After an "Invention Exchange" featuring what the episode guide calls the "fetid" "Unhappy Meal" (which Dr. Forrester paid for with TV's Frank's savings), "Here Comes the Circus" is a short involving a visit to a circus featuring the still-remembered clown Emmett Kelly. It's the other clowns in the circus who attract a lot of horrified attention from our heroes, particularly Tom and Crow ("Yes, this act embodies the sadness that is circus!"), with Joel chiding them in quiet asides about being "too dark" until, somewhere after "They're doing it clown-style! Noo!" he quips "A rogue elephant snaps his tether and kills a coolie," and his companions gloat just a little. I suppose I can wonder a little about the "riffing" riding a very fine line, but I can also suppose that my wondering that means it didn't just "beat up on an easy, familiar target." At other times I can contemplate a point not really touched on in the riffing, how the circus filmed seems a little shabby (trapeeze acts aside) to modern eyes. In any case, in the first "host segment" Crow and Tom brainstorm how to create an even darker and more disturbing clown act, but Joel finds a clever way to respond.
Dr. Forrester referred to the movie itself as "Swedish," but "The Day the Earth Froze" appears to be a Russian-Finnish co-production. (It's also somehow informative to note how the movie's credits focus on the people who did the English-language dubbing, the better to sell it in American markets...) As with "First Spaceship on Venus," the production values are high, but the movie is still obscure enough for Mystery Science Theater to have been able to afford the rights... and things are just peculiar enough to be funny. The strapping young Lemminkainen chops down many trees, then rides a log through rapids until he encounters the attractive Annikki. ("Annikki in the UK?" "Hey, my other log's a redwood!") Unfortunately, the evil witch Loukhy, surrounded by a bizarre collection of troll-like people, kidnaps Annikki so as to draw her captive's smithy brother Ilmarinen after her. Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen hew down an ancient oak and fashion it into a dugout ship, and reach Loukhy's domain only to be faced with two challenges. Lemminkainen has to plow a field of snakes, which he manages after Ilmarinen makes a horse for him ("Okay, okay, if he can make a horse why'd he have to cut the tree down?"), and then Ilmarinen has to make a "sampo," which was apparently explained at the beginning of the movie but "riffed" over. (One host segment is devoted to discussing what a "sampo" might be. Tom thinks it's a strapless evening gown, but then he thinks everything is a strapless evening gown.) It so happens that making this magical source of gold, flour, and salt will impoverish the people left behind, so Lemminkainen charges off on his own after Annikki is returned. He manages to retrieve the "sampo," but is sunk on the way back by Loukhy's storm magic. Nevertheless, he makes it ashore and prepares to marry Annikki (as our heroes gleefully sing "Failure! Failure! He's such a failure!" to the happy music), and then Loukhy steals the sun itself. In the depths of a dark winter ("The Day the Earth Became Unseasonably Cool."), Ilmarinen gets to work making a new sun, only to be informed that such a thing is impractical. Instead, everyone chops down yet more trees, fashions them into harps, and drags their boats over the frozen sea to Loukhy's domain. ("Oh, the ice seems safe; we should have taken the pickup!") The harp music seems to deal with everyone, and Lemminkainen can at last (sort of) accomplish something by retrieving the sun.
I had wondered a little about how impressed I'd been with this episode the first time I saw it, but watching it over again I enjoyed it quite a bit; at this point in the series the riffing has become fast-paced, and yet there seems a lighter touch to it than I was perhaps expecting. It seems a good way to open the "Russo-Finnish troika."