Twenty Two isn’t the first time that Rod Serling introduces us to a flawed character, this time in the form of Liz Powell. She’s a nervous wreck suffering from a nightmare that she refuses to believe is a nightmare. It’s a surprisingly vivid dream but the fact should be clear the moment she steps out of bed and onto the freshly broken glass from her clumsily handled drink. Still, her dream is chilling even when the exotically beautiful Arlene Sax opens the door to the morgue because her next words couldn’t be more ominous: she says “Room for one more, honey!”
Unfortunately, we are then subjected to nearly 20 minutes of someone or other telling Powell that she’s having a dream. This is a common outcome for Serling. He offers us a good idea then beats us over the head with it to make sure we understand what the character is supposed to feel before walloping us with his punchline. Now, in fairness, the punchline is very good because Liz does make a good decision and escapes a terrible fate but that hardly had me liking her. It also is the second episode of the season where I watched it around a planned flight which is about as comforting as most things in the Twilight Zone, but such is life!
I confess that I feel bad about not liking Liz. Is it her fault that the hospital staff allowed her to wear her stripper attire throughout her stay? (Sorry, I mean dancer!) Should I blame her for having that thick Brooklynite accent? Should I be down on her because she’s a bit of a ditz, has a doll that’s a clown or has an agent who wears the world’s most ridiculous glasses which seem to pop up more on one side than the other? Should I hold it against her that her medical doctor is Dr. Smith from Lost in Space, has a maniacal laugh or hides nurses behind curtains? No… but I still didn’t connect with her. And yet the punchline around Room 22 is truly wonderful. Perhaps I would have felt differently had the star of the episode been the beautiful Arlene Sax but then I’m holding something against Liz that is clearly not her fault!
At the end of the day, I can say that this was still a good episode because it does have a heck of a twist in the tale and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one before, so a double win for my book even if Liz wasn’t that appealing a character for me. I just hope that the next few episodes can offer us more characters to care about rather than pulling them from the nitwit corner of The Twilight Zone. ML
The view from across the pond:
This is one of the six episodes that were shot on videotape, and it is probably the only one where it works in the episode’s favour, giving the visuals a kind of dreamlike quality to them. That’s appropriate for a story about a recurring nightmare. Mind you, it’s no wonder Liz Powell (Barbara Nichols) has bad dreams, sleeping with a creepy clown doll.
It’s possible to sum up the plot of this episode in very simple terms, without really missing out anything of significance: a woman has a premonition and it comes true. Despite a short running time of 25 minutes per episode, Rod Serling’s ideas are sometimes a little bit too simple and fail to stretch to justify even such a modest duration. Here we have to sit through exactly the same dream sequence twice, accompanied by some loud and clichéd horror music.
There is so little of importance other than the dream that the episode feels padded with irrelevances. As much as I’m never going to complain about seeing the magnificent Jonathan Harris, his character amounts to nothing in the end, despite seeming to be quite interesting and important. He is the voice of scepticism, despite having to admit that Liz’s knowledge of Room 22 in the morgue is unexplained, but there is no pay-off to his uncertainty, because he never finds out the real meaning of the dreams. So his creepy laugh and inappropriate comments to a patient who happens to be a stripper are a meaningless distraction. His reveal of the night nurse to Liz is unintentionally amusing. How long was she stood there looking at a curtain before he drew it across?
I have been surprised how often I’ve ended up criticising Serling’s writing, as I always used to think of him as some kind of a writing genius, but he was actually an ideas man. The problem is that he so often came up with a good idea for an episode and then never quite knew what to do with it. This is a case in point. The story of a premonition coming true might have worked well if Serling had some kind of a message for us, but instead we end up waiting impatiently for a very obvious plot twist to play out, as soon as Liz arrives at the airport. Of course it’s going to be flight 22, and of course the stewardess is going to be the morgue attendant. It’s blatantly obvious. But what’s the point of it all?
Yes, the premonition saves her life. I get it. But why wouldn’t she just dream about the airport, if it’s simply a premonition to stop her from getting on a doomed flight? Why does she get to be the one who is saved, while everyone else walks to their death? If the number 22 relates to her flight, why does it match up with the morgue room, which seems to be just coincidental, but yet it somehow indicates a knowledge of a room she has never seen?
In the end, this just about qualifies as a triumph of style over substance, thanks to the lucky coincidence of the blurry videotape filming, the troubling way Liz repeats the same actions, cleverly indicating a dream state (if she were awake she wouldn’t keep getting in the lift), the presence of Jonathan Harris, who elevates everything he ever appears in, and the sight of a sinister morgue attendant saying the memorable line, “room for one more, honey.”
Out of the entire passenger list, only the stripper gets to live. I’m not sure whether or not that says something about 60s values, but there’s no attempt at irony from Serling. Maybe the person with the most important job got saved. The doctor with the creepy laugh would agree. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Twilight Zone: The Odyssey of Flight 33