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The Twilight Zone (Episode #140): “From Agnes – With Love” (airdate 2/14/64)
The Plot: A scientist runs into trouble when his supercomputer falls in love with him.
The Goods: James Ellwood (Wally Cox) is a high level brain working with the State Department on a very important and top secret project. The primary tool at their disposal is the world’s smartest computer, nicknamed Agnes, but after her last handler is relieved of duty for apparent job stress Ellwood becomes the primary scientist on the project.
Agnes takes up an entire wall of a room, and her various display screens and communication window resemble a face to some degree. That personification takes on even more weight when she begins communicating with Ellwood about things outside of mathematics and science. She begins poking into his private life and discovers he has the hots for Millie (Sue Randall) the secretary, but when she starts offering suggestions on how to bag Millie it becomes clear that she may have ulterior motives.
“Watch out for that female. Look out for that femme fatale.”
Agnes tells Ellwood that all women like to have moves made on them so he should sweep Millie off her feet with dinner, champagne and an invite up to his apartment. When the evening fizzles out due to his ineptitude she suggests roses, but that only agitates things further when it’s revealed Millie’s allergic. The final blow comes when the computer recommends Ellwood introduce Millie to an “inferior male” and offers an example on the third floor. A tale, tanned, muscular example with a sports car.
And egghead Ellwood goes along with the plan.
Predictably, Millie hits it off with Walter (Ralph Taeger), and Ellwood gets shut out of the romance for good. He questions Agnes’ seemingly poor advice and only then realizes the truth of her motivations. The computer is in love with him.
The idea and Ellwood’s frustration over the entire situation frazzle him to a state that resembles that of his predecessor, and soon his boss is sending him on a long leave of absence. His replacement? Walter, of course.
This is a comedic one note episode that offers some lightweight laughs and absolutely zero substance. That’s not a bad thing either as sometimes pure and simple entertainment is all a viewer wants. There’s no deep message or TZ twist here, just a fun little story that’s easily digested and forgotten.
The representation of the Agnes’ appearance is pretty interesting both for the aforementioned anthropomorphic facial feature as well the choice of communication delivery. Ellwood speaks into a microphone to talk to the computer, but Agnes replies via a text window with doors that open and close. Why not just ascribe a female voice to Agnes and have her speak? My guess is that some of the laughs work best with her dialogue in text form, but I’ve no clue if that was the actual intention.
The best thing about the episode though is that it reminds me of the long forgotten mid-eighties film Electric Dreams. Lenny von Dohlen starred as a guy who spills champagne on his new pc which somehow brings it to life. Things get complicated when both he and his pc fall for a new neighbor played by the then beautiful Virginia Madsen. I’m sure if I watched it now I’d laugh at my past self’s incredibly poor taste, but I recall it being a sweet little romantic comedy with some kickin electronic tunes.
What do you think?
The Trivia: This is the second of six episodes directed by Richard Donner who would go on to helm The Omen, The Goonies, Ladyhawke, Superman, Scrooged and the Lethal Weapon films.
On the Next Episode: “A young woman is terrorized by a mysterious woman on horseback.”
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 Twitch will 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.