Outer Limits – In the Zone (02/20/98)

“The Ageless One” Tanner Brooks has just slammed something into something to win The World Octal Federation match.  He has seen better days, though, and isn’t even in the top 10 anymore.  He gets a visit in his dressing room from Michael Chin who says he can help him win the championship.  To prove it, Chin speeds around the room at super speed.

Brooks goes to see Chin at his lab.  He explains that his process accelerates the human neuro-musculature system so that a person can react to events in a much shorter time scale.  Brooks subjects himself to the process.

His next match is against a woman, Helen “The Hammer” Draybeck.  This is a pretty lousy test of his skillz.  While the lovely Ms. Draybeck could no doubt kick my ass, I don’t know of a single sport where strength is an asset that a woman can beat a pro-level man.

Helen: You feeling good today?

Brooks:  My health insurance is all paid up.

Helen: You won’t be.

Are they even working from the same script?  Helen dominates him in the match and is fairly easily able to grab the ring.  Rather than stuffing it in the slot, she holds it up and milks cheers from the audience.

She has only a few seconds of screen time, but she’s getting the rest of the pictures. Go figure.

Dr. Chin’s process kicks in.  Brooks is able to move at super speed to yank the ring out of Helen’s hand and slam it home for a victory.  That leaves Helen baffled, although the ref, the ring announcer, the press, and the fans seem to have not noticed that he moved at about 500 MPH to do it.

Brooks goes on with more treatments and wins repeated victories in the arena.  Afterward, in the shower, he begins to see the water falling in slow motion.  Outside, he sees a fan about to be hit by a truck and exhibits the usual tropes:  1) victim “saved” by being pushed away to safety so quickly that the truck would have actually had less impact, 2) the driver doesn’t stop to complicate the narrative.

Brooks finally gets his title shot.  When he goes up against his younger, stronger opponent, he kicks his ass.  He is easily able to grab the ring.  Before he can put it in the slot, however, he begins to go out of synch with this reality and appears to vanish.

There was a funny shot of Pasdar that made him look really fat, but Helen wasn’t in it.

His wife and, for some unfathomable reason the ring announcer, go to Chin’s lab. Brooks’ wife goes through the same process to try to rescue him.  When she goes into the same hyper-state as Brooks, Chin and the announcer appear to be frozen to her.  She believes Brooks went back to the arena, so makes her way through the frozen city to find him.

Blah blah blah.  This version of The Outer Limits has always gone heavy on sentimentality.  They usually pull it off far more successfully than the 1980s Twilight Zone.  Sometimes, however, the score and an actor as uninteresting as Adrian Pasdar can sink the episode.  And this is in spite of an interesting story, Pat Morita as Chin, and a Selena Gomez look-alike as his wife.

Outer Limits was pushing its luck here.  If you are going to put the word Zone in a title, it had better be great.  And it really better not make you think of a Twilight Zone episode with the same gimmick.  Or a 1980s Twilight Zone episode.  The super-fast person / frozen masses trope is a classic, and I dig it every time (like also on Star Trek episodes); just maybe use a different title.

Other Stuff:

  • Helen fought in American Gladiators as “Ice”.
  • Kudos to Adrian Pasdar for great agility in the arena.
  • It would just be churlish to point out the super-speedy person would burst into flames.

The Hitchhiker – Man of Her Dreams – (04/08/86)

Jill slips into a hot bath with a dude.  Unfortunately, the dude is Mr. Bubble, denying us even that paltry prurient thrill in this week’s load.  She begins pleasuring herself, so at least one of us is getting some-thing out of this scene.  They went more for realism than a screaming orgasm which is, I guess, laudable even if not as entertaining.

She fantasizes a pencil neck dude in a laughable leather jacket [1] entering the bathroom.  Strangely enough, her fantasy begins through his POV — entering her apartment, walking by the kitchen, and opening the bathroom door before reverting to the omniscient POV.  She does a G-rated exit from the tub.  The dude sniffs a single rose, hands it to her, and begins kissing her.[2]

As she leaves for work — wait, wouldn’t that previous scene have made more sense at the end of a stressful day? — she passes a neighbor that makes me again question the sanity of the wardrobe department.  You’re on thin ice wearing a nylon jacket with no sleeves.  And why would you wear a wool cap that does not cover your ears?  He asks her out for a pizza, but she blows him off.

At her yoga class, she complains, “Every man I meet is either a wimp, a creep, or an emotional cripple.”  As she goes through the routines, she has another fantasy.  She is in a park wearing a long white lacy gown, and for some reason, sporting Ayn Rand’s old hair-do.  A guy in a trench-coat and a black beret walks over a bridge and approaches her.  He hands her a rose, and begins kissing her.  Then he begins strangling her.  As she struggles, Jill snaps back to her class.

