Season 2, Episode 11
The Night of the Meek is disposable Serling that feels like the result of a contract requirement which stipulated that he produce at least one feel-good Christmas episode. Serling, that avatar of the FDR Democrat, tosses in some rousing speechifying and some tasty, subversive socialist undercurrents, but the lackadaisical storytelling, coupled with the crude video it was shot on, makes this an ultimately forgettable fiasco.
And that's unfortunate, as the gifted Art Carney, in his only Twilight Zone appearance, stars, turning in a laudable performance as Henry Corwin, a Department Store Santa Claus introduced in an empty bar getting hammered. When he eventually shows up at work an hour late, he's berated by his boss, Mr. Dundee (John Fiedler, obnoxiously overplaying): "See if you can keep from disillusioning a lot of kids that not only isn't there a Santa Claus, but the one in this store happens to be a wino who'd be more at home playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!" Well, Corwin shows he can't when he disillusions a whole queue of kids by collapsing from his throne as a child, Percival Smithers, is telling him what he wants for Christmas ("a new front name".) "Santa Claus is loaded!" Percival declares with intrigued incredulity (this is at least one of Serling's funniest scripts), and his mother adds, figuratively kicking him while he is literally down, "you oughta be ashamed."
"I am ashamed," Corwin admits, an achingly sad confession that Carney pulls off masterfully. Mr. Dundee fires him on the spot, but not before he's able to give a stirring speech on the crass commercialism infecting the Holiday spirit. "Christmas is more than barging up and down department store aisles," he pleadingly lectures the gathered crowd, noting that it should come with patience, love, charity and compassion. Make no mistake, though—A Charlie Brown Christmas this ain't.
Corwin drinks heavily, he explains, because, as he says, "I can either drink or I can weep," although he shows through the course of the episode that he can easily do both simultaneously. "I live in a dirty rooming house on a street full of hungry kids and shabby people where the only thing to come down the chimney on Christmas is more poverty!" (You go, Serling!) The same hungry kids who surround him as he's collapsed drunk on the curb, begging for dollies and guns (!) but also, more desperately, for a job for daddy. Boo hoo hoo. "Why do you suppose there isn't a real Santa Claus," Corwin slurrily asks his brambly bartender, "for kids like that?"
Complete with a piano sadly tinkling out the notes of "The First Noel"—to remind the viewer that the appropriate responses would be frowning and pity—The Night of the Meek is insufferably mawkish. Redemption comes to Corwin in the form of a thaumaturgical bag that he stumbles across in an alleyway, an enchanted sack that transforms him from a bum in a dirty red suit to a real-life Santy Claus...though still in that same dirty red suit. A Kris Kringle for the penurious and meek, he wanders the ghetto, giving the bums whatever they desire as it magically pops out of his bag. Now he's drunk on "the spirit of the Yule," as he tells a police officer, though clearly he's also still a little drunk on whisky.
In an act of the universe balancing itself out, as Saint Nip (hiccup!) doles out the presents, they simultaneously disappear from Dundee the Fusspot's department store, as Serling radically redistributes American wealth. Soviet balderdash! Of course, capitalism sees to it that Corwin is arrested almost immediately, but when touched by those impure of heart the bag spits out only tin cans and alleycats. "We're dealing with the supernatural here," a frightened Officer Flaherty remarks, and on a lack of evidence Corwin's released.
This frees him up to do more Santa Clausing, and he hits the streets again to supply the children of skid row with the toys they crave. There's no real twist, no frights, just a lot of maudlin treacle shot on videotape that's at best distracting and at worst offensive to the eyes. Corwin is recruited by an unintentionally terrifying elf to become the real Santa Claus, or Santa Corwin, and near the episode's close he flies off on a sled led by two reindeer (production budgets!) as Fusspot and Flaherty look on, disbelieving their own eyes. The episode ends, rather scandalously, with Dundee asking Flaherty to come back to his apartment so he can get him drunk, and you're left mourning that this is certainly not Serling's finest moment, and a rather curious way for Image Entertainment to start off their forty-three disc Twilight Zone set.
For Netflix purposes:
On Vol. 1 of Image Entertainment's Twilight Zone DVDs.