Cayuga Production # 4829
“You see, this man you think you are… he doesn’t really exist, except in your mind. Whether whole-cloth or from people you’ve met, you’ve invented him. There is no David Andrew Gurney.”
That’s a psychiatrist named Dr. Koslenko, rather unsympathetically telling patient David Gurney that his entire life is in fact an elaborate hallucination. Gurney has landed himself in the psych ward after waking up to find that nobody --- wife, friends, coworkers --- recognizes him. It’s not that he’s some sort of imposter in someone else's shoes…. He, as he knows himself, doesn’t exist, period.
“Person or Persons Unknown,” while pretty effective on its own, feels overly familiar. It’s a deft mash-up of previous TZ entries, predominantly season one’s “A World of Difference.” The scene in which Gurney calls his mother, only to learn that she has no idea who he is, is straight out of season one’s “And When the Sky Was Opened” (coincidentally, Charles Aidman was the victim that time around; we just saw him last week in “Little Girl Lost”).
The real joy of “Person or Persons Unknown” lies in Richard Long’s performance in the lead as the beleaguered Gurney. Probably best remembered for his work on TV’s The Big Valley, Long is just plain likeable. He assumes, as most of us probably would, that his identity crisis is in fact an elaborate joke. As things become progressively direr, he comes to believe that it’s instead an elaborate conspiracy. He never once questions his own sanity until the very end, when writer Charles Beaumont turns everything on its head for the sake of a shock ending and never explains a goddamned thing. Watch Long’s face positively crumble when…. well, you’ll see. Long will return to The Twilight Zone in season five’s “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You.”
What’s really happening here? We’ll never know. Is it an interconnected series of nightmares, a la season two’s “Shadow Play?” Is it a Lynchian* study of the precariousness of identity? I dunno. If this episode appeared early in the series, I’d feel inclined to examine it more deeply; however, coming late in season three, it feels derivative and a bit lazy. But it’s undeniably fun, thanks to Long’s spirited performance. It’s by no means a total loss; however, given that the great John Brahm directed it, it should at least be more interesting to look at. I guess maybe that’s more the fault of D.O.P. Robert W. Pittack, who subbed for George T. Clemens that week.
Next week: “The Little People” defies the law of gravity and common sense… and worst of all, never once shows us an actual little person, dammit.
* Lynchian, as in film director/auteur/genuine weirdo David Lynch. See Lost Highway and/or Mulholland Dr. for a nice surreal mindfuck.