Friday, February 3, 2012

"Mirror Image"

Naomi Stevens and Vera Miles, with her mirror image

"Mirror Image"
Season One, Episode 21
Original Air Date: February 26, 1960

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

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Budd S. Friend
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
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."

Vera Miles with Martin Milner (as Paul Grinstead)
            When Millicent Barnes inquires about the estimated time of arrival for her bus she 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 impatience has worn thin the patience of the ticker manager. Funny thing is, this is the first 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 something about the suitcase behind the ticket desk has intrigued her and Millicent cannot help but inquire about it. The exasperated ticket manager asks if Millicent is playing some sort of game, as the suitcase behind the desk is, in fact, her suitcase. She checked it in earlier. Millicent laughs and tells the ticket manager that, although it looks like her suitcase, it isn't her own because her suitcase is beside the bench. Yet, when Millicent turns to indicate her own suitcase, it is no longer there. Now beginning to become frightened, Millicent reluctantly returns to her seat.
            Slowly realizing that something is amiss, Millicent walks into the restroom. Staring into the mirror, Millicent attempts to pull herself together. The female attendant notices Millicent's agitation and inquires if everything is okay. Millicent, obviously beginning to lose some control of her emotions, nearly explodes at the woman, telling her that everything is fine, though it is obvious that Millicent is beginning to wonder herself if this is true. The attendant makes a throwaway comment about how Millicent had come into the restroom earlier and this sets Millicent off. She vehemently states that she has not been in the restroom before and makes a comment about something being wrong with the people in the 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, herself 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 behavior, again tries to comfort the young woman but to no avail. A moment later, Millicent throws open the restroom door, ready to confront whoever, or whatever, is there waiting for her. Alas, there is nothing but the empty bench.
            Millicent converses with an older couple, the only others in the waiting area, 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 man introduces himself as Paul Grinstead. 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 fails. When the bus they have both been waiting for arrives, Millicent is only too happy to quickly get out of the station. Ginstead helps her with her bags and follows her out. Outside, Millicent is greeted with a nasty surprise. Looking up into a window on the bus, Millicent flees in terror back inside the station. She 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 stay behind and help care for her. The female attendant, on her way out of the station, 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. 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 a counterpart in the next world. These twin worlds, Millicent says, sometimes converge and an individual's counterpart 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. Telling Millicent that he will call a friend in a nearby town to come and pick them up with his car, Grinstead walks to the ticket manager's counter. The ticket manager has overhead the conversation and lets it be 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 men in white coats arrive. Grinstead then calls the police.
            Millicent suddenly gets up and storms into the restroom, intent on badgering her deadly 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, presumably to a mental health facility. 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 is gone. He catches a glimpse of a man rushing out of the 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 as the man throws a backward look. 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."


"There, seated where she had been a short time before, Millicent saw the mirrored image of a girl who was her identical twin. Either that, or Millicent had become someone else and was looking back at her old self of ten minutes before." 

                 -"The Mirror Image" by Rod Serling and Walter B. Gibson (Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Revisited, 1964)

