Daily Archives: February 10, 2013

One of the most intriguing mysteries on TV is on a sitcom: Who is the “Scranton Strangler”?

As _The Office_ comes to a close after 9 seasons, the producers say they will reveal the “true” identity of the mysterious “Scranton Strangler” They also say that, after the introduction of the “character” of mic operator Brian (played by and based upon their real mic operator), they will be revealing more and more about the “documentary crew” that has supposedly been following this weird bunch of office workers around for 9 years.
In Michael Scott’s last episode, he says, “Let me know if this ever airs.” In one or two season openers, mention was made of “seasons.” They say that the show will begin airing within the show, and the characters will react to being on TV. This is interesting because, during Toby’s “retirement” in season 5 that led to the introduction of Michael Scott’s true love Holly, Toby ends up in traction in the hospital after a hang gliding accident. He notes that, in spite of this, he’s happy to be away from his former co-workers–and they are shown on TV in the background.

Anyway, I wonder if the mystery of why these people have been following them around will tie into the “Scranton Strangler” case.

The first time any mention was made of the Scranton Strangler was in Season 6, when Cecilia Halpert was born. Andy Bernard holds a newspaper up to the camera, telling Cece he wants her to see the newspaper to commemorate the day of her birth, and the headline reads: “Scranton Strangler Strikes Again.”

After this, there are numerous references to the Strangler, particularly surrounding Dwight Schrute. Jim and some other characters suggest their suspicions that Dwight might *be* the strangler, suspicions aided by Dwight’s computer password being “ScrantonStrangler666” and Dwight dressing up as the Strangler for Halloween in Season 7. Dwight himself insists he’s trying to catch the strangler on his own, a storyline recalling his former status as a part-time volunteer deputy (which in turn evoked his status as a Barney Fife echetype).

Then a car chase takes place outside the office, where the police apparently apprehend the Stranger. Toby is picked for jury duty in the Strangler case, giving a reason for Holly to come back in his place, get engaged to Michael, and take him off to Denver.

Toby returns from jury duty, feeling like they convicted the wrong man. Several times in the last two years, he has begun talking about the Strangler case, and his feelings of guilt that they may have convicted the wrong man, but we have never heard *why* he thinks that. One specific plot detail Greg Daniels has noted in recent interviews is that Toby will visit the convicted “Strangler” in prison to address his suspicions. Daniels has also said that BJ Novak (Ryan Howard), Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor) and Zach Woods (Gabe Lewis) would be returning. There has been a great deal of interesting speculation, with some people carefully reviewing the series for clues and suspects. So, here is my summary of the suspects and evidence I’ve read from other sites, and then my proposal about the three people I think are most likely.

One thing that I think needs to be noted is that this *is* a sitcom. It seems like the point of doing this storyline is to have some kind of pay off other than Toby talks to the Strangler and he’s the real guy. However, however it’s handled has to be in some way at least darkly humorous *and* it’s doubtful they’d make it a major cast member. After all, as weird as these people are, and there are some pretty strong cases against some of them, we’ve watched them for 9 years. TPTB certainly don’t want to Cpotentially ruin the revenues on 9 years of reruns by making a major character a secret serial killer. _Bones_ got away with making Zach a serial killer because a) it’s a drama, and b) it was only something like the third season, and c) it was built up with lots of clues over time.

Suspects, in order of the evidence against them:

1. Gabe Lewis. He was introduced 2 episodes before the Stranger was first mentioned. He has the personality profile of a serial killer. His house was full of weird stuff. He’s a martial arts expert. He’s addicted to horror films and won’t watch anything else. His touch is said to be repulsive to women, and his relationship with Erin Hannon was kind of weird. He’s a wuss on the outside with a desire for power, but completely domineered by his bosses and ignored by his subordinates. He’s also not a “major” character.

2. Dwight, as noted above, most of the *obvious* “evidence” on the show was pointed at Dwight. However, I think Dwight’s obsession was genuinely with catching the Strangler, and in terms of the producers’ long-term plans, he was supposed to have his own spin-off, which was ultimately rejected by NBC, so unless they change things, and Daniels says most of the plots for the final 9 episodes are things they’ve been saving up, it’s unlikely it’s Dwight.

3. Creed: a lot of people think it’s Creed. He’s always been kind of creepy, not just weird. He doesn’t do much on the show except make strange non sequitur comments. Sometimes he seems totally clueless about what’s going on, and other times he’s keenly astute. Some have noted how, in the Christmas episode where Phyllis plays Santa, Creed asks what bad people get for Christmas, and she says, “Coal,” and he says, “No, like really evil.” In the episode where Michael has everyone play a murder mystery game, Creed hears someone talking about murder suspects and flees the building. IF it’s someone who’s been on the whole series, it’s Creed.

