Blog Archives

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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“Caesar and Me”: How Twilight Zone Got a Second “Dummy” Episode

It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that The Twilight Zone first aired over 60 years ago. It’s another to come across a reminder of how differently people watched TV back then.

Sure, we know it was watched on smaller sets that lacked the whistles and bells we have now on our HD screens. But it was a different experience in other ways, too.

To see what I mean, consider something that Season 5 producer William Froug had to say about “Caesar and Me”, which first aired on April 10, 1964 — very close to the end of the series.

As Zone fans are aware, it’s the second (and widely considered the lesser) of two episodes involving ventriloquist dummies. The first, “The Dummy”, a memorably creepy one starring Cliff Robertson as a voice-thrower named Jerry Etherson, debuted near the end of Season 3.

“Caesar and Me” was written by my secretary, Adele Strassfield, the only woman to write a Twilight Zone,” Froug said in an interview quoted in The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia: Read the rest of this entry