            "The Twilight Zone" refers to an area which exists outside our normal perceptions of reality and, once entered, can effectively change an individual by attacking and altering the senses which balance a rational state of mind. Stories told on The Twilight Zone can essentially be divided into two groups: the light, or benign, and the dark, or malevolent. "Mirror Image" is an episode of the latter type, an intimately disturbing drama which straddles the line between the psychological and the supernatural and challenges our perceptions not only of this world but of possible worlds beyond. The episode concerns what the Germans label "doppelganger," or double-goer, an apparition or double of a living person. It is what Scottish author John Keir Cross referred to as "the other passenger," a theme which has probably most effectively been presented in a popular work in Edgar Allan Poe's 1839 tale "William Wilson." 
             "Mirror Image" retains its power to unsettle the viewer because we have likely all had those subtly strange experiences which temporarily disorient us. Have you ever experienced a particularly strong sense of deja vu? Or have you ever thought you saw someone you know only to see on second look that it isn't who you thought it to be?  Have you ever spoken to a person in a familiar way before realizing it isn't who you thought it was? Have you ever been mistaken for someone else by someone who is certain they've met you before or seen you somewhere you've never been? We have all likely experienced some slightly unsettling event of a similar nature and it is upon this type of experience, when one is left to briefly question their memory and their senses, that "Mirror Image" gains its power. 
             The idea for the story has its genesis in an episode from Rod Serling's life. Serling was in an airport and noticed a suitcase which looked identical to his own. To Serling's surprise, the man who came to retrieve the suitcase looked, from the backside, very much like Serling himself. Though the man turned out to look nothing like Serling once Serling got a look at the man's face, it ignited an idea in the writer's mind. What if the man turned out to look exactly like himself? Serling thought. What if that man boarded the plane in his place and went home to his family? The disturbing possibilities Serling batted around in his mind later materialized as "Mirror Image." As indicated in his preview narration for the episode, Serling challenged himself to write a showcase for an actress and changed the location from the bustle of an airport to the loneliness of a nearly-deserted bus station in the middle of a rainy night. 
            The episode is a wonderfully moody chiller and one of a handful that I like to show to those who have seen little or none 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 and underappreciated. 
            Although the writers and the brilliant 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 remembered for her associations with director Alfred Hitchcock, turns in an exceptional performance. It is, along with Inger Stevens in "The Hitch-Hiker" and Anne Francis in "The After Hours,one of the strongest female performances of the first season, and perhaps of the entire series. Miles manages the difficult task of lending the character of Millicent Barnes both a strength and a vulnerability so that when she eventually descends into a place from which she cannot return, mentally and physically, the viewer is not only convinced but completely invested in her fate. Although Rod Serling indicates that he was challenged to write a script for an actress, the first season of the series is an excellent showcase for psychological and supernatural dramas centered around women who alone must face an invading force or recover some essential memory which will forever alter them. Rod Serling's "The Hitch-Hiker," "Mirror Image," "Nightmare as a Child," and "The After Hours" are all first season episodes of this type and all of them, even the least of the quartet, "Nightmare as a Child," are powerful examinations of vulnerable characters slipping precariously into that netherworld from which they return fundamentally changed in character and fate. 
              A former Miss Kansas, 1948, Vera Miles previously contributed to anthology television by starring in the memorable first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Revenge" (October 2, 1955). Based on a story by Samuel Blas, originally published in Colliers Weekly for January 11, 1947, it tells of a husband who 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, innocent person. A year later Miles costarred with Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man (directed by Alfred Hitchcock), with James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and with John Wayne in The Searchers. Initially pegged by Hitchcock to star in the 1958 film Vertigo, Miles was sidelined from the project after becoming pregnant, much to the ire of Hitchcock who replaced Miles with Kim Novak. Miles would reunite with Hitchcock for her role as Lila Crane in Psycho (1960). The image of Miles descending into the basement and discovering the mummified corpse of Mrs. Bates is instantly recognizable to moviegoers. She appeared in the same role for 1983's Psycho II. 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).
            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 traveler who is victimized in the memorable twist ending. The image of Milner's double looking back over his shoulder, grinning madly, is one which lingers in the viewer's mind. 
            What more can be said of director John Brahm's talents that has not been said in previous posts? A major contributor to the series, and its most prolific director, he turned many good episodes into great ones. With "Mirror Image," he was handed a script with a single, simple 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 developing nightmare with subtle camera effects, muted lighting, and an inconspicuous style of photography that perfectly frames the increasingly aggressive supernatural element of the episode against the benign reality of its setting. 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 brilliantly. It is a fine directing job and in the hands of a lesser talent the episode certainly could have been laughable in places.
            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 episodes of this ilk, such as "A World of Difference," "Shadow Play," 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 "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 stubbornly level-headed and eventually abandon their female counterparts. "The Hitch-Hiker" is stronger in plot and resolution but "Mirror Image" is stronger in its effect and atmosphere, that potent mix of terror and disorientation. 
               By this point in the first season, Serling managed to focus his talents on tight plotting, strong characterization, and fluid construction. He would, however, occasionally overwrite and the only major issue with "Mirror Image" is in the heavy-handed rationalization provided through Millicent Barnes's monologue once she awakens from her fainting spell. It feels a bit like an exposition dump, brow-beating the audience with an obvious, and unnecessary, explanation of the supernatural occurrence. The episode functions just fine without the theorizing on 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. One interesting aspect that is not directly stated through dialogue is the idea that planes between realities are thinnest at way stations and places of travel. It was brilliant on Serling's part, whether consciously done or not, to set the story in a bus station. Places like bus stations, airports, train stations, ports, or even hospitals often served on the series as places where the walls between worlds are thinnest.  
          "Mirror Image" remains a highlight of a rich first season, one that is ripe for rediscovery, and a perfect episode to entice new viewers to the show.

Grade: B

-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 a short story (as "The Mirror Image") by Walter B. Gibson for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Revisited (Grosset & Dunlap, 1964). 
-"Mirror Image" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Dennis Etchison, starring Morgan Brittany and Frank John Hughes.
-"Mirror Image" was the final episode filmed before a first season hiatus in order to secure further sponsorship.  



  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.

  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.

  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?

  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.

  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.

    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.

