Twilight Zone – The Toys of Caliban (12/04/86)


Like the Outer Limits episode Unnatural Selection, this episode uses a mentally-challenged kid as its catalyst.  That isn’t inherently bad, but man is it hard to do well.

Toby, a mentally challenged teenager, is looking at a book and becomes interested in a picture of a unicorn.  He says, “Brinnnnng.”  When his mother calls him and his father Ernie to dinner, it is fairly subtly revealed that a stuffed unicorn has magically appeared in his lap.  It’s a good thing he chose a mythological creature which could not materialize — three inches to the left, there was a picture of a gorilla.

His mother Mary asks if he is hungry and he shouts, “Doughnuts, momma, doughnuts!”  Ernie says no, he had doughnuts yesterday, like that’s a reason not to have a delicious doughnut today.  Even during dinner, Toby wants doughnuts.  Ernie finally gives in and pulls pictures of doughnuts out of a locked drawer.  Before he can give Toby the picture, he conjures up a chocolate doughnut.  Previously, like Amy Schumer, he always needed to see an pre-existing object in order to create.

That night Toby is in pain from OD’ing on doughnuts.  Mary says he only had two, but Ernie points out that with Toby’s improved powers, he could have eaten a dozen earlier.  They call an ambulance.  The hospital wants to keep him overnight in the children’s ward which has a TV and lots of comic books.  Ernie demands Toby must stay in a private room, so I hope he can wish up a good-ass insurance policy.

The next morning, Toby is better.  The family gets a visit from Mandy Kemp — she’s from the government and she’s here to help.  Actually, she is asking some valid questions about why Toby has never been to school.  All the adults are throwing around the R word — no, the original R word — so this is clearly an old episode.  You probably would have never heard the word retarded on the old TZ either.  Strange that there was a brief period when it became acceptable, although the taboos on each end were for different reasons.  But I digress.

Over Mandy’s objection, Ernie & Mary take Toby home.  Once again, TZ undermines itself with an entirely inappropriate score.  Toby has just thrown a tantrum and his parents blasted Mandy.  So naturally we get happy piano music which I swear I thought was leading into the Charlie Brown theme.  Sure, Toby is excited to see a floor-waxer, but the doctor and Mandy are concerned for his welfare, and his parents are desperate and angry as they defy they hospital.  Ernie grimly glares at Mandy as they enter the elevator.  This is no time for the Snoopy dance.

In his room that night, Toby closes his eyes and says, “Bring.”  A magazine Ernie was reading at the hospital appears.  Sadly, dad was not reading the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  Mary goes in and sees Toby fondling a bloody human heart like one pictured in the science magazine.  She has a heart attack and collapses.  This a little muddled, at least to me.  My initial interpretation was that the heart he was holding came out of her chest. [1]  Other write-ups do not suggest this, and he is clearly playing with something before she collapses; so I guess I’m wrong, but I’m not sure my way is not better.

Some time later, Mandy comes to the house.  She insists that Toby must be moved to an institution.  Ernie decides to show her why Toby can’t go with her.  He makes a suit of armor appear and she is shocked.  But not as shocked as when Toby grabs a picture of his dead mother and wishes her rotting corpse back into the living room.  Mandy runs out and Ernie buries his wife in the back yard.

Just as Ernie finishes burying Mary, he hears sirens.  He fears they will take Toby and slice him up like a lab rat.  He goes inside and looks through his books as we hear more entirely inappropriate, sickeningly sweet music.  He apparently finds Great House Fires of North America and gives it to Toby.  Boom.

I like a simple, high-concept episode like this.  I really felt like Ernie and Mary loved their son, so it didn’t feel too exploitative.  The score, while dreadful, was only really offensive in a couple of scenes.  On the plus side, no narration from Charles Aidman.  That is strange, because this is the kind of episode his avuncular voice might have fit into.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] My interpretation comes from a problem I always had with shows like Bewitched.  Where does this newly materialized stuff come from?  Does it come from somewhere else?  How is the source chosen?  Is it a completely new object?  How was it designed?  What matter was used to create it?  Guess you’re not supposed to think about that.
  • Classic TZ Legacy:  It’s a Good Life.
  • Title Analysis:  Did they really need to compare a mentally-challenged kid to a monster?  They called Anthony Fremont in It’s a Good Life a monster too, but at least he was making reasoned choices.  You know, for a six year old.
  • And, BTW, Prospero was the magician; I don’t remember Caliban having super-powers, but it’s been a while since I skimmed the Cliffs Notes after a few beers the night before the test.

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