The next morning, she wakes up and turns on the TV.  She opens the door to get the newspaper.  Her neighbor is standing in her doorway, again wearing that stupid wool cap; this time indoors.  He says he was just about to knock and she slams the door in his face.  On the TV, she sees a news report about a murder at the same park she dreamed about.  The murderer left a white carnation on the body.  Well haha, Kreskin, in your dream it was a red rose.

Jill goes back to the park where the police have left the white outline of the body, but no crime scene tape, presumably to traumatize young kids for laughs.  And, hey wardrobe department, why is Jill suddenly wearing a black beret?  Is she the killer?  Is she empathizing with him?  Another dude comes walking across the bridge with a multi-color umbrella and approaches Jill.  He says, “They say murderers always return to the scene of the crime.”  It would be a pretty good line if it didn’t come out of the pie-hole which was smoking a Tiparillo with a plastic tip.  Turns out he is a cop, Lt. Tony.

Jill says she “doesn’t like overgrown boys who define their masculinity with props like guns and badges.”  The beret is starting to make sense.  But, he is a jerk, touching her hand; he does try to help, though.  However, she slams the metaphorical door in his face, too.

She goes to the Farmer’s Market and sees a customer from the bank.  She had turned him down for a loan and he did not take it well.  Ominously, in the foreground, a pasty guy with an absurd notice-me yellow scarf is buying a white carnation.  She is interrupted by Jim Buckley, a handsome Aussie dude she recently met.  He sniffs a rose and hands it to her, which startles her.  But is she startled because of the Carnation Killer (as the news called him)?  This is not a carnation.  The disgruntled bank customer glowers at her as she goes for coffee with Jim.

Jim takes her home.  She likes him, but does not invite him in.  She does, however, hook up with Mr. Bubble again that night.  In an unintentionally funny shot, she is shown in the tub fantasizing about Jim.  She has a beatific smile, and the water . . . say, around the hip area . . . is churning like the perfect storm.  I guess it is a Jacuzzi, but it really looks like she is giving herself a very energetic rogering.  Even if it was unintentional, I give the director kudos for that.

She fantasizes about Jim in a white tuxedo, sniffing a red rose and handing it to her.  They are in a dark alley with graffiti that says INNOCENTS SUFFER.  They begin kissing.  Then he pulls out a switchblade and stabs her.

She goes to the cops and tells them she had another premonition of the Carnation Killer.  Even though it was a red rose.  The cops reasonably ask what they can do based on the information she has provided.  Lt Tiparillo says he believes her.  They go cruising through all the alleys in the city.  Just as Jill is about to give up, she spots the INNOCENTS SUFFER graffiti.  He touches her face and she flashes back to the murder.  She runs off.

That night she calls Jim.  They meet, but as they start walking, they pass another bit of INNOCENTS SUFFER graffiti.  Jill freaks out and runs again, but Jim catches her.  She collapses in his arms and says, “Make love to me.”  As they walk to her place, he surreptitiously grabs a white carnation from a flower stand as they pass.

  • Why does Jill look like herself in the 2nd vision, but has black hair and goofy haircut in the 1st?  I guess the answer is that the unseen actual victim had that hair style.  And went to the muddy park in a long white lace dress.
  • I think the killer in the 1st vision was her neighbor, but who can tell with the wool cap and beret.  If so, then she is just seeing everyone as the killer.  How is that a premonition?  All she got was the location.
  • Her 2nd vision was under the INNOCENTS SUFFER.  But that never happens — they are going back to her place for the festivities.  So she is wrong again.
  • Is it just coincidence that she envisioned Jim and he really is the killer?  Apparently it was just random that she saw her neighbor’s face earlier.  Eventually the bank customer’s mug would have shown up.
  • And why does she keep envisioning roses if the killer uses carnations?

Marilyn Hassett as fine as Jill [3] — actually, very good in a couple of spots (and I don’t mean the tub).  The rest of the cast was hamming it up, but I think that was probably at the request of the director.  He seemed to be going for a certain otherness here for reasons that elude me — the acting styles, the wardrobe, the umbrellas, Lt. Tiparillo’s touchy-feely moves.  But especially that little plastic tip on the Tiparillo.  The only people using little plastic holders to smoke are society-destroying, myopic megalomaniacs like The Penguin or FDR.

This was the last episode on the 2nd DVD of what one (i.e. me) could reasonably have expected to be their greatest hits.  Sadly, Amazon has already delivered the 3rd to me.  Stupid Amazon Prime!