4. Toby: his obsession with the case, and earlier this season he came up behind Nellie and put his hands around her neck, but said he just wanted to give her a neck massage. Some say his obsession with saying they convicted the wrong man could be the desire of a serial killer to get credit for his crimes.

Those four have the most evidence against them.

Some other random theories I’ve read are:

1. Jim’s the killer, and he and Pam divorce, and she runs off with Brian (dumb).
2. Ryan’s the killer. Some aspects of Creed theory in this one, along with the fact he’s coming back. Ryan’s certainly had a strange history, which is funny because he was originally supposed to be the everyman thrust into this weird group of people–a role being served this season by hapless Clark.
3. Robert California–he’d be a fantastic suspect but James Spader is gone.
4. Kevin: Kevin shows signs that his role as village idiot is just an act, such as his biting condemnation of Robert “the Senator” Lipton a couple episodes ago.
5. One of the travelling salesmen characters. Some people mention that one guy Michael hired a few seasons ago who was in a couple episodes, caused tension for Jim & Pam, then left but if it’s anybody like that, Michael’s disgusting “best friend” Todd Packer.
6. Dwight’s cousin Mose, his henchman Nate or his buddy Rolf (whom, in one episode, he notes he met at a shoe store, where Rolf was asking for shoes that help him run fast and not leave tracks). One of these guys would be a *very* likely candidate were it not for the plans for a spin-off focusing on Dwight & his weird crew.

Now, here’s what I’m thinking:

1. The documentary *may* tie into it. Are they documenting “the Office,” or are they documenting some kind of long-term undercover sting operation?
2. Again I *really* doubt it’s going to be someone in the main cast, *but* I’m thinking the theories about Creed and Kevin have some truth to them. Maybe one of them is an undercover agent trying to get at the Scranton strangler? It would be far fetched, but kind of cool, and fit some of the theories, particularly regarding how Kevin and Creed both seem spaced out yet have moments of clarity that make their cluelessness seem like an act. Creed’s done too much stuff that’s wrong that we know of (such as when he got that factory worker fired because he failed in his quality control duties) to be an undercover agent, but it’s a fun hypothesis. It also doesn’t mesh with the fact that a suspect has already been convicted but maybe this hypothesis works on some other matter. I could be right, and someone is investigating something else, and through that they’ll catch the killer.

So, let’s say that the documentary crew’s long term presence is the key to the case. The first time we *heard* of the Strangler was season 6, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a longer term issue.

That would point the suspicion in the direction of someone like Bob Vance Phyllis’s husband. The “documentary crew” could be cover for a surveillance crew monitoring the business next door, which is why Dunder Mifflin has permitted them around for so long.

On the other hand, it could very well *be* one of the crew members. Daniels keeps emphasizing how we have this whole cast of unseen characters we’ve been interacting with for 9 seasons and not realizing it, and that could be a hint about the strangler case, though it’s certainly a hint about this Brian guy who’s got the hots for Pam.

Then I got to thinking: DAVID WALLACE. People talk about Gabe because of his introduction right before the strangler storyline, but David fits the same category. Michael goes to visit him in Season 6, episode 15, “Sabre,” when Michael goes to him to try and fight for Dunder Mifflin, and he’s in a depressed state, and seemingly gone totally insane. He returns in the season finale “Whistleblower,” where he’s one of five people who leaked to the media that Sabre printers are defective, and he tries to promote his new invention “suck it.” He had a deleted scene in Michael’s farewell, and otherwise wasn’t seen again till season 8 when we learn he made millions on his invention, and he buys the failing Dunder Mifflin from Sabre. Now, he doesn’t live in Scranton but he’s a close driving distance, and it would be interesting if the stress from managing these lunatics who somehow seem to profit in spite of their inadequacies drove him literally insane.

Yet David seemed far fetched, and I realized that those same qualities apply to someone else, someone who started the series as seemingly one of the “normal” people yet proved to be the most abnormal. Most theories revolve around the obvious eccentricities of the characters, yet what about someone who’s seemingly composed and refined yet has shown that in HER private life she’s prone to mental instability and violence??? One of this recurring character’s longest absences occurred precisely when the Strangler killings were first mentioned, and she returned–having seemingly gotten her life back in order–after the killings apparently stopped. She’s prominent enough for the story to be noteworthy yet also not a major character, and mostly disliked by the main cast. Plus, it would be cool that the actress who plays the role would then be involved in two long-term mysteries on her most famous shows.

