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 1 of the DVD collection.
Night of the Meek (Season Two, 1960)
Henry Corwin is a department store Santa (played by Art Carney, i.e. Norton on the Honeymooners), who’s fired on Christmas Eve when he comes back late from his dinner break stumbling and stinking of alcohol. Corwin’s no Bad Santa, though. He drinks because he’s so sensitive. It simply breaks his heart to see the poor kids without shoes in his neighborhood, or the homeless men milling outside the Catholic mission. Whiskey is the only thing that lets him forget about all those sad things he sees, for a while.
Behind the department store, he finds a sack that appears to be full of trash, but on second glance, is actually full of gifts–and as it turns out, the gifts are whatever the recipient most desires. Now we’re talking! Corwin passes out fire trucks and dolls to the kids in the street, pipes and canes to the men at the mission. He’s finally doing what he’s always wanted to do, until the department store manager (played by John Fiedler–quite an episode for actors!) sees him after the store closes, and assumes he’s passing out goods Corwin stole from the store. He has Corwin arrested, but do you think that’s how things will end in the Twilight Zone?
Concept/Plot/Characters—Art Carney is great as a really sensitive drunk Santa, and John Fiedler does a good job playing the department store manager as stern but without being unlikable. But plotwise, there’s not a whole lot to this one. (2 points)
Tone–Tonally, this episode hits the mark of balancing Christmas sentimentality with a bit of Twilight Zone grit. (1 point)
The Twist–The twist in this episode fits, but it’s pretty much what you’d expect. I’m going to be generous here because it’s a Christmas episode. (1 point)
Total=4.0 points (Okay)
My daughter thought this one was Okay, but I’m inclined to agree. A watchable enough episode, and it’s nice the Twilight Zone did something for Christmas, but not terribly memorable overall.
Nothing in the Dark (Season Three, 1962)
This is one of the most famous TZ episodes, mainly because it stars a very young Robert Redford as a policeman who’s been injured in a shootout. A frail old lady in a tenement house nearby refuses to open the door to let him in. She’s afraid he’s Mr. Death, come to retrieve her at last. Can’t she use the phone to call for help? She doesn’t have a phone. Can she get a neighbor? No neighbors, she’s the last one left in the building, and anyway, that’s just a trick to get her to open the door, which she won’t do. But if he doesn’t get help, he’ll die in the snow outside her doorway. The old woman wavers. She’s avoided Mr. Death’s tricks up until now. Is this just another one?
Concept/Plot/Characters—Great acting and a simple but compelling premise. Both characters have believable dilemmas that conflict directly with each other. The old lady’s speech about how she’s seen Mr. Death so many times over the years, always wearing a different face, and always outwitted him, really brings up the question of whether there actually is a Mr. Death or if she’s merely suffering from paranoia. (3.5 points)
Tone–The tone here captures the desperation on both sides from two people afraid they are about to die. (1 point)
The Twist–I can’t say the twist here is all that unexpected, but it is perfectly timed. I’ve seen this episode before, and even knowing what was coming, I let out a little gasp when the moment came. (1.5 points)
Theme–Death Personified, All Alone
Total=6 points (Pretty Good)
I think Robert Redford’s presence in this one might cause it to be a bit overrated–my system sees it at the top of the Pretty Good category rather than Excellent. But still a great episode to watch.