It is the middle ground between light and shadow…
I was duty-bound to writer about this one, wasn’t I?
In this season 2 Twilight Zone episode, Charles Beaumont pens and Dennis Weaver stars. It’s a tale of a recurring dream — Weaver is electrocuted nightly — we never see his waking life. The episode isn’t quite clear if it wants us to worry about the execution, Weaver’s perpetual oneiric torment, or the threat to the dream-characters — he warns them that if he’s executed, they’ll cease to exist. This splitting of our concerns is an imperfection, and possibly a real problem, but it works out OK since Weaver is so compelling and the unusual direct cutting back and forth between characters builds tension, and the whole waiting for execution scenario is pretty surefire as a dramatic device.
Weaver insists that irl he has no experience of trials and death-houses, so his imagination is constructing this world out of movie clichés, and so it would appear — Weaver gives an intense, perfervid performance as you’d expect from him, and everybody else is basically from Central Casting. This leads to the episode’s best stuff… Weaver, talking to the priest, speculates about where his memory has produced this priest’s face from. Then he remembers it, and tells the priest a story about a real priest who died when he was ten. And he tells this story happily, because he’s pleased he remembered it — he’d been struggling to place the man. This is all very uncomfortable for the priest.
Then, out of the blue, he tells the D.A. a weird tale about the steak his wife is cooking. We’ve already seen this meat in a shock cut from Weaver describing his execution to the oven tray being pulled out with a harsh metallic grating sound, the steak sizzling like a condemned man. If the DA goes home, “It’ll be something different!” insists Weaver. The D.A. heads back to the kitchen and finds a big, juicy joint where the steak once sizzled. WHY? No real explanation, but a great moment of phildickian uncanny.
The nice directorial touches are courtesy of John Brahm, Teutonic noir specialist, who throws in a very novel split-screen effect to show the long walk to the chair as Weaver describes it, and whose opening shot includes a dramatic pull-back with a theatrical lighting change so that Weaver starts out isolated in darkness before the world emerges around him. Niiice.
Inevitably, the meat-induced reprieve comes too late, so Weaver fries, and is then launched back into scene 1 — a DEAD OF NIGHT style strange loop, with no interval of waking reality at all. As a final pay-off, the scene plays out as before, but with the faces all jumbled up — Weaver’s cell neighbour is now the judge, the priest is now a juror, etc. A real dream feel.
Good grim episode, with no lightening of the mood whatsoever, and a central character going through an irrational hellish punishment. Just what we want from this show.
“We know that a dream can be real. But whoever thought that reality could be a dream? We exist, of course, but… but how? In what way? As we believe, as flesh and blood human beings? Or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it. And then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead in the twilight zone?”
And to cap the whole thing off in a horrifying kind of way, Rod Serling appears with the instrument of his own doom ~