twilight zone with thehubby

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Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 14, “Third From the Sun"

Research scientist William Sturka (played by Fritz Weaver) lives in a world that is itself living on borrowed time. Tensions are higher than anyone can remember and a nuclear war seems imminent. Indeed, coming out of his job one day, Sturka has a conversation with his manager in the government, Carling (Edward Andrews) in which the latter intimates that hostilities will occur in the next 48 hours.

Seemingly alarmed by this news, Sturka returns home and discusses with his family vaguely about aspects of his job that he doesn’t like. He confides in his wife that they must be prepared to take a long trip that very night. Friend and fellow coworker Jerry Riden (Joe Maross) visits the house, and he and Sturka talk in the basement over their plans to leave via experimental rocket craft, but unfortunately they have been overheard. When Carling shows up during the two families’ card game later that evening, it’s anything but a pleasant, coincidental affair, and Sturka’s struggle to save his family and friends from doom becomes all the more desperate.

This is one of several fine examples of social commentary within the Twilight Zone. The theme this time is a parallel of the Red Scare, mixed with a healthy dose of nuclear anxiety. The very first conversation between Sturka and Carling illustrates this all too clearly; when Sturka indicates that the government’s efforts and defenses may not do more than simply reduce casualties against the mentioned atomic weapons, Carling accuses his misgivings as sympathy for the enemy, and Carling’s efforts throughout the rest of the episode show his desire to tow the government line overriding any desire for the safety of humans or humanity.

There may not be a more tense, conspiratorial twenty-two minutes in television history. Virtually every conversation, even those between Sturka and his own family, carry innuendo and undertones, which is to say nothing of interactions with Carling, which cross the line right into intrigue and scheming. The use of expressions and other non-verbal communication in the episode is excellent. To further compound the disjointed nature of this reality, the entirety of the episode apart from the opening scene is shot off-angle, psychologically keeping the viewer off-kilter. After all, none of the characters are comfortable with their situation, why should you be? While the ending of the episode lacks a bit of punch, it still stands as a commentary on what life could have been like (and perhaps was, in some circles) during the heights of the Cold War.

As a sidenote, Fritz Weaver would later return to play in another dystopian society episode, except on the other side of the equation, as the government chancellor in “The Obsolete Man.”

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 8: “Time Enough at Last”

Misunderstood by the world, Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith in his first Twilight Zone appearance) is a reader extraordinaire. He reads books, newspapers, magazines, even “the labels on the condiment bottles on the tables” when desperate. His boss forbids him from reading in the bank vault during his lunch, and his wife refuses to allow him to read at home, even going so far as to scribble out text and rip up a poetry book in front of him.

The next day on the job and in defiance of his boss, Henry sneaks into the bank’s vault and closes himself in to read over lunch as per usual. All is normal until he hears a terrible explosion and feels the shaking of the earth. Emerging from the vault, he finds nothing but devastation, and not a living soul to be found. Although he is at first relieved to be alone in the wasteland, he soon finds the boredom and monotony overwhelming and is on the verge of suicide when he spots the wreckage of a sign reading “Public Library.” It seems as though things are looking up for Henry Bemis after all.

The more one considers “Time Enough At Last,” the sadder of an episode it turns out to be. Without even considering the show’s conclusion, the figure of Henry Bemis is a tragic one. Burgess Meredith plays the role fantastically (although his triumph in the Twilight Zone must be “The Obsolete Man”), but it’s his wife and boss, played by Jacqueline de Wit and Vaughn Taylor, respectively, that help us understand his misery. This is a man with a sickness for reading, an addiction that interferes with his job, his personal relationships and his social life and yet, he is mocked by those around him, not helped. This is something which developed over time, surely, for he never would have successfully wooed Helen had this been his nature before. Whether the intention of the show’s creators or not, it’s actually a painful reflection of just how mercilessly a variety of emotional and psychological disorders were viewed only a few decades ago. It takes the end of the world to save him from a lifetime of ridicule and persecution.

