8.21.2015

The Twilight Zone: Perchance to Dream

How is it possible I've yet to allocate any TV Tomb space to the original Twilight Zone? 152 episodes of some of my favorite TV, and I've screencapped the opening credits to Knight Rider and Quantum Leap before even getting to a one of them. Let's take immediate steps in a better direction and have a look at: 

Season 1, Episode 9.

"Twelve O'Clock noon. An ordinary scene, an ordinary city. Lunch time for thousands of ordinary people. To most of them, this hour will be a rest, a pleasant break in the day's routine. To most, but not all. To Edward Hall time is an enemy, and the hour to come is a matter of life and death." 

Rod Serling did not appear on-camera to deliver his intros and outros in Season 1. He doesn't here, either - this is a picture from Season 2's "King Nine Will Not Return". But hey! Rod Serling, ladies and gentlemen.

As Mr. Serling narrates the above, the camera settles on the rotating door entryway through which a steady stream of people enter and exit. Our beleaguered man Edward staggers before it. He tells a concerned passerby that he is the most tired man in the world, but he mustn't go to sleep - if he goes to sleep, he'll never wake up. 

He's at the building for a talking cure with a shrink, Dr. Rathmann, that his regular doctor has recommended.
He mutters ominously to himself while looking out the window.

Finally Rathmann draws him out, and Edward lies down to tell the doctor his tale. Edward suffers from a congenital heart condition and is one doctor's orders to avoid thinking about any unpleasantries. He finds this difficult as he has such an active imagination. One particular thing he imagines is the possibility that he'll be driving along one day and someone will be in the backseat of his car, hiding there to kill him. 

He begins to obsess on the idea, until...

He loses control of the wheel and crashes. His doctor tells him he should have died from the shock. He vows to take it even easier, but then the dreams begin. 

In them, he's at an amusement park, "the kind you see out of nightmares, everything warped and twisted out of shape."
He overhears a barker promoting the "most sensational and electrifying exhibition since Little Egypt" and wanders over.
And it is there he first espies...
Maya. (Suzanne Lloyd)
She laser-focuses on Edward and begins to taunt him with hard-to-believe-this-was-1959 grinding and gyrating.
When he flees in panic, she's almost orgasmically delighted.

He doesn't get very far before she appears, now in a glimmering white dress, and chides him for running from her. She knows things about him that she couldn't possibly know. She tells him she knows he's dreaming and that she wants him to take her into a nearby ride, where it's soft and cool and dark. (Like a grave.)

"How can I argue with a dream?"
Into the underworld...

"You can kiss me now."
"What if I don't want to?"
"Oh you want to."
"Whose dream is this?"


It's then that he wakes up screaming. Edward tells the doctor that as a child he dreamed in chapters, like a movie serial, and he knows as soon as he lets his guard down and falls back asleep, she'll be waiting there.

Sure enough, the next night...

Back at the amusement park, Maya re-appears. He begs her to leave him alone, but, powerless before her despite his own narration, she maneuvers him onto the roller coaster.


The ride begins, and she takes sadistic delight in driving him to the precipice of fatal excitement, then pulling back to watch him writhe in agony. What follows is only slightly less suggestive than the Kahn-ut-tu healing ritual from "A Private Little War." 


When he finally can't take it anymore, her demeanor suddenly changes and she tells him repeatedly and urgently to jump. JUMP, EDWARD! He wakes, again in a cold panic, convinced if he dares sleep again, he'll be right back on the roller coaster. But, he tells the psychiatrist, if he stays awake much longer, the strain will be too much for his heart. "Heads, you win; tails, I lose."

He leaves the office, convinced no one can help him, when he is stopped dead in his tracks by the site of the secretary:

Whereupon he races back into the office -

There's a storytelling proverb that if you have a gun on the mantle in the first act, it's got to be fired in the third. The same might not go for windows, but I very much appreciate the defenestration payoff from the scene screencapped earlier.

The Twilight Zone, like EC before it, is synonymous with ironic twist endings. Here we get a double-zing: first Maya as the secretary and then this:

"When he came in, I told him to sit down and he did. In less than two seconds, he was asleep."
"A heart attack? Well, I suppose there are worse ways to go."

"They say a dream takes only a second or so and yet in that second a man can live a lifetime. He can suffer and die and who's to say which is the greater reality, the one we know or the one in dreams, between heaven, the sky, the earth, in the Twilight Zone." 
~

"Perchance to Dream" shares some conceptual and visual design with the classic German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, particularly with its shadowy, skewed sets and its twist ending and concerns with somnambulist homicide.

