Season 3, Episode 32 (97 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4830
“I’ve often wondered why it is that men fear the unknown. Like children, they’re afraid of the dark. The only person I’ve met who isn’t afraid of the dark is a child.”
That’s the mysterious Mr. Williams, who stumbles into a cantina in a small Mexican town late one night. He’s been shot by anxious police officers tracking whoever--- or whatever--- stumbled out of a crashed spaceship on the outskirts of town. It’s a safe bet Mr. Williams isn’t an American tourist.
Rod Serling’s “The Gift,” turning 50 tonight, is actually a resurrected idea from his pre-TZ writing days. It’s not a bad idea, though we’ve already seen a Serling script with similar story seeds (season two’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”), so it seems a bit familiar (which is turning into a weekly phenomenon as we wind our way through the latter half of the show’s third season). However, familiarity is by no means the biggest sin on display here. “The Gift,” in its final TZ form, should’ve never made it out of Serling’s filing cabinet.
But we won’t. This episode is thoroughly shitty, and doesn’t merit examination or analysis. The core idea is fine, and might’ve worked with a different approach (and perhaps a bit of respect for the Mexican population), but three years of constant writing, narrating and executive-producing (not to mention promoting the series and clashing with the network over budget issues) had clearly reduced Serling to a fatigued mess.
Always candid, Serling himself said as much at the end of season three: “At the moment, my perspective is shot. I think this is evident at times in the lack of quality in some of the Twilight Zone scripts.” Gee, ya think?
The one and only thing of quality to be found in “The Gift” is Brazilian legend Laurindo Almeida’s atmospheric and haunting acoustic guitar score. Almeida is partly responsible for one of my all-time favorite bossa nova albums: 1966’s Stan Getz with Guest Artist Laurindo Almeida, on Verve Records. I only own it in mp3 form, but I’ve been slowly amassing a respectable jazz collection on vinyl, and it’s on my short list of titles to acquire.
“The Gift” stands as uncomfortable proof that the glory days of The Twilight Zone are behind it. With almost 40% of the series’ entirety still to come, this relatively early decline is troubling indeed.
Next week, Cliff Robertson comes unglued as a ventriloquist battling wits with a dummy who’s outgrown him. It’s basically a metaphor for parenthood.