Twilight Zone – The Beacon (12/06/85)

Icon of cool, Charles Martin Smith is wearing his flat cap, Member’s Only jacket, and driving his VW Cabriolet. Also, he is Charles Martin Smith.[1]

His car fails to proceed, so he pulls over to the side of the road.  There is steam shooting out of the radiator, so I’m guessing leak?  His car, like mine, lacks the big ON/OFF switch under the hood that other guys seem to know about.  He grabs his suitcases out of the backseat and starts hoofing it.  After only a few steps, he encounters a sign reading:





Not entirely clear on the meaning of the ambiguously-worded sign and padlocked gate, he slips between the barbed wire.  Before the opening narration is complete, he arrives at a beautiful cove with cliffs and a lighthouse overlooking the water.  Or maybe he is visiting the art gallery of the local maritime museum because he is in front of the most obvious 2-dimensional seascape rendering I have seen since I went to the art gallery of the local maritime museum.

He walks to the town which seems very 19th century, with dirt roads, sage brush growing here and there, and the Bellweather General Store.[2]  The dark store appears to be closed, but he knocks on the door.  Proprietor William Cooper-James reluctantly lets him him, but warns him there are no phones here.  Despite having been closed, this is Bellweather’s biggest day of the year as 10-year old Teddy (a 10-year old, not as weird as he will be later, Giovanni Ribisi) then comes in.  Smith introduces himself as Dr. Barrows, but Teddy doesn’t know what a doctor is.

tzbeacon13Barrows inquires about a room but of course there are no hotels here, what with the sign, barbed wire, and padlock having really taken a bite out of the local tourism.  Young Teddy, showing just how detached from reality this town really is, offers this strange man a room at his house.  As they leave, Teddy says to Cooper-James, “May the Beacon pass you by.”

Teddy’s mother lets him in, as is the town custom, reluctantly.  Dr. Barrows offers to take a look at her sick daughter Katie, but she declines.  Shortly after he settles in, the titular lighthouse beacon sweeps across the community scaring the citizens like Sauron’s eye.  Their reaction is reasonable as the light stops on Teddy’s house and his sick sister takes a turn for the worse.

Dr. Barrows checks out the girl.  Like all TV doctors on vacation, he travels with his medical gear and is a mobile pharmacy.  Teddy is now worried that maybe it was Katie’s time to die and “now it will be like we disobeyed it.”  They look out the window and see the townspeople approaching there house to see who will die.  They are carrying lanterns despite the house being swathed in a 4-billion watt light.  Teddy explains that the lighthouse “just picks a house.  Then shines a light on the house and somebody dies.”

Dr. Barrows is having none of this and gets Teddy to take him to the lighthouse.  Along the way, Teddy explains that the Beacon “protects and guides and keeps us happy”.  Well, except for the ones it kills. Cooper-James tells Barrows the story of Seth the lighthouse keeper 200 years ago.  Everyone in the town is descended from him which might explain some of the weirdness.  When ships started going to other ports, possibly due the sheer 100-foot cliffs along the shore, Seth taught the people to live off the land.  Years later, on his deathbed, “Seth decided that he just wasn’t going to go.”

tzbeacon17Yada, yada, Barrows doesn’t buy the story of how Seth’s spirit inhabited the lighthouse, and how it protects the townspeople.  Because he saved Katie from death, the town sacrifices him to the Beacon.  They close in around him, he screams, the Beacon goes out.

Everything was fine as far as it went, but it just seemed to leave too much unexplained.  Seth’s story is a little underwhelming.  Is Seth even real or is Cooper-James pulling the strings? Either way, I can imagine this being fleshed out into a really good movie with a little more time.  We get a little The Village, a little The Lottery, a little Harmony, a little Children of the Corn, but with secluded small towns, there is going to be overlap.  Charles Martin Smith has an everydweeb quality that makes him very watchable.  Martin Landau is always solid.  The womenfolk weren’t given much to do.  Giovanni Ribisi had not yet acquired that weirdness that makes him interesting.

I rate it 75 watts.  That’s not great, but I consider the roll from last weeks episode to be continuing.


  • [1] Actually, for directing the first episode of Buffy, he gets a lifetime Cool Pass.
  • [2] Short for general merchandise store.
  • Classic TZ Legacy:  Martin Landau was in two episodes.  This was really more of a Night Gallery episode, though.

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