The Twilight Zone: Die Again in Shadow Play

Adam Grant, a nondescript kind of man found guilty of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. Like every other criminal caught in the wheels of justice he’s scared, right down to the marrow of his bones. But it isn’t prison that scares him, the long, silent nights of waiting, the slow walk to the little room, or even death itself. It’s something else that holds Adam Grant in the hot, sweaty grip of fear, something worse than any punishment this world has to offer, something found only in the Twilight Zone.

Since June, 2010 was, at least for me, a nighmare relived repeatedly from the first nanoseconds on Tuesday, June 1st through moments ago today, on the 31st, I felt compelled to offer one of my Top 10 favorite The Twilight Zone episodes, “Shadow Play,” wherein a convicted murderer Dennis Weaver (Duel; Gunsmoke) is forced, as cosmic comeuppance, to relive his execution over and over and over again. While there may be some plot devices at play, to recall seeing it as a child in 1961 it made me aware of a larger force behind life itself.

Nothing quite as profound as learning about existentialism, nilhism, metaphysics and nightmare reality at age eight!

With a wicked and twisted teleplay by genre specialist Charles Beaumont (adapted from his short story, “Traumerei”), and directed with plenty of black humor by John Brahm, the 62nd episode of Season Two keeps the audience entertained in the most morbid fashion as Adam Grant (Weaver) tries to convince the DA (great character actor Harry Townes) that the entire proceedings are all part of dream he has every night!

Existentialism meets metaphysical nilhism and gets a transcendental lesson in parallel universes while reality is sucked into a temporal warp of possibilities as the story unfolds in “real time.” We meet a colorful cast of prisoners, who were manufactured from his real life, movies and imagination, a hard drinking newspaper editor, the scared death row prisoner hoping his “imaginary mother” will save him, the unafraid black inmate and a priest: “no wonder I didn’t recognize you, you died when I was 10 years old!”

As a lucid hypnagogique dreamer and writer I explore where the “cast” in my dreams come from; are they real, imagined or I am inside their dreams and they exist but we have never met? The familiar dreaming leitmotif, where one tries, in vain, to awaken from a nightmare, hoping it really is a dream, is an ethereal treatise on the nature of reality and unreality; dreams trapped within a myriad of other dreaming universes is fascinating and provokes deeper exploration into what happens after our eyes are closed for slumber.

The concept of a murderer who is punished for eternity makes capital punishment itself seem less brutal than what comes afterwards.

The episode is dated in some minor respects but has enough clever machinations to never bore and is truly disturbing: the scene where Grant gives another inmate a sobering account of the final moments leading up to death in the electric chair is followed by a sizzling steak; when Grant later tells the DA to look in his oven, it is now a roast, supports the great dark humor on display!

The dénouement, while being unsurpising to some, still packs a solid punch and this is one episode that will make the viewer think longer about the nature of their own dreamstates and reality and how nightmares can merge with the “shadows.”

Death itself may not be the final punishment with fate providing an eternity of reminders as to why murderers deserve a special wing of “Hell.”

Pleasant dreams…..

One thought on “The Twilight Zone: Die Again in Shadow Play

  1. T.G.

    This episode, for me, is the hallmark of what makes the Twilight Zone truly great. As it challenges the viewer to examine what is reality? That is, are our dreams and everyday life really two separate components of our living existence? With one reality and the other non-reality?
    And so, to bring this about in a 30 minute telelay that grips you with such tight focus that its memory is still with you after 50 years is amazing. And begs the the question as to what was going on in the writer’s imagination? A search for truth? An artistic vision? A sharing of a universal
    Well, I believe it’s all of the above as well as one writer’s brilliance. Also shared I think by the actors, director, camera men, etc. That starts as we know, with Dennis Weaver crying out, as though from the wilderness that he can’t take it anymore. Well, what is it he can’t take? The electric chair? Well, no, it’s the sheer repetition of what he thinks is a dream. Or is it? Especially when he tells his cellmate that a dream has its own world, with its own self made rules. That can’t be challenged.
    And as all of this moves forward, everyone from
    the cellmate, priest, to the DA, are absolutely unconvinced of Weaver’s dilemna. That packs such a powerful punch at the end when the cellmate becomes the judge. And the priest becomes an attorney. Leading us, as it were, ever more deeply into the nether world that we are stunned. Come on, you might say, when am I going to be let off the hook?
    And also, there are many other wonderful episodes like this that challenge the nature of reality. But this one, as Dennis Weaver’s
    character does so well, just seems to cry out from the wilderness with such a powerful narrative, that it deserves special attention.

Leave a Reply