Twilight Zone – Memories (10/29/88)

Mary McNeal is a regression therapist or, as they are more accurately known, a fraud.  The exploration of past lives seems to be a real thing in this world, so I am happy to go along with it.

Mary McNeal asks her very old patient to recall “the most significant memory of your past lives.”  She describes being a seamstress during the Revolutionary War, although that might just be a regular memory.  Some British soldiers accused her of hiding soldiers, and burned her shop down with her in it.  She begins to panic, but Mary brings her back.  The woman is happy to have learned the reason for her fear of fire, men in uniforms, and taxation without representation.  Mary opines that if everyone could recall their past lives, we’d be kinder to each other because we could remember being poor or hungry.

In her office, Mary uses a small tape recorder to play herself leading a regression session to lull herself into remembering a past life.  When she awakens, as always, she has been unable to recall any past lives.  She has overslept, and wants to apologize to her next patient for missing her appointment.  Rather than just pick up a phone, she goes to the patient’s house.  But the woman answering the door is not her patient.  Stranger, the woman has perfect recall of all her past lives; as do all the inhabitants of this world.

Mary returns to her office and finds another business operating there.  OK, classic TZ, she has slipped into another world.  Great, I always dig these stories; but when did she enter this world?  Wouldn’t the logical point have been when she hypnotized herself?  But that sure looked like her office that she woke up in — same blue walls and white sofa.  But somehow the world changed after she left the office, and before she visited her patient.  No matter.

Ironically, this new business helps people adjust to their new lives.  Mr. Sinclair gives Mary a form to fill out.  He asks her what a Regression Therapist is; for the first time ever, she tells the truth and answers, “Nothing.”  However, he is impressed with her history of counseling and helping people.  He says “I see you didn’t list anything from your previous lives.”  He asks her to describe the jobs she had in her last three or four lives.  When she can’t give any details, she leaves and the man ominously picks up the phone.  He describes Mary and says, “She may be the one we’re looking for.”

Mary walks through the town which is has many homeless people, dilapidated buildings, sirens and arguing people.  She sees a woman living in the back of a beat-up station wagon with no tires and asks if she is OK.  The woman wants to die because she is so much worse off in this life than in her previous life; although she is better off than the guy in the Mini-Cooper.  She wants to spin the wheel again.  Mary ignores her wishes, which seem to be culturally acceptable in this world, and goes to get help for her.  Unfortunately for Mary — and probably fortunately for the woman — Sinclair and his goons dope Mary up and stick her in a van.

She wakes up in a warehouse and is questioned by Sinclair and another man who I assume is the one credited as Vigilante on IMDb.  Vigilante says it is “utterly unheard of” for a person not to remember their past lives.  Wait, Sinclair said just a minute ago that “new souls” with no memories do exist.  Anyhoo, Mary is even more suspect because she doesn’t even have a current life — there is no record of her existence.  Vigilante menacingly tells her that means no one will miss her.

Vigilante grills her about what she is trying to hide.  “What names did you go by in your past lives?  The Borgias, Attila the Hun, Lady Macbeth?”  Really, he suspects her of being all the Borgias?  And does he know Lady Macbeth was a fictional character? [1]  After an intense interrogation, they finally believe Mary.  The bad guys are actually the good guys and offer Mary job.  They want her to use her mad counseling skillz to do un-regression therapy — to help people forget their previous lives.

Vigilante tells her that society has gone mad and is getting worse with each generation.  Wait, did she flip back to our world?  Rather than making people more empathetic, the recollection of past lives has caused people to “be so busy avenging the past, that we lose the present.”  Grudges go on for centuries, people long for past lives, the pain of birth is recalled in detail (I assume they mean by the baby, not the mother).  They want Mary to teach people to forget.

This is more like it.  The 1980s TZ could have used a lot more stories like this.  Sure, it checks some familiar boxes, but they are welcome tropes — inexplicably finding yourself in another world, having no identity, being menaced for unknown reasons.  Even better, this wasn’t a morality play beating us over the head with a message.  It put forth an original premise and explored how this might affect society.

Good stuff.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The was a real Lady Macbeth, but surely it is not who Vigilante referred to.
  • Title Analysis:  IMDb’s increasing useless Trivia section tells us the “The title comes [from] the song “Memory” from the musical “Cats” written by Andrew Lloyd Webber”.  First, the episode is called “Memories”, not “Memory”.  And I’m pretty certain both words were in common usage before “Cats”.  Hey, IMDb, you got rid of the Message Boards to make room for this?

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