It seems Rod was in the mood for a few comedy episodes before the end of season one and while I’d say that was a mistake, this would have made a great finale for the entire show. At the time, maybe they hadn’t made up their minds yet on whether the show was to continue or not, at which point it makes a great season finale but like The Outer Limits, I wish we could retcon some decisions – not remove them but reposition them. It’s all down to the plot dovetailing beautifully with the ending which would have made for a marvelous wrap up to the final season, letting us know The Twilight Zone was always around us.
A World of His Own introduces us to Mr. Gregory West, a very happy playwright. He’s married, has a lovely home (from what we can see of it) and has an attractive mistress. Unfortunately, while spending time with his mistress, his wife comes home and sees what’s going on from the window. She storms in but before she can catch the cheating duo, the mistress vanishes from a locked room. When the camera cuts to West holding scissors, I understood conceptually what had happened, though the exact nature of it eluded me.
I assumed he cut up some papers that had her description on it – you know, what with him being a playwright and all – but his solution was more elegant. He cut a piece of audio tape that had the description on it, then threw it into the fire, causing her to disappear. This is a bit silly though because you can never know just how much tape to cut, but it certainly is more interesting to watch! This leads to some very funny actions from the wife, checking all over the room for the vanished woman. (My personal favorite was her putting her hand against the curtains that don’t even go to the floor. What did she think: the woman was paper thin and floating?) From this point on, no amount of explanation, even with evidence, will get his wife to see reason. She’s convinced her husband is delusional and she wants to leave him. That was when I guessed the punchline: she too was a creation of his imagination and he’d have to erase her. I didn’t expect her to be the one to throw her tape recording onto the fire, but that was just a technicality at that point! The title gave too much away, really.
Regardless, it’s a clever story and I wonder how often writers experience what West goes through. No, I don’t mean that they create mistresses that become real, but West says that his characters sometimes refuse to do what he wants them to; they come to life, literally springing off the page. I’ve tried my hand at writing fiction upon occasion and have found that an idea I started off with will change as I write, as if the characters say “no, I simply wouldn’t do that.” This makes West a stand-in for Serling himself, writing characters that do their own thing even against the writer’s will. In fact, West turns on his creator – the very thing we don’t want to see from Gregory’s wife, Victoria, yet when he turns on Serling, there’s a sense of glee in it. I think it’s that we’d just gotten to know him in that way Serling is known for by creating a memorable character, but whatever the reason, I was pleased with the outcome. In fairness, this was a script by the great Richard Matheson which should have been evidenced by the lack of a complex name, but the original was a darker story, which just lends credence to the idea that sometimes the story changes as it develops. So whether Serling or Matheson, the idea holds up: the characters take possession from the writers. Why it works for Serling even if this were a Matheson story, is that the show itself is Rod’s brainchild. The episode ends with Rod Serling making an appearance as a character in the narrative. West actually writes him out turning the Twilight Zone on its head; for once, the subject character is not the victim, but the one in control. That was an unexpected turn of events; one I was very happy with even if it did totally demolish the fourth wall. And one that I could only imagine succeeding so perfectly in The Twilight Zone. ML
The view from across the pond:
She is stunningly beautiful and wearing inappropriately skimpy clothes. She has brought with her a pantechnicon containing her extensive collection of anime blu-rays…
Wait a minute, I don’t need to do that. I’m happily married, unlike Gregory West. On the other hand, that anime collection sounds interesting.
This is another comedy episode, and the last one was an abject failure, so I wasn’t expecting too much when I realised that the tone this week was once again “wacky”. But it turns out The Twilight Zone can do comedy after all. I mean, it’s not exactly funny, but it is definitely fun.
OK, so it’s another silly episode, and it could have easily be rewritten and recast to make this a very sinister story indeed. I kind of want to see that version of the story, with a cruel writer who realises he has gained omnipotence and uses it without conscience, but instead this is a gentle tale of a man who looked for love and couldn’t quite find it. There’s a lesson to be learnt here about holding an unrealistic view of the perfect partner, although there is also an uncomfortable undertone about the perils of an independent, strong-willed woman in comparison with a subservient doormat.
But this isn’t really an episode that invites the viewer to think too deeply about things. Instead, writer Richard Matheson takes us along on a wave of twists and turns. At first I thought Mary was hiding behind the screen, until Victoria checked. Then I thought there was a secret door, until Greg told us about his special powers. Then I was wondering if that was all a clever ruse to get his wife off his back, and then when it became evident that Mary really was his own creation the revelation of the envelope containing Victoria’s original audio tape was a big surprise. Then there was the final fourth wall breaking twist, with Rod Serling’s audio tape consigned to the flames of the fire, slightly undermined by his closing narration.
This was remarkably ahead of its time, for a couple of reasons. The less obvious one is the way this functions as a season finale, which wasn’t really much of a thing in those days. More obvious is the fourth wall break. Before we get too excited, it’s worth recognising that it wasn’t nearly so ahead of its time as the astonishing fourth-wall-beyond-a-fourth-wall shenanigans going on across the pond the same year, in The Strange World of Gurney Slade, but it was surely a step ahead of just about anything else on US television at the time in terms of meta storytelling.
The icing on the cake is the fact that they somehow got a real elephant into the studio when they made this, and it’s there to make an important point. Greg tried to save his marriage by bullying his wife into staying, and that was never going to work. You can’t hold together a marriage by force of elephant. Bubbling under the surface of this story is a message to be careful what you wish for, and it’s an episode desperately in need of a coda, with Greg once again miserable with an invented wife, who never quite turned out to be as perfect as he hoped. You can’t hide away from reality forever, and there’s no substitute for genuine love and affection. Well, maybe a huge collection of anime would help…
Thanks for reading our reviews of the first season of The Twilight Zone. We’ll take a look at the second season, starting next week. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Twilight Zone: King Nine Will Not Return