The episode’s ending is one of the well-known of all time and for good reason, and that’s all I’ll say about it.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 5: “Walking Distance”

Martin Sloane (Gig Young), a successful advertising executive who appears nevertheless disenfranchised with the world, stops at a gas station near his hometown. Finding that the car needs servicing, he decides to pass the time by paying the town a visit. Upon arrival, he finds that things haven’t changed much at all since he was a child, with life a calm affair punctuated by old-time service at the ice cream shop and pleasant folks everywhere the eye can see.

However, all is not as it seems–or rather, it’s a little too much as it seems. At the town park, Martin comments to a passerby about how he once carved his name in a piece of wood, and he then looks over and finds a younger version of himself performing that very act. Astonished, he follows Martin the younger home, only to find his own parents who, based on Martin’s reaction, may very well be dead in the present day. Their reception to his declaration of being their son is not as he hopes and only a slap from his mother is enough to bring him to his senses, which sends him searching for his younger self in an effort to set his world right.

Few episodes in the series touch such a melancholy note as Walking Distance. Often we see ill fates befall characters, but many times they’re deserving of them, or the manner of punishment is comical or balanced by some benefit. Here we see only a man approaching middle age, upset by the state of the world and seeing the carrot of the joyous, youthful past dangled in front of him only to be snatched away with the realization that you really can’t go back. This is where the episode entrenches itself in the mind of the viewer, for few are the people who haven't wanted to revisit the happier times of their past at some point. Gig Young does a fine job as Martin Sloan but the star performance belongs to Frank Overton, who plays the father confused about how this situation could occur and yet at the ready with love and wisdom, as we wish all our parents could be.

As a sidenote, the short scene in this episode between Martin and a town boy was Ron Howard’s first television acting role.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 11: “And When the Sky Was Opened”

As the episode begins, we see the experimental X-20 ship, a craft that has passed further into space than any craft before–so far, in fact, that it disappeared from radar for a time before returning to Earth. Of the two pilots, Lieutenant Colonel Clegg Forbes (Rod Taylor) has been discharged from the hospital already, while his co-pilot, Major William Gart (Jim Hutton) remains, being treated for a leg broken in their crash landing. Forbes pays a visit to Gart to see how he is doing and eventually steers the conversation to one problem with their amazing, successful voyage: there were three pilots aboard the experimental craft when it returned to Earth.

Forbes explains that their third companion, Colonel Ed Harrington (Charles Aidman) landed in the craft with them and was discharged from the hospital at the same time as Forbes, but has disappeared entirely–not only from the memories of people, but from reality itself, with his bed vanishing from Gart’s hospital room, and even the newspaper rewriting itself to leave him out of existence. Gart is skeptical, to say the least. Forbes describes in great detail how he and Harrington went to a bar. Harrington began to feel like he didn’t belong in the world, and voiced this to Forbes. A strange urge to call his parents didn’t alleviate matters, as they told him they had no son. Moments later, Harrington simply disappeared from the phone booth, leaving no trace of himself except now in Forbes’s memory.

Unable to convince Gart of his tale, Forbes begins a desperate search for any evidence to prove Harrington’s existence, at each turn certain of his memories and yet faced with the possibility that he might instead be going crazy. The truth of the matter may very well be somewhere between the two and certainly it will only be found in the Twilight Zone.

Much like the first episode, this one gets the viewer’s attention early, from the opening shot of the secretly-guarded spacecraft to the early indication that something’s not quite right in the universe, and then increasing the tension as the show progresses. When Forbes tells Gart (and the audience) that an entire person has disappeared from reality, we immediately want to know the how and why. The mystery only draws us in deeper as we see the retelling that includes Harrington in the picture until his ultimate disappearance.

