Friday, January 24, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" (1/24/1964)




Season 5, Episode 17 (137 overall)
Originally aired 1/24/1964
Cayuga Production # 2618


50 years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone offered us a chilling glimpse of the future, where beauty really is only skin deep.



Marilyn is a troubled teen. She’s reached the optimal age to receive The Transformation, a government-sponsored program in which citizens are given beautiful faces and bodies. Those around her pressure her to choose a pre-designed model (her mother is Number 12, while her best friend Val is Number 8), but she fears the loss of individuality that will inevitably result. The Transformation is supposed to be optional, but nobody seems willing to let her remain herself.



Lana, Marilyn’s mother, finally sends her to a psychiatric clinic in the hopes that she’ll come to her senses. After an unproductive session, Marilyn attempts to sneak out… only to accidentally wander into the operating room, where the doctors are waiting to Transform her.









Lana and Val anxiously await her emergence. Marilyn bounds in the waiting room, full of smiling, empty joy. She’s now a Number 8. “And the nicest part of all, Val,” she coos, admiring herself in a mirror, "I look just like you!"




The smiling, vacuous characters surrounding Marilyn are similar to the denizens of François Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: bereft of depth, relentlessly pro-conformity and chemically propped up. Their society has reached something of a zenith in plastic surgery technology; the next logical advancement would be in utero genetic intervention (a concept explored in 1997’s Gattaca, whose "Invalid" characters are those who haven't been genetically altered). In our world, however, I’m betting we’ll be resequencing DNA and predesigning babies before we ever figure out to perfect a boob job with no visible scarring.


I can’t help but imagine what lies behind the curtain of this future society. What kind of government are we dealing with here? I assume it’s some kind of dictatorship, given the push toward conformity (I’m reminded of The Leader’s speech in season two’s “Eye of the Beholder,” which shares common themes with this episode). I understand the overmedication approach, since a happy populace isn’t likely to ask questions or rise up against The Powers That Be. But why is it necessary to cosmetically modify the citizenry? It’s clearly a form of control, but to what end? They aren't all identical, since there are several “models” to choose from, so the goal isn’t absolute physical conformity. I dunno, maybe I’m looking too deep, when I should really just focus on the surface… wait, did someone slip some Instant Smile into my beer?


The costumes and décor have a nice retro-futuristic flair; however, the lighting and staging of the episode is a fairly flat affair. That all changes in act two with Dr. Sigmund Friend’s shadowy office, which looks like something straight out of German expressionism (Friend’s German accent no doubt contributes to this). The institute's vast hallways appear to be the same as those seen in “The Long Morrow” two weeks ago.



The episode's teleplay is based on Charles Beaumont's 1952 short story “The Beautiful People.” However, like all Beaumont-credited episodes this season, he didn't actually write the teleplay: this one was written by John Tomerlin. Unlike other examples of Beaumont using ghostwriters, both get screen credit here.









THE MUSIC


The episode is stock scored; most of the music heard is from Bernard Herrmann’s “Brave New World” suite, which was originally composed for a radio adaptation of the Aldous Huxley classic. The suite was first released by Cerberus Records as part of their 1986 vinyl album Bernard Herrmann: Music for Radio and Television. It subsequently showed up on CD on Bernard Herrmann: The CBS Years Volume 2: American Gothic from Prometheus Records.

We also get a few snippets from Fred Steiner’s score for season two’s “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” which actually coexist quite nicely with the Herrmann stuff.


FAMILIAR FACES

Collin Wilcox is quite good as Marilyn in her only TZ appearance. Wilcox is best remembered as Mayella Ewell, who falsely accuses Tom Robinson of rape, in the 1962 big screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (which featured several TZ alums, among them William Windom, Robert Duvall, Frank Overton, and Mary Badham). She played a similar white-trash-type of character in “The Jar” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1964, which was written by Ray Bradbury and featured an original music score by frequent TZ contributor Bernard Herrmann.


TZ Babe alert! The lovely Suzy Parker is a treat for the eyes as the titular #12, the model inhabited by several characters in the episode (most notably Lana Cuberle, Marilyn’s mother). Parker would cross paths with Rod Serling again in 1970, in Night Gallery segment “The Housekeeper.”



Richard Long returns to The Twilight Zone as #17, which seems to the model every male in the episode chooses. We last saw him in season three’s “Person or Persons Unknown.”



And while Pam Austin (#8) doesn't seem to have any other genre connections, I'm gonna mention her because, yes, she's a TZ Babe (I'm assuming--- okay, hoping--- she was 18 when this episode was filmed).












“Number Twelve Looks Just like You” is a high point of The Twilight Zone’s fifth and final season. It succeeds as an effective meditation on beauty and conformity (and serves as a perfect bookend to season two’s “Eye of the Beholder”); however, on a more, ahem, surface level... well, it’s just plain fun to watch. You might say it brings an Instant Smile to my face.









Next week:
If The Fonz was from outer space… and there were three of him…




2 comments:

Scott Stevenson said...

Hi Craig.
There are only a handful of fifth season episodes that I would consider to be classics.
"Number 12 Looks Just Like You" is without a doubt one of the true highlights of the final season.
This episode's morality play was applicable in 1964 and it is still applicable 50 years later.
Classic Twilight Zone at its best.

firstmagnitude said...

I met Collin Wilcox while I was an extra in the movie "Marie" that was shot in Nashville Tennessee back in December 1984. She was waiting to do her scene in a wheelchair, and I chatted with her about wardrobes used in other movies. She seemed a little nervous but was very polite. Of course I totally forgot she was in this classic TZ episode. I was sad to find out that she passed away in 2009