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The Witches of East Arlen

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The Witches of East Arlen
Season 7, Episode 23
131990
Air date May 18, 2003
Written by Sivert Glarum & Michael Jamin
Directed by Matt Engstrom
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Patch Boomhauer

The Witches of East Arlen is the 23rd episode of the 7th season of King of the Hill. It was first aired on May 18, 2003. The episode was written by Sivert Glarum and Michael Jamin, and directed by Matt Engstrom.

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Synopsis

Bobby loses his part in the play Oklahoma to Ken Hayashi, another actor, and begins to doubt what he is good at. He always thought that acting was his "thing." At the behest of Peggy, Hank takes him to the flea market to get out of the house. When Hank wants to check out of his favorite merchadise, he gives Bobby some money and encourages him to browse the flea market, figuring it has something constructive for Bobby to take an interest in. Bobby finds a stack of tarot cards (the classic Rider-Waite 78-card arcana tarot deck is depicted in this episode). Without thinking too much about tarot's occult significance, Bobby simply remarks, "They're like baseball cards for Hobbits!" and buys the deck. Bobby tells his father he bought "these really cool cards", and Hank immediately thinks the arcana must be the standard 52-card playing card suits and encourages Bobby to continue his newfound hobby, calling him 'Ace' as a nickname. According to Hank, "everyone respects a man who is good at cards."

Bobby begins giving tarot readings, including one to Bill Dauterive. Bill gets The Ten of Swoards card, which Bobby initially understands to denote prosperity (Bill recalls his recent romantic luck with Laoma as confirmation of this). Unfortunately, the card is upsidedown, which instead is a sign of "pain, affliction, tears, sadness, desolation." It is interesting to note that all mention of Bill's relationship with Laoma ceases after this episode.  

While browsing at Red Carpet Video, Bobby meets Ward Rackley who notices his tarot pouch. He rebukes Bobby for not having a more modern deck and seems rather arrogant about his magickal ("that's magic with a C-K") knowledge and abilities. During this conversation, Ward is interrupted by his manager who demands he clean the bathroom. Ward responds by placing a curse on him.

Bobby is eager to learn more from Ward, so Ward invites him to his house where he is gathering with his friends. He is really the leader of The Coven of Artemis, a group of male "wizards" in their late teens and early twenties who believe they have supernatural powers. Ward also lives with his mother and has no girlfriend, a situation attributed to his pretentious and obsessive behavior. Bobby is so interested in the Dungeons and Dragons-like role play that he becomes more involved. They teach him their lore about spices and spell casting, convincing him to spend large amounts of money on spell books and various supplies. The Coven is impressed enough with Bobby's witty remarks and adept learning they give him membership. Ward refers to Bobby as "the acolyte" and is most approving of him. Mitchell Jefferson is hesitant to accept Bobby at first, but his commitment to the Coven assuages his doubts. 

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"The spices sit easily upon you."

Hank still naively believes that Bobby is playing "an honest game of poker" with his new friends until after a football game when he finds Bobby and the Coven dancing around a fire, chanting a ritual incantation. After dragging Bobby away, Hank remarks that he understands Bobby is "at an age" when he "thinks this stuff is interesting," but he demands that Bobby stop being around the group, afraid he will be branded a freak. Angry that his dad wants to take away his new identity, Bobby continues to go back. After Bobby begins to try to cast spells in school (kids come to him to get their kickball off the roof; Bobby summons "the Breath of Hectese" to summon the wind), getting him in trouble Principal Moss, who thinks Bobby is praying in a public school. Hank confronts Ward personally, alarmed by the man's age. He warns Ward to stay away from Bobby or else he will get an asskicking, but is sympathetic in other regards, saying he is only reacting to past abuse which forced him to the margins of society and the wizard subculture, and wishes him luck getting his life together and finding a girlfriend. Ward snarls "you know not who you threaten", only to shout for his mother as he forgot his key and was locked out of the house.

Bobby returns to the lair and apologizes for his father's intrusion on their activities. The Coven decide to do a ritual that will give them invincible powers. Bobby volunteers to be the Chalice Holder, and Ward tells Bobby he will be a "White Wizard" if he completes his task. However, Bobby soon realizes that the Chalice Holder must drink a goblet filled with 'Caninus Spiritus', or dog's blood. Bobby is disgusted by this requirement, but he doesn't want to disappoint his new friends. He ventures to a New Age shop and begins to search through magic books in order to find a loophole out of doing the act. During this, he runs into John Redcorn (who is handing out fliers for Big Mountain Fudgecake) and reveals the situation. Although Bobby begs Mr. Redcorn to keep it a secret for fear of his father's wrath, John Redcorn seems understandably sickened by this, and figures it to be not a ritual, but a prank these kids have cooked up for Bobby for their amusement. John Redcorn decides to warn Hank, figuring Bobby's welfare may be at stake, and the two work to track Bobby.

The Coven head to a baseball field (after some thugs kick them out of the fire pits) where they set up the ritual and give Bobby the goblet of dog's blood. After much hesitation, he decides not to drink it, prompting Ward to turn on him. He and the Coven will have to destroy Bobby for his lack of devotion to the group. They begin making strange movements in an attempt to cast a spell on Bobby, which doesn't occur, and Bobby laughs at them as he realizes that they are not really wizards but just losers in "cool robes and hats." Bobby surrenders the robe and says to the group "I have some dragon feathers as well; feel free to keep them". He leaves the ballpark where he sees Hank, who is no longer angry, but just relieved Bobby did not drink the dog blood. Back at the ballpark, Ward boasts he "made Bobby disappear" and asks if anyone would volunteer to drink the dog blood, to which the entire group chickens out, so they elect to go to the highway viaduct and dump it off as a prank. As Bobby is being taken home, Hank and John Redcorn reassure Bobby that there is no single path to success nor deadline when one must find a calling, with Hank saying he was a teenager when he started playing football and a full grown man when he first learned about the propane business.

Analysis

"The Witches of East Arlen" examines a common adolescent trope: Bobby, unwillingly separated from his identity as a performer, seeks to find a new "thing" by dabbling in the occult. The real appeal of this is clearly suggested in the conversations between Bobby and Hank. Far from being nefariously influenced by the power of evil, Bobby was simply attracted to the "cool" imagery and ceremonial pageantry of the Coven. The tarot cards reminded him of something out of The Lord of the Rings, the study of his magickal texts gave him something to occupy his time, and the Coven provided him a source of social acceptance and activity. Many young 'outsiders' turn to the occult for these reasons. Unfortunately, as Hank points out, the result of association with this kind of clique is further ostracization from the social norm. As Ward points out: "Our kind have always been persecuted by those who understand not, from the Salem trials of the 1600s to the locker room beatings and bathroom swirlies of today. Tis all one." Those who feel rejected by their peers find comfort in an unconditionally accepting clique like the Coven, whose only requirement is that one be interested in the occult.     

Trivia

Music - The song playing in the background when Bobby first enters the Coven's lair is "The Trees" by the  progressive rock band Rush. Fantasy imagery is a key component of their lyrics, and the band's 1976 album 2112 features a pentagram on the cover. As a result, 'watchdog' Christian groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s accused the band of employing occult imagery.

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The Coven's Lair

Religious Symbolism - The objects in the Coven's lair represent a hodgepodge of occult symbolism. There is a Buddha statue, images of dragons and demons, and a small library of grimoires (magickal textbooks). The exact belief system that the Coven adheres to is left unclear, but it apprears to be a mix of Wiccan or loosey named Neo-Hellenic pagan and Ceremonial magick that based from nerd subculture. 

Season 6 Season 7 Season 8

Get Your Freak Off · The Fat and the Furious · Bad Girls, Bad Girls, Whatcha Gonna Do · Goodbye Normal Jeans · Dances With Dogs · The Son Also Roses · The Texas Skillsaw Massacre · Full Metal Dust Jacket · Pigmalion · Megalo Dale · Boxing Luanne · Vision Quest · Queasy Rider · Board Games · An Officer and a Gentle Boy · The Miseducation of Bobby Hill · The Good Buck · I Never Promised You an Organic Garden · Be True to Your Fool · Racist Dawg · Night and Deity · Maid in Arlen · The Witches of East Arlen

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