Sets are minimal this time out, but the performance of the three lead characters carry the episode: Forbes, starting with anxiety as he confides in Gart and ever so gradually devolving into panic; Gart, with a level-headed denial that demonstrates an increasing concern for his friend’s sanity; and Harrington, whose part begins cheerful over the success of their mission and ends up at the edge of quiet terror. You may see the ending coming, but you won’t want to look away, regardless.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here.)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 7: “The Lonely”

Convicted criminal Corry (Jack Warden) has been sentenced to an unthinkably harsh punishment: isolation and imprisonment on a deserted asteroid. He has no contact with living creatures except for the crew of a supply ship which visits for a few minutes every three months. Captain Allenby (John Dehner) is sympathetic to Corry’s plight and does what he can to ease the burden of loneliness with books and other materials.

On one such visit, however, the captain brings Corry a shipment in violation of contraband rules and tells Corry not to open it until the ship has left, for fear of it being discovered by others. Inside, Corry finds a robot, named Alicia (Jean Marsh) that’s designed to appear and act human in every way. Although Corry initially rejects Alicia as an abomination, he quickly warms to her and the two build a relationship that defies their differences. However, things are never so simple in the Twilight Zone.

This is one of the weaker episodes of the first season in my opinion. The acting is good and the sense of desolation is really carried through (enabled by most of the episode being shot in Death Valley). But although the story is marginally interesting and definitely somewhat touching in the second half, it doesn’t feel like the Twilight Zone. At the risk of predisposing those who haven’t watched the episode (without spoiling the end), there are no supernatural elements at play here, nothing that isn’t easily explained and understood, and the story’s “twist” is mild at best. This would make for a great entry in a Sci-Fi anthology series, but as part of something as exotic as the Twilight Zone, it just falls short.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 9: “Perchance to Dream”

Edward Hall (Richard Conte) is a haunted man; plagued with a heart condition that makes him susceptible to physical stress and also with the belief that his imagination is so strong he could die from his dreams, so he dare not sleep. In desperation, he seeks out a psychiatrist, Dr. Eliot Rathman (John Larch) to help him resolve this no-win situation. Over the course of their discussion, Edward reveals his terrifying dreams, which involve a carnival dancer named Maya (Suzanne Lloyd) trying to scare him to death in a variety of manners. Living on borrowed time, the question becomes whether Dr. Rathmann can save Edward from his own mind.

“Perchance to Dream” is a case of “just enough, but too late” – the episode’s pacing is positively glacial in some spots and takes too long to develop its interesting hooks for the viewer. Richard Conte and John Larch give good performances, but the material simply fails them with a lot of discussion that doesn’t go anywhere fast enough. Edward’s dreams are interesting enough but don’t convey the kind of terror we’re supposed to feel from the character’s explanation; and we know from previous episodes like “Arthur Denton on Doomsday” and “Walking Distance” that the show is capable of portraying powerful emotion.

The twist ending is all but guaranteed to catch first-time viewers by surprise, but a good Twilight Zone episode is as much about the journey as the destination, and this episode just doesn’t hold up the former, despite obvious quality production values.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 1: “Where is Everybody?”

The inaugural episode for the series tells the story of a man who finds himself completely alone in the world and yet, clearly not alone at all. Every locale he visits shows signs that people were recently there, but the people are nowhere to be found. Coffee is heating up on a stove, a lit cigar sits in an ashtray, a phone rings but no one answers when it is picked up. Slowly, that which was whimsically confusing becomes unbearable. Over the course of eighteen minutes, we watch a man descend into madness, I Am Legend-style–only without even the company of the dog Will Smith’s character was blessed with.

This was a fantastic episode to start on, setting the tone for the rest of the series and immediately letting viewers know that this is not just another average television show. Not only is the character’s situation immediately intriguing and the lead character himself (played by Earl Holliman) convincing, but the ending–not pictured here, of course–is plausible, sensible and one that you’re very unlikely to see coming.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 15, “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air"

A spacecraft, the Arrow One, crash lands after going out of sight from the space institute that launched it, leaving the crew unaccounted for and unaware of their surroundings, except that they appear to have landed on a very hot, dry asteroid of some sort. Initially, only four of the crew are alive, with one gravely injured. Hostilities erupt when one crew member, Corey (Dewey Martin) objects to sharing the limited remaining water to the injured man he sees as a lost cause, but the commanding officer, Colonel Donlin (Edward Binns) insists, until the man indeed dies.

