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The Twilight Zone (Episode #137): “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” (airdate 1/24/64)
The Plot: When conformity is the new normal the refusal to conform is seen as plain crazy.
The Goods: Marilyn lives in a future world where everyone undergoes a “transformation” at the age of nineteen that alters their physical appearance into one of a handful of young, sleek and sexy models. The goal, as mandated by the government, is to eliminate inequality and ugliness. No longer will people be made fun of or ostracized for being too fat, short or unattractive. Instead, everyone will look like one of fifteen or so models… and simply where name tags to distinguish those in similar fleshy chassis.
But what happens when someone chooses to stay the way they are? Plain and homely Marilyn is about to find out as she says no to the procedure, and everyone around her can only assume she’s gone mad.
“What you need is a glass of Instant Smile.”
Marilyn’s (Collin Wilcox) refusal to conform originated in the lessons she learned from her father. The loss of his own identity drove him to suicide, but before his death he shared with her his regrets over the transformation as well as his love of the arts. Classic literature is banned in Marilyn’s time for the feelings it arouses and the implications of its characters’ lives. She takes this as inspiration to dwell on her upcoming operation before coming to a firm observation.
Being like everybody is the same as being nobody.
Her behavior strikes those around her as quite odd because none of the others can see what’s so wrong with looking beautiful. But as Marilyn points out, can there really be beauty without ugliness? It’s a harsh statement in general and particularly mean towards herself, but the sentiment is one that flies above the pretty heads of everyone else. Her mother Lana (Suzy Parker) had the procedure decades ago and still barely looks older than Marilyn’s eighteen years. A secondary (and more practical) benefit is that in addition to making a person look younger it also virtually wipes out disease and extends life well into the triple digits.
After being confronted by her mother and friend as well as her uncle, a doctor and a psychiatrist… all three of whom share the same model… Marilyn breaks down emotionally. Everyone else is pretty and happy (thanks in large part to this “drink” called Instant Smile that they all seem to love), and the peer pressure to conform apparently wins out. She wanders into the operating room and without further struggle becomes just like everyone else.
And she loves it.
The message of this episode is fairly clear, sometimes a bit too clear and on the nose, but it’s still an engaging and relevant one today. If anything it’s even more relevant in today’s world where celebrity, style and the pressure to conform is as strong as it ever was. We’re probably at the apex of superficiality as far as our society goes, and the episode captures it nicely. That includes the effort and desire to stay as young as possible for as long as possible which is also represented here by the adult’s constant reminder to called them by their first name instead of Mr. or Mrs.
There are some odd bits here including the doctor who’s constantly hooking his pinky in mouth and the abruptness of Marilyn’s change of heart, but overall the episode is one of season five’s better ones. The theme is a common one and the strokes here are often fairly broad, but the moral of the story is still as fresh today as it was fifty years ago. And for an episode so focused on its characters’ happiness this is easily one of the series’ saddest. People are a depressing species.
What do you think?
The Trivia: The mathcore band The Number Twelve Looks Just Like You got its name from this episode. I have no clue what the hell a “mathcore band” is.
On the Next Episode: “A group of leather jacket-clad bikers turn out to be aliens bent on world domination.”
Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitchwill be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.