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 #90): “The Fugitive” (airdate 3/9/62)
The Plot: An old man can do the kind of magic that no one else seems to understand, except the children he hangs around with all day. That bliss is about to be crushed by two men in suits looking for whatever that old man really is.
The Goods: Rob just wrote a strong review of one of the most iconic episodes – To Serve Man - but I would argue that this story deserves the same recognition in the pantheon of the champions of the series. It’s got everything that represents The Twilight Zone: heart, sci-fi, a lesson, and the wondrous magic of belief.
Old Ben (J. Pat O’Malley) enjoys playing with the neighborhood kids, especially Jenny (Susan Gordon), a little girl with a brace on her leg that still manages to boss the boys around. He enjoys the games, yes, but there’s something special about Old Ben – when they play Spaceman, he can actually transform himself into a Martian and then change back. In fact, he can turn himself into anything he wants.
This special skill has caught the attention of some of the parents, including Jenny’s caretaking Aunt Agnes (Nancy Kulp), who is a pillar of salt and bitterness. It’s also caught the attention of two men in nice suits who are doing their damnedest to find the wily old possible-alien.
The story itself takes on the same shape that movies like E.T. and The Iron Giant would later ape. A young person who still sees magic in the world loves someone very deeply, but for reasons directly related to their otherness (and their magic) that person has to be taken away by dark authority figures. What is different is viewed as dangerous, but through the eyes of a child, Old Ben is exactly what he is – a kind friend who would do anything for the people he cares about.
The climax of the story is still kept light, because ultimately (in another twist on the audience itself), Old Ben isn’t even really what we’ve been led to believe. His fugitive status is not nearly as harmful, and while we might have been ready to defend the misunderstood criminal from another world, we don’t even have to make that moral leap. Unfortunately, Old Ben still has to return to his own planet, where shape-shifting is probably completely average, and Jenny will have to say goodbye, left alone in a world that doesn’t understand her either.
The ending is the kind of rare counterpoint to episodes like To Serve Man where doom slaps someone right in their face before firing up the oven. It’s sugary and satisfying. So absolutely satisfying. In that sense, it might seem like a lesser episode, but it more than most truly stands for everything this series was about. That message rings loud and clear as Rod Serling‘s introduction breaks down the difference between science fiction (the improbable made possible) and fantasy (the impossible made probable), and then asks what would happen if you blended them together.
What do you think?
The Trivia: I like to think that George Lucas took “Old Ben” and turned him into “Old Ben Kenobi,” but there is no proof to my made-up claim.
On the Next Episode: A man goes to help his daughter after hearing her crying, only to find that she isn’t in room…even though he can still hear her cries.
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.