Saturday, February 23, 2008

The most heartbreakingly brilliant moment of The Twilight Zone

One of these days I'm going to do my own personal "Top 10" list of favorite Twilight Zone episodes. Until then, the following can be thought of as a preview of sorts to just such a list, as The Trouble with Templeton is securely locked into my personal "Top 10" of Twilight Zone episodes.

The reason? A four-star story, with four-star acting, featuring the single most heartbreakingly brilliant moment of the series, and to be honest, of any TV series that I've ever seen.

The Trouble with Templeton, written be E. Jack Neuman, aired during the second season of The Twilight Zone back in 1960. The episode starts out with an aging stage actor named Booth Templeton (played with four-star caliber by Brain Aherne) peering out the window of his house, depressingly witnessing his young wife clearly enjoying the company of another younger man. His depressed outlook is further darkened as his assistant brings him pills which presumably are being taken to stave off some sort of serious illness. At one point, Booth even notes - "Perhaps she's waiting for the day when these won't do what they are designed to do...perhaps I'm waiting for that day too."

Mr. Templeton then notes that he wasn't always in such a depressed state. No, back when he was a young man himself, married to his first love, Laura, things were different. "The freshest, most radiant creature God ever created," Booth says, and then lamentably continues - "18 when I married her...25 when she died". It is at this point when you realize the source of his unhappiness - so many empty years lived without the fulfillment of his one, true love.

Booth Templeton then makes his way, albeit a little late, to the first day of rehearsals for a new play in which he is to star. Before making his way into the building, he is notified by the play's financial backer that his long-time director had been fired and that a new, younger director was to take that guy's place. Another insulting blow from the "winds of change", to a man that yearned for days gone by.

As Booth enters the building, he is greeted with much disdain from the new, young director, as this new whipper-snapper is not at all happy with the old actor's tardiness. Booth begins to feel a bit uneasy and grabs near his chest as if, indeed, his pills are no longer doing what they are designed to do.

Booth races out of the building, and it is at this point when he, and we the viewer, enter...The Twilight Zone.

Now, different people may have differing opinions on what Booth is experiencing in the next segment of this episode. Myself, I believe Booth to be having some sort of near-death experience..."near-death" I say, because though Mr. Templeton may be entering what may be his own slice of Heaven that he has long yearned for, Heaven is not yet ready for him, and will do what it needs to do to send him back among those filled with life.

As Booth leaves the building, he suddenly finds himself among a crowd of cheering fans. The crowd disperses, and obviously a bit confused, he becomes even more confused when he sees a theater marquee advertising a play he starred in back in 1927 that was directed by an old friend. An old man then comes up to him and assures Booth that it is in fact, 1927; and that he is supposed to meet his long-deceased wife, Laura, the love of his life, at the old speakeasy they often patroned during that time.

Booth is greeted at the speakeasy by the same doorman from back during that time, a doorman that has long since been dead. Upon entering the speakeasy, however, though some things are the same, he'll quickly learn that the wicked winds of change have hit this place too.

First, he finds out that Laura is not sitting at their usual table that they always sat at back during those years. A very minor change that does little to prepare him for the very major change to come.

It is at this point when he sees her - his first wife Laura - sitting at a table with his old director buddy - two people that had been nothing but memories for so long. To see the expression on Booth's face when he sees her for the first time since her death, and when he sits down next to her, you can't help but be happy for the old guy. I gotta tell ya, he has a lot to be happy about because Laura (played with four-star caliber by Pippa Scott) is pretty damn good-looking!

Well, Booth quickly realizes that his Laura is not the same Laura that he remembered. The Laura that he is sitting with now, though just as beautiful as she was when they were married, is rude, crude, crass, and lewd. This is a situation that quickly becomes frustrating and confusing to him. During one of these frustrating exchanges, Booth snatches a script out of Laura's hand that she had been using to fan herself with, and stuffs it in his coat pocket - this later proves to be a key point in the episode.

The shenanigans continue until Booth can bare it no longer. He is so frustrated and appalled by Laura's behavior that he is ready to storm out of the place. Then, Laura puts the final nail into it when she slaps him and cries, "Why don't you go back where you came from? We don't want you here!" At this point, Booth dejectedly leaves the speakeasy, and as a viewer, I felt similarly dejected. I mean, you really feel bad for the guy and you're also wondering, just as the character of Booth Templeton is, just what the hell happened? This was supposed to be the great reuniting with his one true love! Shit.

But then - ah, but then! As Booth leaves the speakeasy we, the viewer, stay there and see the expressions of the patrons all change to one of loud revelry to quiet somberness. Then, it happens. The most heartbreakingly brilliant moment of The Twilight Zone happens. The camera pans to Laura and her expression changes to one of such heartbreaking regret, you clearly see that the rude act she put on was not something she wanted to do - but unfortunately, had to do. The whole scene then fades to black. Man, I had never seen anything like that, ever. With just that one expression, everything in the episode was made clear. Absolutely beautiful.

We then cut back to Booth who is hurrying back into the same building in which he had exited earlier, entering the "Zone". As he shuts the door behind him, Booth finds himself back in the present day building he had left. Feeling hot and flustered, he takes that script out of his coat pocket, the same script he took from Laura while in the "Zone", and fans himself with it. He then opens the script up and as he browses through it, he too realizes what had just happened to him. The entire ordeal he had just found himself in while in the "Zone", was all written out in screenplay form; it was titled "What to do when Booth comes back". Booth Templeton then realizes that his wife had been acting. Acting for his benefit. Telling him that he still had a life to live, and that he should live it.

Man, that episode is just amazing. Easily in my "Top 10".

Would you like to see this episode for yourself? Watch "The Trouble with Templeton" at - they have a Twilight Zone section there where you can watch full episodes!

No comments: