Features and Columns · TV

Exploring The Twilight Zone #40: A Thing About Machines

By  · Published on July 29th, 2011

With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all most half of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?

The Twilight Zone (Episode #40): “A Thing About Machines” (airdate 10/28/60)

The Plot: Your machines are going to kill you.

The Goods: This season is quickly shaping up to be the one where Rod Serling played around with the structure of science fiction and the self-aware nature that writing in the genre can start to form week after week. If season 2 is seen as the sequel to season 1, Serling took to commenting on his own work (and the work of the other writers of course).

So what does he begin his tale of conspiratorial machinery with? Why, a broken television set, of course.

Bartlett Finchley (Richard Haydn) lives in a gorgeous home with all the modern comforts, but he’s pretty damned sure they are all out to get him. In a conversation with his television repairman (a grinning Barney Phillips who seems to return week after week for a new broken machine), he reveals his ultra-Luddite sensibilities by talking down to the day laborer, but when the door is shut behind him, he almost loses his mind with literal rage against his machines.

What works so well throughout this story is that it’s a ridiculously common sentiment. Finchley is played like a lunatic (who happens to be right), but we’ve all been in a position where our television reception is crappy, our cell bars are down to zero, and our computer freezes for no ascertainable reason. This is the glimmering, aureate age of the future – machines surround us, but we know very little about them.

So, yes, this episode is a great-great-grandfather of The Matrix. Finchley’s television might be displaying visions of Latin dancers who threaten him, but the machine itself isn’t going to stand up and attack (let alone build an elaborate system for control). But the idea is there. Machines are something we depend on, but with a profound lack of understanding, how can we ever really claim that we have conquered them?

On the other hand, his electric razor definitely attacks him. So stick to that five-bladed manual monstrosity.

This story, like so many others, is one about a descent into madness, but there’s no question about Finchley’s mental state here. He isn’t actually going crazy – something proven when the police arrive to the sight of his drowned body and can’t explain why he’s at the bottom or what the car is doing next to the pool.

The things you own end up killing you. Now, can you really trust the thing you’re watching this episode on?

The Trivia: Haydn was in a ton of iconic films, including The Sound of Music, Young Frankenstein and the Disney animated Alice in Wonderland (wherein he voiced the Caterpillar). Plus, this was the second of four appearances on the show by Phillips whose most famous episode was probably Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up? – which we’ll cover in about a month or so.

On the Next Episode: Twitch takes over the duties for a tale about a howling man in an armitage.

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.

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