I’m engaged in a noble project with my twelve-year old daughter: watching every single Twilight Zone episode and ranking them. We watch and run them through a rubric to give them a score from 0 to 7. The episodes are graded in three categories: Concept/Plot/Characters (4 points), Tone (1 point), and The Twist (2 points).
The episodes this time were from Volume 11 of the DVD collection.
The After Hours (Season One, 1960)
Here’s an overlooked episode that turned out to be fairly interesting. Sort of a dry run for the later “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” episode. Marsha White is in a department store, searching for a golden thimble to buy her mother for her birthday. She can’t find what she’s looking for in housewares, but when she gets in the elevator, the elevator operator says she needs the ninth floor (but the elevator display only goes up to eight?). The ninth floor turns out to be unoccupied, except for some dusty display cases and old mannequins and one salesclerk, who shows her a golden thimble, which is the only thing on display. She buys it, perplexed, only to notice when she gets back to the first floor that it’s dented. She tries to return it but nobody in the store acknowledges that there’s a ninth floor, even though she was just there. In the complaints department, she falls asleep on the couch, only to wake up after the store has closed and everybody has left….
Concept/Plot/Characters—An interesting premise that builds well throughout the episode. Marsha White is sympathetic and believable. I do wish the ending were explained a tiny bit more, but it still works as is. (3.5 points)
Tone–Nicely captures Marsha White’s increasing confusion and consternation, and the sense of increasing menace after she’s left alone in the store. (1 point)
The Twist–A pretty good twist I didn’t see coming the first time I saw this episode, and that makes sense without being predictable. Not quite devastating enough to get the full two points, but effective. (1.5 points)
Total=6.0 points (Pretty Good)
The Dummy (Season Three, 1962)
We open with Jerry Etherson, a ventriloquist killing the audience at a nightclub with his act. Only, he seems genuinely surprised at some of the jokes his dummy, Willie, is making, and as he leaves the stage, Willie appears to bite him. In his dressing room, he pours a glass of whiskey. His manager comes back and sees he’s drinking again, giving him a long lecture about how he has a great act and could be on top if he’d leave the bottle alone. Jerry tries to explain that Willie is real and calls the shots, and he has to drink to deal with it. When the manager leaves, Jerry decides to do his second set of the evening with a different dummy. Only after the set is over, he founds out Willie wasn’t pleased to be left out.
Concept/Plot/Characters—I don’t know. I’ve seen this episode several times and I never quite understand why Jerry’s situation leads to drinking. He has a funny act with Willie, so why doesn’t he roll with it? Who cares if Willie’s calling the shots, making his own jokes, etc.? Also, the lecture from Jerry’s agent seems to go on and on. Meanwhile, we actually see very little of Willie, the supposed evil dummy, who spends most of the episode on the couch in the dressing room while Jerry and his agent argue. (1 point)
Tone–Trying, I think, to capture the bitterness of an artist who should be successful but has never quite made it due to circumstances beyond his control. Partial points. (.5 points)
The Twist–Not a great episode, but it’s partially redeemed by a perfectly executed twist, I’ll give it that. (2 points)
Total=3.5 points (Okay)