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A Harsh “Encounter”: What a Long-Hidden Twilight Zone Can Teach Us About Hate

“It was a very harsh show. I’m sure it was considered too hot to handle.”

The speaker: Robert Butler, director of Twilight Zone’s “The Encounter.”

Few fans would disagree. The episode’s unflinching depiction of “raw conflict,” as Butler also described it, has been making audiences squirm since it first aired on May 1, 1964.

The racial antagonisms we see on-screen kept it off the air for the next couple days of decades. It was one of four Zone episodes that weren’t included in the original syndication package, and the only one excluded because it was controversial.

That’s a shame. Not because it’s a great episode — it’s not, despite earnest performances from Neville Brand and George Takei. No, it’s a shame because this episode, for all its faults, strikes me as one that’s eerily relevant today. In fact, I think we can learn something from it.

If you’ve never seen it, or it’s been a while, feel free to watch it before perusing my spoiler-filled musings. To briefly recap: This is the one about a World War II vet and a Japanese-American who find themselves locked in an attic, arguing about a mysterious samurai sword and lobbing some racially-charged barbs.

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A Memorable “Encounter”

George Takei will always be best known for playing Lt. Sulu on Star Trek. But before he ever stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise, he took a short jaunt into the fifth dimension.

George Takei

As the Tallahassee Democrat put it in a profile of Takei:

Before “Star Trek” turned him into a star, Takei was a character actor who appeared in small parts in movies and guest roles on TV shows such as “Playhouse 90” and “Perry Mason” during the late ’50s and early ’60s. One of his biggest breaks arrived when he co-starred with Neville Brand in an intense and controversial episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “The Encounter.”

Takei played a Japanese-American groundskeeper named Arthur Takamori who gets into a war of words with a World War II veteran who is rummaging through his attic. The conversationEncounter3 — which is more like a terse, two-man dialogue written by David Mamet — ends in violence thanks to a cursed samurai sword. Read the rest of this entry