  • Other Stuff:
  • [1] My Leather Jacket Rule:  Unless you’re Vic Mackey or The Fonz, don’t even try it.  You will look ridiculous.
  • [2] Surely this is the most nitty of picks — or is it pickiest of nits — but why does the dude take a small step back when Jill gets out of the tub?  Is her fantasy a punk in a grown-up’s jacket who sensitively sniffs flowers and is scared of naked ladies?  If there was just not enough room in the bathroom to film the scene, then shame on the director.
  • [3] Certainly a step up from her debut as Dancer #75 in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  • Teleplay by Gary Ross.  This was his first IMDb credit and his only TV credit. He went on to write and/or direct many great and/or successful movies, so maybe he needed rent money.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Dry Run (11/08/59)

Welcome to guys talking.  I hope you like guys talking because that’s all we serve. Catch of the Day: guys talking.  Soup de Jour: guys talking.  Happy Hour: half price on guys talking.  Ladies Night: Sorry, still guys talking — this is Hollywood after all.

We begin with three guys talking.

They are admiring the piranha in Mr. Barberosa’s office.  Barberosa likes the piranhas’ dependability.  Prentiss says, “Yeah, you can depend on him to snap your finger off the minute you put it in the water.”  He says he will stick to raising rabbits which is just bizarrely random and never followed up on.

After Prentiss leaves, Barberosa lectures Art about dependability.  He says in his organization, “I am the coach.  I depend on teamwork.  Maybe that’s why we keep going strong while most of our competitors fold up when the going gets a little tough. Because I can depend on everybody on the team.  And they can depend on each other, too.”

He says he has had his eye on Art and is ready to move him up in the organization.  Art said he appreciates the chance and Barberosa busts him, “I don’t like that word, chance.  I hand-pick the people who work for me and I look for one quality, dependability.”  Dude, how did you not see that coming!

Art says, “Well, you can depend on me.”  Good boy!  You’ll go far!

Barberosa has one last test for Art before promoting him.  He just did a deal with a man named Moran, and wants Art to deliver the payment; and then kill him.  He even gives Art an untraceable pistol.   Barberosa specifically instructs him to hand Moran the cash before killing him; which should be a tip-off that something is awry — why does it matter if he is going to kill Moran anyway.  He will get the new job if he can handle that hit; oh, and pass the typing test.

Art drives out to the Old Valley Winery — are there really any new valleys?  He looks around the dark winery.  The lights come on and Moran is holding a gun on him.  He demands that Art hand over the $10k which must be in $1,000 bills because the envelope is pretty slim.

They have a glass of wine while Moran goes on and on about Barberosa.  Moran offers a toast to Barberosa, “May his cheap heart burn in — hey, that’s pretty good, huh kid? — cheap heart burn.  Cheap heartburn, don’t ya get it?”  If he does, he’s smarter than me.  OK, heart and burn go together to make heartburn, but where does cheap fit in?  He specifically repeats it like it is a real bon mot but it is barely even a mot.

Over the next 15 minutes, Moran talks Art into joining his organization.  All Art has to do is betray (i.e. kill) Barberosa.  Art is convinced.  As he is leaving, Moran pulls a gun and tells him Barberosa will be disappointed that he flunked the dependability [1] test.  Bang!

Yeah, you could question why Moran let Art walk up the long stairway and get the high ground before pulling his gun.  Or you could question why Moran drank twice as much wine as Art if he knew he had a tough shot coming up.  Or you could question why Barberosa gave Art a revolver where he could even see there were no bullets in the chambers.[2]  But none of that matters.

They had a very talky episode that was redeemed with a good twist.  To make it palatable, they recruited four heavy hitters:  Walter Matthau (The Odd Couple, Fail Safe, Bad News Bears), Robert Vaughn (The Man from UNCLE) [3], David White (Bewitched), and Tyler McVey (OK, three heavy hitters)[4].  Their big roles were in the future, but there’s a reason they had such success.

Matthau did the heavy lifting.  He had to make a 15 minute conversation tolerable, and pulled it off expertly.  The winery set, though small, was very well designed to allow for gloom, movement, casks and an interesting place for the conversation.

So, unlike Touché, we have a very talky AHP episode that works due to good performances.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] It finally hit me that loyalty was the word that should have been used throughout the episode.  But then they would have lost the piranha metaphor.  I guess a Cocker Spaniel wouldn’t have been exotic enough.
  • [2] OK, maybe there were dead bullets in the cylinders.  They weren’t blanks because all he got was a click.
  • [3] As an aside, I saw the Man from UNCLE movie last week.   I learned that Henry Cavill’s stiff portrayal of Superman is one thing you can’t blame Zack Snyder for.  But his suits are fabulous.
  • [4] To be fair, Tyler McVey had a huge career, he just never had a truly iconic role.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.

