I was asked by a dear reader if I had stopped watching The Twilight Zone on Fridays, it having been a month since I last discussed that delightful science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology. Well, fear not. I just like to let four episodes get into the queue before describing them.
In fact, if anything the show has only gotten better. It helps that creator Rod Serling has been joined by a myriad of other established writers, which broadens the themes and tones we get to see.
Four weeks ago, Episode 12, What You Need debuted. A kindly old sidewalk peddler seems to know exactly what items a given person can use at any given moment to achieve success. At first, one expects the episode to have a cynical sting in it—perhaps it’s a deal-with-the-Devil sort of thing. But it’s not. In fact, as my daughter and I guessed early on, it turns out that the salesman has a limited sense of precognition.. and a big heart. But what happens when this fellow runs across an unscrupulous man whose heart is as dark as the peddler’s is light? Has the criminal found a golden goose? Or a tiger by the tail?
It’s really good stuff, though the salesman has a plot-summarizing line at the end that is wholly superfluous, I suppose to drive the point home for the slower folks at home.
The Four of Us are Dying, the following week’s episode, involves a man who can change his face to match that of any person he can see, in life or photo. It just takes a little time to concentrate. He hatches a scheme to win the heart of a beautiful woman and to bilk a criminal of ill-gotten gains. But when he puts on the wrong face at the wrong time, he suffers the consequences. A solid, surreal show that is very effective despite the complete lack of special effects.
I was a little disappointed with Richard Matheson’s Third from the Sun, in which two families attempt to flee impending Armageddon by departing their doomed planet in a spaceship. The kicker, obvious from the title, is that the refugees aren’t going from, but rather fleeing to Earth. It suffers from overlongitis in the middle act, as earlier episodes did, and the constantly crooked camera angles look more silly than atmospheric.
Just the other day, we saw I Shot an Arrow, about the first manned spaceflight. The ship goes off course during take-off and crashes on a remarkable Earth-like “asteroid.” The next twenty minutes involved the crew dealing with thirst, hopelessness, and most significantly, a selfish crewmember gone mad and murderous with the desire to survive. Both my daughter and I knew how it would end almost from the beginning—in fact, the expedition had crashed on Earth, and the actions of the crazy crewman were wholly unecessary.
I suspected the ending since the “asteroid” had an terrestrial atmosphere, was the same distance from the Sun, and all the other incidentals (including gravity and geology) were identical. Of course, this sticks in the craw a couple of ways. On the one hand, to buy that the crew had landed on an “asteroid,” you have to believe that the writer has no idea what the surface of an asteroid would really be like. After all, asteroids have so little mass, relative to a planet, that they have no atmosphere and virtually no gravitational pull. Moreover, no asteroid routinely comes very close to the Moon.
On the other hand, since it was so manifestly obvious to the audience that the crew had actually crashed on Earth, one has to wonder how the crew was so thick-headed as to miss the fact.
My daughter noted that space stories have been a common topic on this show, which makes sense given the current mania for the Space Race. I just wish The Twilight Zone had the budget to really pull off stories set off-planet. I feel the show is more successful when it sticks to intimate, moody, Earth-bound stories.
P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!
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