“Doomsday” Denied

The Twilight Zone can be an unforgiving place. Think of Henry Bemis clutching his broken eyeglasses in “Time Enough at Last.” Or Samuel Conrad trapped in a human zoo on Mars in “People are Alike All Over.” Or the mayhem that erupts in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”

But it can also be a place of redemption.

Denton on Doomsday5

Ask Al Denton (Dan Duryea) — a resident of the Old West who, we learn in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday,” has “begun his dying early.” He’s also a man destined to take a special place in Rod Serling’s pantheon of broken heroes.

A former fast gun, Denton has devolved into the town drunk. He’s so pathetic that he lets the local bully (played with relish by Martin Landau in the first of two Zone roles) regularly push him into singing “How Dry I Am” just to get a free shot of whiskey.

Denton on Doomsday3

But all that changes one day. A travelling salesman named Henry Fate rides into town and ensures that a special gun falls into Denton’s hands. Now he can shoot straight again. The bully is humiliated. The townspeople respect him.

Being The Twilight Zone, of course, his troubles are just beginning. Now every man who considers himself a fast draw wants to challenge him.

Two things that Serling does at this point lift this tale above the ordinary.

One is to clue us in to the reason for Al’s alcoholic ways: A long time ago, he killed a fast draw who turned out to be a mere teenager, and the memory haunts him. Our sympathy is naturally aroused. He’s no mere sot. He’s a compassionate, tortured man struggling to quiet a troubled conscience.

Denton on Doomsday4

The second thing is the resolution. (Stop here if you haven’t seen it.) A new challenger is riding into town, so Mr. Fate supplies Denton with a special tonic. Once consumed, it gives the user 10 seconds to make a perfect shot at almost any distance.

Then comes the twist. At the climactic gun battle, Denton swallows the tonic seconds before he sees his young challenger do the same. They wind up wounding one another in the shooting hand. Neither will be able to compete in a fast-draw contest again.

“You’ll never be able to fire a gun again in anger,” Denton tells the young man. “You’re blessed, son. We’ve both been blessed.”

Denton on Doomsday10

Thus we see how “fate” works in Serling’s universe. It can, he says in his closing narration, “help a man climbing out of a pit — or another man from falling into one.”

Look for this one, you might say, under “S” for “second chances.”

***

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 01/18/2012, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I just saw “Mr. Denton” for the first time last winter, and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I did your review of it! Mr. Fate reminds me of the peddler in “What You Need” (which, I think, was the second “Zone” episode I ever saw). As you suggest, I like the idea that fate in the Twilight Zone is not (or at least, it seems, rarely) deterministic fatalism; rather, it is a moment of crisis (in the Greek sense of “the opportune time”) in which human beings, as moral agents, have a chance at redemption or self-condemnation. (I don’t know that this thesis would hold too tightly across a sustained examination of the series, but maybe… episodes like “Nick of Time” spring to mind, where the fortune-telling machine is theoretically an instrument of fate, but, in the end, Shatner and his bride make their own destiny – whereas that other poor couple can’t break free).

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post. You’ve got a great blog going!

    • Thanks, Mike. I really have to credit the episodes themselves and the great writing — they lend themselves to closer looks.

      And yes, fate does play a role in other episodes, such as “Nick of Time” (a favorite of mine). I like how Richard Matheson, who wrote that one, lets us have our cake and eat it, too: Our couple breaks free and gets a happy ending, but we get to see the chilling consequences of staying enslaved to the machine play out in the life of another couple.

      Lots to think about — and enjoy.

  2. Chris Reeve

    This is a fantastic episode with great character depth and humanization for a 30 minute TV show. I really like how this episode, similar to “Night of the Meek”, depicts alcoholism not as a gag, but a complex response to a tragic world or a tragic life. The resolution in both I find immensely satisfying.

    • Yes, Serling wasn’t about to shy away from a serious treatment or from giving us a believable flesh-and-blood character, and yes, it’s a very satisfying conclusion. Thanks for stopping by, Chris.

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