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


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 Outer Limits – The Sandkings (S1E1)

A George R.R. Martin twin spin!

sk01From now on, he will be permanently known for Game of Thrones, but long before that, Martin had done some anthology work on the revivals of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.  He only provided the source material for this one, which is unfortunate because the episode deviates from the short story in many ways.  Standing alone, it is good episode — just not what I signed up for.

First of all, if you’re casting a brilliant scientist, Beau Bridges should not be high on your wish list.  Jeff Bridges?  Lloyd Bridges?  Todd Bridges?  On the list before Beau.

In a better bit of casting, his wife is played by 80’s babe Helen Shaver.  This is doubly welcome as she is not in the short story at all.

After one of his science experiments (tiny martians brought back in a soil sample) escapes the nest, the government shuts down his program.  Beau does the sensible thing, smuggles one of the creatures out of the maximum containment facility — where it still nearly escaped — and secures it in a barn.  But it has a padlock, so no problem.

Cringe-inducing actual quote: Charlton Heston, eat your heart out!

Cringe-inducing actual quote: “Charlton Heston, eat your heart out!”

Newly unemployed, Beau has plenty of time to observe the alien insects he brought home; and they are more entertaining than sea monkeys.  He feeds them mice, they build their first castle.  And then a 2nd castle as they begin choosing up sides — ha, they think they’re people!

Beau starts to get concerned as the ripples under the sand get larger, and some nasty pincers start sticking out.  But once he sees they revere him as a god, that seems OK.

The sandkings begin to demonstrate psychic abilities as they lure the new family dog down to their place for dinner.  Beau finds the dog’s collar in the their cage and makes it a little more secure by electrifying the cage.  He also tells them, no more snacks even though he will clearly have some Milk Bones going to waste.

castle02After poor Helen Shaver is then given the traditional sci-wife scene of nagging her genius husband, Beau goes to the barn for some peace and quite.  There he sees now two larger castles, with one sporting his face.  The castles are quite well-designed, although I think the face looks a little more like Lloyd Bridges.  Understandably, he smashes the one castle without his face on it, and tells its occupants to “get with the program”.

When one of them bites the hand that isn’t feeding them, he realizes that there might be trouble.  Things really go south from here as his family bails, a co-worker meets a bad end, the sandkings get feisty.  Actually, in rewatching parts of it, I think I liked it even more the 2nd time.

The short story has several differences and is also quite good.  It won both a Hugo and Nebulae, so it is a little surprising so many changes were made.  I think the SS had more of a horror vibe, and maybe they wanted to sci-fi it up more for the 1st episode of the revived Outer Limits.

Beau’s character (Simon Kress) in the SS is not a scientist, but an arrogant rich guy with a sadistic streak the size of King Joffrey’s.  On a planet that is not earth, he buys the sandkings at a pet shop.  The strange shopkeeper, and her willingness to sell these murderous creatures (who will clearly dominate the world) to some yahoo really made me think of Gremlins.

Kress takes great pleasure in starving the sandkings, forcing them into battles for the entertainment of guests.  They oblige by demonstrating great strategies, forming alliances, coordinating attacks, and making him some big coin betting on matches.

About halfway through the SS, the sandkings turn on Kress.  The last half is really straight-up horror as Kress tries to contain the problem and fails at every turn.  Someday that will also make a great show.

Post-Post Leftovers:

  • If you ever have the need to take notes while watching Hulu, get what you need the first time around.  They will make sure you watch every bloody commercial again if you try to review!
  • I refuse to call this a novelette.
  • A little in the episode, and more in the SS, you can see hints of Game of Thrones.  The sandkings are ruthlessly political in their alliances and battles.  They have their god, and his face on the castle might even be considered their sigil.
  • Kim Coates as yuppie dweeb?
  • Sadly, I was unable to work in The Dude.
  • The two women most involved with episode both have interesting stories.  Writer Melinda Snodgrass studied voice at a conservatory in Vienna, practiced law, wrote for Star Trek TNG, ran a natural gas company in New Mexico, and is now an accomplished equestrian.
  • I only knew of Helen Shaver as one of many 80’s babes that you never see anymore.  Now I see that she has kept busy as a director on a long list of TV shows including 6 episodes of The Outer Limits and several current shows.
  • Meanwhile, I’m in my underwear writing a blog post on Friday night.