Twilight Zone – The Toys of Caliban (12/04/86)

Problematic.

Like the Outer Limits episode Unnatural Selection, this episode uses a mentally-challenged kid as its catalyst.  That isn’t inherently bad, but man is it hard to do well.

Toby, a mentally challenged teenager, is looking at a book and becomes interested in a picture of a unicorn.  He says, “Brinnnnng.”  When his mother calls him and his father Ernie to dinner, it is fairly subtly revealed that a stuffed unicorn has magically appeared in his lap.  It’s a good thing he chose a mythological creature which could not materialize — three inches to the left, there was a picture of a gorilla.

His mother Mary asks if he is hungry and he shouts, “Doughnuts, momma, doughnuts!”  Ernie says no, he had doughnuts yesterday, like that’s a reason not to have a delicious doughnut today.  Even during dinner, Toby wants doughnuts.  Ernie finally gives in and pulls pictures of doughnuts out of a locked drawer.  Before he can give Toby the picture, he conjures up a chocolate doughnut.  Previously, like Amy Schumer, he always needed to see an pre-existing object in order to create.

That night Toby is in pain from OD’ing on doughnuts.  Mary says he only had two, but Ernie points out that with Toby’s improved powers, he could have eaten a dozen earlier.  They call an ambulance.  The hospital wants to keep him overnight in the children’s ward which has a TV and lots of comic books.  Ernie demands Toby must stay in a private room, so I hope he can wish up a good-ass insurance policy.

The next morning, Toby is better.  The family gets a visit from Mandy Kemp — she’s from the government and she’s here to help.  Actually, she is asking some valid questions about why Toby has never been to school.  All the adults are throwing around the R word — no, the original R word — so this is clearly an old episode.  You probably would have never heard the word retarded on the old TZ either.  Strange that there was a brief period when it became acceptable, although the taboos on each end were for different reasons.  But I digress.

Over Mandy’s objection, Ernie & Mary take Toby home.  Once again, TZ undermines itself with an entirely inappropriate score.  Toby has just thrown a tantrum and his parents blasted Mandy.  So naturally we get happy piano music which I swear I thought was leading into the Charlie Brown theme.  Sure, Toby is excited to see a floor-waxer, but the doctor and Mandy are concerned for his welfare, and his parents are desperate and angry as they defy they hospital.  Ernie grimly glares at Mandy as they enter the elevator.  This is no time for the Snoopy dance.

In his room that night, Toby closes his eyes and says, “Bring.”  A magazine Ernie was reading at the hospital appears.  Sadly, dad was not reading the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  Mary goes in and sees Toby fondling a bloody human heart like one pictured in the science magazine.  She has a heart attack and collapses.  This a little muddled, at least to me.  My initial interpretation was that the heart he was holding came out of her chest. [1]  Other write-ups do not suggest this, and he is clearly playing with something before she collapses; so I guess I’m wrong, but I’m not sure my way is not better.

Some time later, Mandy comes to the house.  She insists that Toby must be moved to an institution.  Ernie decides to show her why Toby can’t go with her.  He makes a suit of armor appear and she is shocked.  But not as shocked as when Toby grabs a picture of his dead mother and wishes her rotting corpse back into the living room.  Mandy runs out and Ernie buries his wife in the back yard.

Just as Ernie finishes burying Mary, he hears sirens.  He fears they will take Toby and slice him up like a lab rat.  He goes inside and looks through his books as we hear more entirely inappropriate, sickeningly sweet music.  He apparently finds Great House Fires of North America and gives it to Toby.  Boom.

I like a simple, high-concept episode like this.  I really felt like Ernie and Mary loved their son, so it didn’t feel too exploitative.  The score, while dreadful, was only really offensive in a couple of scenes.  On the plus side, no narration from Charles Aidman.  That is strange, because this is the kind of episode his avuncular voice might have fit into.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] My interpretation comes from a problem I always had with shows like Bewitched.  Where does this newly materialized stuff come from?  Does it come from somewhere else?  How is the source chosen?  Is it a completely new object?  How was it designed?  What matter was used to create it?  Guess you’re not supposed to think about that.
  • Classic TZ Legacy:  It’s a Good Life.
  • Title Analysis:  Did they really need to compare a mentally-challenged kid to a monster?  They called Anthony Fremont in It’s a Good Life a monster too, but at least he was making reasoned choices.  You know, for a six year old.
  • And, BTW, Prospero was the magician; I don’t remember Caliban having super-powers, but it’s been a while since I skimmed the Cliffs Notes after a few beers the night before the test.

