One might wonder why she would do this, but she probably figures that since Howl likes young, beautiful women, aging Sophie into an old woman will put him off her.
The Witch of the Waste then disappears for a good portion of the film after this, but her presence is never far from Howl, or Sophie.
After being taken in by Howl, Sophie finds a red note in the pocket of her dress (most likely placed there when the Witch passed through Sophie). It burns a symbol into a wood table in Howl’s castle, with an ominous message:
“You who swallowed a falling star, o’ heartless man, your heart shall soon belong to me.”
Sophie later asks Howl about this, and his association with the Witch of the Waste. Howl claims that he pursued her when he thought she was beautiful. But upon finding out her true form, he ran away. Since then, the Witch of the Waste has been pursuing Howl, trying to ‘recapture’ his heart.
The next time we see The Witch, is when Sophie goes to have an audience with Madame Suliman, the Royal Sorcerer from one of the kingdom’s requesting Howl’s assistance in the current war ravaging the lands. Though Sophie is there to speak on behalf of Howl, the Witch has chosen to personally appear per the royal invite she received from Suliman.
The Witch seems rather pleased to see Sophie, and delighted when Sophie relays that “Howl’s treating her like a house-servant.” When Sophie requests the Witch remove the spell on her, the Witch then explains an intriguing conundrum: though she can cast spells, that doesn’t mean she knows how to cure them.
However, from the moment she steps onto the castle’s grounds, The Witch of the Waste’s demeanor and spirit are tested. Her ‘blob men’ handlers are disabled, and she is required to complete the rest of her journey to meet Madame Suliman, on foot. This then leads to a scene of her and Sophie climbing a large number of stairs. While Sophie is slightly winded by the climb, the Witch of the Waste is even more strained by the ordeal.
Once she gets to the top, her statuesque form becomes stooped, her hair ragged, and the amount of ‘skin’ around her neck area appears to have loosened. In a funny turn-of-events, Sophie enters without the cane she came to the castle with, which has been given to the Witch.
While Sophie is led off to meet with Suliman first, the Witch finds a room with a chair in the center. Looking for relief from her strains, she rushes to it, and breathes a sigh of relief. However, the silence is short-lived, as suddenly a number of large lightbulbs are revealed, and switched on.
The room it turns out, is actually one that the Kingdom uses to gain control of witches and wizards. The room pulls their magic from their bodies, and in their weakened state, it is assumed that they will be persuaded to join with the Kingdom.
With the majority of her powers gone, the Witch’s true age is revealed, imperfections can be seen, and her eyes have taken on a glassy sheen, as seen when she is brought before Madame Suliman, and Sophie.
“There was a time when she, too, was a magnificent sorcerer with so much promise,” Suliman explains to Sophie, “But then she fell prey to a demon of greed who slowly consumed her, body and soul.”
As to who or what this demon is/was, it is never said, but one has to wonder if in some way, it was similar to the effects of what Calcifer had on Howl. Though both Howl and the Witch have very strong magical powers, they have chosen to use them for their own personal (selfish?) purposes. Maybe it could be Suliman claiming the human quality of “vanity” could be that demon?
One has to assume that somewhere in her life, the Witch of the Waste probably began to grow afraid of her age, and when it seemed magic was the only saving grace to the effects of age on her appearance and body, she looked inwardly, and used what powers she had on herself.
We often see this quality in humanity as well. Millions of dollars spent on trying to hide crow’s feet, sagging flesh, and thinning cheeklines. Every other story I pass, it seems there’s some treatment/solution offered, to keep one looking young and invigorated, so they’ll be noticed and attractive to a world that seemingly sees these signs of aging, as ‘deformities.’
The effects of the draining of the Witch of the Waste’s magic has also seemed to age her mind as well. She is quiet after the draining of her powers, but comes out of this ‘fog’ to say a few things, whether latching onto Sophie’s talk about Howl (“I want his heart! It belongs to me!”), or when her attention is drawn by some little things (“what a pretty fire.”). It’s almost like she is in some stages of Alzheimer’s disease, as her memories and coherency seem to come-and-go as the film continues on.
From this point on, the witch becomes little more than an observer for awhile, until the evening after Howl shows Sophie a secret garden. As Sophie helps the Witch into bed, the old woman remarks that Sophie seems to be in love, as she’s been rather quiet for awhile, deep in thought.