Interesting names, too. The psychiatrist is "Rathmann," which is a short walk to "Rational Man" while the word "Maya" comes from ancient Hindu texts and means "illusion." According to Wendy Doniger's Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities, "to say that the universe is an illusion (māyā) is not to say that it is unreal; it is to say, instead, that it is not what it seems to be, that it is something constantly being made. Māyā not only deceives people about the things they think they know; more basically, it limits their knowledge."

Our main character's surname is named "Hall," too - as in the hallway between the rational and the illusory/ unreal? Am I overthinking this? Sure. Roll another number for the road.

Suzanne Lloyd's performance is a standout. I can't claim to be all that familiar with her body of work, but here she combines sensual with sinister quite effectively. 

Most of the subtext is actually more how-did-they-get-away-with-this-text.

~

was
(no stranger to horror with a staggering amount of credits to his name) and
Adapting his own short story published in Playboy, November 1958.
"The Twilight Zone brought to you by Oasis Cigarettes. Soothed with the softest taste of all, and the menthol misting makes it so. Cool. Refreshing. Just as the mist of morning dew refreshes a flower. That's Oasis, the only filtered cigarette that's Oasis cool, Oasis mild, Oasis fresh."

11 comments:

  1. Interesting reading of what many fans consider to be one of the classic "Zone" episodes.

    Exploring the question "What is real" was one of the recurring themes of TZ, and this episode is one of the notable iterations. In terms of arriving at an actual answer, I'm not sure. I guess I'd have to say that Serling (and by implication, the show itself) "might" have been willing to concede that a lot of our daily reality is a construct of our own minds "in part", at least. Certainly that's a conclusion that "Perchance to Dream" "might" endorse.

    Looked at from this angle, and incorporating the psychological, the whole episode could be a commentary on nothing more than the main character's fear of impending death. It could be argued that if he never suffered from a physical ailment, then he would never have had such troubling dreams. In this reading, the character of Maya is a dream personification of his fears about death, hence her being able to "know all about" him.

    All of which means that I wonder how Neil Gaiman might rewrite this scenario, and whether or not Deetee would figure in it.

    The episode was written by the legendary Charles Beaumont, and it turns out he has finally gotten the recognition he deserves in an actual full length documentary that any fan not just of the "Zone", but also Beaumont himself should look into:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0ezeb32CcA

    ChrisC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This was the first ep Beaumont wrote, as well.

      The 80s TX had a fun ode to all 50s/60s sci-fi, "A Day in Beaumont," as well, naming the town of the title to honor the man who contributed so much to the original show.

      I think so much of anxiety-drama is really ultimately just anxiety about death, certainly this one as well. Fear of sex, as well, tied up with the death drive. I agree - it's all very interesting and makes for good tv!

      Delete
  2. This episode sounds terrific! I think I may have to give it a watch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's great stuff. When you get there, let us know what you think - I hope I didn't ruin it for you! Or anyone else for that matter.

      Delete
    2. The way I look at that is, if I didn't want to know how it ended, why am I reading the post? Nope, you'll never a complaint from me on that score.

      Plus, if something is good, knowing what happens is not a substitute for actually experiencing it for yourself.

      Delete
    3. I watched the episode last night. Terrific! I feel like a real dickhead for not having made time to watch every single "Twilight Zone" episode by now. That's going to happen one of these days, I swear it.

      That "Oh, I know a lot of things; I'm Maya..." line is creepy. Also sexy.

      I also loved the brief monologue Hall has about staring at the painting of the ship for so long that the ship eventually moved.

      Delete
    4. Nice. You've taken your first step into a larger world. The TZ is some serious business. As with most shows, there are some filler episodes or some interesting failures (as well as some uninteresting ones) but there's so much dynamite. "Perchance to Dream" is definitely of the latter.

      And yeah Maya is so creepy-sexy throughout this ep. Glad you enjoyed!

      Delete
    5. Luckily, I'm not a complete TZ noob -- I've seen probably a dozen episodes or so, I'd guess. I just know that I'd really love watching my way through the entire thing (new ones included).

      Delete
    6. Which are the ones you've seen? Not, like, a definitive list, just curious.

      I can personally attest to the enjoyability of watching them all the way through. I did the original TZ (and Night Gallery) a few years back and the 80s one (as you know) and the Forest Whittaker one earlier this year. I keep meaning to pick one or two from the FW one to look at here for the TToM, but I'll probably do a few more original series ones before I get there.

      Delete
  3. I'm into numerology, and my destiny numbers have lead me to this website after I read the meaning of my numbers for today which says, "Today is your own. Tomorrow perchance may never come."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll take it as a nice bit of synchronicity. Hope we didn't disappoint!

      Delete