Monday, November 09, 2020

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 16 (A Penny for Your Thoughts)

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if everyone could read minds for a few days.  Even beyond honesty, to have that kind of unfettered access to someone’s inner thoughts could be devastating to people, if not society.  Imagine a person finding out that they married someone who was unfaithful?  You would know instantly what a prospective employer really thought of you or, if you were hired, why you didn’t get a raise.  People who think highly of themselves or their appearance would find out that most people didn’t even notice them.

Hector B. Poole gets a taste of that in A Penny for Your Thoughts.  When a quarter lands on its edge, Hector suddenly realizes that he can read people’s thoughts.  When he’s nearly hit by a car, the driver is polite, but secretly thinks that Hector should watch where he’s going.

When he gets to work, Hector’s coworkers and customers are full of surprises.  His boss is having an affair.  A would-be borrower is going to use the money for gambling to cover his embezzlement.  A trusted bank employee is thinking of stuffing his briefcase with money from the vault.

It creates some problems for Hector.  The boss nearly fires him until it comes out that the borrower was actually arrested.  The details favor Hector.  While Smithers doesn’t actually rob the bank, he admits that he did routinely think about it.  The details might change, but every night, he’d think about how easy it would be.

In the end, things work out better for Hector.  He gets a promotion.  An attractive coworker agrees to go on a date.  Hector even arranges for Smithers to get airfare to his favorite ‘retirement’ spot as a show of appreciation.

There are a few things that might strike the casual Twilight Zone viewer.  I’m not the first person to point out how odd mind-reading is.  At the very least, Hector can hear perfect sentences.  It’s also odd that he has to be within a few feet.  Sometimes, tales like this will show us how overwhelming it can be to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Here, it’s little more than a MacGuffin.  Hector has a series of choices to make.  Is it his place to inform the bank why a customer would need the money?  Gambling would pose a serious impediment to repayment if the gambler didn’t pick the right horses.  (The loan is for $200,000.  That would translate into about $1,740,000 in today’s money.)  A trusted employee does pose more of a direct threat, especially considering that it’s illegal.  Smithers doesn’t even seem to hold any hard feelings towards Hector.  Even the boss’s infidelity is little more than leverage.

It might make for an interesting story to have a mind-reader from a long line of mind-readers.  Hector has no guidance.  It’s plausible that he would react the way he does.  Guidance from a family member would prove useful.  It might allow for more analysis of an issue.  Even with the ability to read minds, you still don’t have all the facts.  This still makes for an interesting story.  There is something to take away from it.  You just have to know where to look.


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