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The Twilight Zone (Episode #138): “Black Leather Jackets” (airdate 1/31/64)
The Plot: A trio of bikers in black leather arrive in a small town, and their neighbor suspects they’re up to some no good shenanigans.
The Goods: The tranquility of a small, suburban street is shattered by the loud throttling of three motorcycles that come rolling into view to park in front of a singular home. Their new home. The three riders are clad all in black leather, come complete with scary gang names (Fred, Scott and Steve) and are accompanied by their own jazzy score. They’re a nightmare for family man Stu Tillman (Denver Pyle) for more reasons than one.
Stu’s daughter, Ellen (Shelley Fabares), has fallen madly in love with the ruffian named Scott (Lee Kinsolving).
Oh, and the trio may just be aliens bent on destroying mankind.
“They’re a stupid race as our research told us. An inferior breed given to killing, hatred, making war, greed and cruelty to one another. The universe can well do without them.”
The three monotone bikers set up shop in the basement of their otherwise empty house and use electronic gear to communicate with someone who’s standing way too close to the camera. All we see is a single eye looking back at the trio. Stu gets suspicious when a big, new fandangled antenna gets erected on their house and his TV loses reception of both channels he gets. But when he confronts them they bully him about before glamoring him so he forgets the exchange. But not even mind control can stop a father’s protective nature towards his daughter, and when Ellen’s five day love affair with Scott leads to some shocking revelations Stu calls the authorities.
Of course no one believes Scott’s claim that they’re alien bikers planning to poison the town’s water supply with bacteria and that other intergalactic wild ones are doing the same across the country. The Tillmans don’t buy Scott’s claims because they sound crazy. The deputy doesn’t believe them because he’s in on it. Dun dun dun!
Aliens working to wipe out humanity is nothing new for The Twilight Zone, but this is the only one (that I can recall) where the plan is so specific, realistic and definite. There’s no witty twist about cookbooks or not so subtle jabs at mankind’s appetite for self destruction here. These studly aliens simply plan to kill off every last man, woman and child through the very effective means of poisoning the water. It’s a frightening concept dressed up in black leather, and it’s a concern that could easily be moved to the present day. Sans black leather.
But while the episode moves from goofy to threatening quite quickly it drops the ball in the final minutes when it comes time for an ending. Because it doesn’t have one. The show simply stops with the family unaware that they’re about to be killed along with every other person on the planet. There’s no plan to fight back, no awareness at all in fact, and no real lesson passed on to viewers either. It’s an odd ending for the episode and severely lacking in satisfaction.
Two quick additional issues. First, when Scott is trying to convince his cohorts not to destroy humanity he tells them that not all humans are bad and given to war and hatred. “They learn love from their god and teach it to their children,” he says. It’s meant to make people look good, but it actually strengthens the argument against destroying us. Mankind makes life decisions based on what they learn from an imaginary creature they themselves created? This is a stupid species.
And then there’s the title of the episode. Black Leather Jackets? Talk about a severe lack of creativity. Is it a reference to people judging others by their outward appearance when what really matters is what’s inside? Or a message about the dangers of conformity? Or a subtle commentary on an impending race war? Or just something pulled from the script at the last minute and without further thought? Yeah, probably the last one.
The core idea here is a good one in that it strikes at a realistic fear in our inability to protect ourselves and those we love. Stu can’t protect his daughter, and none of them are able to protect humanity. The threat to the drinking supply feels frighteningly possible, but it loses some of its edge with the goofiness of the bikers and their magical musical accompaniment.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Denver Pyle played Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard.
On the Next Episode: “An elderly wheelchair-bound lady receives strange anonymous phone calls overnight when she’s alone.”
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.