And, so, ladies and gentlemen, after carefully building my case and considering all the suspects, I am going to say with confidence that the Scranton Strangler is . . .

JAN LEVENSON.

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1984 Came 30 Years Later. Welcome to the Brave New World.

I remember reading a couple commentators back in the 90s who suggested that Huxley was the most correct of the authors of early and mid-20th century dystopias, in terms of how our society had lost its moral center and become completely hedonistic, but now in terms of other aspects, Bradbury and Orwell look to have been right. Indeed, we seem to be increasingly speeding to the USA depicted by Ray Bradbury in _Fahrenheit 451_. I never read _1984_, but here is a website that compares Orwell’s predictions to our time (and many of them overlap with Bradbury’s). Some of the things Bradbury and Orwell got right:
1) Becoming a military state by convincing the populace it needs to fear THE ENEMY (“Terrorists”)
2) Planes flying overhead
3) A populace benumbed by wall-sized TVs
4) Reading becoming more and more rare, books abridged, etc. Bradbury predicted that mass censorship would not come top-down but bottom-up with the people demanding they be saved from the “burden” of reading. ”

Since we both read the novel in 2010, my wife has often commented on the very name of “Kindle” as suggestive of book burning. In theory the digitization of text should be a good thing. Every new technology seems to provide another way for increasing human knowledge. In Disney’s “Carousel of Progress,” the 1940s family talks of how wonderful TV will be for providing everyone a chance to watch the opera and study Latin. We all know how that turned out. Look at Christan Classics Ethereal Library or one of the various Great Books sites. In theory, you can fit a ton of information in pure TXT format into what is today a relatively small amount of space. Supposedly, the entire print collection of the Library of Congress would take up about 10 TB (about $500 worth of hard drives), but even in the 90s, a reasonable “Great Books” collection could fit on a CD in TXT or even PDF format. In theory, a person could fit a complete and quality education onto a single smart phone and carry it for life. So, in theory, digitalization of text should be preserving culture, but not if people aren’t reading it. Listen to ads for Kindle and Nook: the “e-readers” now advertise all the different fun things you can use them for *besides* reading.

“Where orthodoxy becomes optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” —Neuhaus’ Law

In “Lilies that Fester,” C. S. Lewis argues that when education becomes a means to a job, and government pays for it, then government becomes a means of brainwashing by the business managers and the government.

So, in the past 20 years, paleoconservatives/traditionalists have been pushed out of the education discussion in this country (and turned to homeschooling), while a conspiracy of liberal and neoconservative forces have promoted “common core standards of learning” in almost all states (then Gov. Bill Clinton was one of the first to jump on that bandwagon along with George HW Bush and Bill Bennett). The standards movement has proven to amount to exactly what C. S. Lewis warned about: especially because it’s not so much about what students are expected to *know* as what they are expected *not* to know. For in order to *teach* the “expected standards,” teachers must *not* teach other things. When I was growing up, you never could finish everything in the textbook in one year, and the teacher picked what you learned. This provided what one of my college professors described as one of the most important elements of an education, “to learn from as many lunatics as you can.” The teacher’s personality and interests are *supposed* to influence the education.

Not anymore.

Now, the teacher is told *exactly* what to teach, and all that material *must* be covered, and they provide far more material than can realistically be covered and learend in one year just so they can avoid teachers talking about what they *don’t* want. And it’s very clear, if one reads the high school standards of any given state, how the standards reflect political agendas for either party. For example, in South Carolina, students are NOT supposed to learn about official persecution of Catholics in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Now, they’re getting to where over 75% of “required reading” in high school English will be nonfiction.

This besides the abandonment of text, is one of Bradbury’s concerns: gradually, fiction itself is becoming forbidden in our culture. I’ve argued this for a few years regarding “reality TV.” Even though “reality TV” itself is often rigged, if not outright scripted, it provides simplistic entertainment while avoiding intellectual or imaginative stimulation. Best to have people numbing their minds to the shouting matches on CNN, MSNBC or FOX, and feeling “informed,” when they’re actually being brainwashed. If not, then watch _The Real World_ or _Jersey Shore_ or whatever the latest “hit reality show” is. And if people *insist* on entertaining themselves with fiction then make sure it’s obscene comedy, titillating sex, or abject violence, with as little plot as possible–and then make them *think* they’re “intelligent” for enjoying listening to someone spewing profanities.
Bradbury missed the violent video games, but he rightly imagined the “interactive” entertainment that makes people think they’re involved when they’re being brainwashed. He also predicted people having multiple abortions and multiple divorces.

