Monday, May 21, 2007

2.15 "The Invaders"

Season 2, Episode 15

Directed by: Douglas Heyes
Written by: Richard Matheson

Another episode that functions as a sly reproach of the conflict in Vietnam, Richard Matheson's The Invaders is a useful didacticism on the natures of invasion and defense. Agnes Moorehead, in a fine and wordless performance, plays a senescent farm-woman whom we find living in a ramshackle wooden house. As she is preparing a meal—her only concern up to this moment, according to Serling's opening narration, is procuring food—she hears a funny whirring sort of noise and is soon knocked to the floor by a powerful thud. Going up to the roof to investigate, she discovers what looks to be a large cocktail-shrimp serving tray; arguably more interesting, however, it turns out to be a small flying saucer that has crash-landed. Miniature aliens, looking like creepy wind-up toys, exit and scare the heck of Moorehead, who starts hitting them with a broom, knocking them off ledges, etc. In turn they attack her with her own knives, and she strikes back, killing one and then the other by destroying the spaceship itself.

Matheson, in a later interview, claimed he was unhappy with the way the episode turned out, that his original script moved along much more smoothly. It's a fair complaint, as for starters the episode takes far too long to get going; director Douglas Heyes clearly had something to learn about pacing, but he's not half bad with the atmosphere—that is, though The Invaders tells a story that could've been told in ten minutes in twenty-five instead, it is nevertheless, for the most part, unsettlingly effective; the fear of strangers invading our personal and private spaces is a primal one, exploited by the episodemakers in the creepy ambience created by the faux-candlelighting and menacing stock music, not to mention the eerie barrenness of the house and surrounding area.

But, this being The Twilight Zone after all, Matheson has more up his sleeve than simple frights, (spoiler alert!) as he cleverly switches our paradigm of identification at the end; while rooting for Moorehead all along, as we tend to side with our own species, the twist ending reveals that the tiny men were in fact Americans (the spaceship reveals that it's "U.S. Air Force Space Probe 1") and Moorehead a giant space monster. (A part for which she was excellently cast, as an already funny looking woman is made-up to look even more unusual; of course, by the end, it makes total sense that she's not an Earthling—just look at her! And look at her you must, as at one point Heyes shoots her in a surprisingly grimy close-up, capturing a frazzled Moorehead graphically drooling, I'm talking strands of wet spittle, while waiting for one of the Americans to fall for a trap she has set.) When stabbed or cut by the tiny Americans, Moorehead elicits our sympathy by groaning and crying in terribly pitiable pain. But by changing gears at the end, Matheson teaches the audience a lesson about seeing conflict through the eyes of one's enemies. It applies now to Iraq, in particular (of course): when a person or people causing you no immediate threat are suddenly invaded, it ought to be expected and understood that they're bound to respond in defensive retaliation. It's only when we understand the humanity of our enemies that we can begin to make real peace, but the real moral of the story is voiced at the end, by one of the Americans in his final radio transmission to home: "Stay away." Would that Mr. Bush had heard and listened to such advice.

For Netflix purposes:
On Vol. 1 of Image Entertainment's Twilight Zone DVDs.


Anonymous said...

Your reviews are dogshit.

Anonymous said...

this was a great episode, one of the best maybe. one funny thing about it is that she's dressed as a subsistance farmer but they didn't do anything about her manicured and polished nails, which you could see plainly throughout the film.