Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 4 (A Thing About Machines)

The Twilight Zone had a lot of great episodes.  It also had a few not-so-great episodes.  There are a few, like A Thing About Machines, that I probably never would have heard of had it not been for my ability to stream them.  Unless a TV station is dedicated to playing the series in order or you buy the boxed set, I don’t imagine you’re likely to come across this one, either.

It’s about one Mr. Bartlett Finchley, a writer for food magazines.  He’s surrounded himself with all manner of devices that he hates.  (The episode starts with a repairman fixing the TV.)  It’s not clear how this came to be, but two things are clear:  It’s been going on for a while and Finchley is not a nice person.

His mistreatment of devices may be an outlet for his dim view of other people, as neither the repairman nor his secretary seems pleased to deal with him.  He’s the kind of guy that would chase people off his property just because they’re there.

Things come to a head when the devices start to talk back.  The woman on the television tells Finchley to leave.  The typewriter keeps producing a similar message.  His electric razor even chases him.  The episode ends with Finchley being chased into a neighbor’s pool.

I think the reason that this episode is forgotten is that there’s no real plot other than Kill Finchley.  It’s not even explained why he has so many electric devices.  A car is understandable; it’s necessary for mobility.  One could easily do without a TV or radio, though.  An electric razor could be replaced with a regular blade.  Even an electric typewriter/word processor could be replaced with a manual typewriter.  It seems a bit excessive for someone that doesn’t want it unless it’s neurotic behavior we’re talking about.

This is where the episode falls flat.  We never come to understand Finchley.  We never come to appreciate him or sympathize with him.  Even villains have to be relatable.  This is someone who has probably never been relatable.  He makes no attempt to relate to others.

There’s not even a twist ending.  Other similar episodes have some sort of clue that it might have been real, even when all other indicators point toward fantasy.  Fortunately, episodes like this are rare among The Twilight Zone.   Most are at least decent.  I’m happy to think of this episode as being the exception rather than the rule.

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