Night Gallery – Finnegan’s Flight (12/03/72)

Pete Tuttle is standing in the yard as Finnegan (Burgess Meredith) enters.  Well, yard is charitable as there is no grass to be seen.  It is a prison yard enclosed by concrete walls.  No pool, no tennis courts, so you can be sure there are no politicians here.

Finnegan approaches the wall and looks at the guard atop it.  He asks for permission to leave.  Even though he says “please”, he is understandably denied, and begins pounding the concrete walls with his fists until they are bloody and broken.

He wakes up in the infirmary with the prison shrink.  He has been a model prisoner for his extended stay — current 30 years for murder, and before that a string of lesser crimes. Nowadays he mostly says please and thank you and follows orders, gets three meals a day, clean sheets and free health care.  Although haircuts do not seem to offered.

The doctor asks why he smashed his hands, and he says, “Do you know Pete Tuttle? Just between us, Doc, that’s the only time I care about living. ngfinnegansflight09 When Pete Tuttle makes me feel I’m something.”  This is getting a little uncomfortable, but he continues that Pete Tuttle has the ability to make him feel that he is somewhere else, outside the prison.

The shrink calls Tuttle into his office and learns that on the outside he was a professional hypnotist.  Apparently it didn’t work on the judge, because he is in the jug too, doing 5 years for a B&E.  He says Finnegan is the perfect subject for hypnotism — a guy locked up forever longing to get out.  Why Tuttle felt the best way to assist him was to give him the suggestion that “his fists were made of pig iron” is not clear.  How about, “You are the best laundry truck driver in the world.”

Suggesting (or maybe “suggesting”) to the shrink that Finnegan is so amazingly responsive to hypnosis, that there might be a book in it, the shrink has the guards bring Finnegan down to his office. Tuttle puts him under in a few seconds.  Pouring a cup of water from a cooler, he tells Finnegan that the water is boiling hot and commands him to put his fingers in it.  The power of his suggestion, or the receptiveness of Finnegan’s mind is so strong that blisters appear on his fingers.

ngfinnegansflight10It is an impressive display of hypnosis, but couldn’t Tuttle come up with demonstrations that didn’t end up mangling Finnegan’s hands every time?

The next time, Tuttle gives a more gentle suggestion that Finnegan is in an airplane.  We see Finnegan pretending to hold the controls and even making an airplane noise.  The warden comes in — bizarrely seeming to have been costumed for a WWII Nazi role — and doesn’t like what is going on.

Finnegan begins coughing and laughing.  Imagining himself in the jet, he has induced hypoxia — a lack of oxygen — in himself.  Did he imagine the Jet had no canopy?  Well, it was mentioned earlier in the episode that jets were invented after his incarceration, so I’m willing to give that a pass.  His face begins to blister as he were 50,000 feet up, almost in a vacuum.

ngfinnegansflight11Tuttle suggests to Finnegan to bring the plane down, but Tuttle must have also trained the 9/11 hijackers — he got Finnegan in the air, but can’t teach him how to land.  Finnegan is terrified, imagining himself in a dive.  His hair is even being blown back by his imagination, so maybe he does think jets are open-cockpit like bi-planes.

His perception of being in a jet is so strong, that as he “crashes”, the hospital ward explodes in flames even though — just as at the Pentagon on 9/11 — there were no airplane parts. [1]  Coincidence?

Pretty good episode of what I suspect is not an original concept.  But Burgess Meredith elevated every episode he was in . . . just not above ground-level in this one.


  • Twilight Zone Legacy:  Burgess Meredith appeared in 4 episodes.
  • Aired 4 years before Meredith was in Rocky.
  • [1] Of course an airplane hit the Pentagon — shut up.

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