The Twilight Zone: The Mirror

The Twilight Zone Original Logo 1959Well holy cow, it’s Peter Falk as a dictator.  I can’t believe my luck!   Hold on… I’ll try to keep it together, but we might need pictures!  This might be the greatest Twilight Zone of all time, but that’s because even while watching it, I was seeing a different movie.  Not a Serling … um, sterling recommendation, I grant you, but wow, this was trippy.                 

Falk plays Clemente, a man who wants to drive change for his country (“You know, I’m such a great driver, it’s incomprehensible that they took my license away.”)  He and his closest friends have just overthrown a dictator.  Let’s call the dictator Senior Pepe.  (“I am a pacifist by nature with a deep Quaker belief in the sanctity of human life. I wish I had a choice but to kill you.”)  Most dictators have this sort of attitude.  It’s in the guide book, I think.

Senior Pepe tells Columbo that everyone will start to look like traitors now.  In reality this is a good message and, for a change, Serling presents it in a far better format than I’d recently seen it done.  25 minutes can work while Marvel’s Black Panther went on for 2 hours to say much the same thing.  In a nutshell the message is: when the oppressed eventually rise up and take power, guess what?  They become the oppressors.  Also in the rule book.  I didn’t know why everyone loved the first Black Panther because I just kept thinking, “dude if you become the new power, you’re going to be the new baddie.”  This is why I don’t have the dictator guidebook.  I bought the two books about being a villain.   I mean, news flash, there’s this little proverb you may have heard of: absolute power corrupts absolutely.  That’s in all the guidebooks.  It’s like Life 101.   But Clemente doesn’t buy it.   So Senior Pepe tells him about the magic mirror….

Look at this mirror.  Not quite true to life and slightly edited for a reputable website, but everyone you see in this mirror will look like they are out to get you.  The problem with mirrors is that they have an awful tendency of reflecting the people in the room with them.  I know to be a fact because I’ve tried walking up to one and saying “Candyman” three times and he hasn’t showed up which I grant you is for the best, but I’ve also tried desperately to get Jenna Coleman in the mirror with me, and she too has spectacularly failed to show up.  So the fact that Clemente only ever sees his friends in the mirror, what with them being in the room with him and all that, it’s not much of a surprise, is it??   (Sometimes I’m so smart I scare myself.)

Believe me, Vince!  Even your closest friends, like Sheldon Kornpett here, will look like they are out to get you.  You may have to kill him if he turns on you.  (Serpentine, Shelly. Serpentine!)  Now to make this sequence even more outstanding to me, in the background of the actual episode, we keep hearing (and forgive me if I get spell this incorrectly,  but it sounds like…) “Aponte.” Which is the same sound that I remember actually hearing in the best comedy of all time, The In-Laws while Falk and Arkin are on a firing line (We have no blindfolds, señor, we are a poor country!)

Perhaps Rod Serling was going for an allegory from the time this series was made and I get that but he very specifically states that it wasn’t intended and is rather true of all would-be dictators, but the message is a good one and Peter Falk pulls off a stellar performance.  (Just one more thing…) I think he may have been born with a cigar in his hand though because even here, he can’t go without one.

This episode wasn’t one I would go back to but, in case it’s not abundantly clear, it has put me in the mood to watch the 1979 version of The In-Laws.  It might not be the best review of The Twilight Zone but it was fun to write.  (“Next time we’re in Tijada, Shel, don’t let me forget. They make a chicken sandwich here. They serve it on a hard roll. They heat it up with orange juice. You know, “grande,” a big one. Or pineapple juice. And coffee. Do you take coffee, Shel? Espresso with that beautiful foam… Oh, Jesus, pigs!”ML

The view from across the pond:

I’m a huge fan of Columbo, so it’s always fun to see Peter Falk in another role, but even the great man himself can’t really elevate this weak effort from Rod Serling. I’ve mentioned before that Serling was an ideas man. He was great at coming up with a big idea for a Twilight Zone episode, but he didn’t always seem to know what to do with that idea, and an interesting concept is never going to be quite enough to make a good episode. When he is at his best, he pairs his big idea with a big twist in the tale, or his story heads off in a surprising or fascinating direction. When he is at his worst we get an episode like The Mirror, where his one big idea plays out exactly as we would expect it to play out, and does that very… very…. sloooooooooowly.

