Friday, February 3, 2012

"Mirror Image"


A reflection of fear: Vera Miles sees her mirror image
 "Mirror Image"
Season One, Episode 21
Original Air Date: February 26, 1960

Cast:
Millicent Barnes: Vera Miles
Paul Grinstead: Martin Milner
Ticket Taker: Joe Hamilton
Female Attendant: Naomi Stevens
Husband: Ferris Taylor
Wife: Terese Lyon
Bus Driver: Edwin Rand

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week I try to sell an argument to the effect that I'm not at my best when writing scripts for women. Miss Vera Miles takes my side in a most unusual and unique story we call 'Mirror Image.' I hope to see you next week, you in your living room, and Miss Vera Miles and the rest of us in The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Millicent Barnes, age twenty-five, young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night. Not a very imaginative type is Miss Barnes, not given to undue anxiety or fears, or for that matter even the most temporal flights of fancy. Like most young career women, she has a generic classification as a, quote, girl with a head on her shoulders, end of quote. All of which is mentioned now because in just a moment the head on Miss Barnes's shoulders will be put to a test. Circumstances will assault her sense of reality and a chain of nightmares will put her sanity on a block. Millicent Barnes, who in one minute will wonder if she's going mad."

Summary:
            While waiting for a Buffalo, New York bound bus on a stormy night in a nearly deserted, small town bus station, Millicent Barnes inquires about the estimated time of arrival for her bus and is greeted with hostility from the ticket manager. The hostility, it seems, stems from the fact that Millicent has apparently come up to inquire about the bus several times and that her own impatience has worn the patience of the ticker manager thin. Funny thing is, Millicent swears to the ticket manager that this time is the first and only time that she has approached him with an inquiry. Confused, and wanting to avoid an argument, Millicent decides to return to her seat on the waiting bench but not before she eyes a suitcase in the luggage check area behind the ticket desk. Eyeing her own suitcase beside the bench, it becomes apparent that the something about the suitcase behind the ticket desk has disturbed her and Millicent cannot help but, only a few moments later, return to the ticket desk to inquire about it. Telling the ticket manager that the suitcase behind the desk looks exactly like her own suitcase, the exasperated ticket manager asks if Millicent is playing some sort of game, as the suitcase behind the desk is, in fact, her suitcase as she checked it in earlier. Millicent laughs nervously and tells the ticket manager that, though it looks like her suitcase, it isn't her own because her own is beside the waiting bench. Yet, when Millicent turns to point out her own suitcase, it is no longer there. Now beginning to become frightened, Millicent reluctantly returns to her seat.
            Realizing very clearly now that something is definitely amiss and it is not something on her part, Millicent walks into the ladies restroom. Staring at herself in the mirror, Millicent attempts to pull herself together. The female attendant notices Millicent and inquires if everything is alright. Millicent, obviously beginning to lose some control of her emotions, nearly explodes at the woman, telling her that everything is alright, though it is obvious that Millicent is beginning to wonder if this is true herself. The attendant makes a throwaway comment, much like the ticket manager, about how Millicent has come into the restroom earlier and this sends Millicent off the edge. She swears vehemently that she has not been in the restroom before and even makes a comment about something being wrong with the people in the bus station. The attendant attempts to calm Millicent down to little effect, especially when Millicent opens the door to exit the restroom and sees, reflected in the mirror, her doppelganger sitting in the waiting area outside the restroom. Millicent quickly shuts the door again, terrified at the sight. The female attendant, alarmed by Millicent's irrational behavior, again tries to comfort the young woman to no avail. A moment later, Millicent, working up courage, throws open the restroom door, ready to confront whoever, or whatever, is out there waiting for her. Alas, there is nothing there but the empty bench upon which Millicent was sitting.
            Millicent inquires with an older couple, the only other waiting passengers in the station, about the possible appearance of someone else in the station but is met with a bewildered and unhelpful response. Despondent, Millicent returns to her own part of the waiting area and, lost in thought, is startled by the appearance of a young man. Shaking rain from his clothes, the young man introduces himself as Paul Grinstead from Binghamton. As the young man sits down, obviously looking for some light conversation, he is bombarded with Millicent's story of strange disappearances and reappearances. He is, quite understandably, taken aback by the outlandish story and the sudden and frightening way in which Millicent tells it. Grinstead attempts to rationalize the situation for Millicent but the attempt to settle the young woman's mind fails. When the bus they have both been waiting for finally arrives, Millicent is only too happy to quickly get on it and out of the bus station. Ginstead helps her with her bags and follows her out of the station. Outside, however, Millicent is greeted with a nasty surprise. Looking upwards into a window on the bus, Millicent flees in terror back inside the station. She is the only one that has glimpsed her doppelganger already seated on the bus, looking out of the window and wearing a malevolent grin.
             Inside the station, Millicent faints and Grinstead decides to wait for the next bus, opting to stay behind and help care for Millicent. The female attendant, on her way out of the station to go home, makes a comment of pity toward Grinstead about Millicent but also makes a not so subtle comment that perhaps Millicent's problem stems from something wrong with her mind. Millicent wakes up shortly thereafter and appears to have now completely tipped the sanity scales. She tells Grinstead of a theory she has formed about what is happening to her, a theory stemming from something she read in the past. The theory is based on the existence of parallel planes of existence, twin realities, in which each person has an identical twin in the next. These twin worlds, Millicent says, sometimes converge and an individual's twin may cross over into the other world. That twin is malevolent and possesses the instinct to take over and wipe out the other's existence. Grinstead, wearing an expression of dismay and disbelief, insists that there is a more reasonable explanation but Millicent, wearing a dazed and nearly unresponsive expression, seems not to hear him at all. Telling Millicent that he will call a friend in a nearby town to possibly come and pick them up with his car, Grinstead walks to the ticket manager's counter. The ticket manager had overhead the entire conversation and lets it be clearly known that he thinks Millicent is afflicted with a psychosis. Grinstead reveals that he has no friend in a nearby town but only told Millicent that so she would come quietly when the police arrive. Grinstead then calls the police.
            Millicent suddenly gets up and storms into the ladies restroom, intent on badgering the double out of hiding. Grinstead manages to get her out of the restroom and leads her outside where the police promptly arrive and, after a short struggle, take Millicent away. Grinstead, obviously upset, reenters the bus station and decides to sleep away the long wait until the next bus arrives. He places his suitcase beside the bench and goes for a drink from the water fountain. When he looks up again, his suitcase has vanished and he just catches a glimpse of a man rushing out of the bus station. Grinstead calls out and takes off in pursuit. He chases the man through the parking lot and toward the street, only stopping when he catches a glimpse of the stranger's face when the man throws a backward glance. Grinstead sees his own face looking back at him in the moonlight and then loses sight of the stranger altogether, left standing in the parking lot calling out in fear and confusion.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Obscure metaphysical explanation to cover a phenomenon, reasons dredged out of the shadows to explain away that which cannot be explained. Call it parallel planes or just insanity. Whatever it is, you'll find it in The Twilight Zone."

