Saturday, March 14, 2020

Review of The Twilight Zone, Season 1, Episode 19: "War Sucks"

When I write a review of a The Twilight Zone episode, I always change the title. Some of you may have noticed that because you're perceptive lads and laddies (are "laddies" women or just small lads? I guess I should have said "lads and ladies" but then I couldn't have made a parenthetical reference (which are my favorite kinds of references)). My title might be a little bit on the nose although I could have made it more on the noserer by calling it "Death Sucks." But the original title was "The Purple Testament" and if you're wondering what the fuck that has to do with anything, keep fucking wondering because I'm not going to be able to explain it. I mean, sure, Rod Serling explains it in his narration although that dumb ass says it's a quote from William Shakespeare's Richard III when it's actually from Richard II. The quote is "He is come to open the purple testament of bleeding war." So you can see why Rod Serling uses the phrase "The Purple Testament" as his title. Because the story is about war. But why the fuck did William Shakespeare use it?! How should I know? Do I look like a Shakespeare scholar? The one thing anybody would rationally think after reading just a few of my comic book or The Twilight Zone reviews is, "This idiot definitely isn't a Shakespeare scholar." What I know about Shakespeare could fit in a small book of dick jokes. Because that's what he was famous for, right? Dick jokes?

I used to be able to quote the entire end speech by Othello where he's talking about not loving not enough but too much but I've gotten old enough to realize some things aren't important enough to keep taking up brain space. Now the only quote I remember from Shakespeare is "Out vile jelly!" from King Lear. It's my favorite quote to use when some other smart ass person at the party starts going on and on with things like "Life is like a box of chocolates, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" or "What is this dagger I see perchance sleeping before me" or "Alas, Poor Yorick! I knew him. Notice how I didn't say 'well' at the end of the quote because that's not actually part of the quote and also did you know the next part of this quote is where David Foster Wallace got his title for the book Infinite Jest?" So after they're looking smug and smart showing off their Shakespeare knowledge, I'll say, "Out vile jelly!" Then I make a grinding motion with my foot like I'm putting out Gloucester's eyes! Then I like to follow it up with "Did you know King Lear's daughters were all named after sexually transmitted diseases?" They weren't but a good percentage of the time, I can convince some of the people I'm talking to that Cordelia was actually named Chlamydia.

So the story is a war story and Serling calls it "The Purple Testament" because that's a phrase that's used in a Shakespeare quote that mentions "bleeding war." That's as good as an explanation as you're going to get because I doubt there's anybody in the entire academic world that can tell me what the fuck opening a purple testament has to do with war. The best I can come up with (as an amateur Shakespeare scholar which I suppose I can call myself. You can call yourself anything you want if you just stick "amateur" in front of it!) is that it's either a meta-purple prose comment about Bolingbroke declaring war or it's a dick joke. Either way, it's King Richard saying Bolingbroke has a huge erection for bloody war. The good thing is that you don't need to know anything about Shakespeare to understand this The Twilight Zone episode. Serling only mentions it because he knows everybody is going to be thinking, "What the fuck does a purple testament have to do with this fucking story?!"

The premise of the episode is that a soldier suddenly develops the power to predict which soldiers are about to die. It doesn't help to save them so it's not a power that really matters. At all. Which is kind of both the point and besides the point. See, this guy is fighting a war. Everybody around him could die at any moment. So seeing death in the faces of your fellow soldiers is just a thing you begin to live with. Actually having the power to see the light of death in their faces is just a metaphor for how much war sucks and a bunch of y'all are going to die. At one point, one of the characters actually says, "War sucks." And that's pretty much the only part of the script that matters. War fucking sucks, dude. Which one of these guys is going to die today? It's a mystery but you know it's going to be some of them! Does knowing which ones help? Nope! They're still going to die! So just suck it up and cross your fingers it's not you, even though it probably will be! War sucks!

From the moment the soldier reveals his power to Darrin Stephens, the astute The Twilight Zone viewer knows that he's eventually going to look in a mirror and see his own death. It's the only twist available to the story at that point. The question becomes, "How will the soldier react?" Will he rage against the dying of the light which isn't Shakespeare at all? Unless that Dylan guy stole it from a Shakespeare play (which Shakespeare would have stolen from some other now unknown play anyway!). Or will he just take it in stride and go to his death like a man was supposed to in 1959. Quietly, staunchly, and without tears or complaints. Well, this guy just takes it. Just sucks it up like never you mind. He sees the light in his face. He sees the light in the face of the man driving the Jeep taking him away from battle. And he hears about how there are loads and loads of landmines on the road ahead. And he just sits down, shuts the fuck up, and acts like a 1959 man. What a fucking fool.

It might not be dignified but I would have raised a bit of a fuss. I would have screamed, "I'm not going down that road! We're going to blow up! This guy driving is going to die! I'm going to die! I don't want to die!" But then I'd think, "What if not getting away from the front lines is why I die? Maybe forcing this guy to stay in camp with me is how we both die!? How can I be sure?!" Which is probably what the soldier in the episode already thought in his head. That whole mental struggle about how he's probably powerless to stop his own death symbolically took place when he smashed the mirror after seeing the death light on his face. That was the only time he allowed himself to not act like a 1959 man. Smashing the mirror was a bit hysterical and womanly of him and he quickly composes himself and goes off to die like a fucking idiot. I mean a fucking man.

That bit where I called him "hysterical and womanly" wasn't me believing that, you stupid fucking people who can't comprehend anything you read because you just want to be angry at other people. It was satire about the way people thought in the mid-20th century about gender roles. Try to keep up, asshole.

The most poignant part of the episode is when we learn Darrin Stephens believes the soldier when he leaves behind his family pictures and wedding ring as he goes off to die. He, too, takes all this shit in manly stride. I'm so glad I was raised in the 70s, the only decade when we all believed a human was a human was a human, no matter their gender, race, sexual identity, or ethnicity. Some younger generations today might not believe me when I say that decade existed but that's because they live in a world post-Reagan. He and his conservative asshat brigade were the huge pendulum shift away from a path where we were all beginning to get along with each other and into a world where we were all told to hate each other because everybody else was taking our jobs or giving us AIDS or stealing our VCRs or complaining to HR about how often we touch their bottoms in the workplace.

Did I say a more on the noserer title than "War Sucks" would have been "Death Sucks"? Because I just came up with the on the nosiest title of all: "Life Sucks."

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