Monday, July 9, 2007

2.28 "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

Season Two, Episode Twenty Eight

Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Montgomery Pittman

"Is this a diner or Gestapo headquarters?" a fussy old man (John Hoyt) righteously asks, in the middle of Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?, from his seat in the Hi-Way cafe, a roadside greasy spoon where the passengers of a bus to Boston have become temporarily stranded during a snowstorm. The seven passengers and their driver have become the subjects of an interrogation from the local sheriff's department, who're investigating a suspicious unidentified flying object that landed in nearby Hook's Landing, and had a set of footprints leading up to the restaurant. While the driver insists there were only six passengers on his beaten-up old bus, seven now inhabit the diner, and no one is sure who wasn't originally one of them. "One of them didn't get off the bus!" the dim-witted driver declares, stating the obvious.

"They have to find a Martian in a diner," Serling, rather nicely, sums it up in the opening narration, comparing it somewhat hyperbolically to finding a needle in a haystack. It's like a "regular Ray Bradbury!" a batty old man (Jack Elam, gleefully turning the enthusiasm up to eleven) playfully shouts, his hirsute bummery allowing him to function as the obvious decoy, distracting the audience from who may be the real Martian. Elam gives a notably wall-climbing performance, and there are more than a few reaction shots of fellow diners chuckling at his antics. Otherwise, however, the mutual suspicion begins to drive the gang apart, even established couples as they question whether or not their spouses are really their spouses. "Didn't you used to have a mole on your chin?" a young bride asks her offended husband. There's some potential for subtle McCarthyism critiques here, but ultimately the episode abandons what was done much better in The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and settles for letting the Martian, whoever it may be, have a heck of a time, as he (or she) presumably uses his or her outerspace powers of telekinesis to make the sugar tins explode and—more than once—suddenly turn on the jukebox and flicker the lights off and on.

Once the storm clears and the bridge is finally declared safe for passage, the policemen let the passengers move on. "[You] can't hold someone on suspicion of being a monster," one declares, offering up a fine civics lesson. But Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? (the title's a clever spin on the catch phrase, popular at the time, from the game-show To Tell the Truth) is not content to stop at a mere civics lesson; while it's an absorbing mystery with a slick twist—and exceptional character development for a twenty-two minute television episode—it ultimately proves, uncharacteristically, rather politically conservative. Without spoiling the surprise, though time will have spoiled it for most, Serling suggests, metaphorically speaking, that not only are there Communists in the State Department, but there are Jihadists there as well. The boogeymen are not only real, and already here, but there are multiple groups of them, competing to be responsible for our destruction. As that doesn't sound like Serling, it seems he opted to ignore political subtext here for good science fiction storytelling; it makes the episode memorable but, ultimately, not exactly exceptional.

For Netflix purposes:
On Vol. 41 of Image Entertainment's Twilight Zone DVD Collection.


Anonymous said...

This episode is one of my favorites. I think people in general fear what they do not know about. Then again if the people in that diner knew an alien was right next to them, they might be just a wee bit justified in their fear!

R. said...

I remember really enjoying this episode, well written, engaging, elam's got some funny lines he delivers well. I love the appearance of the third eye, which itself has all kinds of cool references, especially on a show about mind. But the above review seems to assume that we should assume the Venutians are bent on our destruction. I read this differently. The counterman, and the force of the surprise ending, suggests his mission is to check the Martian, who has three arms (note implications of acquisitiveness as opposed to implications of 3rd eye). Mars is the war planet but Venus has always represented love.

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