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.

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