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The Twilight Zone (Episode #96): “The Trade-Ins” (airdate 4/20/62)
The Plot: An elderly couple in love and in the twilight of the lives entertains the offer of a company that sells renewed youth… sign on the dotted line, pay the price, and your inner person will be transferred into a fresh, young body. But what if your bank account means only one of you can afford the procedure?
The Goods: John and Marie Holt (Joseph Schildkraut and Alma Platt) are clearly and dearly in love. Married for decades, happily coasting through their final years, an interesting proposition comes to their attention. John’s been suffering an increasing amount and degree of aches and pains, and all signs point to his exit from life occurring some years before Marie follows suit. This new technology offers them both another century together, but at a whopping $5k per person the cost is about $5k too much for the couple. Joe makes a desperate bid at an eternity with Marie and an equally futile choice to leave her behind.
“I’m sorry… government regulations prohibit any extension of credit.”
As Rod Serling points out at the end of the episode, this is one for the sentimental visitors to The Twilight Zone who don’t always get a happy ending. There are several opportunities and points in the story that could have turned ugly and/or ironic for the Holts, but Serling’s script steers them safely along a path of love.
It’s a nice change of pace to see good people left unharmed by the hands of fate, but the trip there is populated by two artificial bumps in the road that lessen the episode’s overall effect dramatically.
First, John’s desperation drives him to gamble their $5k with card sharks at a backroom poker game. All well and good so far, and the outcome here could have grand consequences. If he wins, the risk has paid off and the couple gets their extended future. If he loses, he’s lost his only chance at ending the pain and misery of approaching death. So what happens?
He leaves with the exact same cash he had when he entered. The only dramatic character beat involves the lead sleazebag whose hand of cards leaves him in the winning position, yet he chooses to let the old man walk away unscathed. John’s exit from the card game is filled with painful clenches and pleas for Marie’s forgiveness that he can’t go on like this much longer. He’ll have to do the procedure alone.
Which brings us to the second worthless and poorly handled bit of drama. He goes ahead with the procedure, comes out a young man capable of twirling and skipping around the waiting room, and takes Marie in his strong arms. At which point Marie recoils in horror at the thought of his muscular hands strumming her wrinkles, and he changes his mind all together. The two exit as old people in love, happy to grow even older together. But just two minutes prior he was crying and whining about the pain… now he’s smiling?
The episode’s ending is fine, and it’s the way the story needed to end, but the two dramatic points are worthless and ring false. The card game could never have happened and the story wouldn’t be affected. The sudden angst, guilt and wincing pain that feels like a catalyst is suddenly and unceremoniously erased without acknowledgement. But the sentimentalists among us get a happy ending.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Can you picture someone named Alma Platt as a young woman? I can’t.
On the Next Episode: “A man from the stars comes with a gift to a small Mexican village whose residents do not welcome this stranger.”
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.