The Twilight Zone (Episode #19): “The Purple Testament” (airdate 02/12/60)
The Plot: A US soldier stationed in the Philippines discovers he has the ability to see people’s impending deaths.
The Goods: Lt. Fitzgerald (William Reynolds) and the rest of his squad return to base after a mission and mourn the loss of four soldiers. Darren #2 Capt. Riker (Dick York) notices that his friend is taking it harder than most and inquires why, but when he hears Fitzgerald’s reason he’s at a loss. Fitz claims that he knew in advance who was going to die because when he looked at their faces an odd light flickered across their visage. Riker expresses his concern, but the conversation comes to a fruitless end when Fitz sees the light once more… on Riker’s face.
Twilight Zone episodes fall into a couple different categories in regard to their endings. Some simply wrap up the story in a natural way, either subtly or with a bang, while others go for the twist or shock finale. That latter type has become synonymous with the show even if though it’s far from a constant throughout the series. When these TZ twists do occur half the fun of the episode is trying to guess the ending before it actually occurs. The best episodes still manage to surprise and elude your predictions.
This is not one of the best episodes.
That’s not to say this is a bad Rod Serling-scripted episode though, as Reynolds and York both deliver compelling performances as men stuck in the nightmare of war. Serling’s anti-war stance is well known, although it could just as easily be seen as a broader disappointment in mankind’s stupider actions. This episode highlights that viewpoint when a high ranking officer learns of a particular death, mourns for the man’s wife and kids, and then states rather plainly that “War stinks!”
But back to the ending. Predicting the twist here is incredibly easy and can be done without watching a single frame. The plot synopsis above is all you need. The ending may be an inevitability, but that’s almost the point of the episode. Death itself is inevitable, and advance knowledge of it doesn’t lessen the impact or suffering in the slightest. The same can’t be said for advance knowledge of the show’s ending though as knowing does diminish its power a bit. All is not lost however as the drama of the message, that war really does stink, is still present and accounted for.
What do you think of the episode?
The Trivia: York is the most obviously recognizable face here, but sharp eyes might also notice writer/director Paul Mazursky (Moscow On the Hudson) and man’s man Warren Oates in small roles as well.
On the Next Episode: “Three astronauts touch down on an asteroid where they discover a world of people who appear to be frozen in time. Confused, they theorize why everyone is motionless until a man springs to life and explains.”
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.