Intent on trying to find resources, Donlin sends Corey and the other remaining crewmember, Pierson (Ted Otis) into the desert at night when the heat is more bearable. Corey returns, alone and Donlin becomes suspicious when Corey appears to have more water than when he left. Corey admits to taking Pierson’s water but insists that he found Pierson’s body already dead and merely took the water from it. Donlin forces Corey at gunpoint to take him to Pierson’s body, which is not where Corey last saw it. When the two finally locate Pierson, the revelations begin which may destroy the fragile sense of order remaining.

The best examples of the Twilight Zone, in my opinion, provide not only the series’ unexpected twist endings but also that deep look into the human spirit. Like “The Shelter” and “The Monsters are Due on Marple Street”, this episode looks at the nature of humanity in adversity. Unfortunately, while the premise is sound, the way the characters are acted and written doesn’t live up to the potential. These men are trained astronauts and while it’s true that they are in a dire crisis situation, their intellectual and moral capacities seem immediately impaired upon the crash. Not only do they overlook several clues about what went wrong with their trip, but from the moment we see him, Corey’s self-serving nature appears overwhelming, with no sense of regard for his fellow men. He would rather live for ten days as a thief and murderer than die in five with nobility, which may be the sort of illogical thinking one expects after days of hunger or thirst, but not directly following a crash that space pilot training certainly would have prepared them for the possibility of.

Those fascinated by the desperate nature of men short on water and what they’ll do about it might be better served by the season 2 episode “The Rip Van Winkle Caper, which paints a more realistic portrayal, as well as offering a more unexpected ending.

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 12: “What You Need"

Quiet, mild salesman Pedott (Ernest Truex) enters the local cafe–a common hangout for him, according to the owner–and begins peddling unusual items to the inhabitants, telling them it’s “what you need.” Despite this dubious claim, within a few minutes, events resolve themselves exactly as the old man indicated, with the items being exactly what the patrons required for their situations.

This pleases Pedott, but also disquiets him, for he senses that he has attracted the attention of lowlife Fred Renard (Steve Cochran), who confronts Pedott outside the cafe, forcing him to reveal his secret: that Pedott can see the near future of people and thus provide them with exactly what they will need for their situation. Under duress, Pedott gives Renard a pair of scissors, which saves the man’s life later when his scarf gets caught in an elevator and threatens to strangle him. Renard becomes a believer, and sets into motion plans to use Pedott’s gift to amass wealth and power, with only unanswered question being where he will end.

This is a wonderful episode that brings together all the elements one needs for captivation and entertainment. Ernest Cruex’s unassuming yet world-wise manner comes out in every scene as a man who knows all too well the implications of cause and effect, and recognizes that so often the things people need most are not the physical items he can give them; Steve Cochran, reprising the kind of morally gray roles for which he was known, is the classic image of a man who, starved for the better things, becomes insatiable.

From start to end, there are no lags in the script. You’re curious when you see Pedott providing precise items and astonished when they turn out to be legitimate. You’re concerned for the kindly old man as he gets entangled with a criminal. You suspect–you are nearly certain–as you watch that this not end well for Renard, but you must watch on to see how it plays out. I certainly wouldn’t have complained at a little more use of Pedott’s power in the episode, but it’s only 23 minutes, after all.

On the subject of Pedott’s power, it’s a little ambiguous; it’s clear that he can see a person’s future, yet that future seems to come to him as he speaks with them. How, then, would he happen to be carrying something so specific as one of the earliest items we see him provide, a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania? Does his power extend to the creation of items as well? It’s not answered and if you think about it too long, it might detract from the otherwise well-crafted nature of the episode. So don’t.

