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November 03, 2013: A Quality of Mercy

November 3, 2013

Twilight-Zone-animate-copyTo my mind, television writing/production/acting will never surpass the original 60’s “The Twilight Zone” series. As we were approaching Halloween last week, I thought it  appropriate to revisit some of the stories that I risked not only parental wrath, but also my own personal fears, to watch in my early youth.

“The Twilight Zone” had a number of never-to-be-repeated graces that allowed it to succeed. First, it was television when it was still  AOK to borrow heavily from theater, but add production techniques of early television. Secondly, as a new-ish (and potentially profitable) medium, it attracted the best writers, actors, producers, and directors of that generation. Thirdly, it was still an age when it was OK to tug on heartstrings. Younger viewers would most likely find TZ as schmaltzy and saccharine (and they would be right.) Oddly, this is what I find most attractive in the series. There also seemed to be a trust in, and freedom provided, the artists in the 60’s that does not seem so prevalent today. Last, the premise of the show was that anything may happen in the Twilight Zone.

I was able (through the help of my local library) to get ahold of Season #3 and it held not only the gems that I remembered, but also those that I had never seen. Here are my favorites:

[Here follow spoilers….so if you have never seen Season #3 of the Twilight Zone, I invite you to STOP reading now and revisit the blog when you have. In a pre-M. Night Shamala world, the “twists’ of TZ are its strength. I would not want to deprive you of these.]

“Little Girl Lost” Episode 91-March 16, 1962:  A young girl has inexplicably slipped into another dimension located just behind her bed, leaving her parents the sole choice to locate her in the otherworld and rescue her.  It’s like “Poltergeist” only better and much shorter.

“The Gift” Episode 97-April 27, 1962: An alien crash lands in village full of hostile humans, except a boy that he befriends and gives a gift. Ok…can anyone say “ET?”… Anyone?…Anyone? Mr. Spielberg???

“To Serve Man” Episode 89-March 02, 1962 Earth is visited by scary 9-foot aliens called Kanamits. Despite their appearance, they seem all helpful and even carry around a book called “To Serve Man”…only it’s a COOKBOOK!!!! OK, this as the one that after watching, I was so terrified, that my parents forbade me watch TZ. This didn’t stop me, however. I just continued to watch the show hiding behind the couch (much to the amusement of my older siblings.)

“Nothing In the Dark” Episode 81-January 05, 1962: An old woman afraid of the specter of Death is visited by him nonetheless, but in the form of a young and strikingly handsome Robert Redford. This Death is warm, intelligent, compassionate, caring, and patient…gently taking us only when we fully understand the inevitable.

The Changing of the Guard Episode 102-June 01, 1962: An educator, prematurely dismissed from the job and the students that he loves, considers that he has wasted his life. At his last moment he is visited by ghosts of his former pupils who assure him that his lessons of courage, loyalty, honesty and ethics have not been in vain. It’s like “It’s a Wonderful Life” only specifically for educators.

…and last…the one most pertinent to the blog:DS-American

A Quality of Mercy Episode 80-December 29, 1961: During the last days of WWII an American platoon is besieging a cave on a Philippines island occupied by starved and defeated Japanese soldiers. A hard-nosed, by-the-book lieutenant  (Dean Stockwell) shows up to stir the platoon into an assault on the cave to finally destroy the Japanese. The exhausted platoon resists the unnecessary loss of life on either side. In an inexplicable moment (common in TZ) the lieutenant is not only transported back in time to May 4, 1942 but has now become a Japanese lieutenant besieging the same cave occupied by Americans! He gains the insight that all armies would train out of every soldier if they were able: the sympathy that the “enemy” is just another human deserving of mercy.

3qualityofThe show nails its point by quoting Shakespeare from “The Merchant of Venice”

“The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain upon the place beneath. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

[Much thanks to the Hudson Public Library for procuring “The Twilight Zone, Season 3 and extending the loan in order to write this article.-SV]

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