09 March 2011

Author’s Message

It is (admittedly) rather haphazard, my gradual traversal of the DVD reissues of both The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. If I remark at the outset that the immediate comparison which occurs to me is, how much better the writing is, and how much more beautifully the episodes are shot, in the Zone rather than beyond the Limits . . . nonetheless, I am often enjoying the latter.

Curiously, last night's links in the two several, gradually unwinding chains provided a most interesting synergy. First I watched "Tourist Attraction" from (season 1 of) The Outer Limits. Even a bit heavier-handed in its didactic elements than is customary for the series, perhaps—and as with no few of the costumes to be seen over the course of the series, one is apt to be amused by rather than in any awe of the exotic creatures — but there were a couple of items which struck me as odd. From the first scene that the two characters share, the Generalísimo is possessed of a more agreeable and humane air than is the American millionaire. And yet, at the end of the show, the Generalísimo lies dead (thus to all tyrants, Lebowski), where the gringo — whose intentions with the sea creature were not any whit nobler than the military dictator's — not only remains alive, but (with no dramaturgical plausibility whatever) is reconciled with The Love Interest (no reason at all why she should not have made off with the marine biologist, whose character is intelligent, sensitive, but not geeky). I suppose even a greedy, soulless millionaire is entitled to . . . one hesitates to say either love or happiness, since Dexter's character appears to have no talent for either.

Apparently, Rod Serling wrote "Deaths-Head Revisited" (no, I hadn't noted the hommage to the Waugh title before) while the Eichmann trial was under way. I must remark, though, that while I was watching the episode, I suffered no hauntings from the Ghost of Topicalities Past — I simply found it a gripping story (it doesn't hurt that I am in the midst of an initial reading of Jan Potocki's The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, which is reminding me heavily — in entirely welcome ways — of Washington Irving's Tales of a Traveller) of an SS officer who has tried to shed his vile past, but who finds himself overtaken by retribution. Serling wrote a screenplay which stays searingly in focus, a powerful parable which (I find myself thinking at the end) everyone should see once, as part of an educative awareness of WWII.

That said — a friend told me some time ago that Serling felt that the quality fell off somewhat in later seasons of The Twilight Zone. Was Serling at all thinking of this episode? Mind you, I don't believe it ought to be considered an inferior episode; yet, it is more blatantly didactic in theme than most of the series. An author might be shy of a didactic piece in his past, even one which is very well conceived and written.

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