Night Gallery – The Caterpillar (S2E22)

ngcaterpillar01This is another one of those segments considered to be among the best of the series — usually a sign of disaster.  In this case, however, it is totally accurate.

Joanna Pettet is in her third episode, lovely as ever, except for the still-too-long hair. Maybe she had a big deal with a  shampoo company at the time.  And her voice is amazing.

Rhona Warwick is in the open-air Borneo home she shares with her much-older husband John, doing some knitting and listening to the Victrola.  We know this is a period piece, not because of the Victrola, but because she is knitting.

Their house-guest / business associate Macy enters through the open doors and immediately starts bitching about the pouring rain.  He is just a chronic complainer about “Borneo, the China and Java Seas, the whole ruddy Malay Archipelago.”  And I assume his mispronunciation of Archipelago is out of spite . . . nah, it was a screw-up.

ngcaterpillar08When John goes out to make sure his storage sheds aren’t leaking, Macy asks Rhona how she can stand it.  He wonders how she “under 28 years of age, you’re an absolute knock-out , and you waste away out here in the Borneo jungle 5,000 miles away from everything you know” with a 66 year-old husband —  I agree, that is weird.  I mean the way he arbitrarily says “under 28”;  I have no problem with the 28 / 66 thing.

No matter how he berates Borneo or her husband’s age, she steadfastly maintains her love of her husband and desire to stay here for all their days.  Although, I expect she will, have far more of them than will her husband.

Realizing he is being a jerk, he asks for Rhona’s forgiveness and they shake hands.  At that moment, Robinson, a local handyman appears in the doorway to sell them some kindling.  Rhona acts little out of character, getting testy with Robinson.  She says, “We don’t observe many social graces here, but knocking before entering a room is still considered de rigueur.”  This is especially stinging since there is no door.  And he didn’t enter.

ngcaterpillar16

Official Captain Kirk lighting is used frequently for Macy.

After Rhona leaves the room, Robinson can tell that Macy has the hots for her.  He suggests that there might be something he could do to help that situation.

Later, Rhona sympathetically apologizes to Macy saying that she understands “what loneliness can do to a man — loneliness and abstinence.”  She seductively continues that she has a friendly suggestion.  He is understandably excited by this until she continues, “Take a cold bath, Mr. Macy.”  Zing!!!

After that unnecessary bitchiness, Macy decides to see what Robinson has in mind. Robinson tells him of a local insect, the earwig, which eats wax and has a fondness for the human ear.  If one were put in a person’s ear, it is not able to back out, it can only crawl through the brain continuing to eat, with a 1 in 10,000 chance of ever finding its way out.

Robinson knows some gents who could place one of them in Warwick’s ear that night.  It would take about 2 weeks to drive him mad with pain.  And all for the low, low price of £100.

ngcaterpillar30The next morning at breakfast, Macy feels a tingling in his ear that just won’t go away.  Dabbing it with a napkin, he finds he is bleeding.  The brainiac assassins have put the earwig into the wrong man’s ear — but, in their defense, it would be confusing to spot which man was 30 years younger, had black hair, had a mustache, was sleeping alone, was in the guest quarters, and had not lived in Borneo for the past 25 years.

He completely incriminates himself by running from the room screaming, “They put it in MY ear!  Dear God, they put in MY ear!”  This could have been the end on a lesser show like, say, most other episodes of Night Gallery.  But no . . .

Two weeks later, the doctor comes out of the Warwick house and describes Macy’s condition to Robinson.  Macy has his hands tied to the bedposts to keep him from clawing his face off to get at the earwig.  Red-eyed, with tears running down his face, greasy hair, two weeks growth of beard, agonizing contortions of his face — I don’t think we’ve seen this level of horror out of Night Gallery before.

ngcaterpillar31Miraculously, the earwig finds its way to the other ear and escapes from Macy’s brain.  Back on his feet, Macy admits he would have murdered John for a shot at Rhona.  He expects to be arrested, but is surprised to find he will not be prosecuted.

As one of the few earwig survivors, Macy educates the doctor as to what he experienced, “Agonizing driving, itching pain.  Anything would have been preferable — to be flayed alive, to be burned at the stake, to be put on the rack, to be hanged even would have been an act of mercy.”

Macy senses that the Warwicks and the doctor are holding something back.  The doctor admits that he examined the earwig.  It was a female . . . and it laid eggs in Macy’s brain.  Macy screams in a shot that goes from the interior of his mouth to the exterior of the house.  This was the To Serve Man moment of Night Gallery.

Wait, what now?

Great casting, great set, great sound effects with the constant rain and the bird at the end, great screenplay.  If they could have pulled off a few more of these, Night Gallery would be remembered in much higher regard.

Thus endeth Season Two on a very high note.

Post-Post:

  • Twilight Zone Legacy:  John Williams played Shakespeare in The Bard.
  • Title Analysis:  The segment is adapted from a short story titled Boomerang.  I can understand making a change since that is a little vague.  But why a caterpillar? The insect in the story is an earwig, which is an actual inset, yet unknown to most people.  Wouldn’t that have been a more intriguing title?
  • Skipped Segment: Talk about an intriguing title — Little Girl Lost was a classic episode of The original Twilight Zone.
  • Wrote part of this at Starbucks, so was subjected to the Hulu version (i.e. commercial-riddled) of Night Gallery.  Stella Artois has a promotion about buying a limited edition crystal chalice (i.e. beer mug) and they will make a donation of “five years of clean drinking water to women in some 3rd world cesspool the developing world”.  Cuz, you know, f*** men.

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