Twilight Zone – The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon (09/24/88)

The curious case I got was a curious case of deja vu back to the Patterns episode of Night Visions.  In that post, I had a paragraph stating how each step of the plot was evident from the start:

Of course Martin’s OCD tics are going to be the glue that keeps the world together.  Of course Critchley is going to be skeptical.  Of course Martin is going to be found to be telling the truth.  And of course Critchley will inherit the burden that he was skeptical of.

Change the names, and this is exactly the same story.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  I guess it is a broad enough trope, like time-travel, that no one can claim to own it.  And I am a sucker for this particular trope, so case dismissed.  I give it a Trumpian pardon — maybe not deserved, but who’s going to stop me?

I deleted about 500 words above that just seemed superfluous; although beautifully composed.  Harry Morgan played Edgar Witherspoon perfectly.  As a young man — or at least as young as Harry Morgan ever was — he was a bit of a stiff.  The laughs he got back then seemed to be from hamming it up or due to funny words coming out of his Dragnet facade.  In this episode, he seems to have arrived at peak coot-hood.  He is a fun old guy, believably sincere with his krazee ideas.  Unfortunately — and I’m going to use that word a lot — the psychiatrist seems to be in a different episode, and the rest of the cast are just non-entities.[1]

Unfortunately # 2:  This is the first episode of the 3rd season (although the 4th episode on the DVD?) and the first appearance of Robin Ward as the announcer.  I was often critical of Charles Aidman’s avuncular voice undermining many episodes, so a change was welcome.  I’m not sure this is an improvement, though.  From one outing, he strikes me as if he is trying to emulate both Aidman and Rod Serling.  I hear shades of them both in his delivery.

Unfortunately # 3:  The score, as is frequently the case, is just entirely inappropriate.  Harry Morgan was fine being eccentric, but I would rather have had the score show a little more seriousness.  These scores too often cheapen the stakes with musical flourishes and little pixie dust sounds.  The psychiatrist’s performance was grimly at odds with the rest of the episode, but maybe he was closest to getting it right.  The island of Tuatau was destroyed by a tidal wave for cryin’ out loud!  Do you have no feelings atoll — heyooooo! [1]

And yet, for all the belly-aching, I really enjoyed it.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] This is not so funny after the events of Barbuda.  Or before.
  • Yikes, what a dreadful pedigree:  The psychiatrist was on an episode of Ray Bradbury Theater, his secretary was also in a RBT, Edgar’s niece was in the dreadful Poltergeist remake, and the new announcer was in a Hitchhiker.

Twilight Zone – Song of the Younger World (07/17/87)

I try to never pre-judge, but this title does not bode well for a series that too often forgets its sci-fi / horror roots and wallows in sentimentality.

Meet Tanner Smith, circa 1916.  Disciple of Jack London, Tanner Smith now consigned to what is affectionately known by the Bowery Boys as The Ref [1].  A grim sojourn into solitude, despair, pain and sooner than he knows, a curious corner in the Twilight Zone.

OK, they get me excited with that pain & despair talk, but Charles Aidman’s raspy avuncular voice mitigates the dread as usual.

Tanner goes into the barn where the headmaster’s daughter Amy Hawkline is doing whatever it is that you do to horses.  He gives her a line that never works for me, “I’ve been watching you.”  Possibly his success is due to him not having a Nikon with a 400mm lens slung over his shoulder.

They discover a mutual interest in reading, and the library.  Tanner especially likes books about wolves.  She is afraid of her father catching them, so Tanner leaves.  They meet up that night in the barn.  Amy brings him another Jack London book about wolves.  Fearing the evening is veering off course, he blurts out, “A wolf mates for life, Amy.  Did you know that?  For all his life.”  He is on thin ice, however, when he continues, “and lady wolves don’t make the guys wear sheep’s intestines on their John Thomas!”  He has also brought her a gift, a cameo necklace.  As they finally get down to a literal roll in the hay, the Headmaster discovers them and beats Tanner half to death.

Amy says she hates her father and he belts her.  If he catches them together again, he’ll “see that he is found dead in some dark hallway.”  Town drunk Hoakie overhears this and goes to Amy’s room.  He says he won’t let them get hurt.  Amy says, “You?  You’re just a broken down old bum — what could you do?”  Hoagie tells her to go f*** herself.  No wait, that’s what I would have said.

Acting!