When Sophie inquires if the Witch of the Waste has ever been in love, she proclaims she still is. The Witch proclaims how she loves “strapping young men,” for both their hearts and appearances (leading Sophie to give a small look of disgust). She is also cognizant to recognize an air raid siren, and is sure Suliman’s henchmen are looking for where they are.
When Sophie’s mother visits during this time, the Witch becomes a little more active. Opening a draw-string bag Sophie’s mother brought, the witch finds ‘a tracking bug,’ and tosses it to Calcifer to burn up…but it instead, does not agree with his digestion. She also finds a cigar, which she soon takes to smoking. This also seems to make her come alive more, claiming the smoking of the cigar as a “pleasure,” when Sophie wishes her to put it out.
When Howl returns to the house during an aerial raid, both he and the Witch share a small conversation. While she shows slight interest that he has not attempted to run from her, Howl casually claims he’d like to keep talking, but has something else to tend to.
After the cigar is extinguished by Howl, the witch again reverts back to a quiet presence in the background, until Sophie and Calcifer take the moving castle to try and reach Howl. When Calcifer mentions how his powers would be stronger with Sophie’s eyes or her heart, this causes the Witch to perk up.
It is then that she realizes just where Howl’s heart is: it’s the source of where Calcifer is drawing his magic from (aka, the pulsating ‘lump’ that has been attached to Calcifer since we first met him!). This realization then causes the Witch to go for the heart, her greed getting the better of her, as she causes chaos by disturbing Calcifer’s concentration.
In her mad desire to ‘have Howl’s heart,’ it is only afterwards does she realize she has picked up a flaming object, but is unwilling to let go. Sophie then does the logical thing regarding a fire, and throws water on the Witch and Calcifer, whose flame dims to a soft blue!
This move ends up destroying the remnants of the castle, and what magic is left, sends a small portion still marching along, as the Witch laments that her ‘heart is ruined.’
The next time we see the witch, she, Markl, and the scarecrow Turnip Head, are seen atop a wooden flooring, being moved by two legs. As well, the Witch still has not let go of Howl’s heart.
Howl brings Sophie to them, before collapsing. Sophie realizes the only thing that will save Howl is his heart, but the Witch of the Waste is still unwilling to part from it, until Sophie embraces the Witch, pleading to have it back.
“You really want it that badly?” asks the Witch.
When Sophie responds with an affirmative, the old woman finally relents.
“Alright,” she says, handing it over, “But you better be prepared to take care of it.”
This becomes the Witch’s turning point. Though not as major as Howl’s, it is her way of letting go of an old obsession. Her speech to Sophie, almost sounds like she is willing to let this young woman, ‘have’ Howl’s love.
“Thank you,” responds Sophie, kissing the old woman, “you have a big heart.”
Miyazaki’s depictions of forgiveness and even kindness seem to be on a different plane than Western minds. Most people would have assumed Sophie would have held some form of grudge against the Witch of the Waste for all the grief and struggle she put her through. However, in this moment of helping, Sophie is willing to let this action be seen as a sign of apology.
Shortly after Howl’s heart is restored to him, he regains consciousness. As well, Sophie manages to break the curse on another of their comrades named Turnip Head, who it soon turns out, was the Prince, whose disappearance started the war.
The Witch of the Waste even manages to recommend he return to his kingdom quickly to end further fighting of the “ridiculous war.” She also gives him a wink, saying she looks forward to “his return.”
The final thing we see of the Witch of the Waste, is relaxing in a small garden in the newly-rebuilt Moving Castle. With her magic gone, she seems to have willingly settled into accepting both her age, and appearance…though if her comments to the Prince were any indication, she still has a penchant for handsome young men…proof that not all ‘curses’ can be broken with age and kindness.
Jones’ story marked the first book adaptation Miyazaki had directed (the last one being Kiki’s Delivery Service almost 15 years before), and each time, he puts his own spin on the material, much the way Disney did with Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
This is definitely a change from the way the Witch of the Waste is portrayed in the original story. Though she was banished to the Wastes as mentioned in the film, she curses both Howl and Sophie, and even had plans to usurp the Kingdom, though in the end, Howl ended up killing her. As well, the curse placed upon the scarecrow (dubbed “Turnip Head” in the film), was also the Witch’s doing. But as is the way with Miyazaki’s adaptations, he has his own motivations for the characters and settings. Another example is the castle: Jone’s story depicted it as more of a ‘castle that floated on a cloud, as opposed to what Miyazaki concocted.