Three Christmases ago, Nikki got me what has turned out to be one of the best gifts ever – the Twilight Zone “Complete Definitive Collection” on DVD. This set not only contains all five seasons of the original 1960s show, but has them in frankly stunning video clarity considering these episodes are more than fifty years old. The set designs, costuming and actor performances really come across amazingly.

I’ve decided to share this bounty with the world, or at least with Tumblr which, I’m told, is part of the world. In a moment, I’ll post what will be the first of hopefully many episode highlights, for lack of a better word: some still images from the episode, a brief synopsis, my thoughts and opinions on the episode.

After much internal debate I’ve decided not to post any pictures that could give away endings, nor say what happens. It means passing up on some really good snapshot images, but I want anyone following this blog or reading these posts who hasn’t watched the episodes in question (and why haven’t you?) to do so with confidence. No spoilers, not even for To Serve Man.

For easy finding, all such posts will have a tag of #Twilight Zone with TheHubby

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 6: “Escape Clause”

Walter Bedeker, a forty-four year old hypochondriac (played by David Wayne), lives in constant fear of illness and death. His condition is problematic for everyone else, including his wife who has to bear with him and doctors, one of whom is examining Walter at the start of the episode and declares him absolutely fit; he does, however, prescribes some vitamins for the run-down wife which frustrates Walter considerably.

Alone and loudly lamenting the inevitable fate of man, Walter finds a disembodied voice responding to him, a voice which resolves itself into a portly and jovial–if somewhat sinister–gentleman. Although calling himself Mr. Cadwallader (Thomas Gomez), some conversation reveals that the man is none other than The Devil and he has a deal for Walter: his soul in exchange for immortality. The only catch is that Walter can choose to end his immortality at any time he wants, what The Devil terms to be an “Escape Clause.” With assurances that such a clause won’t ever be needed, Walter signs a contract without hesitation, but it doesn’t take long for him to discover that immortality isn’t everything he hoped it would be.

I mentioned last episode how some characters are deserving of their ill fates. Surely, Walter Bedeker is among them, and is the first character we meet in the series where I think the audience is supposed to want them to fail. Although we’re told by Rod Serling himself that the man is a hypochondriac, due to script, performance or both he never really comes across as anything other than a man with a desire to be irritatingly self-important and feigning illness as an excuse to do so. He browbeats his wife and considers everyone with sneering contempt. Even after correctly guessing Cadwallader’s identity, Walter still possesses the gall to look smug and treat his visitor like someone on his first trip to the rodeo, while Thomas Gomez’s excellent portrayal of the prince of lies never gives doubt for a moment about who will come out on top in this exchange. The various uses Walter finds for his new immortality betray just how small his mind really is.

Although the first portion of the episode is hit-or-miss with the script, acting and overall direction, the back half delivers, including a satisfying (if a little unsurprising) ending.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 4: “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”

Although twenty-five years ago she was one of Hollywood’s prized beauties, Barbara Jean Trenton (played by actress and early feminist filmmaker Ida Lupino) is succumbing to the inevitable process of aging. She attempts to cope with this fact by becoming a recluse, shutting herself within her home and reliving her glory days over and over. Nothing interests her in the outside world–until her agent Danny Weiss (Martin Balsam) tells her he’s landed her a good role.

Barbara Jean’s spirits are lifted until she gets to the studio and is informed that not only is the role a small one, but it’s for a mother in her forties. Enraged, she exchanges words with the studio head and leaves. At her home, Danny attempts to talk her back into reality. When that fails, he later pays a visit with her former leading man Jerry Handon (stage and film legend Jerome Cowan), now an old man ravaged by time. Distraught and in denial, she sends them both away and from there her journey into the Twilight Zone begins in earnest.