One more thing. It’s obvious what’s going to happen the moment Ramos Clemente (Falk) meets the general from whom he has just seized power. De Cruz (Will Kuluva), delivers a great speech about the curse of leadership, which comes with “fear of assassination, fear of disloyalty, fear of rebellion”. One thing this episode does have going for it is some effective dialogue. We know at that point that Clemente is going to turn into a paranoid wreck who starts killing everyone close to him. That’s immediately obvious, and we don’t even need the “magic” mirror to make that happen. It’s just a way to make a straightforward morality tale seem a bit more Zone-ish.

Oh, just one more thing. If the only thing you’ve got going for an episode is a morality tale, at least make that aspect of the episode work well. That doesn’t happen here, because Serling makes one key mistake. The whole point of this story is that a good man becomes evil, due to the corruption and paranoia of ultimate power. But we are sort of told he is a good man, but never shown it. The narration talks of a man who was a “nameless worker” who made a vow to fight tyranny, but from the first moments of the episode it’s clear that Clemente is a jerk, whose best friends are scared of him. They are already yes men who laugh because Clemente laughs, without knowing what the joke is, because they are afraid not to. So this can never quite be a story of fear turning a hero into a villain. Instead it’s fear turning abuse of power into a bigger abuse of power, and frankly that’s not much of a story. I think part of the problem for Serling is that Clemente is apparently supposed to bring Fidel Castro to mind when viewers watch this, but it’s then hard for the writer to paint a picture where Clemente is entirely a victim of circumstances. He has little choice but to compromise and make Clemente an unsympathetic character right from the outset, and that inevitably undermines his message.

So that’s all I can say about this one. Thank you for reading. I won’t take up any more of your valuable time.

Just one more thing. My Columbo references have been obvious and lazy, but take that as a reflection of a script that shares those dubious characteristics. It does, however, leave us with a little food for thought, but it’s not food that is easy to digest. The unavoidable conclusion we are led to draw here is that the man is not the monster until he gains ultimate power and becomes the ultimate target. Leadership is the poisoned chalice, and De Cruz sums up how men in positions of total power feel about their situation (according to Serling): “we care for no-one, no-one but ourselves”. There may be some truth in that, and it could even be that the job is the monster, not the man, but that’s dreadfully bleak, and condemns humanity to be forever stuck in a cycle of horrors. It’s not a happy thought, and it’s not a flavour of The Twilight Zone I care for very much. It turns out that it’s not actually much fun being hit over the head with a stick labelled “truth”. Serling often holds up a mirror to the human race. Sometimes we just don’t want to look.   RP

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

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.

2 Responses to The Twilight Zone: The Mirror

  1. Carl Rosenberg says:

    I agree with the basic point of this episode, that the powerless often become oppressors once they gain power, but I found the way it was done rather crude, with a rather caricatured view of Latin Americans. The point has been conveyed better elsewhere, such as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      Caricatures for foreign characters like Clemente, even with a splendid performance by Peter Falk, have quite often been a problem in our TV and film entertainment. What can make up for it is the realistic message that can apply to us all, that the need to gain power can make a person lose his or her way. So whether the mirror’s magic is real or just in Clemente’s mind, it’s chiefly reflecting the price that he is paying for what he has won or thinks he has won. I think that makes him a sufficiently real person, regardless of his nationality, which makes it easy enough to look passed the caricature aspects.

      Thank you, Carl, for your points and thank you both, ML and RP, for your reviews.

      Liked by 1 person

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