One could say that The Witch of the Waste’s “love” is not actually one of being genuine, but more of an obsession based on superficiality, almost a reflection of her own superficiality of keeping her appearance. She has no one she cares for except herself, and her own obsessions. However, it does feel that with the willing kindness that Sophie and the other members of the moving castle have shown her, she is willing to be adopted into this helter-skelter family, and has found a chance to move into a new turning point of her life, just as the others have begun to do.
*And thus concludes a trilogy of character observations in regards to “Howl’s Moving Castle.” I will admit that this post was largely due to a reader who claimed she really enjoyed reading my thoughts on these characters. I have several more regarding other Ghibli films, and I hope to continue to write them. Of all the different postings, I find these have been some of my most-viewed writings.*
When it comes to The Academy Awards, one of the categories that would often pass by in a flash but intrigue me at times, was the one featuring animated shorts. Sometimes they’d show a few seconds worth of clips, leaving me wondering what some of the images meant, but pretty sure there was little chance I’d know just what I had witnessed…but that was back in the 1990’s, in the state of Iowa.
Nowadays, one can find almost all of the past nominated shorts online, and some have definitely stuck with me for what they could tell in such a short amount of time. This year, I attended a screening with a friend, in which the latest round of nominated shorts, was screened at a local theater. I thought I’d say a few things about them in my weekly blog post.
Me and My Moulton
The middle child in a family whose parents are architects, shares her thoughts about growing up, and the shared dream she and her sisters had, of one day having a bicycle of their own.
A Norwegian/Canadian co-production, the simplicity of the art style definitely makes it intriguing. The narrator and her sisters are designated by numbers on their dresses, with us soon knowing that our narrator is the middle (‘2’) sister.
The story also deals with the narrator feeling sad that her family is not like one near them, that seems relatively normal. As well, her father is the only man in town…with a mustache!
The short serves as a simple remembrance, both in its style, and the narrative. The narrator does make the story funny in places with her characterization of family members, including one strange reason her Grandmother gives, regarding why one should fold their clothes neatly. It’s a slice-of-life story, that has a few things that most people can relate to.
The Short chronicles a puppy who is taken in by a kindly owner, and his life as seen through the numerous meals he is fed.
This is probably the only nominated short the majority of Americans have seen, as it played before Big Hero 6 this past winter. Using their computing power to make the story seem as simple as possible, Feast’s visual stylings are reminiscent of those in their award-wining short Paperman, from a few years ago.
The star of the short is the little dog named Winston, who continues a grand tradition of Disney giving us some of the most adorable, and animated canine stars there is. One of my favorite expressions is when Winston samples bacon for the first time…and the animators get this split-second expression of ‘bliss’ to register on his little face. Keeping much of the focus on Winston, helps make an intimate story, while giving us hints at a bigger picture of what Winston is a part of.
The Bigger Picture
The less-successful of two brothers, attempts to look after his elderly mother, while it seems his more successful brother is seen as the better of the two.
Of all the shorts, this is the one that is the most serious, but also looks to have been the most time-consuming. Characters seem flat against the walls of the rooms they are in, but their arms extend out into three-dimensional space. One would assume this was all done in a computer, or in a miniature, but there are pictures online showing them making this picture…such as this image, showing the full-size set!
Bigger Picture is definitely the more grown-up of the pieces included here. There’s not a lot of joy in the piece, but it definitely got me where it counted.
A Single Life
Clocking in at just under 2 minutes, the short finds a woman receiving a record, titled “A Single Life.” Putting it on her turntable, she is surprised to find, that it has the ability to shift her through time!
Once the action ramps up, much of the camera stays static, with the small movements within the frame drawing our attention to the young woman’s time predicaments.
Definitely one of the tightest of the short-subjects. This could probably have been milked out to double its length, but comedy can often come from the most simple things (take the Fantasia 2000 segment revolving around The Carnival of the Animals, that also clocks in under 2 minutes!). As well, the quickness of the time-jumps, also reminded me of the Scrat-based short from Blue Sky Studios, titled No Time For Nuts.
One of the funniest little gags, is the author of the book the single woman has on her fireplace. I think my own love of time-travel, helped me really get into this one.
