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AATAFOVS: Circus of Fear
Season 3, Episode 4. Preceded by Blows That Hurt Most, followed by Back In Black.

Nerdly begins reading Udite's latest cryptic message, 'Seek the circus'. The other vampbenders. except Krystal, promptly groan 'Not the Circus', 'Remember the last time', and the screen goes wavy, dissolving into a Whole Episode Flashback.

Two years earlier, the vampbenders arrive in a small town, with clowns unicycling up and down the main street, handing out flyers. Nerdly reads Udite's latest message, 'Better laughter than London', and says, 'looks like we've got to save the circus'. Solo mutters 'I hate circuses', and takes a swig of whiskey. The other vampbenders call him a killjoy. A spilled no-brand beverage leaves Cleo's top translucent.

As they walk off, the camera focuses on a large wall covered in thousands of posters. It pans across the wall, showing that every poster is for a missing person, then zooms in on a single poster showing a family - a middle-aged man and his wife, a boy and girl in their early teens, both at shoulder height to their parents, a boy and girl both aged about five, each cutely sucking their thumb and holding a teddy bear, and a baby in a pram. The camera zoom in further on the text beneath the photo, ' ... 6 months old ... missing for three days ... phone 555 ...'

Cut to the vampbenders, all enjoying themselves at the circus, except for Solo, who is grimly drinking vodka. To cheerful, but slightly off-key, music, dozens of clowns tumble comically into the ring. It is immediately obvious that there is something off about these clowns: their movements are oddly jerky, almost robotic, and they bend themselves in ways the human form should not bend. Beneath the make up, their true faces are dimly visible, locked in a rictus of absolute terror.

This goes on for five disturbing minutes, long enough for all viewers to get the point, then the camera focuses in on one group of six clowns parading round the outer ring. The two in front, slapping each other with dead fish, are adults. The others are not. The second pair of clowns, hitting each other with rubber hammers, seem in their early teens, standing shoulder high to the pair in front. The third pair of clowns are just cute little children, comically hitting each other with teddy bears. One of the leading pair is pushing a pram. The camera zooms into the pram to reveal a baby, clearly only a few months old, in full clown make-up.

Cut to the vampbenders leaving the big tent, talking about what they've just seen. Solo insists the clowns are evil. Cleo thinks they're cute, and need protecting from the mysterious London. Avatar, Sue, and Nerdly seem uncertain. After some comic bickering, they decide to go in the Hall of Mirrors.

Next, we see Sue wandering alone through the mirror. She stops, looks at her reflection, and starts talking. Her reflection answers back, then starts to pull itself out fo the mirror, but Sue smashes it with her dumbbell. Cut to Avatar and Nerdly fighting back to back against their mirror twins, while Solo and his twin share a bottle of absinthe. The heroes trick the reflections into fighting each other, and walk away.

When the vampbenders stumble out of the Hall of Mirrors, which seems to have changed shape, Fluffykins immediately jumps on Cleo and rips her clothes to shreds, revealing a a skimpy pink leather bikini, decorated with skull buckles and studded with spikes. It's not the real Cleo; it's her mirror twin.

Cut to an underground room, decorated with caricatures of famous comics. Cleo is tied to a bloodstained table, with ominous machinery poised all around her. The Giggler steps out of the shadows and explains that his machines will trannsform her body into the perfect clown, enhancing her body and removing unnecessary anatomical features, but her mind will be left untouched. A robot mini-giggler will sit at the base of her skull, controlling her like a puppet, while she watches helplessly, a prisoner in her own skull. He could rewrite her mind too, making her his willing slave, but this way is more fun. The Giggler then segues into a barely coherent rant, bouncing from subject to subject seemingly at random, everything from twenty ways to kill a vampire to Nerdly's second cousin to the true nature of the story gates. This lasts for several minutes.

Just as the Giggler is about to press the big red button that starts the machine, the vamp benders burst through the wall. "There's no way you could have followed me here, not without a dark story gate," the Giggler objects, but the vampbenders silently point behind him. Oelc is lounging on her throne of skulls, carried by a dozen trolls, and is dressed identically to the mirror Cleo. She complains about the giggler stealing her gig.

While the villains backstab each other, Sue releases Cleo. She seems physically unharmed, though her clothes were shredded in the fight with her twin. Avatar begins a victory speech, but the Giggler interrupts, explaining that the machinery was just for effect. The transformation is really achieved by robot nano-clowns, which he injected Cleo with before she regained consciousness. A swift cut to inside Cleo's brain, where robot clowns are throwing custard pies at everything.

