Wander is consumed with curiosity about what could possibly be inside a plain white box. Sylvia scolds him, and reminds him they promised to deliver it to Glen without opening it. They wave goodbye to the mail carrier whose truck bears a Wander-and-Sylvia shaped dent, and get on their way. Sylvia assures Wander they'll get the box to Glen, Glen will open it Wander will discover what was in it, and that'll be the end of it. She tries to encourage Wander by reminding him she believes in him.
Wander tries to not think about the box, trying to tell himself there's nothing all that interesting in it. But this leads him to guess what might be in it. And guess. And guess. All. Day. Long. And into the night. When they finally camp for the night, Sylvia hands Wander his banjo, and suggests playing to get his mind off the box. But all Wander can think to sing of is a song about what could possibly be in the box. Sylvia confiscates the banjo, smashes it, and suggests they just turn in and get some sleep.
The next morning, an odd little plinking sound wakes Sylvia up. When she looks up to see what it is, she discovers Wander, huddled around the box. The sound is Wander plucking one orange hair out at a time to keep himself from opening the box while Sylvia slept. There's a rather impressive pile of orange fur around his feet to indicate just how much he's been plucking. Sylvia asks if he's been doing this all night. He's so wound up all he can do is nod.
Sylvia takes them to a space station to get them to Glenn all the faster so Wander doesn't have to keep fighting his insatiable curiosity. When Sylvia announces she's leaving to get the tickets, Wander protests. Sylvia tries to help him by telling him to tell himself there's nothing in the box but a pair of socks. As Wander tries this, repeating "pair of socks, pair of socks pair of socks" to himself, scary shadowy figures approach and ask him to hand over the box. When Sylvia finally finds Wander, he's a nervous wreck. He explains he was protecting the box from bad guys, but can't point them out to her. She writes it up to Wander being punchy due to lack of sleep and they board the train.
Once aboard the train Wander begins to nod off, but he jolts himself awake, only to discover Sylvia is contentedly asleep. Now's his chance! He seeks to open the box! Inside, he sees himself, and what ensues is a Dream Sequence involving his earlier song and guesses about what's in the box. Wander fell asleep himself and hadn't actually looked in the box. But the good news is that they've arrived at their stop and will soon be at their destination!
To Wander's screaming dismay, Glen's house is at the tippy tippy top of an extremely tall mountain. Sylvia reiterates they're nearly done and that he can make it. She takes off for the house at top speed, Wander barely clinging to his resolve. And now his hallucinations have an ofactory element.
- Wander: ...Cookies? The salty seashore of Tralfar V? Nana's old-timey potpourri?
Wander's resolve cracks and he reaches to open the box again. Only Sylvia's insistence she knows he can resist stops him. The hallucinations become increasingly more trippy, but Sylvia never slows her pace.
Finally, they arrive at Glen's door. The Box has been delivered safely! Wander proudly announces he didn't open the box. Sylvia compliments him for not doing so. But when they knock on Glen's door, he's not home! And there's a sign that indicates he's "gone fishing." Wander snaps, and goes for the box. Sylvia struggles to keep him from breaking their promise. Wander's speech devolves into box-oriented gibberish as he scrambles up a tree with the box to get away from Sylvia. She finally tells him that she believes he can overcome his curiosity but what she believes doesn't matter if Wander doesn't believe in himself. Wander finds another bit of strength to resist, brings the box back to Glen's doorstep and despite being frazzled, says he hopes Glen catches fish soon. Sylvia again tells him she's proud of him. And Glen opens the door!
Glen accepts the box, and unzips himself to reveal a Sufficiently Advanced Aliens form, glowing with enlightenment. He introduces himself, and indicates the mail carrier and spooky shadow guys were also aliens of his kind in disguise. Wander asks what's in the box. They tell him the box was a test that he passed. Wander's delighted to have passed, but still wants to know what's in the box. The aliens explain the box was just symbolic. Wander still wants to know what's in the box, and resumes guessing, his sanity kind of dangling by a very frayed string.
Sylvia steps up to the Lords of Illumination, and calls them out — there's nothing in the box. They're delighted she gets it and ask for help explaining this to Wander. She angrily explains that Wander may have passed their test, but what he wants is to see whatever is in the box. SOMETHING. ANYTHING. She tells them they need to Put. Something. In. The. Box.
The Lords of Illumination are astonished that Sylvia talks to them that way, and attempt to scold her for it. She literally twists the leader's arm until he agrees to do what she asks. They confer over the empty box as Wander continues guessing in the background, then call Wander over to see what's in the box.
- Wander: Well, look at that. A piece of string. A hard candy. An old penny. And a "World's Greatest Grandpa" Keychain.
