The Twilight Zone: What You Need

The Twilight Zone Original Logo 1959Back in 2010, there was a short lived series  that, even with 2 seasons, only had 10 episodes.  They starred Xander Berkeley, an actor I bet we all know even if you don’t know his name.  He turns up in all sorts of things.  A modern day Whit Bissell if you ask me!  That series was called The Booth at the End.  Xander played a man in a diner; he always sat in the last booth, if the title hadn’t given that away, and people would come to see him for advice.  He’d tell them to do something, maybe get a mundane thing, and they’d go do what he asked and things improved for them.  Over the season, the stories found a way of intertwining adding a level of intrigue to the whole thing.  The show was strangely engrossing considering the whole thing took place in one small booth.  Watching The Twilight Zone’s What You Need reminded me of that series immensely.  Pedott is the man in the booth; he’s a little old man who seems to know just what a person will need to improve their lives.  For this story, we’re going to see how Fred Renard fares when he meets a man with a power that can only be found in The Twilight Zone.

First off, I need to say that Pedott must have given the bartender a gift sometime in the past: the ash tray used by Fred sucks the smoke in!  (The scene is clearly played backwards, but it sure is nice to imagine those ash trays actually becoming popular, isn’t it?  My mom had one and it was a bulky contraption, to be sure.)   That said, this is the first time I ever wondered if The Twilight Zone episodes took place in one shared universe.  Conceptually, it wouldn’t matter, but notice that this is the same bar as the last episode, And When the Sky Was Opened.  I went back to verify it; that same propeller is on the wall, and the phone booth…  A different bartender is on duty, but then, that’s not uncommon even if this took place at the same time as the previous story.  But then there’s the newspaper that Renard opens.  It caught my eye immediately and I paused to see it better.  I can’t get a great screenshot, but it’s the same newspaper that Burgess Meredith opens in Time Enough at Last.  But here’s the real tricky bit: this seems to be a night scene, and the world clearly was not destroyed.  (Unless that’s the late edition at which point tomorrow is going to be a bad day for Pedott, no matter what he does!)  Still it makes me have a think about the last episode.  Did Forbes, Harrington and Gart really come back to a parallel world, maybe the one that would be destroyed by the H-bomb?   Or maybe they left that world that was destroyed by the bomb, and when the bomb went off in their version of Earth, with their timeline destroyed, they faded from memory!   And could Pedott have been influenced by the spirit of Lewis Bookman, the salesman from One for the Angels who has a soft spot for people in his industry?   Oh, I do so love speculating like that, even if it doesn’t matter in the end; it’s all just for the fun of it.  The stories hold up so well on their own.  I guess you could say it’s what I need to really enjoy a show like this; a puzzle to piece together.  Pedott delivered for me.

Some years back, I was having a chat with a good friend about the magic lamp.  You know the one: three wishes to whomever releases the genie (Djinn).  We realized the best thing to wish for would be contentment; to be happy with the things we have.  (And a TARDIS.  But, duh!)  Pedott makes that point to Renard, the man born under a lousy zodiac.  He says what Renard really needs is serenity, peace of mind, humor, patience, and the ability to laugh at yourself.  I think that’s a good reminder for all of us.  If these write ups don’t prove it, I have plenty of fun laughing at myself.  In Renard’s case, a brain would have helped too.  Pulling on a scarf while it’s stuck in an elevator is just going to tighten it around ones neck and was probably not the most clever strategy he could have employed especially when it was so lightly looped around his head.  The genius lost a perfectly good scarf to a pair of scissors!  What was he thinking?  At least Pedott had the good grace to clean the gene pool in the end by simply alluding to the idea that a pair of shoes would make Renard’s life better.  In reality, they were there to help Pedott or he’d be right there with Lewis T Bookman, sitting on a park bench in heaven discussing who had the best sales pitch.  The episode wraps with a surprising fast forward of Renard as he is hit by a car and killed.  A hit-and-run that couldn’t have been more deserved.  That was one ungrateful man!

On the other hand, I was happy to see Lefty get a job and a girlfriend.  Jobs can be a lot of work… so can girlfriends!  I wonder if he’ll find that having isn’t always as pleasant as wanting… (If the pun eludes you, that remarkably exotic looking actress, Arline Sax, is T’Pring, from Star Trek’s Amok Time.)  And isn’t it funny how times have changed?  Winning $240 was a big deal in 1959.  But if you look at the top of the newspaper; it seems a lot more could be won: $10,000!  Didn’t know horseracing was so lucrative.  I started off by trying to get a small snippet for the payout, but then started reading the names and laughed because some horses have the most comical names.  Must Do Better – how many people bet on that poor horse?  Closed Fairly Well??  Had Good Speed!?  And just as I was snagging the screenshot the cursor fell to the lower right and I noticed Houghton and then Serling.  A clever easter egg, I’m sure, but then it really makes you wonder doesn’t it?  Maybe in a parallel universe, this series is written by a guy named Early Zip to easier.  If there were ever a place to find a man with a name like that, it’s going to be in The Twilight ZoneML

The view from across the pond:

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle… wait, no, that wasn’t very Christmassy, was it, despite being first broadcast on Christmas Day, 1959. I suppose there is a fair bit of gift giving, as Pedott is a pedlar who never seems to accept any money for his goods. Presumably money is not what he needs.

