[May 29, 1961] Oasis in a Wasteland (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 25-27)

Nelson Minow, the new Chair of the Federal Communications Commission, offered the following challenge to the National Association of Broadcasters earlier this month (May 9, 1961). 

“I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland…

…When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.”

He is, of course, stating the obvious.  If you park yourself in front of the idiot box all day, your mind will be turned to mush by the soap operas, game shows, inferior anthologies, and the endless commercials (sometimes as many as ten 30-second spots per hour!).  But, for the more discriminating, there are about six hours of good TV on any given week.  If you like Westerns (and you’d better..because there are so many!), there’s Rawhide and Maverick, though the latter is much reduced in watchability since James Garner left the cast.  You’ve got Route 66.  Andy Griffith has got a fun show.  Dobie Gillis is still amusing on occasion.

And then you’ve got Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.  I’m shed much ink over the fact that this second season hasn’t been as good as the first.  The last three episodes, however, comprise a solid streak of goodness that I think you’ll enjoy if you catch them during the summer reruns (and, as is now tradition, you’ll get a one-two review punch with both me and the Young Traveler reporting our thoughts):

——

The Silence, aired about a month ago, is a most peculiar episode.  For the first time since Zone‘s debut segment, we have 25 minutes without a single science fictional or fantastic twist.  Rather, this show, about a rather obnoxious Gentleman’s Club regular who is bet that he can’t keep his mouth shut for a year, relies solely on fine acting, lush cinematography, and compelling storytelling to hold your attention until the final reveal.  It’s a neat trick, and Serling probably could only get away with it because we were all expecting a gimmick.  Four stars.

I highly enjoyed this episode.  It really had the feel of a first season Twilight Zone episode, with its creepy twist.  The sets were interesting, the plot intriguing, and the acting spectacular.  I appreciate that the episode was more realistic than other episodes, with the character’s actions having consequences, rather than some unknown force messing with them.

I enjoyed the concept, and it had the right amount of creepiness.  The actor’s expressions really helped convey different parts of the story and I absolutely loved the twist.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it is very good.

I give this episode a solid 3 and a ½ out of five stars.  I highly recommend you watch this episode for yourself, and enjoy this well done story, just as I did.

——

Shadowplay is a gripping piece.  A man on Death Row (a cliched, broad version thereof) attempts to convince his attorney, his prosecutor, his contact at the newspaper, that the world is just a solipsistic fantasy.  Once the convict sits in the electric chair, and the circuits are opened, it will not be the criminal who dies, but the entire world.  Moreover, this will not be a one-time event: in fact, it is all the nightly dream of the condemned man.  Over and over, he almost convinces the phantoms to grant a stay of execution.  Almost.  Not quite.

The tension of the episode derives from this iteration’s outcome.  Will he break the cycle this time?  Four stars.

I felt that this episode was actually kind of slow.  I was somewhat unsatisfied by the end because it felt like despite there being some tension, the ending was actually fairly predictable. There was no twist in this one, the story simply unfolded and then it was done.

The cinematography and acting was very good, but I really disliked the plot.  I have never particularly liked the whole “people going crazy” angle that Twilight Zone likes to use, and this episode started right off with it.  I was also slightly disturbed with the episode’s concept, which I suppose is what they want you to be, but it just left an overall bad taste in my mouth.

I would give this episode 2 out of five stars, however this is simply my opinion, and if you enjoy this concept, then I would highly recommend you watch this episode, if not for the plot, then the cinematography.

——

Last up is The Mind and the Matter, a comedy piece starring comedian Shelley Berman.  Berman plays a finicky insurance clerk, hemmed in at all times by people.  People on the subway.  People in the cafeteria.  People at the office.  Crowds everywhere.  When he discovers the psychic ability to wish everyone away, or in the alternative, make them all like himself (the one fellow he thinks he can stand), it seems he’s finally found the answer.  Relief, however, is short-lived in both cases.

While not an outstanding episode, I could not help noting how attractive it was, with truly crisp cinematography.  Also, as with the other pieces on which I report this month, the emphasis is increasingly on characterization, making you care about the people portrayed beyond the twist ending.  Three stars.

I actually enjoyed this episode a lot.  The cinematography was just as good as the last one, the pacing was good, and the plot had a lot I could relate to.  Though I don’t “despise people” like the main character did, I related a lot to the loneliness and boredom he felt towards the middle of the episode.  When you have no responsibilities and there’s no one to talk to, you can get pretty bored, and I think that was wonderfully conveyed so we could relate to it. 

As I said earlier, the cinematography and acting was very good.  The special effects were amazing, making everyone the same person, it really allowed for some funny moments.  I think the thing I liked most about the episode though, is the ending.  It didn’t end with any crazy people, or a terrible twist; the man simply learned his lesson, and continued his life.

I would give this episode a solid 3 1/2 stars.  It was funny, lighthearted, and I highly recommend you watch it yourself.

8 thoughts on “[May 29, 1961] Oasis in a Wasteland (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 25-27)”

  1. Thank you both for the reviews. It’s both pleasant and useful to have two povs of the pieces, and they sound worth it, too.

  2. Three decent enough episodes which I think would have fallen somewhere in the middle of the pack last season, but stand out more in this one.

    “The Silence” may work because we’re expecting some sort of supernatural or science fictional resolution, while the twist is perfectly mundane. I think Serling may also have based his script somewhat on a Chekhov story. Good source material always helps.

    “Shadow Play” is another example of good source material. It’s usually a good sign when Charles Beaumont wrote the screenplay and an even better one when, as here, he’s adapting one of his own stories. Good acting also helps. When you see him every week in the role, it’s easy to think of Dennis Weaver just as Chester and to forget what a fine actor he is.

    “Mind and the Matter” was the weakest of the three. Another story where everything winds up right back where it all started and the protagonist maybe a little wiser for it. Too much like “The Man in the Bottle” from the beginning of the season for my taste.

    I’m looking forward to your review of last Friday’s episode. That was a doozy! Maybe the best one this season.

  3. I have to agree that I really liked the first and second episodes, and was lukewarm about the third.  True, “The Silence” would have been right at home on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” but it was very nicely done.  I liked the moodiness and sense of an inescapable fate in “Shadow Play” very much; a triumph of style over a simple and linear plot.  “The Mind and the Matter” was only mildly amusing; Berman’s record albums are funnier.

  4. I enjoy “The Silence” but it belongs more on Alfred Hitchcock’s show. That said, Rod Serling and the show’s other writers are far too talented to remain in the box of fantasy and science fiction all of the time.

    “Shadow Play” is an episode I greatly enjoy but I can certainly understand the young traveler’s viewpoint. The type of dark psychological thriller which Charles Beaumont brought to the show has ascended to the top of my preferred episode type.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.