Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Twilight Zone -- Season 1 Episode 22 (The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away the ending of the episode.  If you don’t like spoilers, you might want to wait to read this.


Why are some things more memorable than others?  Some TV series, like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone tend to have a strong cultural presence whereas others fade off into the background, even though they may be of similar quality?  Even within a TV series, certain episodes tend to be more memorable than others.  The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street is one that tends to stick out in my mind, probably for the straightforward message.

It starts with the people of the titular Maple Street going about their business one day.  Suddenly, a bright light passes overhead with accompanying strange noises.  At first, people assume it to be a meteorite or something.  It isn’t until the power goes out that people start questioning what just happened.

Nothing electronic works.  Phones and radios are out.  Stoves shut off while food is being prepared.  Even cars won’t start.  That is, until one car does start working.  That’s when people start accusing each other.  You see, Tommy is a kid who reads a lot and he’s read about alien invasions.  They always send in advanced scouts that look human.  His only mistake is sharing this information with his neighbors.

It turns out that Tommy was basically right.  After the people of Maple Street start fighting, the camera pans out to show two aliens on a hillside.  One is demonstrating to the other how to make electronic devices stop working.  This is all either of them has to do to get the same results.  Sure, details may vary, but no advanced scout is necessary.

The episode first aired March 4, 1960.  Joseph McCarthy would have been fresh in everyone’s minds.  One of the reasons that the episode is memorable is that you don’t need this context to understand it.  Given even a small bit of fear, people will accuse each other.  Plant the idea that someone is out to get you, the mob will overtake even the most level of heads.

Granted, the pace at which the paranoia progresses is rapid, but it’s still relatable.  It’s so easy to find blame rather than find answers.  It’s easier to lash out than to wait patiently.  We like to think that we’d be better than this, but how many of us would be?  The biggest threat we face is ourselves.




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