[March 12, 1962] Must come down… (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 21-24)

by Gideon Marcus


by Lorelei Marcus

[I’ll let the Young Traveler lead this time.  She’s put her finger on what we enjoy and don’t about The Twilight Zone]

Guess who’s back with another The Twilight Zone review! Well, I personally prefer Rocky and Bullwinkle, but I’m afraid you came here for a The Twilight Zone review, so I suppose I’ll have to comply. As usual, me and my father watched four episodes of Sterling’s show over these past four weeks.

Kick the Can, by George Clayton Johnson

We seem to have found a common theme in all of the very highly rated episodes. Specifically, that we hate them! For example, we have the classic gem, Eye of the Beholder, where the episode can be summed up with: “Oh they’re taking off the bandages… Oh, they’re still taking off the bandages….. Oh, they’re STILL taking off the bandages…… snore.”

This episode was no exception. It was about a group of old people at a retirement home who, through playing a children’s game, are able to become young again.  I wouldn’t say we hated this episode, like we did many other popular ones, but it certainly wasn’t groundbreaking like many make it out to be. There was no real twist, and the only mystery aspect was if they were actually going to turn into kids by the end of the episode. I’m sure it probably didn’t help that I’m not very familiar with kick the can either. I prefer skipping rope, or, of course, watching television. All joking aside, I believe this episode wasn’t exactly bad, but also didn’t go anywhere. It sort of just dragged on without resolving itself. In my opinion, it certainly doesn’t deserve the popularity it got. 1.5 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

Where some see sentimental genius, I see mawkishness.  The setup could have been done in half the time, leaving plenty of room for some sort of poignant decision the part of the protagonist.  I would have enjoyed the crusty old fellow making the deliberate choice to finish his years naturally.  This would address fundamental questions of existence: Is it worth reliving the past when it is the sum of one’s experiences that make a life?  Is there, perhaps, more value in the arc of an existence fully enjoyed?  2 stars.

A Piano in the House, by Earl Hammer

by Lorelei Marcus

I would say this second episode was a great example of a simple concept done right. A bitter art critic gets a self-playing piano for his wife’s birthday, but the peculiar thing is it causes the people hearing its music to reveal their true emotions, brought forth in the flavor of the particular song that is playing. The man, being a sadist, decides to cruelly use it on the house guests attending his wife’s birthday party. In the end, the wife plays a specific song that causes the sadist to spill his darkest fears, humiliating himself. This episode really left a feeling of a mixture of bitterness and awe the way only The Twilight Zone can do. It was very simple, and yet entertaining all the same. I also very much liked the theme of, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself,” that was clearly displayed throughout the episode.  3.5 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

This piece might not have been nearly as interesting without the entertaining portrayal of the critic by skillful Barry Morse.  His lines are genuinely funny, and he turns a mediocre script into a compelling performance.  Three stars.

The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank, by Montogomery Pittman

by Lorelei Marcus

For once me and my father’s opinions on an episode differed, if only by a little bit. This third show was about a young man rising from the dead, and how the people around him react and adjust. The mystery of the episode is whether he’s a demon, actually alive again, or something else. I won’t tell you which one it is, because I don’t entirely know myself! This episode left on a bit of a cliffhanger, though it is fairly easy to extrapolate and theorize from what they give you. I personally wasn’t very fond of all the people hating and being suspicious, but I know my father enjoyed it, so I’m happy about that. 2 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

It’s all right to disagree.  Two travelers separated by thirty years shouldn’t have altogether identical opinions, should we?  It’s the performances that sell this episode (as is often the case in this show), and there’s no denying that the opening scene is an indisputable gotcha.  That said, this episode tries to have it both ways – lambasting ignorance and prejudice while undermining said condemnation by showing the townspeople likely had the right to be suspicious of the erstwhile corpse.  Three stars.

(fun fact: Ed Buchanan, who played the doctor who pronounces Myrtlebank dead, and then alive, showed up two weeks later on an episode of Thriller as…you guessed it – a doctor!)

To Serve Man, by Rod Serling (based on a story by Damon Kinght)

by Lorelei Marcus

Lastly, we have last week’s episode! In the short time its been out, this episode has also gotten a high rating by many. I won’t say much about the episode to avoid spoiling it, but I will say that I didn’t catch the twist until the end. I have mixed feelings about this episode. It was light and dark at times, but seemed to just drag on throughout. I suppose you could say that this episode was thoroughly mediocre, and I probably will forget it in the future. 1.5 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

I didn’t like this story when it was a jokey throwaway in the November 1950 Galaxy, and I like it even less played straight.  Moreover, could they get someone dopier looking than Richard Kiel (who “played” the alien)?  Lots of telling, not a lot of showing, and a punchline only Benedict Breadfruit could love.  One star.

by Lorelei Marcus

Overall, we had a mix of really good, really bad, and just in between episodes this time around. They total up to an average of 2.125 out of 5 stars. Despite the below average score, I’m still somewhat excited to review the next batch of episodes. I’m hoping we’ll have a more reliable batch of good episodes in the future, but you never know. I’m counting on you Serling! Until next time!

