Experimental Plant Station
. . . reads the sign on the door. If you are standing in front of this door, do you really need to be told you are in Brazil?
Botanist Dr. Alden is feeding flies to a carnivorous plant as he rhapsodizes to
his band of assistant Merriman about its superiority. “While man fiddles around with his petty problems, the vegetable kingdom is silently on the march.” If they are so smart, why don’t the march their asses to Taco Bell instead of being fed dead flies?
Merriman just arrived a month ago and can’t stand the Amazonian heat. He is also bored to death as Dr. Alden is not much of a companion. He spends all his time studying the plants. His pride and joy is a hybrid carnivorous plant the size of Audrey II. Merriman doesn’t see the point. Alden asks, “Do you honestly say that you don’t realize the worth of such a discovery?” Sadly, Alden does not clue Merriman or the viewer in to what that worth might be.
At breakfast the next morning, Merriman is still bored to death. He mopes around whining like an eight year old. No wonder Alden prefers the company of plants. A batch of mail is delivered from a cargo ship, but Merriman has not been there long enough to receive any, and frankly, who would be writing to this loser? He envies the stack of mail Alden receives. Depressed and lonely, he offers Alden $10 for a random unopened letter he can call his own. Alden eventually agrees and this seems to perk Merriman up.
The next day, Alden says he opened all of the mail he had expected. He asks Merriman what was in the $10 letter?
A: Who was it from?
M: I hate to say this doctor, but it’s none of your business.
A: You must be joking.
M: I’m sorry doctor. I’m not joking. I paid $10 for that letter and I’m not going to share it with anybody.
Unfortunately, I find this premise much more interesting than the mopey Merriman and the carnivorous plant. However, there is reason to hope the two threads will come together in an interesting way since this episode shares the same writer / director team from The Window. The two men struggle, but Alden has a heart condition that impedes him. He collapses into the lap of the giant plant. It closes its branches around him. He escapes but smiles. Hmmmmm.
The next day, Alden slaps a lock on the lab. He tells Merriman to be on the next cargo ship out and his insubordination means he will never mope in his chosen field again. Merriman suddenly changes his attitude.
M: If I give you the letter back, will you forget about all this?
A: (Laughing) No, you keep the letter. It’s yours. That letter is your property, not mine. (Laughing) You paid for it. It’s legally yours.
Alden continues feeding the carnivorous plant larger and larger meals. Finally, it gets so big that he decides to name it. He decides on Emily after his “beautiful, captivating, wantonly cruel” estranged wife. Hey, maybe that’s who the letter is from. Even better, maybe it contains some candid photographs.
Alden goes to Merriman and says he has decided to give him another chance. Merriman senses he has the upper hand and tells the doctor that returning to the US sounds pretty good to him. Alden demands the letter, bit Merriman reminds him of his earlier words. Alden’s heart starts acting up gain. He begs Merriman to at least tell him if the letter is from Emily. Merriman claims to have not read the letter yet. “Maybe tomorrow. It just takes patience.” Alden walks away clutching his literal and figurative broken heart as Merriman laughs.
Well, you can kind of figure what happens even if you didn’t see it coming when the plant first groped Alden . . . or when you first saw the man-sized carnivorous plant . . . or when you saw the first, baby-sized carnivorous plant . . . or when you saw the title of the episode.
The team of director Don Medford and writer Frank De Felitta from last week again elevate the series. The wacky premise of last week couldn’t be matched. They do, however, inject more imagination into the episode than we usually see. A typical Tales of Tomorrow script is single-minded, and barely that. There is no room for nuance, misdirection, or twist endings. I think in the hands of most of the ToT staff, the story would have ended with the plant eating Merriman. This team had the wit to also bump off Alden. That is not so extraordinary, but they also provide both a twist and a motive in the mystery letter. Even the simple act of fore-shadowing Alden’s heart problem seems Shakespearean in this series.
Of course, it is still objectively terrible. However, it is such an improvement over their usual productions, that I have to give it some credit.
- Don Hanmer had some excruciating early scenes as Merriman. He plays cockiness much more effectively than boredom.
- Maybe he was just pissed that they misspelled his name in the credits. But, really — Hanmer?
- I wonder if his character’s name was ironic, because “he was not a Merry Man.”