The Twilight Zone: Mirror Image

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Season 1, Episode 21.
"Millicent Barnes, age 25. Young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night."

"Not a very imaginative type is Ms. Barnes: not given to undue anxiety or fears, or for that matter even the most temporal flights of fantasy. Like most young career women, she has generic classification as a quote 'girl with her head on her shoulders' end quote. All of which is mentioned now because, in just a moment, the head on Ms. Barnes' shoulders will be put to a test: circumstances will assault her sense of reality and chain of nightmares will put her sanity in a block."

"Millicent Barnes who, in one minute, will wonder... if she's going mad."

Serling's intro sets the table nicely. This is one of the Zone's more abstract entries: no homily or ironic twist at episode's end (or not much of one - we're not in "Time Enough at Last" territory here by any means), just an unsettling glimpse of the impossible with no real resolution.

So, as mentioned above, Millicent is a young woman traveling through upstate New York by bus. When she checks with the ticket agent about the overdue bus, he snaps at her that she's already been up there twice to check with him.  

"Look, all I want is a civil answer."
"You're getting a civil answer. The trouble is every ten minutes you're up here requiring one. Situations just don't change that rapidly."

She's distracted by the sight of a bag just like hers in the checked-in area behind him. She remarks it looks just like hers, at which he says it is hers; she checked it already. She says that's impossible, her bag is right over - but wait! The bag she had out by the bench is now gone. What's going on here? He harrumphs - she's either walking in her sleep or hung over or something: "Would you just go back over there and sit down and breathe through your nose and let me read my magazine?"

Confused she goes into the ladies room. The cleaning lady also tells her she's been in there before, though she has no memory of it. When she opens the door, she sees her - a woman exactly like her, sitting right next to the same valise that was just checked-in moments before. She closes the door, and when she opens it, her double is gone. 

Enter: Paul Grinstead from Binghamton.

Paul talks to her and tells her it's all probably some misunderstanding but that the bus will be along any moment. Which it is. But on it? Double number two! She runs away before fainting, and both she and Paul are stuck at the depot until the next bus arrives at seven the next morning. 

Millicent tells Pauls she believes her other-dimensional doppelganger is trying to replace her in this dimension. Paul says sure, sure, sounds a little crazy but gets some rest. Then he calls the cops to come and get her because I mean, she's nuts, right? Too bad, bro. So cute, too. 

But almost immediately, the same things begin to happen to him. First the disappearing bag:
Then the appearance of a strange, smirking double, who leads him on a fruitless chase before disappearing. The End.

"Obscure and metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomena. Reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained. Call it 'parallel planes' or just 'insanity'. Whatever it is, you will find it... in the Twilight Zone."

As with "The After Hours," I think this one can be taken at face value, but its mix of ambiguity and themes of alienation and identity lend themselves to more fanciful takes. One such take is this, which starts by analyzing "the very simple set of the bus station, which is bracketed like the set for a modernist morality play by twin neon signs, bold, declarative, and emblematic of the content of the episode: 'Baggage' and 'Ladies.' Ladies with Baggage." 

Of course, the signs make sense in a regular-old-set-design way. But I'm not opposed to reading them this way.

"More interestingly, there’s a gorgeous frame-within-frame composition here that calls back to 'The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine.'  That earlier film also featured a woman looking at an image of her own self — with a very similar gesture, actually, though the roles are reversed: here the 'real' self (in the process of being made fictive) is the horrified one, where earlier it was the 'fictive' self (whose place would be taken by the real self by episode’s end)." 

"The sign above the doppelganger makes explicit a theme throughout these episodes: the baggage that these women carry is, at least in part, the image of the self, which threatens to overwhelm and usurp the life of the person, the individual."

It's difficult if not impossible to accurately read contemporary-context so many years later, but it is worth pointing out - as the same reviewer did for "The After Hours" and another about-to-be-mentioned - that any tale of a woman traveling alone is going to have different connotations in 1960 than it does in 2016: "This is also another episode about a single woman traveling on her own, and as in 'The Hitch-Hiker,' one can see a not-so-subtle subtext that such independence leads only to trouble, or to madness."

Season 1, Episode 16.

"Offhand, mister," says the washroom attendant to Millicent's supposed knight-in-shining-armor, 'I’d say she needed some looking after… if you know what I mean."  

"She means psychological help, or institutionalization, but she could mean so many other things, as well."
And so Millicent is carted off by the police to the nut house.

"The ladies' room, especially in its darkened state, seems a realm of the Freudian unconscious, a place from which bizarre symbol has erupted into reality. She’s connected the neon 'Ladies' sign with the idea of multiples of herself, just as we viewers have."