His curiosity satisfied by having learned the contents of the box, Wander is now restored to full vitality! He thanks the Lords and he and Sylvia Orbble on their way. They begin to speak about how Wander taught them a lesson, but Sylvia cuts them off, leaving them to learn about each other instead.
Tropes appearing in The Box:
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Sylvia gives Wander a playful noogie after he sits down with her on Glen's doorstep.
- An Aesop: You cannot open something that doesnt belong to you. Its important to resist.
- Anti-Climax: The eventual contents of the box turn out to be nothing at first; then, to appease Wander, stuff the Lords of Illumination had in their pockets.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Some of Wander's guesses about what can be in the box are, "A bat, a hat, a bat with a hat, a hat with a bat."
- Brief Accent Imitation: Sylvia briefly imitates Wander's accent when she says, "That's amazing" as to what Wander's reaction will be once he sees what's in the box.
- Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Wander's curiosity broke his brain, but in the end, it turned out to teach the Lords of Illumination something about others.
- Exhausted Eyebags: Wander has them on the train after having been up all night, and again as his sanity gets stretched to the breaking point from the effort of resisting his natural curiosity.
- Idiosyncratic Wipes: The transition from Sylvia taking the box away from Wander who's been holding it all night to the space train station is a train passing the screen.
- Never Trust a Trailer: In the promo, when Wander exclaims, "I gotta know what's in this box!", he didn't have bags under his eyes unlike the episode.
- Offscreen Teleportation: Either Wander or his Hat excels at this. After they decide to turn in, Wander climbs into his hat like a sleeping bag. The shot goes to Sylvia, and in the second it takes to go back to Wander, the hat is back on his head.
- Pun: Wander and Sylvia have to deliver the box because they crashed into the truck of a mail carrier who happens to be a snail.
- According to the credits, his name is Snailman the Mailman. What.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Put. Something. IN. THE. BOX!!!"
- Sanity Slippage: Wander's curiosity is a powerful thing, and denying it messes with him so badly you can see it. His fur frazzles and goes from soft to kinda prickly. His eyes change colour and get bloodshot. His hat droops and develops an inexplicable patch. All of which vanish when his curiosity is satisfied and he returns to his normal self.
- Screw You, Elves!: Sylvia's reaction to the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, both for putting Wander through a pointless Secret Test of Character that nearly drove him insane, and for then trying to spin their having screwed up as part of their whole "wise and mysterious" schtick.
- Secret Test of Character: The whole point of the aliens asking the box to be delivered without ever opening it.
- Staggered Zoom: Sylvia has one while she is convincing the lords to put something in the box (which was empty the whole time), just to make Wander happy.
- Survival Mantra: Wander continuously chants, "Pair of socks" in order to contain his excitement over what's in the box.
- Title Drop: Several times.
Sylvia begins the episode describing how she woke up this morning with a craving for a piece of jellyfish pie from Slarnack's Deli, which by Wander's reaction, is a taste they don't share. But instead, they are being chased by a giant, chompy worm monster! Wander doffs his magic hat in hopes of it offering something helpful to get them out of this jam. He reaches in, and pulls out a watering can? He waters the space mushrooms as he and Sylvia pass. One of them has a sudden, dramatic growth spurt and smashes the worm in its head, knocking it silly.
Sylvia jubilantly thanks the hat, but isn't watching where she's going. She knocks into another space mushroom. Wander's momentum causes him to continue forward as Sylvia falls back and down some distance to land on a mushroom much lower down. They're so far apart now that Wander's hollering something to Sylvia doesn't reach her ears. Wander thinks about it for a minute and reaches back into the hat. Sylvia is grumping about how Wander expects her to hear him when a Tin-Can Telephone drops onto her head, allowing them to communicate! Wander leaps from above so she can catch him, but in the interim, the giant chompy worm has recovered and begins chasing them again. Wander reaches for the hat again. He rummages and rummages, but Sylvia loses patience and snatches the hat from him, demanding a flamethrower. The hat produces a yoga mat. Then wind chimes. A scented candle. An old 1970s cassette recorder with a soothing, meditative female voice. Sylvia complains and wants to know why the hat won't give her what she wants. Wander explains the hat doesn't really so much give what one wants. It gives what one needs, and it thinks Sylvia needs to calm down. Sylvia thinks her agitated state is appropriate for the situation and reaches into the hat again. This time it gives a stress ball — which Wander tosses away, and causes the worm to chase it. A moment's respite!
