Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 1 Episode 10 (Judgment Night)

The Twilight Zone was known for eerie, ironic twists.  One had a world where the concept of beauty is different and what we consider normal is ugly.  Some would get their wish, only to find that they should have been more careful what they asked for.  The series, like many others, was a little uneven in the first season.  There were some hits, like Time Enough at Last.  However, Judgment Night may go down as one of the outliers.

This isn’t to say it’s bad.  It’s just that it doesn’t quite fit in with other episodes in my mind.  It starts with a man, one Carl Lanser, on the deck of a boat.  It’s crossing the Atlantic ocean from Britain to America.  It had an escort, which it seems to have lost.  Thus, they have to be wary of German U-boats.  Lanser can’t remember details of his life beyond name and city of birth, but he assures his fellow passengers that a pack of U-boats wouldn’t waste their time with a single ship.  They’d likely be attacked by one submarine.

Lanser becomes more and more paranoid as the night goes on.  He becomes insistent that they will, in fact, be attacked at 1:15 a.m. by the Germans.  When the time comes, they are attacked.  Lanser looks at the U-boat to see himself.  The ship is sunk with all hands, including Lanser, killed.  On the U-Boat, Captain Lanser talks with a lieutenant.  The lieutenant is wrought with guilt, but the captain assures him that this is war and all is fair.  The episode ends with Lanser standing on the deck of the ship, as at the beginning of the episode.  His hell is to live the fate of his victims, presumably for eternity.

I’m not sure if Serling was trying to make a point with this.  An unrepentant Nazi captain does seem deserving of punishment, but what’s the point of punishing him if he can’t remember?  Each time he appears on the boat, Lanser seems to start anew.  It would seem much more hellish if Lanser had the repetition to look forward to.

There is a moral, of sorts, in that we all get our due in the end.  Hell doesn’t have to be fire and brimstone.  It can be having to live through the hell you inflicted on someone else.  This does present a problem in that you can’t really build any sort of real empathy for Lanser, as he’s essentially getting the punishment he deserves.  I’m not sure if I can feel sympathy for the crew and other passengers of the ship, as I’m not sure if they’re real or not.

This may be why I don’t recall seeing this one on a lot of marathons.  It’s a good episode, but doesn’t really fit well with other episodes.  Even other episodes in the first part of the first season are more in line with what I’d expect.  If you can get the entire series streaming, such as with Netflix, I’d recommend watching it.  I’m just not sure I’d put it on any best-of lists.

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