“The Man in the Bottle”: Easy Wishes, Hard Lessons

Few lessons on The Twilight Zone come through with more clarity than “be careful what you wish for.”

Want more time to read, Henry Bemis? You may want to rethink that. Hoping for a little immortality, Walter Bedeker? Check the fine print on that diabolical contract. Feeling lonely, Corry? A female robot will seem like an answer to a prayer — at first.

But sometimes TZ gave us a more literal form of wishing. In the case of “The Man in the Bottle”, we even get a genie. Too bad that didn’t mean a better result for Arthur and Edna Castle, the antique-shop owners at the center of this particular tale.

I’m not a huge fan of this episode. Oh, it’s not bad — in some ways, it’s quite good (which I’m about to get to). But it doesn’t quite stick like the more classic episodes. In a series often defined by clever twists, “The Man in the Bottle” gives us exactly what we expect.

In just about any other series, this would mean you could write it off and move on. But leave it to Serling to imbue even a paint-by-number story with some quality touches that lift it above the ordinary. (Spoilers ahead, naturally. Check out the second episode of Season 2 on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or on DVD/Blu-ray if you haven’t seen it.)

One of those touches is the genie himself. We don’t get a stereotypical Middle Eastern-sounding character with a turban and pantaloons. We get a dapper and elegant wish-granter, played to polished perfection by Joseph Ruskin (the voice of the Kanamit in “To Serve Man“). We know he’s a bit of a rascal — and perhaps something worse — but he’s very appealing to watch.

We also get a couple we can’t help rooting for. The Castles, we quickly learn, are barely keeping their heads above water, despite pouring a lot of hard work into a family business. And when they use their second wish to get a million dollars, what’s the first thing they do? Give away a sizable chunk to some of their downtrodden neighbors. These are nice people.

And yet … they’re human. So when Arthur, angry that the IRS has claimed the rest of their windfall, uses the third of their four wishes to become “the ruler of a whole country,” his hubris is swiftly punished: he’s Hitler in the closing days of World War II, and must use his final wish to resume his old identity.

Wish number one? That was used on a test when they first met the genie, who repairs broken glass in one of their display cases. And they’re even stripped of that when a broom handle hits the case in the closing scene and it breaks again.

But they’re not walking away empty-handed. Oh, they may be no better off materially, but they’ve gained some much-needed perspective. They can laugh off the re-broken glass. The shop Arthur was complaining about in the opening scenes now “doesn’t look half bad. And since we can’t afford a brand-new life, suppose we give the old one a paint job or something?”

This brings me to the final quality aspect of this episode: Serling’s writing. Just listen to Arthur as he gripes to Edna at the start of the episode:

Look at it, Edna! The legacy of a hundred years. My grandfather owned it, and it broke his heart. And then, my father — it killed him, too. Look at it. The meanness of it, the shabbiness of it, the hand-to-mouth of it! It isn’t just an antique shop where you pick up the pitiful remnants of other people’s failures. It’s a shrine to failure itself, that’s what it is! It’s a mausoleum, a burial ground for people’s hopes.

And check out Serling’s opening narration:

Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, gentle and infinitely patient people whose lives have been a hope chest with a rusty lock and a lost set of keys. But in just a moment, that hope chest will be opened, and an improbable phantom will try to bedeck the drabness of these two people’s failure-laden lives with the gold and precious stones of fulfillment. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, standing on the outskirts, and about to enter … the Twilight Zone.

I swear, the man made music with words. We could have all the wishes in the world and not end up with a better series. And we don’t even have to worry about a loophole-happy genie tricking us — we just get to sit back and enjoy. Not “half bad”, I’d say.


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

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 10/10/2017, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I think I agree with you, Paul. This isn’t a favorite of mine, but I never skip it when drifting through that season. I never thought about the words, separate from the story, but seeing them written out here drives home the truth about his writing. You really couldn’t ask for better.

    • No, you definitely couldn’t. I hate putting my own prose around Serling’s — surely I could make a better post by just quoting him and adding some pics! Glad you enjoyed the post, Dan.

  2. We REALLY should be careful as to what we wish for – because the law of unintended consequences is always a factor!

  3. I don’t know how I missed this one. The Genie is extremely appealing from the pictures, and I love that calm, yet sneaky voice he has. I went off to watch it and then came back to read this post. What good people, they get a million dollars and immediately give half of it away. The IRS would’ve probably came anyway, but they’d still have the other half. lol

    But that’s not the moral of the story of course. Be careful what you wish for and you can always clean up your current life for true happiness. Nice post!

    • It’s funny — there are some episodes that kind of skate under the radar, and even big fans can miss them. But as you can see, they often yield some nice rewards. I’m glad you watched the episode and then came back — I often recommend that, but I’m never sure if anybody ever does it! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. I always learn something new or catch something I’d missed when I watch TZ. It’s very fun. :)

    • Same here! So often, a die-hard fan will see a fact that I’ve tweeted, and say, wow, I’ve never noticed that before.

  5. I did see this one a couple of times … Wishes would be such a challenge! It sounds easy; but it isn’t! Complications may happen.
    Hope your Fall or season is going well! 🍁🍂 Smiles, Robin

    • So true! We’d all like to get a chance to make some wishes, but yeah … gotta be careful. :-o And yes, it’s been a nice Fall so far. Hope yours has been good, too!

      • It has been fun most of the season. I didn’t want to write about negative things but my brother (artist Randy) fell two days ago in his bathroom. When we called and texted he didn’t answer phone. Finally, when he did he told me he was sick. He sounded raspy and hoarse but so unlike himself. The rest of day led my younger brother to check him out. No key, had to call police to break in back door. Randy ended up having brain clot and surgery Thanksgiving night. Still scared, although responding. He’s only 60 and has had quadruple bypass heart surgery.
        Lucky thing, (blessing) was any other day no one would have checked on him. Makes me want to get a roommate! He is responding and more coherent. Thank you for listening. . . Have a wonderful weekend, Paul.

      • Yikes. Certainly sorry to hear about Randy’s fall, Robin. :( Hope he’s doing better and that you all have a nice Christmas.

  1. Pingback: 2019/2020 'Twilight Zone' Marathon | LATIN HORROR

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