The Dam Keeper
A bullied pig-child, is in charge of running a local windmill, that overlooks a town populated by animals. His days at school are filled with tauntings and teasings by his classmates, until a fox-child comes to the school.
Watching the short, I was surprised how much emotion and heart it had in it. The short looks just like a children’s book come to life, but full of the ups and downs of emotion that I strive to find in anything I watch. As well, the use of color is almost pastel in nature, which I have often loved (pity chalk pastels are so messy, or I’d use them).
The first time one watches it, the opening narration can seem a little jarring, but I think the more you see it, the narration becomes more natural, and understanding.
At 18 minutes long, Dam Keeper is the longest of the nominees.
Who do I think should win?
All of the shorts have their moments that definitely hit emotional nerves within me. Though I didn’t have architects for parents, the wanting to be “normal” I could relate to in Moulton. The emotional expression of the dog Winston in Feast shows the Disney Studios’ continued excellence in giving us proper “animated puppy love.” The Bigger Picture deals with that often-ignored issue of hitting your mid-years, and wondering about that stretch of life that leads on to the end of the road. A Single Life is a time-based romp that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Dam Keeper, starts out vague, but slowly opens your eyes to its story, and a journey that you aren’t quite prepared for.
And my choice for who should win is:
The Dam Keeper
The short’s directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, are former employees of PIXAR Animation Studios, which I feel definitely helped in making the emotions flow into this piece. I had heard about Dice working on a personal project a little while ago, and here it is!
Kondo and Tsutsumi have channeled a story that I think many can relate to, and also, gives light to how oftentimes, creativity can help bridge barriers. As well, it shows that a little kindness can often help in the darkest of times.
This 3-month experiment that culminated in their collaboration, could potentially lead to other things, and I do hope their relationship can bring about more short subjects that are as creative, and heartfelt, as The Dam Keeper.
Even at 18 minutes, it felt like the story only took up half of that time. As Roger Ebert once said: “No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough.”
I guess February has become my month for discussing the Peanuts comic strips, and the romantic entanglements of several of its characters. I kicked this tradition off two years ago talking about Charlie Brown meeting a girl named Peggy Jean at camp, and last year, mentioned Linus’ infatuation with a girl named Truffles.
Back in my article about Charlie and Peggy, I made a small note about a girl named Emily. Well, I think now is the time to tell you about her, and their story.
In February of 1995, Charlie went to Lucy’s psychiatry booth, telling how he feels lonely. Lucy’s solution? He should take dance lessons, feeling it’ll make him a better person socially.
Charlie then begins to take lessons at the Ace Dance Studio, but is unsure if he’s even in the right place. When he mentions to a girl sitting next to him, that he hopes dancing will make him more outgoing, she retorts that she’ll “outgo” Charlie right over the head if he asks her to dance.
Naturally, this response doesn’t do much for Charlie’s self-confidence, but he is surprised when a girl with long hair named Emily approaches him (right), and asks him to dance!
The chance encounter with Emily soon ends up being all Charlie can think of. However, this happy moment’s remembrance also causes him to space out in class, and even walk right into a telephone pole.
Charlie eagerly shows up at the dance studio’s next lesson and asks for Emily…only to be told there’s noone signed up at the studio by that name!
Pretty soon, it becomes apparent to several of his friends, that Charlie must have imagined this “dream girl.” Naturally, Charlie returns to Lucy for help (left), and gets none in return.
Charlie and Emily’s storyline happened during the daily strips from February 7-February 20th, 1995. Compared to Peggy Jean’s arc, Emily had very little time regarding her appearance, especially for an imaginary character.
…or was she an imaginary character?
On April 11, 1996, Charlie Brown received a phone call…from Emily, inviting him to be her date to the Sweetheart Ball! Most of Schulz’s story arcs often had some head-scratching un-reality to them (Snoopy himself is a prime example at times), and the factor of Emily being real or imaginary, seemed to take a backseat to the story Schulz wanted to tell.
Not even questioning how a girl he dreamed up called him on the telephone(!?), Charlie Brown soon after rented a tuxedo, and made his way to the ball a few days later, eager to once again dance with his (latest) “dream girl.” On April 19th, Emily returned to the strip, and the two took to the dance floor (left). Emily happily tells Charlie (whom she calls “Charles”) how she still remembers meeting at the dance class.
