I have recently been reading Rod Serling's novelizations of episodes, which I really recommend to anyone who loves TZ, but it's been awhile since I've taken "a journey into a wondrous land" on video. Today, I've decided to explore an episode that is not as well known to me, as I may not have fully appreciated it in my youth, and that may provide some valuable insights to present day issues.
A man with coke bottle glasses is busily calling employers to inform them of the moral failings of their employees, recommending that they be dismissed.
"Hello, is this the school superintendent? Well, this is a concerned citizen, and this call has to do with a teacher in your employ. His name is Farwell...William J. Farwell--teaches at your north end high school. That's correct. Well, the man is morally objectionable. He's a drinker, a carouser, and I have it on good authority that his relationships with his students are questionable at best. He should be discharged immediately. Well, never mind who this is. I happen to be giving you facts and these facts are what is at issue."
"Look at them, look at them out there--the dregs, carrion, leeches, sucking us dry, carrying around evil around with them like cold germs."
That's Oliver Crangle, a dealer in petulance and poison. He's rather arbitrarily chosen 4:00 as his personal Götterdämmerung, and we are about to watch the metamorphosis of a twisted fanatic, poisoned by the gangrene of prejudice, to the status of an avenging angel, upright and omniscient, dedicated and fearsome. Whatever your clocks say, it's 4:00--and wherever you are, it happens to be The Twilight Zone.
Crangle's landlady, Mrs. Williams, brings his mail to him, commenting on the volume of mail he receives, questioning whether he may be running a mail order business, to which he nastily replies it's none of her concern and that she should learn a respect for privacy. He tells her she may thank him one day, assuming she's still around. She asks if he's threatening her.
"My dear lady, I don't threaten people, I compile them. I compile them and I investigate them, analyze them, then I categorize them, and I judge them. If they're impure and evil, then they must be punished. If, on the other hand, they're simply misled or naive, or unsophisticated, then I point out to them the right way."
He then reads a report which he has compiled on her, claiming her negative personality traits are curiosity and ignorance. He begins conversing with Pete, saying that things will happen at 4 o'clock. Mrs. Williams asks what will happen at that time and he says they are going to expose and eliminate evil. She gets the picture that he's bonkers and nervously exits the room.
As she races downstairs, she meets a woman looking for Mr. Crangle. Mrs. Williams directs her to his room, but warns her not to go there without police protection, saying "that man's got a leak in his attic a mile wide."
The young woman ignores the warning and goes to his room, introducing herself as Mrs. Lucas. He realizes she's the wife of an intern at a hospital and invites her in. She asks why he's trying to hurt her husband. He says he doesn't know her husband personally, but that he knows he's imperfect, and claims he has done a lot against society. She says he's a doctor whose only interest is to heal. Crangle says his other interest is to kill. He pulls out a file on him, relating an incident where a patient died in the emergency room because he failed to relieve pressure from a brain injury. Mrs. Lucas claims he got to her too late, and Crangle says he should have gotten to her earlier.
She asks what right he has to pass judgement. He says her husband is an evil man and he won't put up with evil in any form, listing communists, subversives, thieves, and harlots as examples. She asks why he does it, and he says it's because they're evil.
"They're evil--all those little bugs out there. Bacteria. That's what they are."
He has a sudden revelation and declares that he'll turn all the evil people into little ones, making them two feet tall. He cackles and claims he'll do it precisely at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Lucas backs out of the room while he continues to laugh maniacally.
Crangle is passing the time, underlining part of the Gettysburg address, which he has framed and hung on his wall, that states: "It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us," while crossing out, "all men are created equal."
He hears footsteps approaching his room and announces to Pete the parrot that they have a visitor. It turns out to be Mr. Hall from the FBI, who Crangle has called. He tells him he also notified the police and fire departments. He says he tried to call Washington, but he understands "the reds" are in complete control, so he doesn't expect that call to go through. He relates that all the evil people in the world have banded together in a worldwide conspiracy. He goes on to say that he's made a complete study of evil through radio, television and newspaper, and that he writes letters to employers. He also says that he makes phone calls to terrible people late at night, waking them up, speaking his charges and hanging up.
He points out that the time is 3:27 and that in exactly 33 minutes, all the evil people in the world will become a third their present size. Pete the parrot either calls for a nut or calls him a nut. He asks what Mr. Hall thinks. Hall asks how he goes about shrinking people. Crangle says he wills it. He speaks of his past ideas to keep evil spreading by public transport by making airplane propellors go limp "like empty banana skin," and turning round wheels into square or triangular shapes, but that some lady inadvertently gave him the idea to turn all evil people two feet tall. He says it would make them insufficient, unable to handle scientific instruments like adding machines, typewriters or telephone dials, causing them to become extinct like dinosaurs. Pete the parrot calls out "Nut!" again.
Mr. Hall asks if he's ever had psychiatric help, saying he doesn't seem rational and thinks he may need some help. Crangle asks why he should need help since he's not evil. Hall apologizes and says there's not much the FBI can do about it. Crangle says they'll have to build more jails, electric chairs and gallows because the evil people will be all over the streets, and asks what Hall will do about it. Hall says he'll do nothing because they have the law. He says they like to have people's support and cooperation, but that interference is something else. Crangle comes to the conclusion that the FBI has been infiltrated by evil people. He says he'd better enjoy the next 15-20 minutes before he becomes two feet tall.
At 4 o'clock, a sweaty Crangle tells Pete the parrot that all the evil people are turning into little gnomes. Pete calls for a nut. Looking over Pete's perch, we can see that Crangle has been reduced to a third of his size, unable to reach Pete's snacks on the window sill.
At 4 o'clock, an evil man made his bed and lay in it. A pot called a kettle black, a stone thrower broke the windows of his glass house. You look for this one under "F" for "fanatic" and "J" for "justice," in The Twilight Zone.
Just think what Oliver Crangle could do these days with the internet available to him. It seems as though plenty of people have been willing to step into his judgmental shoes, combing through past infractions, decades old mistakes, and youthful indiscretions to condemn and reduce others to a small size, demanding that they be terminated from their employment, have their works condemned, their reputations ruined, and shamed by society in general for their transgressions. Unfortunately, the Crangles of the world today are elevated when legitimacy is granted to their claims, and allowed to grow in stature, rather than be reduced by their own hypocrisy, which is why they continue to multiply.
While this episode may have been inspired by McCarthyism of the day, Crangleism is not only found marbled like fat through the meat of today's social media, but continues to be prevalent in political discourse. People with opposing views are condemned as being evil, and any past mistakes are held up as evidence of the fact. Demonizing others dehumanizes them, which makes it all the more difficult to have peaceful collaboration. This may not be recognized as a top tier TZ episode, but it's got a potent message that remains relevant and continues to have a need to be heard and understood. Unfortunately, judging others and developing an intolerance for people we don't agree with or who differ from us in some way has become normalized, and the message may fall on deaf ears. Adopting an attitude of non-judgement and cultivating acceptance brings about a significant amount of peace, but it requires effort and thought, and a great deal of self awareness. Nobody is perfect. It's easy to be a Crangle.
One last thought is in considering the significance of Pete the parrot. Does Pete represent those that stand by in relative silence, perhaps recognizing the nutty behavior, but doing nothing to speak against it or shut it down? It is unclear whether he is calling out Crangle for being a nut, or simply demanding a snack. Also unclear is if he means to snack on Crangle when he is no longer provided nuts, though the implication seems to be that he will. That's what I'd like to believe anyway.