This is the Young Traveler, Signing off.

by Gideon Marcus

What she said…

11 thoughts on “[March 12, 1962] Must come down… (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 21-24)”

  1. Boy, I don’t know if I could choose between The Twilight Zone and Rocky and Bullwinkle. The best part of Bullwinkle is that you can watch it when you’re Lorelei’s age and enjoy it and then again when you’re her father’s age and get even more out of it.

    Watching “Kick the Can”, one might almost expect to see Ray Bradbury’s name in the credits. Apparently, George Clayton Johnson decided to try his hand at a Bradbury pastiche. This was all right, but Mr. Johnson has done much better.

    “Piano” was enjoyable, though as the Traveler noted, Barry Morse saves the episode. The biggest problem is that if you’re familiar with this show, you know the plan is going to backfire on the critic. All that remains to be seen is how.

    “Last Rites” was a bit forgettable. There’s definitely the core of a good story there, but the execution falls just a bit short. Maybe what this one needed was more time to fully explore all the character issues.

    “To Serve Man” certainly works best the very first time you encounter the story. The surprise factor helps a lot. Once you start thinking about it, the whole thing falls apart. That’s an awfully long way to go for a food source. And I can tell you as a translator that bilingual puns like that are extremely rare.

    That choice I mentioned in the first paragraph? Given Twilight Zone at its best, it’s a tough call. Given episodes like these four, I think I’ll take Bullwinkle.

  2. I really liked “Kick the Can.”  It was sensitively written, and I thought it stayed on the right side of genuine emotion rather than sentimentality.

    “A Piano in the House” was quite good also.  It managed to hit the right emotional notes as well, but from the other side of sentiment, if you see what I mean.

    “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” was, well, odd if nothing else.  It certainly held my interest, even if I was scratching my head trying to figure out what I was supposed to think about it.  (You don’t often get ambiguity in the Twilight Zone!)

    “To Serve Man” is, of course, just a one joke story.  Given that this is the only one written by Serling, and he took the joke from Damon Knight, he seems to be wearing himself out. 

    Johnson, Hamner, and Pittman are doing good scripts for the series, along with Beaumont and Matheson.  Maybe it’s time for Serling to become mostly a figurehead for the series, the way Alfred Hitchcock only directs a handful of the popular series that bears his name.

  3. Have always felt terrible about To Serve Man, a tomato surprise story that is not representative of Damon Knight’s great work. A satirist and master of dark humor, Knight’s dystopian novels are clever; I loved Hells Pavement and The People Maker. A recent great collection of Knight’s short stories is Far Out (1961).

  4. I like TWILIGHT ZONE well enough, but in a one to one battle I’ll take ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE every time.

    What has always bothered me about “To Serve Man” — original story and now TV version — is the strange idea that, in the course of translating from a totally alien language, one could decipher the title of the book without having translated most or all of its extensive text in the process and at the same time.

    Of course, translating an alien language at all, lacking a Rosetta Stone equivalent, seems improbable, and doing so in a matter of days or weeks vastly so, but I could accept that for the sake of the (feeble) story.  But being able to translate a few-words *title* without having unlocked most of the secrets of the language is a (suspension) bridge which is way, way too far for my belief to manage to suspend.

  5. I watched all of the first season, but after that, most nights I couldn’t work up the enthuiasm to get up and change the channel, so I’ve only caught maybe every third episode.

    I know the series has some vocal fans, but… other than being on TV, they’re mostly the kind of stories that I used to read in the horror magazines my mom bought when I was a kid.  Now I know what happened to so many of those pulp magazines – they just moved to TV.  Or at least their writers did.

    If you’ve never read Unknown or Wieird Tales or Terror tales, The Twilight Zone is just more of the same.

    There’s also the length problem.  A 10-minute gimmick short story does not fare at all well when bloated into a 30-minute television episode.

    Most of the episodes are padded out far beyond any reasonable length to make the timeslot.  Two fifteen-minute stories, or a twenty and a ten, or whatever, would let them pick up the pace, but I’m pretty sure cost might be a factor there.

    A half-hour show might have 24 hours of film to pick through; they might have the same amount of film for a 3-minute commercial or a 1-hour B movie.  The overhead for stage, prop, and costume rental still has to be met, SAG wages paid to the actors, and all the stagehands.  I’d guess a 15 minute short costs almost as much as a 30-minute show to make.

    My wife’s TV magazine says that ABC is supposed to be coming out with its own competitor to The Twilight Zone next year.  I’m not sure why; they canceled One Step Beyond last year.

    Well, at least The Flintstones is still pretty good…

    1. I read in F&SF or maybe IF that sf cognoscenti take their science fiction in written form only, the visual stuff being 20 years behind the times.

      I predict that, in 55 years, we’ll still be depicting asteroid belts as clogged with pebbles.

      1. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

        They’ll probably have starships making whooshie noises when they cross the screen, too.

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