This continuity works in an intriguing way: for the newcomer, Emily most likely seems a very real character…but for those who remembered her appearance almost a year prior, there’s still a question of doubt if this is really happening. Besides, just like those previous strips, when Charlie was dancing with Emily, we never saw anyone else near him, as if he was lost in his own dream world.
However, Charlie’s enchanted evening is soon interrupted when an announcement goes out over the dance floor (right). It turns out Snoopy, clad in his French Foreign Legion headgear, has decided to join the party, dancing with a frizzy-haired girl.
Naturally, when it is figured out Charlie is Snoopy’s owner, both are ejected (for violating the ‘no dogs allowed’ policy of the dance). Needless to say, Charlie is distressed about being separated from Emily and a good time. He then calls Emily the next day to apologize for what happened, ending the latest chapter in this little romantic saga.
Just like Peggy Jean, Charlie Brown would have three encounters with Emily. And just like Peggy Jean, the last encounter would occur, in 1999.
On August 9th, Emily called Charlie Brown from the dance studio (…the one that 4 years ago said she didn’t exist?), eager to dance with him again. Charlie happily accepts, and over the next few days, viewers were treated to single-panel strips of Charlie and Emily dancing, before Snoopy joined in (see below).
So far, along with the girl with the frizzy-hair, Snoopy is the only other character we’ve seen near Emily. And in this panel, he’s holding her hand! Well, I guess that solves the is she real-or-not dilemma once and for all.
Eventually, just like the Sweetheart Ball, it’s found out that dogs aren’t allowed in the dance studio. And so, Charlie has to take his leave (right), leading to Emily’s final appearance (and a Great Gatsby reference).
Though not quite as thorough a relationship as the one with Peggy Jean, Charlie Brown’s time with Emily always seemed pleasant enough, though one has to wonder how important certain story elements were to Schulz. After all, there’d be times where characters would try to explain sense to someone, and yet they would often ignore the “advice” (Lucy refusing Linus’ belief in the Great Pumpkin, for example).
Compared to the final appearance of Peggy Jean, it seemed that Emily could have become a possible new crush for Charlie Brown. Their last scene left the door open for her, as she seemed to enjoy dancing with Charlie, and didn’t have a boyfriend. Of course, we can only speculate on a future where Charlie continued taking dancing lessons, and attended several more dances at Emily’s request.
Charlie Brown also seems to be at his happiest in these strips. Several of the images I’ve seen with him smiling and dancing, have even shown up on some merchandise. One example is the compilation CD, Jazz and Peanuts, which features music from several of the television specials in the 80’s and 90’s.
Much like many minor characters, Emily’s likeness didn’t go far when it came to Peanuts merchandise. As it stands now, the only appearance of her outside her comic appearances, was as a vendor in the iOS game, Snoopy’s Street Fair. Her stall in the game sold dance wear, which was appropriate to her character in the comics.
And so, another romantic remembrance from my Peanuts Prospectus draws to a close. Maybe I’ll start doing these twice a year, to cover some other little storylines. There’s one that takes place during summer camp, that I’m itching to dive into.
Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.
Throughout the last few years, I found myself being drawn to the television show Cheers, when all 11 seasons ended up on Netflix.
I was slightly aware of the series growing up, being as how the gang in the Boston bar found themselves associated with two Disney television specials. However, in the Spring of 1993, I found myself drawn into the nationwide countdown, as the final 5 episodes played out on NBC.
Looking back on it now, it’s become a source of comfort, seeing the bar patrons who are a group of ‘lovable losers,’ trying to ‘make their way in the world.’
Some of the episodes have definitely stuck with me, and seeing as how I just had a Birthday recently, I thought I’d recap one of the more memorable episodes to me, that also includes a Birthday in it. And so, here’s my Retro Recap on: “Where have all the Floorboards Gone.”
The episode starts out with a subplot that will weave throughout the evening’s main storyline. Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) is planning to get made over for her new security badge picture for work, when Carla (Rhea Perlman) suggests that she have her hair changed as well.
Lilith then asks Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), who is stuck in a quandary: if he says ‘yes,’ Lilith may take offense. If he says ‘no,’ she may also take offense. After attempting to skirt around a definite answer, and to which Lilith keeps asking for explanations to his rather cryptic responses, Frasier turns tail and rushes for the door!
