Friday, January 3, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "You Drive" (1/03/1964)

Season 5, Episode 14 (134 overall)
Originally aired 1/03/1964
Cayuga Production # 2625

Fifty years ago tonight, Rod Serling’s “You Drive” premiered, roughly one third into the series’ fifth season. The season has thus far been something of a roller coaster, with definite high points (“In Praise of Pip,” “Living Doll”) and, um, efforts leaning in the opposite direction (“A Kind of a Stopwatch,” “Probe 7, Over and Out”). “You Drive” represents an interesting schizophrenic approach, as it features some of both. The scenes that open and close the episode are quite excellent, matching the stunning quality of the show’s first season. The twenty minutes in between, however…. Well, are more on par with season four.

The opening scene finds a distracted Oliver Pope driving home from work in the rain. He errantly hits a newspaper boy on a bicycle and, after stopping long enough to look at the boy’s twisted body, panics and flees the scene. Serling’s clipped, tense opening narration has a sense of propulsive urgency that I haven’t heard since his (atypical) mid-episode narration in season one’s “I Shot an Arrow into the Air.” The accompanying music, lifted from Jerry Goldsmith’s score for season two’s “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” adds to said urgency. 

The sight of the injured boy, lying in the rain at a disjointed angle, is uncomfortably realistic. And finally, Anthony Edwards’ performance is spot on: he’s an average guy whose attention lapses at a critical moment, which could happen to anyone. It’s easy to condemn his decision to flee, but honestly, who among us wouldn't at least feel tempted to run like hell?

One minor quibble: Serling opening narration describes Pope as a “businessman-turned-killer” immediately after he flees the scene of the accident. It’s a bit of a spoiler, since the kid doesn’t actually die until act two.

As the police attempt to apprehend the driver, Pope’s car begins exhibiting odd behaviors, honking its horn and flashing its headlights seemingly of its own accord. A co-worker of his (whom he dislikes) is inexplicably identified by a witness to the accident, and it seems that Pope might just be off the hook. But that car in the garage has other ideas….

The bulk of the episode is pretty by-the-numbers. As soon as the car starts acting up, it’s all too obvious that things will escalate, and Pope will be ultimately driven (heh heh) to some measure of justice. This isn’t necessarily a criticism; it just feels like a waiting game till the climax arrives. It’s not boring, exactly, but…

Said climax involves Pope avoiding the car altogether and setting out for work on foot. Before his wife’s incredulous eyes, the car pulls out of the garage of its own volition and follows him… and we’re back to the propulsive excitement of the prologue. 

So the obvious question is: what’s powering the car? It could be the ghost of the dead child, except that the car starts acting up before he dies. So maybe it’s an astral projection kinda deal, which graduates to a full-on automotive haunting after he dies?  Nothing in the episode supports this, however, so we’re left with no explanation whatsoever. Bartlett Finchley met a gruesome end at the hands (well, wheels) of his car in season two’s “A Thing About Machines,” but there we had a general uprising of All Things Mechanical to revenge Finchley’s abuse of them, so it was easier to buy. “You Drive” isn’t really a man vs. machine story in that respect.

I suppose it’s possible that we’re seeing Pope’s abject guilt manifesting in a physical way, in the form of his car acting seemingly of its own accord. We've certainly seen guilt do some pretty powerful things on the show already (“King Nine Will Not Return,” “The Arrival,” “The Thirty Fathom Grave”). I was also pondering the possibility of the whole thing being a guilt-fueled hallucination, and that Pope was imagining the car’s antics as his subconscious mind was preparing to make him confess… but then I realized that his wife can also see and hear said antics, so never mind. Speaking of guilt, I’m often guilty of over-analyzing the machinations underlying the magical events that occur in The Twilight Zone, and this week is clearly no exception. The how isn’t nearly as important as the why, and since cosmic justice has once again been served, maybe it’s best not to ask too many questions.


Oliver Pope is well-played by Edward Andrews in his second TZ appearance (he was the slimy Government narc Carlin in season one’s “Third from the Sun”). If you grew up in the 80’s like me, you probably know him as Molly Ringwald’s grandfather in Sixteen Candles (the one hosting foreign exchange student Long Duck Dong).

Pope’s office nemesis Pete Radcliff is played by Kevin Hagen, who previously visited The Twilight Zone in season one’s “Elegy” (he played Captain Webber). If you grew up in the 80’ like me, you probably know him as Doc Baker on TV’s long-running Little House on the Prairie.

“You Drive” is directed by John Brahm, his eleventh of a total twelve episodes he’d helm (he’ll be back a bit later in the season with “Queen of the Nile”). He also directed two episodes of The Outer Limits (“The Bellero Shield” and “ZZZZZ”), as well as multiple stints on ThrillerThe Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Ultimately, “You Drive” doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its prologue, but it tries damn hard to redeem itself in the final three minutes. It’s kinda like a sandwich: the filler’s decent, but that bread holding it together is damned tasty. Hmmm, is anybody else hungry?

7 days from now: 
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone..


Scott Stevenson said...

Hi Craig.
Do you happen to think that Stephen King saw this episode when he was a young lad, put it in his sub-conscious memory bank and years later withdrew it from his fertile imagination and produced the wonderful novel "Christine"?
I see some similarities.

Craig Beam said...

I dunno, maybe. Or maybe he's a big "My Mother the Car" fan.

Author: Dan Thompson said...

What was the name of the tune that began playing on the car radio in the middle of the night? I also heard it on an episode of Perry Mason. I tried Shazaming it but got no results.