We are now deep into the second year of Rod Serling’s horror/fantasy anthology, The Twilight Zone. I expressed my dissatisfaction with this sophomore season during my review of the first four episodes. Has the show, justly nominated for a Hugo this year, gotten any better?
Well, you wouldn’t know it from the season’s fifth episode, The Howling Man. My biggest beef with this show is the overused trope of a man’s slow descent into madness, usually punctuated by screaming in an episode’s padded second act. This episode begins with a madman, an “American” with a strong foreign accent, who narrates the encounter he had decades before with a mysterious religious order. It seems they had imprisoned the Devil. Of course, the narrator was tricked into freeing him. He then spent the next twenty years recapturing him…only to lose Beezelbub again when the narrator’s maid let him go. It’s an overwrought, tilt-cameraed mess of an episode. One star.
The next one, Eye of the Beholder, fares a little better. A hospitalized woman, head completely bandaged, awaits the results of a treatment that will make her appearance “normal.” She is, reportedly, hideous. The twist is given away within the first few minutes as the cinematographer takes ludicrous pains never to show the faces of any of the medical staff. What saves this episode is the unsubtle yet still resonant commentary on modern prejudice and over-conformity. Two stars.
Nick of Time is the first episode that approaches the standard set by the premiere season. A honeymooning pair of newlyweds break down in a rural Ohio town and lunch in a cafe. There, a Devil-headed fortune machine dispenses eerily accurate predictions. William Shatner, a handsome young actor, really steals the show. Moreover, there is flow and development to the story—you find yourself caring about this couple beyond the gimmick. The ending is a nice kicker, too. Four stars.
But then we’re back to form with episode four, The Lateness of the Hour, in which a young woman, shut in with her aging parents, rebels against the monotony of her life and the robotic, humanoid servants who enable it. In the end, no surprise, it turns out she is a robot. It stars Inger Stevens, who we saw last season in The Hitchhiker, and also in the great movie The World, The Flesh, and the Devil. I like her, but this format was not kind to her. The show has apparently switched to video-tape from film. It may be cutting-edge and cheaper, but it looks tacky, and the whole thing runs like one-set dinner theater leaving no room for creative editing or cinematography. Two stars.
This isn’t the first time a show has fallen short second year out. Now that its leads are joining the Army, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is disappointing, too. Well, what’s worse: a long-lived mediocre program, or a show that burns brightly for a short time before petering out?