The Twilight Zone: Banned for 52 Years
Submitted for your approval series that broke new ground in the television medium and stands to this day as one of the greatest TV shows ever made. This brainchild of famed writer Rod Serling welcomed viewers to The Twilight Zone. A number of episodes from the Zone are so iconic even those who have never seen the show are familiar with them. These are episodes like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” “Eye of the Beholder” “Steel” and “It’s a Good Life” just to name a few. But there was one episode from the fifth season that after it’s initial broadcast in 1964 was not seen again on television until 2016 during a Syfy Twilight Zone Marathon. Featuring Neville Brand and George Takei, “The Encounter” was a particularly dark episode that tackled heavy racial topics head-on and as such was pulled from syndication for over five decades.
While digging around in his attic, World War II vet Fenton comes across a samurai sword he took as a spoil of war. Also at his home at the time is Japanese-American landscaper Arthur Takamori who reluctantly agrees to join Fenton in the attic for a beer while they discuss a job at hand. When Takamori takes hold of the sword he feels an urge to commit violence on the man who is expressing passive aggressive but blatant racist sentiment towards those of Japanese heritage. Considering Fenton had explained every attempt to get rid of the weapon failed as somehow the sword found its way back to him, the seeds of the supernatural have already been planted. Without explanation the door, with no lock, swings shut and locks Fenton and Arthur in the attic and the simmering tension inevitably begins to boil over. Prejudices, secrets, and emotional issues are laid bare. By the end of the episode Fenton is impaled by the samurai sword and a possessed Arthur leaps out of the window to his own death.
During its five year run the Twilight Zone frequently tackled social and political issues through the lens of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Serling himself was a notable activist for civil rights and that was reflected in his works over the course of his career. But rarely has the Twilight Zone tackled such a topic with such bleak and grounded fashion, sure there is a supernatural element tied to the samurai sword MacGuffin, but this is ultimately the story of two men forced into a situation they confront their deepest darkest feelings. As Serling said this is a story about two men dealing with guilt they experienced during the Second World War in the worst way possible.
While Arthur may have only been 4 years old when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, he was there when it happened. In a fiery and impassioned monologue, delivered perfectly by Takei, he reveals his father who worked on the base was on the ground signaling the planes where to attack. In the years that followed, he has strived to overcompensate for the sins of his father rather than confront the truth. He changed his name from Taro to the Americanized Arthur, while rewriting his father’s story so that he was trying to warn the sailors of the oncoming attack. But the heritage he has tried to run away from confronts him through the sword. Earlier he had even denied knowing the language but he understands perfectly the spirit attached to the weapon telling him that Fenton had taken it off a Japanese soldier whom he killed while they were trying to surrender. Fenton on the other hand has turned to the bottle as his source of solace and it has cost him everything. His wife has left him and he has been fired from his job, but rather than confront his alcoholism he lashes out at others clinging to the institutional racism he adopted during the war. As he reiterates throughout the episode “in the war we were taught your kind was less than human. But now you’re good citizens?”. All the while as he is justifying his prejudicial beliefs, Arthur stands as his silent with the sword in hand. The episode ends with both men dead and Rod Serling’s solemn closing remarks as the attic door that had trapped the two men together swings open by itself.
As mentioned previously this episode was locked away for 52 years due to the controversy it generated. This is why “The Encounter” has sadly fallen into obscurity while so many other episodes of the Twilight Zone have rightfully been enshrined for their genius. The harsh realness of the racial prejudices many grappled with following the end of the Second World War. Thankfully it ended up airing in 2016 and while Syfy missed a golden marketing opportunity to trumpet the episode too controversial to have been shown before it “The Encounter” is out there for the masses to watch and learn lessons that are still all too relevant.