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The Twilight Zone (Episode #47): “The Night of the Meek” (airdate 12/23/60)
The Plot: An alcoholic department store Santa Claus (not played by Billy Bob Thornton) gets his wish when a mysterious bag full of everything lands at his feet. That’s right! Take a look at that original airdate, fans! It’s a Christmas episode!
The Goods: Is it awesome that The Twilight Zone did a Christmas episode? Yes. The show traded in its aliens and magic contracts with Satan to deliver a classic television rite of passage. Every show does one, and this little sci-fi series that could is no exception.
But of course, things are going to be a bit odd as snow falls in the Zone.
Meet Henry Corwin (Art Carney). He’s a drunk. Instead of finding him at work, asking little boys and girls what they want for Christmas, you can find him at the local bar trying to snag one last plug of the hard stuff. He’s tough to root for, especially because he drags his inebriation in front of the children who beam with joy when they see the suit he wears and the figure it represents.
His boss – a great appearance by John Fiedler (who some may remember as the mousy member of 12 Angry Men) – yells at Corwin and tosses him out into the street, but not before a schmammered Santa can deliver a monologue about peace and love and giving. Just once, just once he wants to see the children in the tenement house that he lives in get what they want in the coldest month.
Just like it’s main character, this episode takes a while to sell itself. For one, it was shot on video so it has that too-real kind of fakeness to it. For two, it seems meandering at first and poorly edited together.
However, all of that changes when Corwin stumbles upon a satchel filled with cans. He takes a second look and, lo and behold, it’s filled with presents. Once the MacGuffin appears on stage, the wheels start turning, and we get to see a new side of Corwin. If he drank to erase the pain, he’s found something to take its place – the wonder of giving.
Naturally, since he’s giving away a ton of free stuff to the poor, he’s quickly arrested, but the satchel has a mind of its own (which makes for a hilarious moment where Corwin’s boss pulls out a few dirty cans and a live cat from it instead of thousands of dollars worth of stolen goods). Released back into the night to give to his heart’s content, the true magic of the episode lands hard. We’ve gotten to know Corwin more than any other character here, and he’s appeared the most downtrodden, yet after finding a sack that delivers whatever you wish for, he still hasn’t asked for anything for himself.
The episode loses a little bit by pointing that out so plainly (because the realization comes organically through the storytelling), but the end result can’t be denied. Rod Serling has allowed for a happy ending to find its way into The Twilight Zone. As a companion piece to the episode before it – where a group of thieves finds a magic wish-fulfillment device – here’s a version of the story where a pure soul gets exactly what he wants: for the meek to inherit the earth.
As a side note, Corwin encounters a bratty kid in the department story named Percival Smithers. Science has proven that this is the greatest name for a bratty kid every created, so everyone else should stop trying. Also, the kid delivers his name like he’s farting out of his mouth. You really have to check it out to believe how perfectly apt it all is. Best performance of any episode ever.
What do you think of the episode?
The Trivia: Only six episodes were shot on video, and they all look terrible. Also, for added irony, the director of this episode’s name is Jack Smight.
On the Next Episode: In a crappy town in the old West, a man agonizes over his son’s impending death at the end of a rope. He might have a chance to save him, though, with a little help from some magic.
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.