The episode: “The Giant Spider Invasion,” ep. 810
The riff: Sagely observed by Mike as an unkempt country dude tries to split a rock apart by grabbing a hammer and chisel.
The riff: A mohel is a Jewish person trained in the rites of brit milah, also known as the bris. Specifically, he’s the guy who performs a circumcision on the young baby or child with a small knife. Many mohels are also rabbis.
Novelty factor: I recognized the riff, as many TV viewers of the 1990s would, because of the “Seinfeld” episode “The Bris,” which features an argumentative mohel. Judging from the pronunciation, though, I always assumed it would be spelled like “moil” or “moyl.”
The episode: “Star Force: Fugitive Alien 2,” ep. 318
The riff: Nonchalantly answered by Servo as an officer enters the bridge of a spaceship and finds the captain incapacitated, asking “Captain Joe, is anything the matter?”
The explanation: The Upanishads are a series of philosophical and theological texts that form the basis of the entire Hindu religion and worldview. There are more than 200 in total, and together they give an idea on “Brahman,” which is more or less explained as “the unchanging reality amidst and beyond which cannot be exactly defined.” This is a very complicated topic so I won’t try to explain further, but suffice to say, The Upanishads are among the most influential texts ever written.
Novelty factor: I believe I’ve heard references to these same texts in other MST3k episodes and wondered at the meaning, so it was good to finally hash that one out.
The episode: “General Hospital pt. 1,” the short in front of “Manhunt in Space,” ep. 413
The riff: Noted by Tom about the dreary nurse who appears to be this short’s main character, wrapped in a dark cloak around her hospital whites.
The explanation: Tom is referencing the phrase “dark night of the soul,” which describes both a 16th-century poem by Catholic mystic Saint John of the Cross and a spiritual condition known as “spiritual dryness.” According to those who have experienced it, a “dark night of the soul” is essentially the sensation of being cut off or apart from God’s sight. It is especially devastating to those who are most devout, who cannot feel close to God even during contemplative prayer. Surprisingly, the condition has affected many people famous for their faith. Mother Teresa’s diaries, released in 2007, revealed that she suffered from spiritual dryness for decades of her life.
Novelty factor: I am not a particularly religious person, but I have always found the concept of the long, dark night of the soul to be very interesting.
The episode: “War of the Colossal Beast,” ep. 319
The riff: Exclaimed by Tom as Miguel, a terrified young Mexican boy, gazes up in a sort of trance from his hospital bed while police try to question him.
The explanation: “Bernadette” is a reference to Bernadette Soubirous, a young girl who had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 in France, and was later named a Catholic saint. These so-called “Marian apparitions,” which presented to several people, are the source of the title “Our Lady of Lourdes,” as Lourdes was the region of France where this all occurred. Tom is joking that Miguel’s expression conveys a moment of religious ecstasy where he is seeing Saint Bernadette.
Novelty factor: I had absolutely no idea. Moreoever, I am curious which of the MST3k writers penned this one. It seems safe to assume that at least one of them was raised Catholic. Note that the riff doesn’t say “Saint” Bernadette. They went out of their way to make this a joke that only another Catholic would probably understand right off the bat.