There isn’t anything specifically wrong with this episode, but it’s not my favorite type. There isn’t a sense of anything all that unusual until the end; up until that point, we’re just looking at a drama, the story of an actress who refuses to come to grips with the reality of time. And while the ending places this squarely into the realm of the supernatural, it’s not enough to carry this beyond the point of average. Ida Lupino does a great job, but it’s hard to tell if we’re supposed to feel sympathy for her character–forced to age as we all are, yet blessed with her past success and handling it all so petulantly.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 10: “Judgement Night”

The year is 1942, and aboard the British S.S. Queen of Glasgow, Carl Lanser (Nehemiah Persoff) is unsettled, constantly filled with a sense of impending dread. He tries to explain to the other passengers and even the captain of the ship that danger and doom awaits them. It doesn’t help that he can’t remember the details of his life other than his name and that he was born in Frankfurt. That he can know so little and so much at the same time is maddening. The stopping of the ship’s engines appears to be a catalyst to his memory, however, making him certain of an imminent attack on the ship–and of his identity. Whether this information will do him any good, however, is another matter entirely.

This is the first of many episodes that deals with war, combat and the psychological effects on those caught in it. Unfortunately, the very nature of Carl Lanser’s character is that of a man in constant anxiety, leaving little room for exploration otherwise. On the other hand, the numerous supporting characters, through their interactions with Lanser, do a great job of expressing their various stages of emotion, including their concerns about the war and, later, Lanser himself.

Little touches–such as interior lights turning off whenever a door to the outside is opened–remind us that this is a different mindset for a different time (one which, happening 27 years earlier, many viewers would not have experienced.) The physical setting, especially outside the boat, matches the mood–dark, dreary and shrouded in mystery. For being a confined space, the inside of S.S. Queen of Glasgow has a surprisingly large number of locations from which the story unfolds.

There is no great moral to this story and no forecast or warning for the future, since it takes place during World War II. “Judgement Night” does it’s job well enough, but those looking for a similar but superior experience should check out later, bolder efforts such as “Death’s Head Revisited” and “A Quality of Mercy.”

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)

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The Twilight Zone, Season 1 Episode 3: “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”

Once the fastest draw around, Al Denton (played by Dan Duryea) has fallen on hard times. Having killed a boy in a gunfight, he’s got little money, no nerves and even less dignity, an alcoholic to be pitied by most and bullied by the local gang led by Dan Hotaling (a young Martin Landau). A chance encounter with Fate–inconspicuous travelling salesman Henry J. Fate–finds him again in the possession of a gun and, seemingly, his old shooting skills. In two separate occasions, with a nudge from Fate, he accidentally disarms Hotaling, who leaves in shame.

Denton worries that this development will only bring him misery as people again seek him out to test themselves, and he’s soon proved right, as young and cocky gunslinger Pete Grant (Troy McClure) challenges him. In practicing for the duel, Denton finds his earlier nerves and steady hand have vanished. Preparing to leave town in fear, he meets with Henry Fate, who offers him a potion that guarantees the fastest shot in the west for ten seconds after bring drunk. It seems that Al Denton’s lifeline just got a little longer.

There were several western-style episodes in the series, and this remains one of my favorites, in no small part due to Dan Duryea as Al Denton. He really sells the part of the down-on-his luck cowboy, starting with an almost painfully visceral look at the alcoholic who hits the bottom of the barrel, resulting in an anguished collapse in the middle of the street. The scene is actually diminished by Rod Serling’s introduction, which by muting Denton’s surely gutteral cries, detracts from its emotional power.

Throughout the rest of the story, we see Al Denton as a reluctant victim of his own past and fame, with no desire to return to a life of killing but with no other visible way to recover his life. Everything from his face to mannerisms sets him at stark contrast with the other two notable gunslingers, the sadistic Hotaling and brash, eager Grant. As with other stories featuring reformed wild west criminals like Shane, Unforgiven and even Red Dead Redemption, we empathize with the man trying to put his life together, hoping he can maybe, finally catch a break. If you want to know what kind of luck awaits Al Denton, you’ll need to watch.

(See all TheHubby Twilight Zone posts here)