Scott (scott_lynch) wrote,

Against Big Bird, The Gods Themselves Contend In Vain

I was a hard-core Sesame Street viewer from about 1979 to 1984, and my memories of the show are the sort of deep nostalgic tangle you'd expect, with a great deal of idiosyncratic noise blended into the signal. So, for many years, I carried around a vague but emotionally vivid recollection of a Sesame Street episode in which Big Bird and Snuffleupagus had witnessed the the passage of a soul to the ancient Egyptian afterlife, complete with the weighing of the human heart against a feather. I shit you not.

For all those years, I just assumed that I was nuts, or that I was conflating a memory of a childhood dream with a childhood television experience. Not long ago, I was trading Sesame Street memories with that girl I like, and I determined to Google-fu my way to the truth.

In the 1983 special Don't Eat the Pictures, assorted humans and Muppets are stuck overnight in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While Oscar, Bob, Cookie Monster, Olivia, and some small children are having the sort of mild and educational adventures you'd expect, Big Bird and Snuffy meet Sahu, a 4,000-year-old Egyptian prince (!) condemned to wander eternally in spirit form (!!) unless he can answer a riddle posed by a demon (!!!) that appears to him each night at midnight. I am not fucking with you. This really happened.

There's Sahu!

ACTUAL DIALOGUE from Big Bird: "Oh no! The demon's gonna be here any second now!" And here's the appearance of that demon, played by James motherfucking Mason.

The demon's question is, "Where does today meet yesterday?" You'd think that after four fucking thousand years the kid would have randomly guessed "at midnight" or "at the Motion Picture Association of America." Big Bird and Snuffy finally guess "in a museum," and after 4,000 years of bodiless exile, Sahu is deemed worthy to proceed to the weighing of his soul. Big Bird and Snuffy go with him to stand in the Hall of Two Truths at the gate to the afterlife. The gigantic foam balls on these guys! Sure, Elmo loves you, but when's the last time Elmo held anyone's hand on the threshold of eternal night?

We get a simplified version of the Egyptian passage of the dead. Sahu's heart will be weighed against a single feather; only if the heart is lighter will he be allowed to proceed. That's it. Even after answering the damn question he only gets one shot at this, on penalty of being an earthbound spirit forever (this is sort of, but only sort of gentler than the traditional version of the process, in which the unworthy heart would be devoured for all time by this guy). Also, traditionally, this celestial Breathalyzer test was administered by Anubis. Here it's Osiris. Osiris had many hidden and secret names, one of which was Dude Filling In For Anubis Even Though He's Total Fucking Failcakes at Stuff Anubis Does.

Osiris says, "Let the feather appear!" The feather does not appear, and after a few really awkward seconds, Osiris says that the test cannot be held, he's sorry for the inconvenience, and by the way Sahu is boned forever. He gets up to leave, when Big Bird yells, "Wait! Use one of mine!" So Sahu's heart is weighed against one of Big Bird's canary-yellow feathers, but the depraved indifference of the gods has understandably crushed his spirit, so the heart is weighed down with sadness. Osiris once again proclaims that Sahu is never gonna get it (not this time), never ever gonna get it.

To which Big Bird interjects: "That's not fair!" I am absolutely not fucking kidding. This is the part of the program where Big Bird defies a god and argues justice for the tormented soul of his little buddy (incidentally, what the hell did this six-year-old DO in the 21st century BC to earn restless eternal damnation?). Big Bird scolds Osiris for his coldness and refuses to allow the ceremony to conclude until Sahu's heart kicks that feather's ass. You think you know a Muppet... but it's plain that we've had Big Bird figured all wrong. He's no kindergartener. He's a previously unknown aspect of the Eternal fucking Champion.


Osiris is no dummy! He quickly realizes that if he doesn't get with the program, this giant bird is going to pull out a Runeblade and smash him in the balls. Look! The heart is lighter than the feather! Sahu can proceed to the afterlife! OH SEKHMET H. CHRIST, PLEASE DON'T KILL ME.

Big Bird and Snuffy watch contentedly as Sahu transcends his hellish half-death and rises into the sky to take the form of a star, just beneath the stars representing his parents.

And what's this? That's Sahu's cat taking a place in the family constellation. Yes, Osiris was so scared that Big Bird was gonna punch his ticket for the motherfucking pain train, he let the cat go, too. The end! Tune in next time, when Cookie Monster will teach counting to six.

There are too many Sesame Street specials to count, and most of them have climactic revelations along the lines of, "Oscar learns that not everyone likes a grouch" or "Elmo learns the real value of sharing." Yet once, just once, a bunch of writers at the Children's Television Workshop actually decided to run with "Big Bird overpowers the will of gods and demons in a quest for celestial justice."

Gods bless them, every one.
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