Amy decides the only way they can escape is through the front door or during the ample time they spend outside.  No wait, it is through a mystical old book.  By staring at the horizontal markings, you will begin to drift off, just like when reading Pilgrim’s Progress.  “Then you pass right through it,” she says.  “But to where, Amy?  Where?” Tanner asks, in one of acting’s all-time worst line readings.[2] “A better world,” she says.  “A free world.”

After Tanner is scared away by one of the Headmaster’s goons, Amy gives it a try.  She stares at the lines until she is briefly transported to another world.  Headmaster Hawkline catches her having incorrect thoughts and takes the book away.  A man ahead of his time, like college presidents a hundred years later, Hawkline decides ideas he doesn’t agree with must be suppressed.  Well, he actually tosses the pages into the fire, but that’s coming in our century too, I tells ya.

I cropped this picture. The shots of the wolves are stunningly poorly composed. Maybe it is just stock footage.  Call Nat Geo next time, for cryin’ out loud.

Amy kills herself, or at least appears to have.  Tanner blames Hawkline and tries to brain him with his own cane, but the old man fights him off.  His goons throw Tanner into the basement.[3]  Later, Hawkline takes a pistol downstairs to kill Tanner.  Hoagie has sneaked Tanner the page from the book.  He disappears into the page just as Amy did.

The final shots are of two white wolves running free in a younger world.  One of them is wearing the cameo.  I hope Tanner and Amy like running down small animals and eating them raw.  And shivering outside during the winter without the glow of blazing books to warm them.  Are they still human souls?  Do they each really want to have the sex with another animal now?  Although Tanner did find a loophole in that sheep’s intestine thing.  Well played, old boy.  Well played.

So, I was completely off-base on the title (see below).  The actor playing Tanner is just dreadful.  Roberts Blossom takes a break from playing likable old coots to be an effectively sadistic headmaster (well, he did play the Devil in Burning Man and that serial killer in Home Alone).  Jennifer Rubin is fine as Amy, but those shots of her gazing banjo-eyed into the portal are a hoot.  The score was a little over the top at times, but better than usual.

Overall, a pretty good TZ.  But it would have made a better Night Gallery.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] House of Refuge, Reformatory for Wayward Boys.
  • [2] To be fair, it is a brutal line to say.  Maybe only William Shatner could have pulled it off.  No, seriously.
  • [3] They put him into what I assume was a straight-jacket of the time.  But it really looks like they sewed him into a giant stripper’s thigh-high boot.
  • If I were smart, I would have recognized Song of the Younger World as a line from Call of the Wild.  Song of the Undiscovered Country — that I would have gotten.  But only after Star Trek VI came out.
  • Noel Black also directed the great To See the Invisible Man, and the even greater Private School.

Twilight Zone – Voices in the Earth (07/10/87)

“Spectroscopic readings indicate that the atmosphere is in perfect chemical equilibrium.”  OK, what but do these figures mean?  They can’t be percentages because they don’t add up to 100%.  Whatever they are, Carbon Dioxide seems to be winning in a rout.  Sensors show no life, not even “simple amino acids in the oceans.”

Tuvok — wait, what?  Tim Russ, anyway — asks “There was a name for this one in one of the old languages wasn’t there Professor?”  Professor Knowles [3] says, “Yes, Earth.  They called it Earth.”  If any of these guys is named Adam, I’ll scream.  Even though that’s the kind of simplistic cornball story I secretly love — so really, there’s just no winning with me.  There were very smart guys working on this show.  Why would they use such a clunky, illogical line anyway?

  1. The crew is from Earth.  They all seem to be from English speaking countries.  The captain actually is English.  They are still speaking English.  How is it an old language?
  2. Wouldn’t history classes in 2987 teach about Earth since it was, you know, the unambiguous origination point of the entire human race; the one thing we could all agree on?
  3. Wouldn’t science classes use it as an object lesson on the importance of ecological awareness?
  4. Hey, Tuvok, did ya get on this ship not knowing what the destination was?  No wonder you got lost in the Delta Quadrant.

The ship lands and the crew gets out to explore the sepia colored planet.  Captain Jacinda Carlyle says, “There’s not much left after 1,000 years, is there?” as they walk through the incongruously intact city.  To be fair, the overhead shot as they landed showed much more destruction.  Presciently, the Twin Towers are gone.