"But in the reality of 'Mirror Image,' Millicent was right, not insane, and the same thing happens to Paul - his double flees to take over his life, leaving him in the dust, a truly wonderful smirk on his face. And as in much expressionist cinema, the episode can be seen as a societal indictment as much as a comforting horror that reinforces norms."  

I think it's an intelligent take on the episode. Perhaps we're too quick to read just about anything as an "indictment of societal norms" these days - and I cringe at the idea of this episode being re-conceptualized as a trans-bathroom-identity-war sort of deal, which might be one interpretation more than the script can handle - but the title, script, and mood of the story don't stand in the way of reading  "Mirror Image" that way. 

Most importantly, whatever its true intent, it's fantastic TV. I like the ironic-twist-ending TZ episodes as well as the here-is-the-message-damn-it episodes, but I also like the ones like this or "The Odyssey of Flight 33:" that don't solve or explain the mystery. Possibilities are floated but not confirmed. The story ends with we-the-audience pulling away from the station, looking back, perhaps with some relief for leaving it, at the drama suspended on the platform. 


For years I remembered the lead in this being played by Anne Francis. Nope: Vera Miles. My bad. If I ever argued you with you on this point in the pre-whip-out-your-phone-and-let's-settle-this era, my sincere apologies.

Vera was of course Janet Leigh's sister in Psycho and was Hitch's first choice to play the dual role of Judy Barton/ Madeleine Elster in Vertigo, but she had to pass due to pregnancy. That would have been something, though, as then she'd have had two iconic blonde-doppelganger roles on her c.v.  

Martin Milner was in tons of classic TV (and the co-lead of both Adam 12 and Route 66) and was also in Sweet Smell of Success and Valley of the Dolls, two of my faves, though for radically different reasons. (Naomi Stevens, the washroom attendant who tells Paul that Millicent might need "looking after," also had a small part in Valley of the Dolls.)

Not the most glamorous role, but he gets a lot of my favorite line deliveries in this episode. ("When not in use - turn off the juice. That's what I always say.") He had a pretty long career as a supporting actor and died five years after this episode premiered, aged 66.



  1. I gave this a big mental thumbs-up as soon as I saw Vera Miles was in it. She's great. She's in two of my absolute favorite movies, "Psycho" and "The Searchers," so I'm definitely looking forward to this one. It sounds creepy as hell.

    That thematic parallel with "Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine" is intriguing.

    The 1960-versus-2016 aspect of it as regards readings, intentions, etc. seems like something that might actually work in this episode's favor. That isn't typically the case with old tv shows, but then, "The Twilight Zone" isn't most tv shows.

    1. I have a feeling you'll dig this one when you get there. This might have been the first TZ episode to really hook me, back in the day, but I might be retconning that notion. Either way it's definitely one that made a big impression during those pivotal adolescent years I was first getting into the show.

      I forgot to mention "The Searchers." I'm slipping.

      The TZ (like Trek) has a good many episodes that are likely more relevant - or more provocative - now than they arguably were back then.

    2. Having seen it, the main 2016-esque thing I took away from it was an anger at how brutal the police were. I don't think I'll start a hashtag over it; but, then, I'm not a doppelganger.

      Am I...?

  2. My weekly update: I just watched "Escape Clause."

    Comes to rather an obvious conclusion, wouldn't you say? I'm tempted to write the episode off on the basis of how obvious it is, but it occurs to me that maybe that's the point. That you'd have to be an imbecile to make a deal with the Devil like that.

    I'd be less worried about finding out how many accidents I could survive than I was in finding time to read all the books I wanted to read.

    So maybe I'm kind of an imbecile, too, come to think of it...

    1. "Escape Clause" is harmless enough but yeah, not one of the better ones. Which is pretty much how I feel about the various TZ episodes that feature the Devil. There are two exceptions... but I'll hold off on discussing them.

  3. Having now seen this episode, I have several thoughts:

    (1) The guy working the counter at the bus station has awful customer-service skills. Even if she HAS been up there several times, you just answer her question. Old fart.

    (2) The "her" on the bus is really creepy.

    (3) This must have blown the mind of the average American television viewer in 1960. Would they have ever encountered ideas like this? I can't think of where, unless they were sci-fi readers; in which case, they weren't average viewers.

    (4) Is being crazy a crime? Those cops were really rough taking her out of that bus station, considering they'd seen her do absolutely nothing illegal, or even suspicious. Sons of bitches!

    (5) The duplicate guy at the end is creepy as hell. This is enhanced -- not lessened -- by how shitty the special effects are.

    (6) The score REALLY gives this episode a boost. I didn't see a credit, but it sounded like Bernard Herrmann to my ears.

    A very solid episode. And not particularly like any other I've seen so far (though with a few similarities to some); which is cool.