This is the one.
Major Ben Darnell is summoned to the middle of the desert. This might be the best thing for him as his son has been killed in a car accident and his wife blames him. She flatly tells him she doesn’t care where he is going.
He arrives in the desert and is shown the phenomena that prompted his trip. And it is kind of trippy — as he walks over a ridge, in the middle of the desert he sees another reality intruding. The titular window, if you will, into another time and another place. In a landscape of sand and dull earth-tones sits a brilliant oasis of Middle-Earth-tones . Darnell sees a farmhouse in a lush, wooded area and a boy playing with his dog. By the boy’s knickers and suspenders we can infer that this is a window into long ago; or that the kid is a bit of a dandy.
As with all windows, this one gets more interesting when there is an unsuspecting hot babe seen through it. A woman in a 19th century dress only slightly less conservative than a burka strolls into the yard. Darnell is transfixed by this hottie who can neither see nor hear him, just like his wife. He continues watching as a young daughter shows up and the family is frolicking in this pastoral paradise. With his binoculars, he is able to see that she has no ring — so possibly a young widow living with her father.
I can see why these images stuck with me for so many years. They are haunting in both technique and emotion. Just the voyeuristic act introduces a basic tension because we know it is wrong. But there is also the fascination with watching someone who doesn’t know they are being watched. For Darnell, watching this happy — except for, you know, the dead father — family just compounds his pain at the literal loss of his son and the figurative loss of his wife.
On a technical, level, I appreciated that the camera mostly kept its distance. The family was usually observed from afar as Darnell watched from outside the barrier. If there were close-ups, it was because a family member approached the barrier, or was observed through binoculars. This maintained the other-worldliness of the situation and also illustrated Darnell’s detachment. He was clearly grafting himself into this happy scenario. Not being able to interact or hear them, the fantasy was perfect, but impossible.
Using an ice-Cube Goldberg device to launch an ice cube at the barrier every 3 seconds, Darnell is able to determine that the barrier drops every day for 15 seconds. Naturally, since Darnell is making progress and intelligently investigating this amazing phenomena, the Army decides he must be stopped.
While he hanging out in the canvas prison, he hears a commotion at the barrier — it has dropped again. He belts the guard and makes a fast break for the barrier, leaping through the wall. Now he can’t see the desert or the Army, but the woman can see him.
And then it ends. Awesomely. An ending so excellent that I hope I can forget it and be thrilled by it again some day. They could have gone a few different ways, but they NAILED IT!
This Night Visions is 20/20, baby!
-  Referring to the Shire or New Zealand in general. Mordor, not so much.
-  My only minuscule criticism is that I wish the binocular POV shots had used the hokey black matting.
- Title Analysis: Although the window metaphor is also used within the episode, it isn’t accurate — the phenomena is actually 3-dimensional rather than a 2-d window. Possibly, however, it was also meant as reference to a window into the soul.
- I saw that Karen Austin was in this, and remembered her from Night Court. Turns out it is a different Karen Austin. I thought the Union had rules against that. There are actually 6 Karen Austins listed on IMDb. WTH?
- Only the 2nd (and last) directing gig for Bill Pullman, who starred as Darnell. Too bad — there was nothing flashy, but damn if it wasn’t just about perfect.