[February 2, 1963] Whither the Prodigal Son?  (Twilight Zone, Season 4, Episodes 1-4)

[If you live in Southern California, you can see the Journey LIVE at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, 2 p.m. on February 17!]


by Gideon Marcus

Every year, the TV networks play musical chairs with their shows.  Some programs get canceled.  Others get revived.  Popular shows might get more attractive time slots; others might get demoted.  Last year, it looked as if The Twilight Zone had gone the way of the dodo after its third season.  In its place came the sitcom Fair Exchange (which I haven’t watched). 

Now, creator Rod Serling’s baby is back, albeit in a different form.  Now simply dubbed Twilight Zone, the show is an hour long, has a snazzy new title sequence, and it’s clear that Serling is no longer on set for shooting.  Rather than appearing as an integral part of each episode, as he did in Seasons 2 and 3, he instead appears to be pre- or post-filming his monologues elsewhere.

How did the first crop of Twilight Zone fare?  Let’s find out:

In His Image, by Charles Beaumont

A young man is plagued by blackouts and half-memories of murder.  When he takes his fiancee (whom he has known for all of four days) back to his home town that he left just a week before, he finds twenty years appear to have elapsed — and his family has no trace of existence at all.  Who is this man?  Where did he come from?  And what is the cause of his manic episodes?

George Grizzard gives a fine turn as the afflicted protagonist in a story that has more than one reveal.  While the pacing is a little slow, the course of the characters and the nuanced storytelling keeps it going for the expanded length of the show.  Four stars.

The Thirty Fathom Grave, by Rod Serling

Far less successful is this modern-day ghost tale set in the Pacific.  An American destroyer runs across a stranded submarine from which ominous tapping sounds emanate.  Simultaneously, the ship’s Chief Boatswain, a survivor of a sub drowning twenty years prior, feels he is being drawn to the wreck.  Turns out, of course, that the wreck is the Bos’n’s sub.

What might have been an effective half-hour show is padded to oblivion.  We get treated to the same exploratory diving sequence three times as a man in a tank plods on the side of a mock-up of an old sub.  Bad stuff.  One star.

Valley of the Shadow, by Charles Beaumont

A journalist stops for gas on the way to Albuquerque and discovers a reclusive town filled with wondrous technologies and tight-lipped citizens.  When he tries to leave, he finds himself a prisoner — possessing too much knowledge of the place’s secrets to ever rejoin civilization.

This is another show with far too much padding, compounded with a truly unlikable main character, though the premise is mildly interesting.  Two stars.

He’s Alive, by Rod Serling

The last of the quartet features a young Neo-Nazi, an American Brownshirt with a hatred of the non-White but a paradoxical fondness for an old Holocaust survivor.  This would-be dictator’s struggle toward prominence is directed by a mysterious man, his face shadowed.  This mentor speaks in a German accent, writhing his hands expressively, urging his protégé more deeply into depravity.  CAN YOU GUESS WHO THIS MYSTERY MAN IS?

He’s Alive goes on too long.  Perhaps an hour too long.  One star.

So how does this new, longer format hold up?  Conceivably, a full hour allows more time allows for character and plot development.  On the other hand, it is highly unkind to the one-trick shows, forcing the lead-up to the payoff to be intolerably long.  Thus far, the score is 1-3.  The Young Traveler has already begged off watching this season, and I am tempted to follow.  We shall see…

[P.S. If you registered for WorldCon this year, please consider nominating Galactic Journey for the “Best Fanzine” Hugo.  Check your mail for instructions…]