The main plot of the show then rears its head, when Norm Peterson (George Wendt) enters the bar.
“What’s going on, Normie?” asks Sam Malone (Ted Danson).
“It’s my birthday, Sammy,” replies Norm. “Give me a beer, stick a candle in it, and I’ll blow out my liver.”
Though Norm claims he wants the day to just go on like any other, his fellow bar friends pitch in and get him a free beer. However, the big shock is the one Sam reveals:
Boston Celtics player, Kevin McHale (as himself!), who has come to hand-deliver Norm a Celtics Team Jacket! Needless to say, Norm is shocked and surprised at the gesture.
“What a Birthday, huh?” says Norm, taking stock of his gifts. “A free beer. A Celtics jacket from Kevin McHale, and Sammy wiping out my bar tab!”
Needless to say, that last wish doesn’t hold with Sam, who draws the line.
“Well, Happy Birthday to me,” replies Norm, mockingly.
The presents keep coming, when Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger), explains to Norm about all the information he uncovered about Birthdays…but has decided to not tell Norm about it. And let’s face it: a gift where Cliff doesn’t shoot off his mouth about stuff, is one to be thankful for.
Talk then turns to The Boston Gardens, where Cliff claims that the garden’s floor, is held down by 2,860 bolts.
This then leads Norm to counter the claim, saying a member of the Bull Gang (aka the crew that works the floor), told him it’s 2,880 bolts.
The question soon leads to a small row, with Sam figuring Kevin would know. However, Kevin claims he has no idea himself, but as he begins to ponder, Carla pleads with Kevin to put it out of his head, lest the lure of bar trivia corrupt him like the regulars at the bar.
Kevin quickly takes her advice, and rushes out to prepare for the evening’s basketball game.
Some time later, Frasier returns to the bar, as well as Lilith, who is eager to show Frasier what she has done to her hair.
After a few moments, the look of the frizzy permanent causes Frasier to burst out in gales of laughter, prompting Lilith to rush out with hurt feelings.
Meanwhile, the rest of the bar is watching the Celtics game, but note that Kevin is not playing like he normally does. Some note that Kevin seems preoccupied by something, and when a post-game interview comes up, McHale is unable to answer questions…and is instead seen counting something on the floor (most likely the bolts!).
Needless to say, Carla angrily decries the others for turning Kevin into “one of them,” to which the guys can only reply with a chant of, “Ke-vin! Ke-vin! Ke-vin!”
Lilith soon is seen in the bar a little later, after continually being subjected to Frasier laughing at her new hairstyle (“he laughed so hard at dinner, cappuccino ran out his nose”). She asks Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) if the new hairstyle looks ridiculous. Calmly, Rebecca claims it is fine, and Lilith leaves the bar feeling better.
Carla is surprised that Rebecca can stay so calm, when Rebecca reveals her secret:
A few hours later, Kevin calls Sam at the bar, claiming he still can’t get the bolts question out of his mind! Sam tries to tell Kevin to try and forget about the question, but some time after, Kevin shows up at the bar with some blueprints for the Boston Gardens, determined to find the answer.
However, two things deter him: 1) the plans are for the new Boston Gardens they are building, and 2) Kevin’s wife has shown up demanding he come home!
Carla takes the opportunity to again chastise the group, with Sam countering that it’s just Kevin getting a little carried away.
“Yeah sure, Sam,” replies Carla. “Today it’s ‘how many bolts are in the floor.’ Tomorrow they’ll have him on to, ‘if The Brady Bunch crashes in the Andes, who’s gonna eat who first?’
And like flies to honey, Carla’s question soon draws answers.
“Well they’d probably eat the maid, cuz she ain’t kin,” responds Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson).
“Yeah but if they’re smart, they’ll ask her first how she should prepare herself,” adds Cliff.
Sam then decides to do something. Using Cliff’s trusty Swiss army knife, Sam, Cliff, Norm, and Woody break into The Boston Gardens, determined to settle the question once and for all.
However, once in the center of their ‘sacred’ place, the group is in awe of the surroundings. Woody even inquires how they can play hockey in the Gardens, to which Cliff encourages him to pry up the floor boards with his Swiss army knife. They find plywood instead of ice underneath, but the sound of approaching footsteps causes the group to head for the doors, but not before Norm remarks on the day’s events, claiming he’s ‘never had a more perfect day’ (even getting chased out by security in The Boston Gardens is exciting to him!).