  6. Mirror Image to me was one of the most frightening of the entire series because unlike the other episodes, there were malevolent forces at work in threatening and harassing the protagonist, Millicent Barnes. The scene where Millicent's doppelganger glares at her through the bus window and has that malevolent smile on her face is chilling, and at the end of the episode, Martin Millner's double character running from the terminal with a sly smile is very unsettling to keep you up at night! LOL. Serling and his team of writers were masters of suspense and no doubt were influenced by the Master, Alfred Hitchcock.

    1. I agree with you about the malevolent atmosphere in this one. It remains one of my favorites and one I like to show viewers new to the series. Despite all of its great qualities, including a compelling performance from Vera Miles and some very effective fright sequences, I still feel as though this one is very underrated. Not much discussion out there about it.

  7. I teach a class on the Twilight Zone and use the Vortex as a great/attributed resource. I wonder if you could expand on this statement on MIRROR IMAGE --"planes between realities are thinnest at way stations and places of travel" Thnx Mike Lynn

    1. Hey, Mike. Thanks for reading. What I meant by the statement is that I feel that places of travel (airports, bus terminals, taxi stations, train stations, and similar places of conveyance) lend themselves to supernatural activity, mainly through the intrinsic nature of their function, i.e. people and things moving rapidly from one place to another. People, most of them unknown to one another, move through these areas at high volumes every day. Being in the mix of this activity can reduce a person's individuality in a way, I think.

      In the case of "Mirror Image," I believe the bus station acts as a conduit for the doppelganger to travel from wherever it originated to where it can antagonize Millicent Barnes. The series frequently used modes of travel to similarly explore the supernatural, such as in "A Stop at Willoughby," "The Odyssey of Flight 33" or "The Arrival."

      It's a connection I made in my mind and it may be simply my imagination but I've always found airports and train stations to be rather creepy places. You're either in a great hurry or delayed for a long period of time and it can feel like you're not really in a place of any substance but only waiting to be loaded and taken away. When your imagination gets working you can see how someone who looks like you may have taken your seat on the bus or you may get on the train and get off fifty years in the past.

      Hope that helps!

    2. Jordan, fantastic thought/insight and I don't think it's your imagination. I get it and it makes sci-fi and Twilight Zone sense. I will use this as a premise for a lecture series on "travel" and "waiting rooms" in the TZ and will call it (get ready) PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES in the TZ!!! Gotta have a sense of humor.

      And BTW, I can't tell you enough times how the TZ VORTEX has been a fantastic resource for my lectures. Do you and Brian write everything? Quite the task.

      Look forward to more Vortex articles and thnx for the insight.

      PS Thought I should mention my lecture series:
      The Twilight Zone: Six Degrees of Separation
      (2 hours)
      Accompanied by video clips from the classic 1959 to 1964 series, this lecture explores The Twilight Zone’s connections with other shows, movies and media since the original series aired.

      Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone: Political Theater and Morality Plays
      (2 hours each)
      Many Twilight Zone episodes were often thinly veiled morality plays about the human condition or political theater about current events and very serious subjects. Serling used science fantasy to avoid the censorship that was emasculating TV dramas. Using episodes from the 1959-64 series, we’ll discuss how the creative elements of these episodes (e.g., writing, lighting, cinematography, direction and music) reflected and enhanced the mood, message, impact and intensely personal nature of Serling’s storytelling in The Twilight Zone.

      The Twilight Zone: Tropes and Tales
      (2 hours each)
      A turning point in TV content and a high point in the use of TV to challenge social and political mores. Using episodes of the 1959-64 series, research and interviews with many associated with the series, we will discuss the cautionary tales within and their impact on society. In addition, we’ll discuss how the creative elements of these episodes (e.g., writing, lighting, cinematography, direction and music) reflected and enhanced the mood, message, impact and intensely personal nature of Serling’s storytelling in The Twilight Zone.

      Rod Serling: Lunchtime Lecture and Sage Series
      (1-hour lectures)
      These lectures use Twilight Zone episodes/clips to illustrate and discuss Serling's life, his perspectives and beliefs on war, politics, religion and other 1960s issues. These issues remain contemporary, 60 years later.

    3. Thanks again for reading and I'm glad you could put some of our commentary to good use. The lecture series sound fascinating and very in-depth. Please let us know if it becomes available to read/view/hear online.

  8. Suffice it to say that Mirror Image is solid proof on the basis of what takes place in the episode, that no worse damage can be done than by someone who believes they're doing the right thing.

  9. Naomi Stevens, who plays the ladies-room attendant in "Mirror Image", many years later contributed a highly memorable scene as the embattled Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii to the thoroughly entertaining (and far too little seen) epic film "The Hawaiians", with Charlton Heston and Tina Chen. First a washroom attendant, then a queen. Ain't acting a grand profession?