Monday, April 08, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 3 (Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room)

Jackie Rhoades is a petty criminal.  More than that, he’s a relatively minor person in the overall scheme of the criminal organization and life in general.  He never stands up to people and has nothing to show for his inaction.  He’s a nobody.

Jackie begins the episode in a cheap motel room, as the title would imply, waiting for instructions from his handler, George.  Those instructions are to kill a barkeeper who isn’t keeping up with protection money.  This is beyond what Jackie thinks himself capable of, which is exactly why he’s given the job.

While talking to himself in a mirror, Jackie finds a different version of himself.  This version is confident and willing to do what it takes to get noticed.  For purposes of this review, we’ll call this version John Rhoades.  John and Jackie argue about what to do.  Jackie could shoot the barkeep and risk the death penalty or he could not do the job and risk the wrath of George.

The term bottle episode originated with Star Trek, although such episodes have been found in series both before and since.  A bottle episode tends to refer to episodic television using established sets and as few guest actors as possible.  (The term comes from Star Trek having to use only ship sets, hence a ship-in-a-bottle episode.)   The Twilight Zone also had a few entries, this being one of them.

The entire narrative for Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room takes place in one room and involves only two characters.  To make it more of a character study, George only appears for a minute or two at the beginning and the end of the episode.  The advantage is that we get to know both sides of Mr. Rhoades very well.

It actually works kind of well.  The say that you have to be able to look at the man in the mirror.  Imagine having a whole conversation.  It would seem a little simple by today’s standards.  I imagine that this is why the show keeps getting an update every few decades.  Given that the second-season episodes are only 30 minutes each, it’s worth a watch, especially if you can get it streaming.

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