Twilight Zone – The Library (03/28/86)

Beware any TZ segment that begins with that little pixie-dust musical flourish.  It does not bode well for your next 20 minutes.

Aspiring writer Ellie Pendleton is excited about her first day on her new job at the library.  The head librarian Gloria cautions her that this is a private library and “the books are not for reading by you, me or anyone.  The owners are very strict about that.”

They enter the library which contains endless shelves of books, down to the vanishing point and that’s just the James Patterson section.  Gloria says, to save space, they are going to be converting the books to holograms — which makes no sense. Understand-ably in 1986, the producers didn’t know what a Kindle was; but they did know what a hologram was.

Seeing that the books are titled with people’s names and birth dates, she leaps to the conclusion that they contain people’s lives rather than that she might just be in the ##0.#09 section.  Gloria admits there is a book there for everyone alive.  “Each is an up to the minute record of the person’s life, changing with each moment.”  When a person dies, her employer uses the book to determine their final destination, although Zeno’s Paradox would suggest the book will never get that far.

As is frequently the case with this TZ series, the insipid score undermines any suspense that this scene promised.  Ellie finds herself in the P section.  After she zips up [1], she pulls out the volume titled Ellen Pendleton.  It gives an account of her life including pulling the book off the shelf and opening it.

Back at the apartment she shares with her sister the nurse, she says her day was enormously unbelievable.  After dinner, she tries to work on her novel, but noise from the adjoining apartment is disturbing her.  She confronts her neighbor Mr. Kelleher who is laughing it up with his gal Carla . . . . . I don’t know if I can go on.

Ellie has had a mind-blowing experience at work, she is stood up by her sister, she has writer’s block, she is frustrated at the “cheapest drywall in the world”, she is angry at her inconsiderate neighbor, she confronts him and he is an obnoxious jerk.  So naturally the score sounds like public domain music that would play under two young lovers having a picnic lunch at a lake watching the sailboats.  It is inconceivable to me that this selection wasn’t drawn out of a hat.  OK, looking again, I guess this is the music on the neighbor’s stereo, but it is still a poor choice.

The next day, Ellie uses White-Out and a pen to edit Kelleher’s volume so he is a eunuch priest.  The segment regains its footing with Ellie’s entrance into her apartment after work.  The butterfly effect has changed the past, present and furniture which she trips over; and her sister is now a waitress — it is a good moment.  Note to Hollywood: Played with no score.

Ellie’s sister is consoling her crying friend Carla who was Kelleher’s gal in the original timeline.  She whines, “I’m 37 years old. [2]  I have no kids, no husband, not even a boyfriend.  My life is a complete and utter waste.” [3] The next day, Ellie writes her into “a relationship with that nice Mr. DeWitt in 304.”

After work, Carla is sporting a full length fur coat.  When Ellie enters her apartment, it is much more homey for one thing.  Her sister is now a lawyer helping Mr. DeWitt who, in this timeline, has been bankrupted by Carla’s spending.  Wow, nurse to waitress to lawyer — what a decline!

Ellie edits his volume so he is a successful real estate developer.  She sees de wealthy DeWitts as she is coming home from work. Mr. DeWitt tells her not to be late with the rent, and “and whatever your sister is trying to pull in that tea party upstairs, it’s not gonna work.”  Her sister is organizing the tenants in a rent strike against the over-bearing, do-nothing criminal landlord.  Heh, Tea Party indeed.

Ellie has had it with apartment living, so edits her volume for a nice beach house and bigger boobs, although I might have imagined that last part.  She gets home and finds her sister has died while rescuing a little boy from drowning.  D’oh!

She immediately returns to the library to erase the beach house.  And, by the way, probably condemns the little boy to die in the new timeline.

She tells them to keep CPRing while she runs back to the library, but her sister’s book has already been pulled.  Gloria finally realizes Ellie has been editing the books, so throws her out of the library like a 50 year old dude browsing in the Young Adult section.  She finds her sister in her nursing uniform waiting by the car, so all is as it was.

There is so much to like here.  The structure is pretty well-worn, but that’s OK — there is a reason why classics are classics.  This basically is the same genie/devil wish-and-consequence seen since The Monkey’s Paw.  In fact, a month ago we just had the same concept on TZ with a Leprechaun.  The 15 minute segment was well-constructed to work in minor changes in the timelines and interweave the characters.

I guess my only complaint is the score.  It is not unusual for the overly-syruppy scores the undermine TZ segments.  I am just baffled by how this was allowed.  I know they were going for a kindler, gentler, not-your-father’s TZ — misguidedly, in my opinion — but at least the sappy music often accompanies a sappy scene.  Here, it just made no sense.  I’m not going back to check, but it seems to me the most effective scenes in this segment were the ones played with no score.  The occasional heavenly choir bit worked, so I am not advocating silence.  Just don’t have the score at odds with the tone of the scene.

Just the slightest dark edge could have made this great.


  • [1] She wasn’t wearing pants, but I couldn’t think of another way to say it.  See, like she was urinating in the P section.  Just urinating and urinating and urinating. Cuz it’s the P section.  Where Pendleton would be.
  • [2] The actress is 41.  F’in actors, man.
  • [3] C’mon this was already being mocked in 1980.
  • Classic TZ Legacy:  Take yer pick of genie and time-travel episodes.
  • Written by Anne Collins who also wrote the dreadful Ye Gods.  I’m willing to bet that one also had the pixie dust flourish.  She has a huge resume; maybe she is just not getting a fair shake on TZ.
  • Skipped Segment:  Take My Life . . . Please.  I like the premise, but it was just about unwatchable.  Many others seem to like it, so maybe I will get up on the wrong side of the bed in a couple of hours.
  • Skipped Segment:  Devil’s Alphabet.  No one seems to like this one.  The whole time, I kept thinking it seemed like a segment that could have easily fit in on Night Gallery.

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