Carlyle says all artifacts have been stripped from Earth.  Knowles says he is looking for  “feelings, a sense of place, what it must have been like to live here when the skies were blue.”  This is the first space flight funded by Hallmark.  Carlyle tells him to take a good look because in 4 days, mining vessels will begin tearing the planet apart looking for precious metal, minerals, and loose change.Knowles goes off exploring by himself even though Carlyle is played by the lovely Jenny Agutter.  He finds an old record store which puts the abandonment of Earth somewhere between 2001 and  2006.  He places a CD in a player.  Some other bloggers have a beef that the CD player still works, but whaddya gonna do?  Ghostly images of hipster customers appear, browsing through the vinyl LPs.  As Knowles heads for the door, a pale figure in a boxy suit appears and says, “Are we not men? Remember us, Professor.”  Then, like all record store customers, he disappears.

Knowles goes back to the ship.  Carlyle asks the historian how Earth got in this condition.  What Knowles says:

They used refrigerants that slowly ate away the ozone layer.  They burned the tropical rain forest to make way for farmland, using the ashes for fertilizer.  Entire species simply vanished forever from the Earth.  By the time they poisoned the whole biosphere, they had the technology to leave it behind.   So they fled into space, and cast the Earth aside like a half-eaten apple . . . You know the irony?  The Earth today is almost exactly as it was millennia ago, before the very first rainfall.  And for millions of years, there had been no rain.  Then when the Earth cooled enough, rain fell, delivering nutrients to the ocean, and life emerged.

That’s pretty good, but what he should have said was:  “Hey, there’s M*F*ing ghosts over at Tower Records!”

This is a great looking set, but is really a good location for a record store? It is the window at the bottom right. It looks more like where you would buy a Mogwai.

He goes back to the record store without telling anyone about his discovery.  Many more ghosts appear.  A transparent woman says, “We’ve been waiting so long.”  A translucent old man says, “Why did you leave us?”  A see-through girl says, “Are you back to stay, all of you?”  Their leader explains, “We’re the ones you left behind.  All the souls that ever were.”  [1]  The old man explains that humans are their children; they wish to see see their children grow up.  The souls are unable to travel in space, thus they are doomed to stay on the Earth.  The leader asks Knowles to convince others that Earth still contains life of a sort.”

Knowles brings Carlyle back to the record shop to prove the existence of the souls, and that Michael Jackson wasn’t just a myth .  He finally tells her what he has seen, but she is skeptical.  When they get to the store, it is as empty as a Sears (I got tired of the record store references).  He shouts for the souls to appear, but they do not come.  As soon as the pair leaves the building, hundreds of souls appear.

That night, the leader enters the body of Professor Knowles, when Jenny Agutter is just a few feet away (this should in no way be considered a rape-joke; it is barely a -joke).  He tears a table leg from the deck and goes to the bridge.  He begins clubbing the computers like a baby seal, but the crew restrains him.

Knowles goes back to the building and shouts to the souls, “You cowards!  Show yourselves!”  They reappear, and the leader explains.  They can’t travel in space in this form.  But if they can possess the crew as he did with Knowles, they might be able to make the journey.  He admits he doesn’t know what would happen to the crew’s bodies as a result of this prolonged possession.  Oh the irony, of using them up like they did to the Earth and casting them aside.

As the ship is about to lift off, the crew hears thunder.  It is beginning to rain for the first time in 1,000 years, which is typical since Al Gore DXII [2] just said rain was a thing of the past.  They are even beginning to pick up signs of life in the oceans.  A crewman says, “It is as if something is accelerating evolution somehow.”  There is even a small patch of vegetation under the ship.  Well until they take off, when it will be burned to a cinder.

This transformation was fore-shadowed as the souls were earlier revealed to have some ability to manipulate their environment.  They weren’t sure what the risk would be to them, however, if they did it on a global scale.  This is why Knowles called them cowards.  It all wraps around pretty nicely, certainly better than I am describing it.

The episode also looks great, hence the larger pictures.  The only minor quibbles I could make are about the space-suits and the ship.  The suits are a little silly — not the Reynolds Wrap numbers they wear outside, the casual gear in the ship.  And there are a few shots of the ship after landing where I can’t even figure out if the POV is from above or the side; but that could be the low-quality DVD.

Martin Balsam (Knowles) gets most of the screen time and shoulders most of the story.  He handles it as effortlessly as you would expect from a guy who has been doing it 112 years.  Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run, American Werewolf in London) is not given much to do, but is a classy and elegant as always.  The rest of the crew are fairly non-descript except Tim Russ who has the mustache of a 14 year old boy.

