Twilight Zone – To See the Invisible Man (01/31/86)

Mitchell Chaplin has been found guilty of the crime of coldness — not opening up his emotions to his fellow citizens.  Frankly, with Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil, reality TV and dumb-bell bloggers, today I would give him a medal; but clearly this is meant to be a dystopia. [1]  Witnesses have described him as cold and uncaring, so he is sentenced to one year of invisibility.  Holy smoke do I love this premise — please don’t turn it into another sappy Hallmark segment!

The state puts a mark on his forehead which renders him invisible.  Because of his coldness, he defiantly exclaims, “This is nothing to me!”  Outside, a man is looking at some papers and walks into him.  Once he sees the mark, he disregards Chaplain.

It took me a while — in fact, stupidly, way past this point — to realize the invisibles are not literally invisible.  I had to delete a lot of, frankly, Nobel Prize-caliber bon mots.  When people see the mark, they are just required to ignore the markee.

Chaplain goes to a cafeteria.  He orders the roast, but the server can’t “see” him. Chaplin decides to make this a self-serve line as he leaps over the counter, steals the server’s hat, and begins serving himself.  When Chaplain sits down at a family’s table, their kid finally does acknowledge him.  His mother admonishes him.  Maybe this was when I realized he wasn’t truly invisible.

Later, he goes “shopping” at a liquor store.  As usual, government regulation has screwed small merchants who must watch their merchandise walk out the door with these misanthropes.  He encounters another invisible with the same mark.  There is a uncomfortable moment when they seem desperate to communicate, but do not when they see a drone monitoring them.  This is a busy location — he sees 3 women come out of a women’s spa and they completely ignore him.  I feel your pain, pal.

On the other hand — women’s spa! He goes in and heads for the sauna. Sadly this was not on Showtime because he finds 6 women naked in a Jacuzzi and many others sitting around in towels.

This is even more dickish than it seems as he is not literally invisible. Despite the dictates of the state, these women subtly acknowledge his presence.  It is not a cartoonish hysteria, but a quiet silence and humiliation as they group together and speak softly, supporting each other.  This is genuinely effective stuff.  I might never watch Porky’s every week the same way again.  Even Chaplain is ashamed of his violation, and backs out of the door.

After 105 days of this desolation, Chaplain finally communicates with someone.  A blind man in the cafeteria sits at his table and begins talking.  A waitress busts him and tells the blind man that he is an invisible.  There must be some stiff penalty because the blind man is very shaken and quickly leaves the table.

At the 6 month point, he goes to a comedy club.  The comedian immediately shuns him as an invisible.  That must be some brutal punishment for just acknowledging invisibles. Would he be tortured?  He leaves the club and sees an invisible woman.  He begs her to talk to him, but she refuses to risk lengthening her sentence.  Chaplain finally breaks down in tears.

At day 229, he is walking at night and sees a couple of guys stealing a car.  They ignore him when they see the invisibility mark — that law they seem to respect.  Boy, what could the punishment be for “seeing” him? Water-boarding?  I’ll bet it’s water-boarding.  The thugs steal the car, spin around and purposely pursue Chaplain to run him down.  Being an invisible, the hospital will not treat him.

Day 365 — the state comes and removes the invisibility mark. Chaplain is a changed man.  He is friendly and caring with his co-workers, even the homely ones.  Apparently the state also requires that you are re-hired after your sentence.

As he is leaving work, the same invisible woman from before, still under her sentence, approaches him.  She begs him for simple acknowledgement.  They have constructed this very well, and it is heart-breaking.  As she is pleading, however, I started thinking the actress really wasn’t selling the scene — it had the potential to be devastating.  This was curious; why wouldn’t she . . . then my heart kind of sank.

They just couldn’t let the story go where it wanted to go.  This could have been a masterpiece ending.  But no, TZ again retreated to the Lifetime-Hallmark industrial complex.  Rather than getting a gut-wrenching performance from the actress [2], and rather than allowing that Chaplain still had some basic human flaws (i.e. there was no magic solution), and rather than allowing that the bad guys sometimes win . . . it ends with a big ol’ hug.

Even worse, this undermines the entire premise.  The drones monitoring her issue a warning for him to back off, or at least get a room.  A warning?  That’s what has people scared to death of even making eye-contact?  A warning?  That’s your dystopia?

Still, the rest of the segment is so good, it gets a solid A.


  • [1] How is dystopia still not in spellcheck?  Did we learn nothing from Hunger Games?  Except to not make the head of a reality show the president.  So yeah, nothing.
  • [2] I saw a slightly similar scene done right on the great underrated series Nowhere Man 20 years ago, and it still gives me chills to think about it.
  • Classic TZ Connection:  Superficially similar to The Silence and A Kind of Stopwatch for the theme of isolation.
  • Tortured Connection:  The previous segment was written by Ray Bradbury who wrote I Sing the Body Electric for the 1960s TZ.  This segment was directed by Noel Black who directed a TV movie based on I Sing the Body Electric.
  • Rainbow Connection.

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