Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Twilight Zone: The Lonely

"The Lonely," starring Jack Warden as a convict of the future living in solitary confinement, is an episode begging to be expanded out to feature length. Specifically, it gives us an introduction and satisfactory conclusion, but the route from point A to point B feels compromised by the time limitations of a television.

Written by Rod Serling, the episode centers on James A. Corry, a convicted murderer living on a distant asteroid all by himself, and the loneliness and isolation is getting to him. When the show begins, he's already been there a few years, and the only thing he has to look forward is the occasional visit from a supply crew. This time, the sympathetic Captain Allenby (John Dehner) leaves Corry something special: a female android that look perfectly human, Alicia (Jean Marsh).

The physical environment "The Lonely" evokes is impressive. It really looks like a barren, unearthly place, a massive rocky desert surrounded by sharp, jagged, lifeless mountains. In the middle of this abyss is Corry's little hut, and it has this alienating effect. It really does look like a harsh and lonely place, and the episode accentuates this atmosphere with a lot of wide shots that make Corry and his belongings look small and weak.

There's also an interesting political and social element brought up. Is this kind of punishment excessively cruel? Corry argues he killed in self-defense, and Allenby breaks protocol - not just with Alicia but previously, he gave him a classic car to assemble, which Corry notes took him a year to put together - and tries to keep his spirits up by telling him the laws might change. I'm reminded of a couple of articles I've read about how awful solitary confinement is here in present-day Earth; being left alone on a desert planet or planetoid must be a lot worse. It also seems like a horrible misuse of time and resources to keep one man confined to an asteroid.

The story's arc is how Corry is at first insulted by the notion of a robot being his companion. He even calls Alicia a lie, but gradually, through her unwavering programming and support and his desperation, he begins to lose the ability to differentiate her from a real woman, so when he learns at the end he has been pardoned, he can't bear the thought of leaving her behind.

Now, that is a heart-breaking notion, but it doesn't get enough support from the episode. The opening, with Allenby and his crew arriving for a delivery, goes on too long, and it undercuts the physical isolation Corry is enduring because we see him with other people for a while. Worse, his transition from hate and resentment to love for Alicia feels truncated. They only have a couple of moments together in screen time (plot wise, we're told it is quite a while) before Allenby returns to take Corry home.

That said, it is a poignant moment when Allenby pulls out his gun and shoots Alicia to convince Corry to come back to the rocket. Warden sells the grief, heart break, and confusion strongly, and Dehner plays his captain as a man trying to do what's right. But I had questions: was Alicia self aware or just a program? Did she really love Corry in return? Give this episode more time to explore the relationship growing between Corry and Alicia, and it's a near masterpiece.

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