"The effect should be visible right about now," the Giggler says, and clown make-up appears on Cleo's face as her limbs contort unnaturally. Before the vampbenders can recover from their shock, the giggler vanishes through a dark story gate. Avatar cannibalises the fake machinery, and injects Cleo with a counter agent. Quick cut to robot vampbenders fighting a running battle with the nanoclowns in her blood vessels. Oelc opens a dark story gate, and tells the heroes they need to stop the giggler blowing the horn.

The scene switches to a desert, where millions of clowns are digging in the sands, revealing a buried city, which looks to have been very beautiful, once. The vampbenders stand on a distant ridge, looking through binoculars, and start talking about the carving on the buildings, which we can't see. Apparently the carvings show impossibly beautiful people having a lot of fun, and they're explicit, very explicit. All the vampbenders stop looking, their cheeks red, excpet for Solo, who mutters "Done that, and that. Got to try that. Not trying that. That's not right. That's disgusting. That's worse."

When Solo finally drops his binoculars, looking queasy, Nerdly exposits that this is an elven city, and not the nice kind of elf. The vampbenders disguise themselves as clowns, and sneak in

The camera zooms in on the city, flies through a window, then down a long spiral staircase. Somewhere deep below the earth, it catches up with the vampbenders, walking along a narrow tunnel, strewn with mangled death traps. Nerdly is explaining Udite's message, a reference to Jack London's Call of the Wild. The team emerge from the tunnel onto a small balcony perched halfway up an immense cliff face. High above, bats circle under the cavern roof. A mile below, there's a seething sea of lava. A single rickety rope bridge leads off the balcony, to an isolated spire of rock, half a mile away, where a horn sits on a green pedestal.

The giggler steps off the bridge, onto the spire, then turns round and cuts the bridge behind him, trapping himself. "That horn will summon The Wild Hunt", Nerdly exposits, "and everyone will die."

Solo casually tosses an empty bottle half a mile across the chasm, knocking the horn over the edge. "Easy," he says. The Giggler giggles, then dives into the lava sea.

"No One Could Survive That" Avatar says, and the vampbenders depart. Once they are gone, the Giggler rises out of the lava, carried in the palm of a giant robot gorilla in a tutu, which is standing on the back of a giant robot duck. He holds the horn up high, and laughs manically. The end credits begin to roll, then abruptly stop.

The Giggler is yanked through a dark story gate, into a corridor decorated with cute pictures of fluffy kittens, where Oelc is waiting. "Joe was amused by your little scheme," she tells him, "He's invited you to tea."

Beneath his make-up, the Giggler blanches. Oelc leans closer, and adds "He's doing crumpets, and maybe even some buttered scones." When the Giggler tries to bury his head in the plush carpet, Oelc taps her watch meaningfully. "You know how he hates to be kept waiting," she says, then strolls nonchalantly away, very fast, to where her trolls are waiting.

Whimpering in abject terror, the Giggler crawls on his belly in the opposite direction, towards a very plain looking door. End flashback.

We return to the vampbenders, where Nerdly says, "I hadn't finished. Seek the circus not. Seek the fair not. Seek the travelling rodeo not." The rest of the gang groan. Cue end credits.


Fan Talk: The original script was written for the first season, but filming was abandoned after the notorious duck incident. However, the script was widely circulated. The producers decided to complete filming two years later, supposedly in response to overwhelming fan demand, though it widely believed that the real reason was a drunken bet. Rumours of blackmail have been strongly denied. The producers tried to hide the transition between old and new footage, unsuccessfully. The effect is particularly bizarre during the mirror scenes.

The Giggler does have a few fans, who vehemently insist there's no proof he actually did anything wrong, but all the sane members of the community are agreed that he deserves whatever Joe did to him, and more. There has been a lot of speculation about just what Joe's punishment was, some of it disturbingly ingenious. This episode also made Oelc much more popular, and added to the mystery around Joe, who has still never been seen.

Cleo's fans claim this episode is a proof that she is not herself, hence her season 3 defection to the Dark Council. Freezeframing does clearly show that not all the nanoclowns were killed. However, the rest of the community point out that the Giggler said he wasn't interested in mind control, and Villains Never Lie. The general consensus is that the surviving nanoclowns have merely slowly enhanced her body, though there is no agreement on how much. Opinions range from Olympic level athlete to Giggler-level invulnerability and regeneration.

If the spikes on Oelc's bikini are joined up, they spell 'time traveller' in Ancient Egyptian. Some claims this is proof that Oelc is actually Dark Cleo, setting up her own origin. Others claim that this is just a coincidence. After spending several hundred hours carefully examining Oelc's bikini, they've found fifty-seven messages that could be encoded in it, all mutually contradictory.


Blows That Hurt MostAATAFOVS/Episode GuideBack In Black

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