The next day, Frasier asks Lilith to meet him at Cheers, to which he apologizes for laughing at her, and claims that he is willing to love her no matter what she does to her hair.
Lilith embraces Frasier for understanding…
…though the audience soon realizes that he’s not being totally truthful (thanks to a little help from Rebecca).
Meanwhile, Kevin is playing another game with the Celtics. Watching the game on TV, the Cheers gang notes that he’s playing better, and Sam lets slip that he made up a number about how many bolts were in the floor. Though not correct, it seems to have done the trick in calming Kevin down.
It is then that Woody tells Sam and the guys, that he never did replace the bolts from the piece of floor he pried up. The others assume that the guys who check the floor before the game found the missing bolts and replaced them…but are all shocked when ‘a piece of the floor’ comes up, knocking Kevin off his feet for the rest of the game!
Later on that evening, the guys visit Kevin in the locker room, and explain what they were up to the previous night. Kevin is a little perturbed at them, but claims that it’s fine since they figured out how many bolts were in the floor…leading to Sam confessing that they still don’t know.
“But it’s okay,” responds Sam. “You still played a great game tonight.”
“Yeah, but what about tomorrow’s game?” asks Kevin, the question returning to eat away at his mind.
The final shot of the episode, shows the guys (along with Kevin), down on the floor of the Gardens, with Norm using an adding machine to keep track of how many bolts they’ve counted.
This episode I’d consider a bit of a throwaway episode. It’s a little ‘slice of life’ piece regarding the regulars at Cheers, but I find it a fun source of comfort and enjoyment when I’m looking for something to wile away the time.
It’s also a fun episode with the inclusion of Kevin McHale, who has appeared before on the show. Though not a great thespian, Kevin could definitely get down the comedy beats when necessary. As well, the showrunners even got his actual wife to be in the episode! Show writer Ken Levine even spoke on his blog about Kevin’s appearances. Apparently, Kevin’s placement in this episode came to mind, when the writer’s remembered how well he did in the Season 9 episode, Cheers Fouls Out.
The main piece about bar trivia is a little true in some respects. I’ve had some questions haunt my mind, and not let up until i’ve found an answer. However, it’s never taken ahold as strongly as it does to Kevin in this episode.
On a whim, I have looked around online, but it seems noone ever did figure out how many bolts were in the floor of the Gardens. It’s something we’ll probably never know now, as the facility was leveled in the 90’s, with the bulk of Boston’s sports moved to the TD Garden.
This episode also serves as one of the few where some of the cast actually went to the actual location in Boston. This was not uncommon for some of them to film small bits outside of the actual bar’s location in Boston, but to go inside the Gardens must have been quite a time.
Also adding to the history of just how long Norm has been a patron at Cheers, is when he bring s basketball from his car into the Gardens, only to find the ball has gone flat when he tries to dribble it. When the others ask how long he’s had it, he claims when he went to the gym next door to Cheers. When the other claim no knowledge of this, Norm explains that the gym became a bookstore. This draws further blanks, leading him to tell that the bookstore closed and a bank went in its place. Sam recalls that he’s always known a bank in that location, leading Norm to casually go, “well, there ya go!”
The sub-story regarding Lilith’s new hairdo, is a little blase, but doesn’t detract too much from the A-story regarding Kevin and the bolts. It’s a given that almost every Cheers episode has two stories interweaving through an episode, and oftentimes, its easy to tell the weaker of the two.
Oh, and for those of you who are too young to know, the title of the episode, is a take on the song, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, written by Pete Seeger.
I will admit, the scene where Norm marvels at being on the floor of the gardens, reminded me of a trip I took to PIXAR Animation Studios in December of 2011 (which I dubbed “an early 32nd Birthday present to myself”). I remember standing in the center of their facility’s main atrium, and marveling at how I was standing in a place I had always seen on animated specials or DVD extras! And just like Norm claiming he had a ‘perfect day’ on his Birthday, that day I visited PIXAR gave me the same great feeling deep inside.
There have been quite a few Cheers episodes that have stuck with me over the course of watching all 11 seasons, and I hope to do some more Retro Recaps on them in the future. A lot of them are a little corny with the comedy, but after a long day and looking for something to unwind to, sometimes corny humor works best.