The Dilemma of the Dead Lady – Cornell Woolrich (1936)

1.

Babe Sherman, “a good looking devil,” is packing his steamer trunk for a boat ride home from France.  He used his looks to fleece a woman out out her life savings earned at the largest jewelry store on Rue McClanahan de la Paix.  He also managed to pull a switcheroo with a string of pearls at her store, swapping out a $75,000 [1] string with a diamond clasp for a cheapo string.

He is hiding the pearls in a secret compart-ment in his shoe heel when there is a knock at his door.  A woman’s voice says, “Let me in, Bebe, [2] it’s me!”  He opens the door and she wonders why he’s dressed and packing a trunk.  He says he’s just going on a business trip, but she spots his ticket to the US.  The get into a tussle about the money he stole from her — one of them tussles that undoes the tiny screws on a shoe heel — and the pearls spill out.

Knowing he can’t let her leave, “he flung the long loop of pearls over her head from behind like a lasso.”  C’mon, how freakin’ long is this string of pearls?  Is it one o’ them 6 foot strings like flappers wore?  If so, how tall are his heels that he hid them in?  What are they, from the Tom Cruise collection?

So, he strangles her with the string of pearls.  It says they are on “a platinum wire” but that seems a little far-fetched.  Babe laments that she is “Dead.  Strangled by a thing of beauty, a thing meant to give pleasure” just like the woman in Florida who choked to death giving a blow job.  Ironically, a pearl necklace might have saved the Florida woman’s life.  But I digress.

2.

As always seems to happen, the porter knocks on his door while a dead woman is on the floor.  Christ, it’s like they have ESP.  Babe quickly realizes the only way out is to take the corpse with him in the steamer trunk.  He unpacks some of the hotel towels, robes and ashtrays, then “dragged her over, sat her up in the middle of it, folded her legs up against her out of the way, and pushed the two upright halves closed over her.”  He slaps a label on the trunk indicating it is to be delivered to his cabin, not put in the hold, and opens the door.

Babe and the porter take the trunk downstairs in an old cage elevator.  There seems to be a concern whether the elevator will take the weight.  So no one has ever ridden down from the 3rd floor with their luggage [3] before?

The elevator lands safely, and the porter takes the trunk to a taxi.  Babe wants the trunk stowed inside, but the driver wants it “tied on in back, on the top, or even at the side.”  How does that side storage work?  Finally a 2.5 X fare persuades the driver to put the trunk in the back seat.  At the train station, Babe tries to book a private compartment, but is forced to share one with a Yank.

3.

Babe insists the trunk be stowed in the hall outside his cabin, but the conductor says it is against the rules.  Babe flashes a few francs and persuades him.  Finally, after the train is in motion, he swings the trunk into it.  Babe discovers his compartment mate is a cop.

When they arrive at the ship, a familiar scene plays out.  The ship steward says the trunk is too large for a cabin and must be stowed in the hold.  The cop says, “Listen, I’m in there with him . . . put it where the guy wants it to go.”

4.

So the huge trunk goes into the cabin.  Babe figures he is going to have to resolve this situation in 2 days because the Frenchwoman is going to start stinking up the joint like a Frenchman.

His first move is to try to switch cabins.  That seems possible until the steward realizes who he is.  Suddenly nothing is available.  He suspects the cop got to the steward.

The cop ups the game by purposely spilling liquid shoe polish on Babe’s white shirt.  He has no way to retrieve a shirt from the trunk and can’t go to the dining-car dressed like that since he isn’t from Florida.[4]

The rest is very episodic, much like Woolrich’s earlier story in this anthology Two Murders, One Crime.  Fortunately, he is great at this kind of story.  Both stories turn into a rambling comedic pas de deux between a cop an a killer.  Both would have made great episodes of AHP.  Chandler might be the great stylist in this collection, but for pure entertainment, Woolrich is my favorite.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] $1.3 million in today’s dollars.
  • [2] His name is Babe, but the woman calls him Bebe.  OK, that’s French for baby, but it’s a strange choice by the author since it just looks like a typo.
  • [3] I never really looked at that word before.  You lug it around; it is literally your luggage.  I wonder which word came first.
  • [4] I am stilled scarred by a 50 year old guy I saw at lunch today wearing a wife-beater.  It wasn’t a 4-star restaurant, but have a little class, dude.
  • First published in the July 1936 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly.
  • Also that month: It got up to 114 degrees in Wisconsin.  Bloody global warming!