242. “It’s the Gom Jabbar!”

The episode:Junior Rodeo Daredevils,” the short in front of “The Killer Shrews,” ep. 407

The riff: Exclaimed by Joel as a couple of kids fiddle around with an old tin can and one kid puts his hand inside while the other holds it.

The explanation: What a splendid reference to one of my favorite all-time sci-fi novels, Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” In Herbert’s futuristic world, the Gom Jabbar is a test administered by the psychic Bene Gesserit Sisterhood to weed out “human awareness” from those who react instinctively like an animal. To take the test, a poisoned needle is placed against the subject’s throat while the subject’s hand is placed into a box. The box radiates waves of pain, but if the subject pulls his hand out, he will be killed by the poisoned needle. The challenge is thus one of rationality over reaction. Those who survive are deemed “human.”

Novelty factor: Clearly, this one is right up my alley. Speaking of “Dune,” if you want to see the story in a good film adaptation, stay away from the awful David Lynch version. Instead, get a copy of the Sci Fi Channel’s surprisingly good miniseries from 2000 or the even better sequel, “Children of Dune” from 2003. With that said, the Gom Jabbar scene is the one part of Lynch’s film that is actually superior, accurately capturing the dread of the test. Leave it to David Lynch to get that part right.


38. “Hey kids, you ever read The Ox-Bow Incident?”

The episode:Jr. Rodeo Daredevils,” the short in front of “The Killer Shrews,” ep. 407

The riff: Asked by Crow as the town sheriff aprehends two mischievious young boys who are up to tomfoolery with a rancher’s horses.

The explanation:The Ox-Bow Incident” is a famous Western novel from 1940. It’s about the dangers of crowd justice and lynch mobs, which are out to catch an kill a couple of suspected rustlers. The book was adapted into a classic film of the same name in 1943, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Crow is basically just making a typically macabre MST3k joke that the boys are about to be hanged for their “crimes.”

Novelty factor: I didn’t know the reference, but oddly I was kind of aware of its meaning. For whatever reason, hearing “The Ox-Bow Incident” immediately reminded me of the title “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a short story by Ambrose Bierce that is also about hanging. I have no idea why my mind connected the two.