Wednesday, May 06, 2015

A Different Drummer

Secretary: Can I get you anything, sir?

Gart (James Daly): Yes, a sharp razor and a chart of the human anatomy showing all the arteries.

"A Stop at Willoughby," the episode of the Twilight Zone that premiered on this day in 1960, has always been one of my favorite episodes from the series — and I'll be damned if I know why.

I do know that Rod Serling said it was his favorite episode from the first season of the Twilight Zone, but I'm not certain that he ever said why. Maybe he didn't know.

I'm a devotee of the Twilight Zone marathons on Syfy every Fourth of July and New Year's. Most of the time, the marathon is composed of episodes from the original series, but once it was half episodes from the series that ran in the mid–1980s — which I enjoyed even though most of my friends didn't care for the second incarnation of the series — and I had fun getting to see those episodes again.

My point is, though, that every time Syfy has a Twilight Zone marathon, I look for "A Stop at Willoughby" in the schedule, and I am sure to watch it, whenever it is on, even if it is in the middle of the night. I've been known to get up out of bed to watch it.

I still can't tell you why I like it so much. I can only tell you that there are a handful of Twilight Zone episodes that are like that for me. I haven't met a Twilight Zone fan who is not like that about certain episodes. Some of them can tell you exactly why they like the episodes so much, but most seem to be like me. I can't tell you why I like certain episodes the way I do — nor can I tell you why I dislike certain episodes, too. There are some that I will look for in the schedule so I will know when not to watch the marathon.

The only conclusion I have been able to reach is that we Twilight Zone fans are a discerning bunch. We can be passionate about watching certain episodes — and just as passionate about not watching other ones.

It probably has something to do with the fact that the protagonist feels trapped in his job, his life, his everything. He didn't think he was being true to himself. I've felt that way. I know exactly how he felt. Most of us probably do.

Anyway, "A Stop at Willoughby" was about an advertising executive named Gart (James Daly) who had been pushed to his limits by the stress of his business. As the audience was just getting to know him, he was in a high–pressure meeting waiting for his young protege, who had been given a $3 million account to handle.

Turned out, the protege had resigned and taken the $3 million account with him to another agency. We all have bad days, but Gart's was textbook bad. On the train ride home, after glancing out at the falling snow, Gart dozed off. He was probably in a hurry to get the day over with.

And Gart began to dream — a really odd dream that had him riding in a turn–of–the–century train and visiting a turn–of–the–century place called Willoughby in the summer of 1888. It was a serene place of town squares and horse–drawn wagons, barefoot boys with fishing poles and band concerts — very appealing for a man who preferred a slower pace. Gart could see it from his window. But before Gart could leave the train, he woke up and he was back in the present day with all of his problems.

He found no sympathy when he got home. He found a wife whose opinion of him was that he lacked the drive to succeed.

That's what the episode was about — the pressure to produce even if one works in a field he loathes. Sometimes that can be done. Apparently, at one time, Gart had been one of those people who could produce in spite of a work environment he detested. But no more — and he knew it.

"Some people aren't built for competition," Gart told his wife, "or big, pretentious houses they can't afford. Or rich communities they don't feel comfortable in. Or country clubs they wear around their necks like a badge of status."

Gart dreamed of Willoughby again when he was commuting on the train, but again he was unable to get off before the train started to move. He resolved to get off the next time.

And he did.

He reached his breaking point at the office and called his wife, begging her to be home when he got there, but she hung up on him.

He was next seen riding the train again. He fell asleep again, too, but not before expressing the desire to return to Willoughby again. And he did. He got off the train and mingled with the people there.

The next thing the viewers saw was the modern train stopped along the tracks. A passenger had jumped from the train and was lying dead in a snow bank. A hearse was on the scene to pick up the body. After the body was loaded, the hatch was closed, and the audience could see "Willoughby & Son Funeral Home" written on it.

Gart had escaped.