Wander engages in a victory dance with his hat. Sylvia grumbles about how the hat works for Wander, but not her. While she's complaining, Wander dances himself right off the edge of their mushroom. Sylvia dives for him, but misses, only getting the hat. The can phone rings again, but it's been dented by Sylvia's butt. She can hear him but he can't hear her. He describes his location: warm, dark, and wet, with water all around. But Wander's sure he'll be okay because he has the hat! Except Sylvia's holding the hat. Sylvia looks around for a location that matches Wander's description, and sees a waterfall leading into the dark, warm heart of the mushroom planet forest. As she takes off, the giant worm gives chase once again. Sylvia tries the hat again, trying to duplicate Wander's trick with the stress ball. But the hat produces a giant ball and chain which drags Sylvia right off her perch! She shotputs it into the worm, knocking it out again, and finds a place to hide. She addresses the hat politely, telling it she wants to get to where she thinks Wander is so she can save him — without attracting attention. The hat this time produces a loud, bright siren. After escaping the worm again Sylvia is about out of patience. She tells the hat to give her something so she can fly up to her destination, and the hat gives her a Jet Pack. She thanks it, and takes off, but the jet fires once, then fails. The worm is there again.
Wander rings the phone again, asking when Sylvia thinks she might arrive to save him as the water's risen high enough now that his sentences end in gargling. The hat's next item is a sign that says "Back in 5 Minutes." Disgusted, Sylvia crams it under her saddle and tries to get where she wants to go without the hat's help. She taunts the worm, then uses it to get to the fungus drain. The phone rings again. To Sylvia's horror, Wander has called to say goodbye and that he'll always love her, as he's just about underwater now. She kicks open the fungus stem and all the liquid drains out — but no Wander. Despairing, she wonders what to do next, until she remembers the hat doesn't give what one wants, but only what one needs. So she tries again, and this time she gets roller skates. Despite this making no sense to her, Sylvia swallows her rage at the hat and puts them on. She waits for whatever is supposed to happen. The worm roars again, shaking the fungus, and Sylvia rolls off her perch into its maw. Thinking the hat has betrayed her yet again, she seeks to destroy it. As they sink into the liquid, they land beside Wander whose foot is stuck. A happy reunion ensues, but they can't pull him free. Sylvia inflates the hat with air from above so they can at least talk. Now she understands what the Hat was doing — it was trying to get her eaten so she could find Wander, who'd also been eaten. With that understanding, she reaches into the hat again to find something to get them out of its gullet.
- Sylvia: Slarnack's deli's jellyfish pie?Wander: *gag* *retch*
Sylvia is confused for half a second before letting it fall into the worm's belly. The worm is immediately sickened by the pastry, and spits them out so hard that they fly off planet and land on another one. Turns out this one has a Slarnack's Deli! But it's closed. Poor Sylvia.
Tropes appearing in The Hat:
- All Animals Are Dogs: Multiple examples.
- Wander tosses a ball from the hat. The giant worm wags its tail and chases that instead.
- When Sylvia finds where she thinks Wander has ended up, she wags her tail happily like a dog.
- An Aesop: Sometimes the answer might come from where you'd least expect it. It's important to listen to what you're being told, even if it's crazy or doesn't make sense.
- Animate Inanimate Object: Wander's Hat. It appears to be smiling and making sad faces in appropriate moments (or after it's just played another mean prank on Sylvia).
- Bag of Holding/Hammerspace: Wander's hat.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: After finally giving in to what the hat gives her, Sylvia gets eaten by the worm and sees Wander, revealing the hat was telling her he was inside the worm the entire time.
- A Day in the Limelight: For both Sylvia and, as per the title, Wanders hat.
- Empathic Environment: The liquid from the fungus forest rains down on Sylvia when she doesn't know how to save Wander after her idea failed.
- Foreshadowing: Both Wander's hat and the worm's mouth are the same color, which might be a clue to that Wander is inside the worm.
- Jackass Genie: When Sylvia asks the Hat to give her something to find Wander, it seems intent on giving her items that make it easier for the worm to find and/or eat her. Subverted when it's revealed that she needs to be eaten to find Wander, who is inside the worm's guts.
- Leitmotif: Sylvia gets a "Ride, Sylvia Ride" sort of tune when she surfs the worm.
- Nice Hat: Which it literally is, to Wander. When Sylvia uses it, it's a bit more Jackass Genie. Subverted in the end when it actually was trying to get Sylvia eaten, so she can find Wander within the worm.
- Rummage Fail: In "The Hat", Sylvia needs to find Wander using the stuff she takes out of Wander's hat. Everything the hat gives her, however, nearly gets her eaten by a giant worm. Wander had explained earlier that the hat gives you what you need, not what you want, but Sylvia doesn't seem to think so. Subverted in that the hat's goal was to get Sylvia eaten by the worm, because inside the worm is where Wander was.
- Sudden Downer Ending: Wander and Sylvia manage to make it to Slarnak's Deli, but it's closed.
- Tin-Can Telephone: When Wander and Sylvia are separated, the hat produces a pair of tin cans with antennae to uses as communication devices.
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