A boy named Calvin starts off this episode by saying he is looking for a book of mean tricks to play on his younger brother, Ronny. Whit replies that he doesn’t think he has that kind of a book at Whit’s End, which is kind of funny considering The Ill-Gotten Deed is almost a modern day retelling of the story of Jacob and Esau. Whit must have forgotten about the Bible, which talks about plenty of mean tricks people have played on each other. Jacob takes his brother’s birthright for a bowl of soup and then steals his blessing by pretending to be Esau. Now when Calvin comes bounding into Whit’s End with his vendetta, Mr. Whittaker could have taken out the Bible to settle things. But as we all know, Whit doesn’t tell Bible stories anymore. That’s what he invented the Imagination Station for. If Whit wants to sit down and read a story, it has to be either something he’s written or something from his own life. The Tangled Web is a nice slice of life story Whit made up, but this time we get an old west tale about revenge based on true events. And, interestingly, we find out at the end that both stories take place in the same location.
Horace and Grover are identical twin brothers but are complete opposites. Grover, like Jacob, is smart and shrewd and likes the indoors, but Horace, like Esau, is a rugged outdoorsman. By placing Jacob and Esau into a different universe, Whit is able to add in humorous characters who wouldn’t fit in the biblical story. Whit really shows his sense of humor with the character of Mr. Schnook, who has a lot of good quotes. He says, “Now, technically this isn’t a will. It’s merely letters stating your father’s last wishes concerning his property. It’s what we call in the law profession a… yeah, it’s a will.” As for the contents of the father’s will, it seems pretty ridiculous. He writes that he believes both Horace and Grover to be fine sons and that he doesn’t expect any sons could be finer than them. I was confused by that. Is the father aware of Grover’s mischief or not? And why on earth would he hold a contest for his inheritance? Did he know what would happen in the end? This whole thing might make more sense if he actually knew anything about the land he was giving away. But we later find out that he never once visited the land! That makes it very difficult to see the father as the mastermind of a plan to engineer Horace getting the land. If that’s what he wanted he could have just said so in his will.
Grover steals Horace’s birth certificate, similarly to how Jacob takes Esau’s birthright. Then Grover dresses up like his brother in order to fool the bank teller and walk out with Horace’s money. This is strikingly similar to the Bible story, in which Jacob dresses up like Esau to deceive his father and take the blessing of the firstborn. I would have loved to hear Grover try to do an impersonation of Horace’s voice, but it unfortunately wasn’t included. Even a scene with Grover tricking Horace into giving him his birth certificate would have been fun. But instead, we get a line explaining the Grover already had the certificate. This again raises more questions which make the story seem less realistic. Why would Grover have Horace’s birth certificate to begin with? That doesn’t sound like a very good arrangement. And if Horace knew Grover had it all this time, why didn’t he ask for it sooner? Why would he go to the bank without it? If he needs it to make a withdrawal, he should have asked for it first. And if he doesn’t need his certificate to make a withdrawal, then it isn’t even necessary to mention that Grover had Horace’s certificate.
The land is being given away on a first come, first serve basis, an idea which loosely applies to how America was first settled by Europeans. Of course, this wasn’t the case in parts where Native Americans had already claimed the land for themselves. But thankfully AIO skillfully dodges this problem by placing Odyssey in a land that stinks like swamp. That way it actually has no previous claims by Indian tribes and is virtually free for the taking. Having said that, this doesn’t explain why a group of Indians would attack the settlers and surround the cabin, smashing windows and attempting to break in. Maybe the natives rightly assumed that Grover wasn’t very interested in the swamp land and was looking to settle in greener pastures, perhaps even take over some land that had already been claimed by the Indians. If their intention was to scare him off, they were certainly successful. The desolate swamp landscape, which we only discover at the end will become the town of Odyssey, is redeemed by Horace and his family. Like the story of Jacob and Esau, the brothers finally reunite and Horace forgives Grover, although Whit adds an unexpected and entertaining twist in which Grover thinks he’s cheated his brother again. As we hear in The Tangled Web, Whit’s stories never feel too cliché.
This is a great origin story for the town of Odyssey which uses what was established previously in the episode Camp What-a-Nut and develops an entertaining tale of its own. It is perfectly narrated by Mr. Whittaker, which brings back memories of him telling the story of Madge and Guy and A Single Vote. Like Tom’s story in Recollections, it is a true account of Odyssey’s past and has a significant impact on the future. In Recollections a broken, rundown building is transformed and becomes Whit’s End, a wonderful place for kids to play. Similarly, in The Ill-Gotten Deed a worthless piece of real estate is given value and forms the foundation of the town of Odyssey, making the entire show possible. It is a beautiful story not only of evil overcoming good, but of redemption. Whit’s role in this story is crucial and his explanation of the story to Calvin at the end is really helpful in pulling out some of the themes present. Despite some unrealistic plot points, this is a solid episode. It gets 4 out of 5 stars.