Vera Miles, seeing double and losing her sanity
Commentary:
            The dramatic tension which drives the action of "Mirror Image" represents the literal embodiment of a twilight zone, an area which exists just outside of our normal perceptions of reality and, once entered, can effectively change an individual by attacking and altering the senses of a rational state of mind which ground us in a reasonably functioning world. Episodes of The Twilight Zone can essentially be divided into two types: the light, or benign, and the dark, or malevolent. I have always preferred The Twilight Zone's darker fare and "Mirror Image" is certainly an episode of this stripe. The genesis of the idea as it occurred to Rod Serling has been told and quoted in several different versions but the gist of it is that Serling was in an airport and noticed a suitcase which looked identical to his own. To Serling's surprise, the man that came to retrieve the suitcase also looked, from the back, very much like Serling himself. Though the man turned out to look nothing like Serling at all once Serling got a look at the man's face, it ignited the idea in his mind and materialized as "Mirror Image." Though the episode is not without flaw, and seems somewhat of a rehash of the earlier, and superior, "The Hitch-Hiker," it is a wonderfully moody chiller and is one of a handful that I like to show those who have seen very little of the series. It possesses an intimately disturbing quality that is exceptionally suited to the supernatural thriller, along with strong acting and direction, and a suitably shocking ending that always seems to get a reaction from a first-time viewer. It is also an episode that is somewhat forgotten or at least underrappreciated. 
            Although the writers and the scripts they produced are the functioning heart of the series, the best episodes always had one or more strong actors and a strong director behind the camera. "Mirror Image" is no exception. Vera Miles, who will certainly be best remembered for her associations with Alfred Hitchcock, turns in an exceptional performance and, in my opinion, it is one of the strongest female performances of the first season, perhaps of the entire series, along with Inger Stevens in "The Hitch-Hiker" and Anne Francis in "The After Hours." A former Miss Kansas, 1948, Miles previously contributed her talents to anthology television by starring in the memorable first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, titled "Revenge" (1955), in which a husband kills a man in an attempt to avenge an attack on his wife, played by Miles, only to discover that his wife's psyche has been completely shattered and she has led him to target a random, and therefore innocent, person. A year later, in 1956, Miles costarred with Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man (directed by Hitchcock), James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and John Wayne in The Searchers. Initially pegged by Hitchcock to star in his 1958 film Vertigo, Miles was sidelined from the project after becoming pregnant, much to the ire of Hitchcock who then placed Kim Novak in the role intended for Miles. It would not be the last association between Hitchcock and Vera Miles and the actress will undoubtedly remain best remembered for her role as Lila Crane in Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece of terror cinema, Psycho. The image of Miles descending into the basement and discovering the mummified corpse of Mrs. Bates is instantly recognizable to most modern moviegoers. Miles would also appear in two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season one's "Don't Look Behind You" (1962) and season three's "Death Scene" (1965), as well as reprising her role as Lila Crane in director Richard Franklin's and writer Tom Holland's 1983 sequel Psycho II. 
            Actor Martin Milner, who would find television fame on Route 66, Adam-12, and Swiss Family Robinson, turns in a suitably muted performance as the level-headed young business traveler that is victimized in the chillingly memorable ending.
            What more can be said of John Brahm's talents that has not been said in previous posts? A major contributor to the show, I honestly feel that, by his directing talent, he turned many good episodes into great ones. With "Mirror Image," he was handed a highly visual script with a single setting and managed to turn in one of his finest directing jobs of the first season. Given the single set, Brahm uses it to his advantage, bringing the viewer into an immediately claustrophobic situation and making them endure the nightmare with subtle camera effects that convincingly convey the supernatural element of the episode. Of the utmost importance for Brahm was to keep the episode from falling into unintentional comedy. The effects had to be convincing and, along with Vera Miles's fine performance, the episode manages to pull it off. It's a fine directing job and in the hands of a lesser talent, the episode certainly could have been laughable.
            The Twilight Zone is at its most effective when dealing with the elements of paranoia and psychological torment. This type of episode became The Twilight Zone's calling card and most recognizable subject matter. These episodes usually consists of one or more people put into a situation where a real, or sometimes imagined, threat is recognized and confronted with terrible results. The episodes which isolate a single character in the recognition and confrontation of the threat, like the character of Millicent Barnes in "Mirror Image," are the most effective.  "Mirror Image" joins other notable first season episodes of this ilk, such as "A World of Difference," "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," "The After Hours," and "Perchance to Dream," to name a few. The episode that it most resembles, however, is "The Hitch-Hiker," also from the first season. It is interesting to watch both episodes together to compare and contrast what works for and against each. Though I think "Mirror Image" borrows much from "The Hitch-Hiker," there is enough difference and originality for both episodes to stand very well on their own. Both episodes have a strong female lead menaced by a supernatural force that only they perceive. Both episodes also feature seemingly noble male characters that are erringly level-headed and eventually abandon their female counterparts. "The Hitch-Hiker" is stronger in plot and resolution but I believe "Mirror Image" is stronger in its effect, that potent mix of terror and disorientation. By this point in the first season, Serling managed to reign in his eclectic script writing for the show and focus his talents on tight plotting, strong characterization, and fluid construction. He would, however, occasionally overwrite and the major problem I have with "Mirror Image" is in the heavy-handed rationalization provided by Serling through Millicent Barnes's monologue once she awakens from her fainting spell. I feel that Serling is brow-beating the audience with an out-of-place explanaion of the occurrence. The episode functions just fine without the forced revelation of parallel planes and malevolent doppelgangers. It seems to me that any reasonable viewer can intuit the cause or that it should simply be left to the imagination. This is a small qualm and it doesn't take much away from the episode. "Mirror Image" remains a highlight of the first season, one that is ripe for rediscovery.