A welcome, all-too-rare, stand-out episode.  There is one more episode left in the season.  From what I’m reading online, it does not get better in season 3.  But what do a bunch of bloggers know?

Other Stuff:

  • [1]  That would be over 100 billion souls, so Earth must be getting pretty crowded.  Also, everyone seems to be from the latter days of Earth; and the suburbs.  What was the cut-off?  Did some Cro-Magnon get to come, but his dad didn’t?
  • [2]  Other than kings, why do you never hear about anyone higher than a rare IV?
  • [3] If my last name were Knowles, I would tell everyone my nickname was Grassy.

Twilight Zone – Time and Teresa Golowitz (07/10/87)

 

Well, the episode gets right to business; I’ll give it that.  Mono-monikered Broadway composer Bluestone is pounding out a new tune on the piano in his swanky Manhattan condo when a man appears.  He says, “Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here?”  The man compliments the tune, but says Bluestone will never get a chance to see it performed.  Bluestone steps through the piano and is horrified to see his body in a sweater-vest; also, because it is on the floor dead.

The man — the Prince of Darkness — says the gang “below-decks” loves his music.  What would it take for him to play them a tune now and then?  Bluestone says he wants “to make it with Mary Ellen Cosgrove.”  He is careful to add about his long-ago crush “as she was.”  Let’s hope they didn’t meet in 6th grade.

The man sends Bluestone back in time.  Some awkwardness is ironed over by the fact that he puts Bluestone back in his high-school body; and also, for some reason, made him Middle-Eastern.[1]  However, it is a little disconcerting that the actor portraying young Bluestone is 24 and the actress portraying Mary Ellen is 15.  Not to mention the fact that it is a 52 year old man in the younger dude’s body. [2]

Bluestone is greeted by his original moniker Binky Blaustein as he enters the party of high schoolers.  He realizes that his memories of Mary Ellen are warped, that she is “just a kid”.  He spots another girl, the titular Teresa Golowitz.  The Devil has now possessed the body of Laura — Gina Gershon, who frankly blows every other girl at this hootenanny off the screen.  Binky admits he never paid much attention to Teresa because she was too plain.  The Devil reminds Binky that Teresa committed suicide the night of this party.  He tells Binky the whole sad story, then says, “Excuse me.  Laura has to go to the little girl’s room.”  What?  Ewwwww . . . That’s creepy even for the devil.

Binky starts talking to Teresa, but is impressed into service by a jock.  He says, “You’re a big show-tune man, Blaustein.  How about something from Broadway?”  Wait, shouldn’t this line have been delivered by a kid the jock later beats up?  OK, this scene is set in 1948.  Maybe this was normal behavior for high school kids then.

Binky begins playing How About You.  Mary Ellen begins singing, but is quickly eclipsed by Teresa emerging from the background to belt out the tune.  Binky catches up with her outside and begs her to work with him to develope her talent, thus preventing her suicide.  Back in the present, Teresa is now a Broadway star, famous singer, expert on politics, and respected climatologist.

Despite having no physical resemblance to Bluestone, Grant Heslov is excellent as Binky.  I didn’t really associate him with the older character, but I completely bought him as a character older and more mature than his physical appearance.  Gene Barry as the Devil seemed to play his role a little effeminate for reasons that elude me.  The other performances were unexceptional; except Gina Gershon who was exceptional.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I’m not good at guessing ethnicities.  It is Grant Heslov, who was just in The Outer Limits.  He seems to play a lot of Middle Easterners.  Also Hispanics.  I guess Hollywood isn’t good at ethnicities either.
  • [2] Although not as egregious as the movie Big where a 28 year old woman slept with a 14 year old boy.  A offense like that could get her a weekend in jail.

Twilight Zone – Shelter Skelter (05/21/87)

Sally Dobbs and her daughter Deidre are lugging luggage out to the car.  The men-folk — Harry and his young son Jason — are downstairs practicing on the family pistol range.  Sally calls Harry on an intercom to send Jason up.  He tells her to send down another beer . . . his third . . . to the pistol range.

Sally (Joan Allen) dutifully brings the beer down to the titular shelter.  Harry (Joe Montagna) is teaching Jason to shoot, including the importance of ear-protection (although he clearly considers eye-protection to be for pussies).  She sends Jason upstairs and hands Harry the beer.  He opens it, carelessly spraying her with fizz.  She thinks Jason is too young to train with guns.  Harry says he wants his family to be safe.  I know he is being set up as the bad guy, but I’m not seeing it so far.

