Friday, April 10, 2015

The Twilight Zone: Two

The great thing about The Twilight Zone is how just when you think you've seen all of the good ones, an episode comes along that you've never even heard of, and it just blows your mind. I had never heard of "Two," and having just seen it, I would rank it among the best the series had to offer: visually exciting, strongly acted, and poignant. Maybe it lacks an iconic alien or supernatural presence of other episodes, but it's a gripping parable about human nature.

Appropriately, "Two" is a two-person show: Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery. Since we never learn their characters' names, I'm just going to refer to them as Bronson and Montgomery. The pair play post-apocalyptic survivors of a war who find each other in a deserted city. Unfortunately, they're on opposite sides, and even though the bombs that wiped out the rest of the human race fell five years prior, mistrust, fear, and hostility still exist between the two.

"Two" is set in the future, but the time element isn't important. As Rod Serling indicates in his opening narration, it really could really be any point in human history: mankind's self-destructive tendencies occur over petty causes and fleeting ideologies. Like in Romeo and Juliet, we don't learn what started the conflict between, and more importantly, it doesn't matter; if we did know, we might start picking sides or start getting distracted. Instead of fighting over past wrongs, "Two" suggests we should come together and build the future.

This is reflected in the costumes. Bronson's uniform looks similar to a Civil War-era infantryman's. Montgomery's resembles a World War II, Soviet era outfit, more contemporary than Bronson's. Both uniforms have fictional insignia and symbols on them; these logos and creeds of the future are meaningless to us in the present, just as our symbols and logos will be meaningless to people in the future. When the country and people who created them are gone, they are just little designs and letters on clothing. By the end, Bronson and Montgomery change into new outfits, symbolizing that they have finally cast aside the old ideologies and are embracing something new.

The episode also achieves a stunning if modest post-apocalyptic look: wide empty streets, bombed-out buildings, abandoned cars, overgrown plants, and the occasional skeleton. Directed by Montgomery Pittman (who also wrote the episode), "Two" has a chilling, sobering look at the aftermath of the world's end. While there is a lot of rubble and debris, it's also empty of life, and the effect is disquieting. The episode contains minimal dialogue (in fact, Montgomery only says one word. Her character probably doesn't speak English), and so the story is conveyed through images, tone, and movements.

Most curiously, despite its setting, "Two" is a love story and could almost be looked at as a post-apocalyptic take on a romantic comedy: the couple meets cute, they dislike each other, they grow closer, there's a crisis that threatens to drive them apart, but in the end, they're together. The episode concludes as they walk side-by-side instead of following after one another or peering from behind a rusted car. Somehow, that's sweeter than if the episode had them kiss.

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