What a great idea this is: a man who can see into the future and manipulate it, but only in very subtle ways, using his powers to help other people. One small object could change a person’s future. Having come up with that idea, Rod Serling fudges his first couple of examples a little bit. The bus tickets for Lefty have a couple of problems: they aren’t what gets him his new job, because that happens anyway, so despite being a clever little twist they don’t actually have any impact on Lefty’s life other than saving him a small amount of money; and the other problem is they don’t quite fit the remit of a pedlar handing out everyday objects that he has in his stock of useful items for sale. The purchase of the bus tickets had to be pre-meditated. That’s fine, but it doesn’t quite fit with the overall concept of this episode. On every other occasion Pedott seems to be receiving a flash of inspiration just before he gives people what they need, so going off to buy a couple of bus tickets in advance seems to suggest a subtly different talent and a different level of power to anything else in the episode. He hasn’t just seen a person’s future. He has seen a person’s future who he hasn’t seen yet, long before he even walks into the room. The second fudge of the idea is not really Serling’s fault, because it works very well in story terms, but it’s just a slightly depressing example of how the writer represents the granting of wishes to men and women. The man gets a new and fulfilling career, playing to his strengths. The woman gets to use a bottle of cleaning fluid to take a stain out of a man’s suit and the two of them fall in love. What she needs, apparently, is to head off into the sunset with a man she’s just met, abandoning whatever life she has already, to go off and be a useful wife to him, having proven herself worthy by cleaning his suit.

We then come to the main thrust of the episode, with a scoundrel named Renard asking for more than his fair share of wishes, like some kind of a gangster Aladdin holding a knife to the genie’s throat. He’s not just a nasty piece of work, but he’s stupid as well. Having seen a bottle of cleaning fluid change somebody else’s life, and then experienced a pair of scissors change his own (I’m sure he could have unwrapped that scarf), he still behaves as if he is being cheated when he’s given a pen, and then again when he’s gets the new pair of shoes. The whole idea doesn’t seem to dawn on him that you just take the object and trust it will be what you need. It’s not a difficult concept, but somehow he always seems to expect to be given something that is obviously valuable to him, as if Pedott is cheating him by not handing him a lottery ticket or a suitcase full of money. But I think the story requires him to be an irredeemable idiot, for one very important reason, which is not necessarily obvious unless you look carefully at Pedott’s reactions to him.

When Pedott first sees him, he looks afraid, and he later explains that he saw a potential future where Renard would kill him. Throughout the episode he continues to look highly disturbed by Renard and yet he obviously has the power to change the future. This is not a man without the ability to defend himself from an enemy (another idea that never occurs to Pedott for one second). But I think Pedott is disturbed by Renard for a different reason: he knows that a choice awaits him, and it’s not a very pleasant one. He’s not afraid of the man. He’s afraid of what he might have to do to him. He either has to use his powers to kill a man, or he has to die himself. Think about that choice for a minute. This is a man who refuses to enrich himself with his powers, using them in small ways to benefit other people. Pedott is a good, kind, old man. It’s no wonder he looks scared, knowing the choice he has to make. And I think if Renard had shown any hint whatsoever that he was capable of redemption, or would ever stop asking for more and more, Pedott would never have used his powers to kill him, even if it cost him his own life. It’s only the fact that Renard is a monster in human form that brings the old man to a point where he will be instrumental in his death, and walk away. The bit of fun at the end with a comb is a way to end the episode on a lighter note, an insignificant but amusing little way to improve a man’s life for that one evening. Well, it is Christmas, after all.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… The Twilight Zone: The Four of Us Are Dying

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, The Twilight Zone and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Twilight Zone: What You Need

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I remember first seeing Xander Berkeley in Apollo 13 and Gattaca. He was great as the villainous Percy for Maggie Q’s Nikita.

    What You Need is a rewarding Twilight Zone for showing how an old man can finally defeat some big brute who’s abusing him. Of course Pedott was precognitive, which can make us wish that we were all just as blessed. Maybe we all are. Maybe we just need to learn how to focus the power. I have frequently practiced in my life and I can remember a few small precognitions coming true. I suppose that it can be best described as it was by Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who, as just remembering in the wrong direction. But when it comes down to a message about consequences, this TZ earns a great deal of respect for making Pedott a basically good man who just uses his gift to help others in the ordinary world.

    Renard gets a fitting comeuppance and reminds us how firm Serling could be in his TZ dramas for reaping what we sow. Slippery shoes were an interesting availability for Pedott in that moment. I suppose that the title “What You Need” can assure us that our needs will always be answered. But that we must learn to recognize what our truest needs are as Renard fatally fails to do.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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