He goes upstairs to see his family off to visit Sally’s sister.  Sally is surprised he will notice their absence at all because he spends so much time in the shelter.  Harry grabs her arm and warns her to not tell her sister about the shelter.  “It’s just for the four of us.  Don’t you ever forget that!”  So he wants to limit the occupancy to fit the provisions he has on hand to safely assure his family’s survival; just pure evil.  C’mon, he’s a little crude, but he is protective, spends time with the kids, surprisingly has no beer gut, and they have a very nice home.

Harry’s pal Nick stops by.  He mentions the news saying things are heating up in the Middle East.  Wow, so that area was a powder keg even 30 whole years ago! [1] A 1980s linebacker-shouldered, big-haired reporterette says the President and First Lady have been taken to a secure location.  Nick says Harry is right that “the whole world is going straight down the toilet.”  Harry says we’re already there, “drugs, terrorism, pornography!”  He thinks a bomb would set a lot of things right again.  He says he and Nick don’t belong in a world of degenerate rock stars, hair-dressers and bureaucrats.  He dreams of raising his son in a world with “all the scum burned off.”  Uh, dude, you do remember Nick is not on the guest-list, right?  Awkward!

After a few beers, he breaks his own rule and gives Nick a tour of the shelter.  He tells Nick there is room for five and he is invited to join them.  He just better hope there is a nuclear holocaust before the Dobbs have a third kid.  Luckily for him, I think Sally would prefer that to having sex with Harry again.  Harry show off his communications system, filtration system, food stock, water.  He figures five people can survive down here for five months.

While demonstrating his antenna system, they see a news report that all hell is breaking loose.  Harry calls Sally and tells her to come back immediately.  Her sister calls him Godzilla, and Sally mocks him before hanging up.  Then the big one hits.  Harry and Nick are in the shelter, but the antenna has been destroyed so they have no contact with the outside.  Nick wants to leave to find his parents, but Harry physically restrains him and shows him the lethal radiation level, saving his life.  Yeah, Harry is practically Hitler.

Six weeks later, they seem to be holding up well.  Both have beards, Nick is playing solitaire, Harry is doing a little ironing.  The place seems clean and orderly; although, I suspect Harry is now regretting his stand against pornography.  They hear noises above.  Nick thinks someone is coming to rescue them.  Harry sees the radiation level and says “they would be the walking dead.”  Nick tries to yell for them, but Harry silences him lest they be subjected to that godawful last season.

After ten months, the radiation has not lessened.  Nick goes for a walk outside. When he returns, Harry won’t let him in, and rightly so.  Through the door, Nick says the city is in ruins and it is perpetual night.

What happens next is a cheat, but like so much of Joy Ride, it is a good enough episode that I can overlook the flaws.  It turns out, the blast was not global Armageddon, but an oopsy at the local Air Force Base.  Somehow, within 10 months, the debris has been cleaned up, the radiation is gone, and parks are green, leafy and sunny, and the Women’s Olympic volleyball team practices there.  All of the radioactive ruins have been bull-dozed into a heap, and a giant concrete dome built over them.  It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds.

While I like the image of moving from the dark confined shelter to the sunny park, a few things irk me.  Harry didn’t really deserve this fate.  Cruel undeserved fate is always welcome in the TZ, but they were trying to make him worthy of this and failed.  Also, Sally seems way too happy that her husband, the father of her children is buried under this dome.  She has to suspect he survived the blast in the shelter, but she didn’t speak up when it was being built?

And what was up with that dog-POV shot?  Right after the camera moves outside, we get a shaky-cam at a low level racing along the grass.  There is a dog seen later, but this isn’t his POV:  1) There was no establishing shot of him, and 2) the shot actually begins at human-eye level.  The shot ends with an atrocious portrayal of another reporterette.

But all that can be overlooked.  The great story, combined with an atypically appropriate score make this one a winner.

Other Stuff:

  • [1]  Boy, I was way off!  This conflict has been going on for thousands of years!
  • Classic TZ Connection:  The Shelter.  But mostly just because they both feature a fall-out shelter.
  • Title Analysis:  Would also have accepted Helter Shelter.
  • Skipped Segment:  Private Channels — An obnoxious punk’s Walkman allows him to hear other people’s thoughts.  With his Watchman, he can see their underwear.
  • I don’t think the Sony Watchman portable TV ever really caught on.  Maybe if they could have added a phone to it.  Also a pretty good segment; but seriously, that kid is annoying.