With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?
The Twilight Zone (Episode #80): “A Quality of Mercy” (airdate 12/29/61)
The Plot: A zealous officer is anxious to kill, kill, and then kill.
The Goods: Deep in the jungles of the Pacific theater of World War II, a Lieutenant (a very, very youthful Dean Stockwell) joins a ragtag bunch that’s used to hunkering down, waiting things out, and opting for comfort over protocol. Lieutenant Katell is a fire-breather, a young gun who claims that he has experience killing, but probably doesn’t. He has an axe to grind against an enemy he knows nothing about except that they’re the enemy. Thus, instead of moving around a small encampment, he wants to cut through it and kill everyone with a Japanese uniform.
That is, until The Twilight Zone intervenes.
The obviousness of the message is one of the strong suits in this story. It’s no great shock what the moral will be, and Stockwell plays Katell with such fury that it’s clear it has to be extinguished by extreme measure. To that end, his blood lust turns to confusion when he wakes up to find that instead of Lieutenant Katell, he’s now Lieutenant Yamuri.
Surprise! The Twilight Zone turned you Japanese.
The effect is a strong one, and he learns through his own cutthroat commander that everyone is alike all over. Somewhere in the middle of the new ethnic identity, he’ll realize a need for compassion.
Of course, it’s sort of wonderful to see Dean Stockwell in an episode about hopping into another person’s body, even though Quantum Leap wouldn’t come until decades later. Another figure to look for is Leonard Nimoy as one of the ragtag bunch of American G.I.s minus the pointy ears.
This is one of the best singular perspective stories told in the series. Its weight is enormous considering the consequences, and the grind of perspective that Katell is put through does the hard, dirty work of convincing a madman that he needs to choose sanity. A lot of that work is done through strong, sweaty acting from Stockwell and writing that takes a twisting path to get to where everyone already knew we were going.
What do you think?
The Trivia: The title is pulled from William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”
On the Next Episode: If a woman lets a man into her house, she might die.
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.