The Twilight Zone: Two

The Twilight Zone Original Logo 1959Season 3 of the Twilight Zone opens with an episode that is hard to put my finger on.   Watching it reminded me of many similar movies I’d seen in my youth.  I remember The World, The Flesh and The Devil as my first barren planet movies.  It’s a 1959 movie starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens (Nan, from The Twilight Zone’s The Hitchhiker), and Mel Ferrer.  It’s about 3 people who survive a war that leaves them the last people on Earth.  I also recall The Quiet Earth in 1985; another fascinating look at the end of the world with very few survivors.  And then there’s Enemy Mine, also a 1985 movie, starring Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jr.  That might be the most closely related story as it features two people on either side of a war who meet and become friends.  But more than anything, this episode really made me want to replay the PC game Fallout!  It’s incredible how much the threat of nuclear war must have lingered over the minds of people living in the late 50s and early 60s.  Then again, Fallout is a game that does a great job creating a nuclear war-torn Earth and that’s a very modern game indeed.

The thing is, I don’t typically like post apocalypse stories, but that’s because they typically go all Mad Max.  Usually man has degenerated into animalistic versions of themselves, and I find that boring.  That’s not what we have here.  This is a strangely appealing “love story” because we find only two people who connect by chance and slowly get to know each other, though with very little verbal communication.  Somehow, I was mesmerized and wanted to see what would happen next.  The fact that Elizabeth Montgomery’s character doesn’t speak English adds a layer of complexity to the proceedings as Charles Bronson’s character has no way of communicating with her barring through kind actions.  Perhaps there’s a message here that actions speak louder than words.  (Or I can be sardonic and suggest that men and women get along better when they don’t try to speak to one another, though I truly doubt that was the message writer Montgomery Pittman had intended!)

Like most of these episodes, I’m not sure there’s enough content to keep the 22 minute run-time up, but this one still held my attention.  However, it also gave me pause for thought.  According to Serling’s opening narration, this takes place five years after whatever war wiped everyone out.  Why does it take five years for the two people to decide to get out of their uniforms?  Is it just so Bronson can deliver that excellent line that the only reason he can see for them fighting is the color of their uniforms?  The language alone could have explained that away.  We just happen to tune in on the day they find clothes!  Lucky us!  It’s also the day they find canned chicken legs (drumsticks)!!  Who knew?

Visually, the set is amazing, but to my surprise, that was not the brilliance of the set designer; it was the backlot of a studio that had run down so severely that it functioned effectively as a deserted town!  Also, there are two critters that turn up in the episode that caught my attention.  The first almost escaped my attention but just as I noticed it, Montgomery brings a can down on top of what appears to be a large spider.  As a man who dislikes those eight-legged nightmares, I took that as a symbolic gesture of doing away with evil thoughts.  Now, that could easily just be my interpretation when no such idea was in the minds of the writer, but there’s also a brief moment where a dove flies by Bronson.  (Maybe it was just a white pigeon, but I saw it as a dove!)  While the visuals don’t always compare to today’s standards, one has to be impressed by the little things that just work out.

Either way, these are two small touches that enhanced my enjoyment of the episode.  Sort of like having a writer whose name is Montgomery and having Elizabeth Montgomery as one of the two stars!  I’m not sure if this is a good example of the Twilight Zone, but it was definitely an interesting experience!  Plus, it ends with Bronson accepting his counterpart and they get to walk off together as friend.  Perhaps he was a little bewitched by her?  No??   ML

The view from across the pond:

A lonely figure trying to survive in a strange environment. So began the first and second seasons of The Twilight Zone, and so begins the third as well, but there is an immediate difference: this time it’s a woman, and it’s not long before she is joined by a similarly lonely man. The first thing they do is fight, and then he gobbles down the food she just found. Not an ideal start to a new relationship.

This is clearly supposed to be a post-apocalypse world and it looks very convincing, thanks to a disused backlot that already looked pretty post-apocalyptic before the TZ crew even started working with it. According to the next episode promo, presumably used when the episodes were later aired out of order, we are seeing the last two human beings on the planet. Whether or not we take that into account, these are clearly rare survivors of a final war, and this is therefore something of an Adam and Eve story. It’s pleasantly upbeat to start a new year of TZ with a romance, although it is slightly marred by almost inevitable contemporary biases.

The woman (for they aren’t given names) manages to be portrayed as both unreasonably hostile and automatically subservient, which is quite a feat. After their altercation and the man offering an olive branch (well, a chicken leg), we see her following him around for a while, like a dog wanting to befriend a new master. He always takes the lead, deciding what to do and where to go, something that seems to continue right to the end of the episode. On the other hand, the recruiting office does what it was designed to do, and turns the woman back into a soldier, with images of warfare. Elizabeth Montgomery finds a path through this difficult material with great charm and believability. In the hands of lesser actors an episode like this could have fallen flat, with virtually no dialogue and a trademark TZ paper-thin storyline, but Montgomery and Charles Bronson bring every second of this to life. Montgomery in particular tells the story beautifully with every expression on her face. She steals the show, despite having only one word to say. It is left to the English speaking man to drive the story forwards in terms of the dialogue.

“I’m terribly, terribly sick of fighting.”

There is a delightful irony in the woman’s choice to finally take off her uniform in the recruiting office and become a civilian, and both of them walk off into a new future… carrying guns. The man actually describes himself as a civilian, but I’m not sure he can truly claim to be one of those while he has a gun slung over his shoulder. I’m also not sure the irony of that moment, so obvious to an outsider looking in whose country has put their childish and dangerous toys to one side, would even register with a US audience today. I certainly don’t think it would have done at the time, and I’m sure it’s unintentional. I get the practicalities of a situation like the one we are shown, but for the purposes of the message being delivered, the admirable pacifism morality tale is undermined.

But nothing’s perfect, and perhaps it shouldn’t be anyway. This is, after all, a story of a new world being founded out of the ashes of the old, with a representative of each side of the conflict that ended it all. They are like children taking faltering steps into an uncertain future, and in that respect Elizabeth Montgomery’s almost childlike performance is perfectly pitched. I like to imagine a coda scene we never got to see, representing the moment those representatives from a newly childlike humanity started to grow up, and it would look like this: the man and the woman would take their guns off their shoulders, look at them and look at each other… and then discard them at the roadside, before walking off into a truly brave new future. One day, that’s going to be the simple choice for everyone. Agree to all throw aside the means to destroy each other, or be thrown aside ourselves when the world moves on without us.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… The Twilight Zone: The Arrival

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: Two

  1. scifimike70 says:

    After the success of the first two seasons, there may have been some aspects of the classic Twilight Zone that became creatively questionable. But it could still earn our interests with some good and significant stories. Two as the Season 3 opener, indeed in your references to other similar classics from the sci-fi universe, might to be hard to rank as a TZ classic. But it can indeed be enjoyable as any intentionally important story can be with good actors like Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson. Certainly when Bronson’s clear-and-to-the-point delivery in his opening lines with “The only reason I can see for our fighting is that your uniform is a different color than mine.” helps in the simplest way to make us a want a happy resolution. Two achieves that much despite how the post-apocalyptic nature for this world should still be most challenging. And in retrospect it was a good way to know the careers of its two guest stars before Bewitched and Death Wish made them into two of Hollywood’s most distinguished stars. In some basic sense, Two works and for one of the first TZ episodes I got to see when I started buying them on home video, I liked it. Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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