Grade: B

Notes:
-John Brahm directed 11 additional episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Time Enough At Last," "The Four of Us Are Dying," and "Shadow Play."
-“Mirror Image” was adapted into prose as “The Mirror Image” by Walter B. Gibson for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited, published in 1964 by Grosset and Dunlap. 

--Jordan Prejean

6 comments:

  1. Very nice commentary! I agree that this is a particularly spooky episode. I liked the way they used the doubles, especially when Milner sees his own in the alley.

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  2. Thanks for saying so, Jack. The scene with the Milner double is one of our favorite Zone endings, not as well remembered as some of the others but still greatly effective. Production didn't overdo the fx and it still holds up pretty well today.

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  3. Absolutely first rate blog, guys! What an amazing amount of info crammed into these pages (in particular, the TZ Magazine overview). I've just discovered the site (thanks to Jack Seabrook and Matthew Bradley) but intend to devour it in the next few weeks. The $64,000,000 Question though is: do you intend to cover the 1980s reboot?

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  4. Hey, thanks for the kind words, Peter. We're glad you like the blog as we have been following your own blogs for some time now. As to the '80s Zone, we definitely have plans to get there but there is still a whole lotta coverage of the original series left in front of us. Thanks again for dropping in.

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  5. Was this episode filmed in the Binghamton bus station? When I lived in Binghamton people always claimed that this was so. Were there any (other) episodes filmed in Binghamton? Rod Serling was the big celebrity name in that town, for sure. I know Miss Helen Foley was given tribute with a character by that name. Just wondering what other Binghamton trivia there is in connection to TZ.

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    1. This episode was filmed on the once great MGM studio backlot where nearly all of the required indoor sets were filmed for the show. On occasion, outdoor locations were used, mostly for vast settings, like the desert in "King Nine Will Not Return." Though the influence of Binghamton can be seen in several Rod Serling written episodes, the town was never utilized as a location for filming. The cost of filming in New York was too much for a show with a production base in southern California and a meager budget. The influence of Binghamton can clearly be seen in the episode "Walking Distance" which Rod Serling based entirely on his childhood there. This episode, too, was filmed on the backlot at MGM. It was while walking through the backlot at MGM that he was reminded of his hometown and wrote the "Walking Distance" script. The character of Helen Foley can be seen, as played by Janice Rule, in the episode "Nightmare as a Child." Thanks for stopping by and hope this helps.

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