A commenter in my article about _Les Miserables_ insisted that the movie should be banned for its “graphic” depictions of sexual activity. I first noted how the depictions are graphic in a slightly different way, but questioned how they are any worse than a lot of what’s on TV these days. I also noted how, while the scenes are meant to show the disgusting nature of prostitution–they’re not to titillate or to glorify but to make people see the disgusting, repulsive nature of prostitution. He said he failed to see the distinction. I suggested he read Flannery O’Connor but noted how he probably would be opposed to her, as well. He said that comment was rude. I asked if graphic depictions of homosexual rape are better than graphic depictions of prostitution. I’m wondering if he’ll respond.

O’Connor holds that the closer fiction is to real life experience, the more it must lead us to God. Of course, as some of us argue, real life experience can have many meanings. I read a joke on FB today: “I’ve noticed how shows that describe themselves as containing ‘adult situations’ rarely show people doing chores, going to work or paying bills.” Kevin O’Brien over at Theater of the Word is often using Hallmark movies as an example of bad film making. I’m often protesting when he says that. Certainly Hallmark Hall of Fame is a bit more quality than Hallmark Channel Original movies, though I enjoy both. And Hallmark Channel Original movies, I admit, are a nice kind of low-thought entertainment which Flannery O’Connor might herself criticize for being overly “nice” in a distorted way. However, in their own way they serve as a more authentic representation of human life than most of what Hollywood produces or certainly a lot of “reality” TV.

So, anyway, now the “standards of learning” are being used to NOT teach kids Homer or Shakespeare or O’Connor or Orwell or Hawthorne or Austen. Russell Kirk said, “deprive a boy of Homer, and he will turn to Mickey Spillaine or Ian Fleming, or worse.” Well, even Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillaine will soon be proscribed.

For over 100 years, people from across the disciplines and ideological spectra have seen something on the horizen in Western civilization, given each generation’s decreasing morality and increasing construction of technological terrors (to paraphrase Emperor Palpatine). Yet while Ray Bradbury said to prepare for it by reading and memorizing, while the mystics have said to prepare for it by turning our hearts to God in prayer and fasting, so many of those who actually pay attention are preparing by stockpiling food and guns.

Better start memorizing, folks.

Have a Heart: Allie (American Life League Photo Shoot 2)

These are the pictures we took for my article in American Life League’s Celebrate Life magazine on Marfan syndrome, ESCR and IVF.

Hear Allie on _Hide Me In Your Wounds_.

“Moira Queen, you have failed this city!” –_Arrow_ just keeps getting better

Critically, I was a Jungian by instinct long before I studied Erich Neumann (the student of Jung who applied his psychological theory to literature) as part of my MA thesis. I’ve always loved analyzing archetypes in TV shows. I’ve also mentioned already how CW’s _Arrow_ is my favorite new show of the season. One of the reasons is what the show has done with the character of Moira Queen, Oliver’s mother, and Walter Steel, his stepfather and at the time the show started, CEO of Queen Consolidated. I don’t know about Oliver’s parents in the comics, but Steel apparently is based upon a character who fills in for Oliver at his company in the comics during an extended absence.

The pilot set up something of a _Hamlet_ dynamic, with Oliver and the viewers suspicious of his mother’s remarriage and of his stepmother’s remarriage. In the pilot episode, his mother conspires with a mysterious “man in a suit” (later revealed to be the show’s take on Merlyn, one of the Green Arrow’s greatest foes) to have her own son kidnapped to find out what he knows about a conspiracy that has unfolded subsequently. As it turned out, eventually, Walter is apparently a good guy but just when we found that out, he was kidnapped by the bad guys.

Now, in the most recent episode, Oliver finds evidence that his mother is involved in the bad guys, and in a really good cliffhanger, confronts his mother in the style he’s used with the other conspiracy members so far: “Moira Queen, you have failed this city.”

Other bloggers have pointed out a certain degree of innuendo in the show’s dialogue, emphasizing Oliver’s Oedipal or Hamlet complex. Unlike with Queen Gertrude, who may or may not know what Claudius has done or have conspired with him, we know that Moira Queen has been a knowing participant in the assassination of her first husband (and attempted assassination of her son, her son’s kidnapping after his return, her second husband’s kidnapping and apparently even her son’s 5-years of being “stranded” on the island. We still *don’t* know how willing a participant she is in the more nefarious dealings, or why she’s so committed to this conspiracy.

In any case, it’s quite impressive how they utilize but manipulate the two classic archetypes they’re playing with.