THE FIFTH DIMENSION: "Perchance to Dream" & "Judgment Night"


We come to our first episode not written by series mastermind Rod Serling, a psychological horror entry by Charles Beaumont blurring the line between reality and dreams. Then, Serling's own take on a nightmare, his not an internalized terror but an eternity of horror wrought by who else but the main character himself.


Season 1, Episode 9 - PERCHANCE TO DREAM
Originally aired on November 27, 1959

109Written by: Charles Beaumont
Directed by: Robert Florey

"They say a dream takes only a second or so, and yet in that second a man can live a lifetime. He can suffer and die, and who's to say which is the greater reality: the one we know or the one in dreams, between heaven, the sky, the earth- and in the Twilight Zone."

An old legend tells us that if while you sleep you dream of falling off a high precipice and reach the bottom before waking up, you will die. Though truly one wonders if it is myth or fact since it would stand to reason those who accomplish this feat in their slumbers, if true, never live to tell about it. Such is the nature of Charles Beaumont’s inaugural episode. It concerns Mr. Hall, a man who has not slept for almost four days out of fear that when he does, he will return to the same sequential dreams he has been having and it will kill him. His dreams are of an amusement park and specifically a beautiful and devilish woman named Maya whom he cannot resist nor deny and who seems determined to end his life. Hall has a heart condition where any great excitement or stress can kill him and his sequential dreams have led him to the conclusion the next time he sleeps, he will die by Maya’s hands. He has stumbled into a doctor’s office and spends the entire episode recounting these events in the hope there can be some solution. The final twist comes as we realize at some point during the early part of the episode, he had in fact fallen asleep and his angel of destruction had come not as amusement park seductress but as the gatekeeper to his last stand of hope, now crushed and lost.

The first episode not written by Rod Serling, and it shows itself as a much different beast. Beaumont is not as moralistic as Serling and though the episode is still fairly talky, Beaumont’s interests lie more in psychological terror and expressionist horror. Beaumont himself praised the work of director Robert Florey who he claimed found shadows and highlighted images that deepened the meaning in ways even Beaumont had not expected. The second half of the episode, in particular the amusement park sequences, are indeed expressive and featuring marvelous use of shadows, particularly for the character of Maya who many times is shrouded by shadows and her white teeth sparkling from beneath the dark almost like a disembodied evil. The twist feels slightly dishonest if only because it betrays the very idea of the sequential dreams and one wonders just how well the frantic man would remember piece by piece an office he had only just visited. Though I did indeed love the way the final act by Hall so closely resembles my opening legend and the irony in the doctor’s condolence in his “peaceful” demise.


Season 1, Episode 10 - JUDGMENT NIGHT
Originally aired on December 4, 1959

110Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: John Brahm

"The S.S. Queen of Glasgow, heading for New York, and the time is 1942. For one man, it is always 1942, and this man will ride the ghost of that ship every night for eternity. This is what is meant by paying the fiddler. This is the comeuppance awaiting every man when the ledger of his life is opened and examined, the tally made, and then the reward or the penalty paid. And in the case of Carl Lanser, former Kapitan Leutnant, Navy of the Third Reich, this is the penalty. This is the justice meted out. This is judgment night in the Twilight Zone."

Harking back to the first episodes, this one also finds a man waking to a world he does not fully comprehend and confused and bewildered of his own name or identity. Here, he’s a German aboard a British ship during WWII. He is quickly summoned for dinner, and immediately shows a knowledge of German U-Boats and reveals he was born in Frankfurt, though he himself is surprised and shocked by the news. He later suddenly begins to spell doom for the ship, ranting about an impending attack, but one which he only feels and cannot specify. After finding a German officer hat among his possessions and after going to the bar, it has become somewhat obvious that Lanser is a German U-boat officer. He tries to warn everyone aboard that they are about to be attacked, but he words fall on deaf ears and eventually, and unsurprisingly, the ship is indeed attacked and sunk, Lanser forced to watch their deaths intimately and in horror. The twist here seems pretty obvious and it is quickly revealed through a rather unfortunately extended final sequence that Lanser now resides in his own personal form of Hell.

Serling loved to punish his characters with eternal fates fit for their crimes. Here he leaves no doubt regarding the final resting place for Mr. Lanser as well as his own disdain for the character’s crimes against humanity. Serling certainly takes the easy target using a Nazi as his villain/anti-hero, but it is still an effective argument that could be spread to a multitude of wars, crimes and nationalities. Serling lays it on pretty thick at the final reveal, hammering his point regarding an eternal Hell for Lanser past the point of necessity, not to mention going a bit overboard with the casual evil of his character, playing to the extremes instead of a more calculated resonance. The acting is fairly rotten overall with a lot of exaggeration and a particularly awful German accent near the end. Still, the reversal at the end is among the series’ more impactful twists, showing Serling’s own argument for how different violence and acts of war look when you don’t see the men as a faceless “enemy” but simply as people, all part of the same human race. The real punishment may not be in the constant cycle but in the amnesia that forces Lanser each and every time to have no rationale behind the killings, only the horrified looks of death.

The Fifth Dimension is a weekly feature chronicling guest blogger Phil Ward\'s voyage in watching every episode of the original Twilight Zone series in chronological order, exclusively on JustPressPlay.

Phil Ward • Contributor


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